THE POWER AND THE PLATFORM
By Joe Brancatelli
March 3, 2009 -- Laptops are getting smaller, smartphones are getting smarter, and a whole new mobile computing category—netbooks—has developed in between. From laptops with built-in 3G phone modems like the Lenovo ThinkPad X301 to the ubiquitous iPhone, business travelers have a wider choice of portable computing platforms than ever before.
None of them are perfect, of course, and each type of device has pros and cons. Here are some of the most notable on-the-move contenders.
1. Lenovo ThinkPad X301
Positioned as the MacBook Air fighter, Lenovo's Darth-Vadar-black ThinkPad X301 isn't nearly as pretty. But it makes the weight (a feather less than three pounds), it's ultraslim (less than an inch thick), and it boasts features (including built-in DVD burner) that the MacBook lacks.
Pros: Long battery life; multiple connectivity options (Bluetooth, WiFi and 3G); three USB ports.
Cons: With a starting price of $2,049, it's expensive; poor placement of trackpad; uses Vista operating system; not enough memory (1 gig) in basic configuration.
2. Acer Aspire One
The Aspire One is the best of the first generation of small, light, and inexpensive netbook portables pioneered by Acer and Asus and now made by mainstream PC firms too. Most netbooks rely on Linux or a version of Windows XP that is fast to start and nimble enough for virtually all business-related applications.
Pros: About two pounds and half the size of a standard laptop; sells for $300 to $400; crisp 8.9-inch display and built-in web camera; three USB ports and two SD memory slots.
Cons: Cramped, unintuitive touchpad and smallish keyboard; no built-in Bluetooth or optical drive; slower processor and limited memory.
3. BlackBerry Curve 8900
The latest iteration of the gold standard of smartphones looks and acts a lot more like an iPhone than ever before without sacrificing BlackBerry's superior email capabilities. Upgrades to the "fun" side make it a capable music and video player too. Cost: $199 with a two-year contract.
Pros: Brighter, sharper display; much-improved internet browser; sleeker design and noticeably better build quality; WiFi capable; built-in GPS.
Cons: No support for 3G; limited onboard memory must be augmented with microSD cards; only available through T-Mobile on GSM network.
4. Apple MacBook Air
Last year's must-have bauble of high-tech eye candy still looks marvelous. It's thin (less than an inch), light (three pounds) and sleek in its anodized aluminum sheath. And Apple has upgraded its memory, processor, and hard-drive capacity.
Pros: Excellent keyboard and trackpad; sharp 13.3-inch display; compact (nine by 13 inches).
Cons: Extremely expensive at $1,800 starting price; no built-in optical drive or Ethernet port; only one USB port.
5. Blackberry Storm
The first BlackBerry with a touch-screen keyboard even emits an audible click when you press a "key." Available only through Verizon Wireless, it twins Verizon's superior domestic CDMA calling network with the worldwide GSM standard. Like the Curve, the Storm costs $199 with a two-year contract.
Pros: Excellent 3.25-inch screen; lots of memory; improved internet browsing; built-in GPS; travel charger with worldwide adapters.
Cons: Heavy (5.5 ounces); keyboard takes some acclimation and is cramped; no trackball for navigation; sluggish performance.
6. HP Mini Vivienne Tam Edition
As Hewlett-Packard says in its promotion, "fashion meets technology" when designer Vivienne Tam creates a red floral motif for an HP netbook. The whole package really does look like the "world's first digital clutch." There's even a matching tote bag and scarf for sale.
Pros: 10-inch screen; light (2.5 pounds) and thin (one inch thick); standard netbook accoutrements under the designer trappings.
Cons: Limited battery life; expensive for a netbook ($699 for the basic version, $899 with the matching accessories).
7. Apple iPhone
Can 18 million iPhone buyers be wrong? Yes, but since they are fanatically devoted, what's the sense of arguing with them? And no one can argue with the fact that the iPhone has changed the look, feel and functionality of the smartphone market forever.
Pros: Excellent Web browser; improved ability to securely sync with corporate email systems; dizzying array of third-party "apps."
Cons: No cut-and-paste function; spotty 3G performance; high price for data plans; only available from AT&T on GSM nework. The phone costs as much as $299 with a two-year contract.
8. Sony Vaio P Series
Sony calls the Vaio P a lifestyle computer rather than a netbook, but the point is the same: It packs many traditional laptop features into a very small package. The Vaio P is about the shape of a restaurant check folio and even comes in several designer colors.
Pros: Light (1.5 pounds); tiny (9.7 by 4.7 by 0.75 inches); built-in GPS, WiFi and 3G support; good keyboard.
Cons: Slow Windows Vista operating system; sluggish processor; small screen (8 inches); expensive ($900 and up); no room for touchpad.
9. T-Mobile G1 (aka Google Android)
The first device based on Google's Android operating system, the G1 is the Transformer of smartphones: The traditional "candy bar"-style phone rotates horizontally to landscape mode and the touchscreen slides up to reveal a Qwerty keyboard for Web-browsing and other tasks.
Pros: Supports 3G and WiFi; has built-in GPS; lots of third-party "apps"; easy integration with Gmail and other Google software.
Cons: Poor battery life; uncomfortable as traditional cellphone; only available from T-Mobile on GSM network.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright © 2009 Condé Nast Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.