Considerations on buying a new notebook

The notebook I currently own, a Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo 1505 Pi, does not satisfy my requirements. I bought it ten months ago, but already after one month of use the paint at the back of the display was showing signs of wear. Some months later, a piece of plastic attached to the edge of the enclosure near the hinge of the display broke off. I can notice easily that the display is lit very unevenly by the backlight. The design of the enclosure looks cheap, the build quality isn’t good enough either because the display can be subject to flex and because that piece of plastic broke off. Because it’s got a 15,4 inch display it’s not

portable and heavy. It’s battery life is limited to approximately a little more than three hours if the display is set to the lowest brightness, which is just barely enough for me. These are serious disadvantages because I never use this notebook as a desktop replacement – for which a 15,4 inch display would be a good thing – but always travel with my notebook. The most important hardware specifications of the notebook are a Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 CPU, 1024 MB RAM and a 80 GB hard disk. The CPU was relatively new at the moment when I bought it, but because I use my notebook exclusively for word processing and other tasks which don’t demand any serious performance, it’s a waste of money. Retrospectively, it wasn’t a smart choice to pay € 900 for this notebook. I’ll never buy Fujitsu-Siemens notebooks again for the foreseeable future.

A more portable replacement for my current notebook

I have been reviewing for some time already what my options are for buying a new notebook. After my disappointment with the Amilo 1505 Pi, my requirements are that it is a more portable notebook with a 13,3 inch as the maximum diagonal size for the display, a long battery life, good build quality, attractive design and preferably a LED-backlit display. It would be best if the notebook came with a Linux distribution pre-installed instead of Windows, so I don’t have to pay the Microsoft tax for an OS which I will certainly replace with a Linux distribution as soon as possible anyway. Finally, price is also an important concern because I’m a student, I don’t want to spend more than € 1000 but preferably less. Some notebooks which could meet these requirements partially or completely caught my attention.

The Dell XPS M1330 is beautiful, it’s got a 13,3 inch display and it’s weight starts at 1,79 kg with the LED-backlit display and 4-cell battery. Currently the cheapest M1330 with the option for the LED-backlit display included costs € 929 at Dell’s Dutch website. Dell started selling the M1330 with Ubuntu pre-installed some time ago, but not yet in the Netherlands. At the Dell USA website, the same configuration of the M1330 with Ubuntu costs $ 1129, which is € 715. I’m not sure if I’d want to buy the M1330 at Dell USA, besides the hassle of getting someone to ship it to the Netherlands I’d probably have a problem with the charger because different power sockets are used in the USA.

The VAIO TZ is even more portable than the M1330 at 1,19 kilo with an 11,1 display. Almost seven hours of battery life is great. The design also exceeds the M1330, the TZ is the best looking notebook I have ever seen. Unfortunately, prices start above € 1400 and it comes with tons of bloatware pre-installed with Windows. The ThinkPad X300 is a great notebook as well, but because prices start at higher than $2900 it’s out of the question. The Apple Macbook is priced at a similar level as the M1330, € 938,91 with a student discount. It’s slightly heavier at 2,27 kg, the hardware specifications are comparable to the M1330, but Apple’s notebooks are arguably better designed. The problem is that I don’t like the white version, and the black version costs over € 300 extra. I’m not sure if I’d want to use Mac OS X, or if I’d want to buy Apple products. If I think about Apple’s image, I think about fanboys and hordes of mindless people who buy iPod’s without evaluating the competition in the portable media player market. With a M1330 or VAIO TZ I’d feel more exclusive than with an Apple MacBook.

The disadvantages of all four portable notebooks are that they are quite expensive, more expensive than equal 15,4 inch models (for example, the XPS M1530 is nearly € 200 cheaper than the M1330). With the exception of the VAIO TZ and X300 which use low voltage CPU’s to provide more battery life, most portable notebooks use the standard CPU’s and don’t provide much more battery life than my current notebook.

The Asus Eee PC’s successors

An interesting alternative to these expensive portables arrived in the form of the Asus Eee PC. This notebook has a 7 inch display, weighs only 0,92 kg, gives more than three hours of battery life, comes pre-installed with Xandros Linux (which can be replaced with Ubuntu of course, which I prefer) and best of all prices start at just above € 300. Initially I wasn’t interested in the Eee PC because 7 inch is just to small. However, recently news arrived that a new model, the Eee PC 900, will feature a larger 8,9 inch display. The Intel Atom CPU will be used, which will provide increased battery life up to 8 hours. Other producers are planning to release competitors for the Eee PC which will have larger 10 inch displays and use the Intel Atom CPU as well. MSI will release the Wind notebook and ECS presented the G10IL which contains HSDPA as a distinguishing feature. Gigabyte, Acer and Dell also intend to introduce Eee PC competitors. I’d consider 10 inch the minimum size to work comfortably with, hopefully these new versions with larger displays will be available soon with a low price.

Still, the Eee PC and it’s competitors don’t look as good as the VAIO TZ, and the 11,1 inch display of the TZ is a better compromise between portability and comfort. Ideally, Sony would take the exterior of the TZ and replace it’s internals with lower spec hardware similar to the Eee PC so the price of the TZ would be drastically reduced.