Best ultraportable laptops - June 2011

From inexpensive netbooks to wallet-draining corporate models, there's an ultraportable for everyone

There's no doubt that 2011 has been an interesting year for mobile computing and ultraportable computers in particular.

To date, we've seen some excellent ultraportable laptops from Samsung, Lenovo and Toshiba; these represent the high end of the market. We've also seen some great sub-$1000 ultraportables, including Intel Atom-based netbooks, and more powerful and feature-rich AMD Fusion-based models. Alienware has also refreshed its little gaming marvel, the M11x. Apple is yet to drop a Second generation Core CPU into its MacBook Air, but once it does then that will also be a top thin-and-light model to choose.

For corporate buyers or big spenders

Samsung Notebook Series 9

The sexy looks, the super-thin body and the sturdy build quality of this 13.3in ultraportable are undeniable. It's one of the best mobile solutions on the Australian market — it's just a pity it's so expensive.

Toshiba Portege R830

The 13.3in R830 improves greatly on the Portege R700, which was a bit of a let-down. The inclusion of a Second Generation Core CPU and a solid state drive in the R830 makes it run cooler and faster than the R700 while increasing battery life. We like this model because it's so light and sturdy, yet it doesn't compromise when it comes to the features around its edges — it even has a built-in optical drive and embedded 3G. However, it could use a better screen.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1

When we reviewed this 13.3in model, we said it's the type of laptop that as reviewers we don't want to give back to the vendor. That's because it feels so solidly built and it just looks like it means business. It has good features and a nice (albeit glossy) screen, and it includes embedded 3G. It's definitely not perfect though: our model didn't have a properly-functioning 3G module; we also dislike the touchpad, which is one of Lenovo's worst to date.

For students and home users

Sony VAIO YB Series

This 11.6in laptop is perhaps the sexiest of the AMD Fusion-based laptops we've seen so far. It's a little slimmer and has nicer lines than the Fusion models we mention below, but this is also because it has a slightly smaller battery. This means its battery life isn't as good as the other 11.6in Fusion models we've seen.

Dell M102z

Dell's 11.6in AMD Fusion-based laptop feels a little bulky, but it has decent styling and great battery life. Its configuration is decent, but it does lack niceties such as USB 3.0 and Gigabit Ethernet. On the plus side, it does include a 7200rpm hard drive.

MSI Wind U270

This is a little bigger than the other AMD Fusion laptops we've reviewed, and it doesn't look great, but it's a 12in ultraportable that's very affordable, and it provides good performance and features — including USB 3.0.

HP Pavilion dm1

This 11.6in is the most recent of the AMD Fusion laptops that we've seen, and while it's a decent model with good battery life and performance, it's not perfect. One of the keys fell off the keyboard during our tests and we also think its fan is too loud. Nevertheless, it's worth checking out if you're in the market for an entry-level ultraportable.

Toshiba NB550D

This 11.6in AMD Fusion-based model is thin and light, and it looks quite nice. However, we don't like the placement of speakers, which tend to get muffled if you listen to music while you type. We also wish our test model came with a better graphics driver at the time. But when it comes to everyday performance and functionality, it's a good model to choose despite its slightly slower processor compared to the other Fusion laptops that we've seen — it comes with an AMD C-50 APU rather than an AMD E-350 APU.

For gamers

Alienware M11x R3

We haven't put up our review of this 11.6in laptop yet, but we can tell you it looks pretty much identical to the previous M11x that we've reviewed, and this is not a bad thing. It feels very solid (some would say heavy) for its 11.6in frame, but its performance is excellent. This is due to its powerful configuration, which includes a Second Generation Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB of DDR3 SDRAM and an NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M graphics adapter.

The only downsides are its relatively heavy weight for an 11.6in laptop (which we only bring up because a few people in the office complained about it) and its very loud cooling fan, which is a consequence of cramming so many powerful components into such a small space.

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Toshiba NB550D

The Toshiba NB550D netbook uses the AMD Fusion platform to supply good overall performance and better-than-usual multimedia features for a netbook. Its HDMI port allows users to connect it directly to a big-screen TV and its Harmon Kardon speakers produce the best sound we've heard from a netbook to date. We like this netbook a lot, but we wish it had better battery life, a less glossy screen and a slightly smoother touchpad.

  • Review Date:
  • Reviewer:
  • Manufacturer:
  • 27th Jan., 2011
  • Elias Plastiras
  • Toshiba
  • Rating:
  • Price:
  • Pros:
  • HDMI port, good performance for a netbook, good speakers, good build quality and looks
  • Cons:
  • Battery life not great, video playback was a little choppy on a Full HD television, touchpad texture was a little too rough, very reflective screen
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