Back-to-School Notebooks, Part 2

James A. Martin
PC World
Friday, September 1, 2006; 12:10 AM

Shopping for a new notebook, whether you're going back to school or back to work, is a process fraught with peril. What if you spend thousands of dollars and end up hating the thing?

Last week I offered tips on the basic things you need to know about buying a notebook. This week I suggest notebooks that are lightweight and have long battery lives. I've also included some notebooks that go beyond the norm in terms of design and style.

Many computer vendors offer lightweight notebooks, usually called ultraportables, that weigh 3 pounds or less--ideal for students and frequent business travelers.

So what's the catch? Frequently, an ultraportable has a smallish keyboard that can make typing uncomfortable; a smallish screen (12.1 inches or less) that will have you scrolling and/or squinting; smallish hard drives (you won't often find an ultraportable with a hard drive larger than 60GB); and so on. Also, some ultraportables don't include built-in optical drives. And ultraportables can be expensive.

When shopping for an ultraportable, don't rely on the weight as listed by the vendor. Most computer sellers don't include an AC adapter or other essential accessories in the notebook's weight.PC Worldnotebook tests, however, list a notebook's minimum and average weight; the average weight includes accessories.

If light weight and a compact size are high priorities for you, take a look at the following notebooks. All earned a PCW score of Good and have a minimum weight of less than 3 pounds.

Though it's slightly heavier (minimum weight: 3.5 pounds), the Lenovo ThinkPad X60s earned a PCW score of Very Good: Review ; Pricing .

When you're in the library or an airport lounge, you can't count on having a wall socket available to charge your notebook. That's why it pays to get a notebook with a long battery life.

Many notebooks today offer multiple battery options. When configuring a notebook online, you may be given a choice between, say, a four-cell, six-cell, or nine-cell battery. Generally speaking, the more cells, the longer a battery will hold a charge--and the more cells a battery has, the larger and heavier it will be. There's a lot more to battery life than the size of the battery, however. Different notebooks manage power differently. Your optimum solution should include a visit to our Notebook chart , where you can compare lab-tested battery performance.

In addition, some notebooks can run off two batteries, further extending your work time. Usually, the additional battery slips into a modular bay that can hold either a second battery or an optical drive (such as a DVD burner), but not both at the same time.

If long battery life is important to you, here are some notebooks to consider:

Want a notebook that will get attention? The current crop of head-turners include the following:

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

Lexar Media's Firefly and Secure II flash-memory drives may overheat and cause burns or property damage. Lexar says customers should stop using these products immediately and contact the company for a free replacement.

NaturallySpeaking 9 speech recognition software offers 99 percent accuracy without any training required, according to Nuance Communications, the software developer. Previous versions required users to train the software to recognize their speech. If you're interested, go for the Preferred version ($199), which converts into text digital voice recordings made on supported portable devices.

A device that's just a bit larger than a cell phone, CarMD ($90) lets you diagnose problems with any 1996 or later car or truck.PC World's Dennis O'Reilly says the gadget plugs into the On-Board Diagnostics II port and runs diagnostic checks. Then you can plug the CarMD into your PC's USB port to get a report of any problems and the most likely fixes. If you log a lot of miles traveling for business, it could be worth the investment.

Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it . However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.

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