Tested: Thin and Light Laptops--Now With More Power
The idea of a thin and light laptop makes sense for business trips and meetings. You slide a svelte notebook into your messenger bag and off you go.
Unfortunately, my experience using the thinnest models is that they are thin in another way: on actual processing power. You can run a Web browser and browse a few photos, but forget about Adobe Photoshop or a massive spreadsheet with detailed charts and reams of data. There just isn't enough oomph.
Recently, I tried a few "air" notebooks running Windows 8 to see if they met my needs. I tend to use Google Docs for light writing when I travel, but I'm also a power user who will load a 3D modeling app on a whim to design a part for the Makerbot. As a journalist, I also use Photoshop routinely to edit very high-resolution photos in the RAW format. Each of these systems powered through my tests with no problems. They booted in only a few seconds and performed like a desktop machine.
1. Sony VAIO Pro 11/13, $1149
The first thing you notice about the Sony VAIO Pro (which comes in a 11-inch model and a 13-inch model) is how light it is. I tested the 11-inch model and it weighs less than a food tray you'd find in the cafeteria--only 1.9 pounds. There's a high-speed SSD drive inside to speed up data transfers, and the high-end configuration I tested uses an Intel Core i7 processor. The case is made from a durable carbon-fiber material. The touchscreen was responsive in my tests. The Duo 11 lasts seven hours on a charge, but there's an optional 14-hour battery pack. The 11-inch is only .68-inches thin. If you go with the 13-inch, it's also .68-inches thin.
2. Acer S7-392, $1449
The sleek, all-white Acer S7 touch notebook uses Gorilla Glass on the top cover for extra protection and an eye-catching look. Like the Duo 11, the Acer S7 lasts about seven hours on a charge. One plus: the S7 now comes with 8GB of RAM for a performance boost. The model I tested had a Core i7 processor; the touchscreen worked flawlessly for me. Another big perk: the S7-392 has built-in Wi-Di (Wireless Display) for connecting over wireless to an HDTV. That helps with presentations, but you'll need a receiver on the HDTV like the Netgear Push2TV. The S7 measures only .51-inches thin but weighs 2.8 pounds--a bit heavier than the VAIO Pro.
3. Samsung ATIV Book 9, $1499
The ATIV Book 9 notebook from Samsung weighs 2.6 pounds and is .50-inches thin with a 13-inch non-touch display. Like the Sony and Acer thin and light models I tested, this laptop uses a fast Intel Core i7 processor. It's the shortest-lasting of the bunch at only five hours, one-third the staying power of Sony's extra battery at 14 hours. One interesting perk, though: the ATIV comes with a technology called SideSync that allows you to see the actual screen of your Samsung Galaxy phone on the laptop's screen.