Netbooks-those mini portables with small screens and compact keyboards-are cute. But they’re not for everyone. Disk space is limited, keyboards are cramped, and they’re no good for watching movies. To remedy all that, you need a full-size laptop.
The good news is that for about $600 you can get a lot of portable-computing prowess: a 15-inch or larger display, a full-size keyboard, and enough processing power for movies, games and, of course, boring stuff such as word processing. You’ll get from four to eight hours of battery life, too, depending on your usage. One caveat: The deals are on PCs running Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system. (Sorry, Apple fans. Mac laptops still start at $1,000.)
Slim and light.
Tipping the scales at 5.3 pounds, the Acer Aspire Timeline AS5810TZ-4784 ($650) may seem gargantuan next to a netbook weighing 2 to 3 pounds, but it’s a lightweight compared with the 7- to 9-pound luggables of old. The Timeline features a colorful 15.6-inch display and a full-size keyboard, but it’ll still fit-albeit snugly-in a backpack or briefcase. This portable, with its Intel Pentium Dual Core SU4100 processor, 4 gigabytes of memory and a large, 320GB hard drive, packs plenty of punch.
The Timeline adds a few clever touches-literally. Its “multi-gesture” touchpad permits iPhone-like finger commands. For instance, to browse photos or Web pages, you slide two fingers horizontally across the pad. The keyboard is spacious, although the spacing between keys may actually be too wide for some users. And if you eat while you type-as I often do-crumbs of food may get lodged between the keys. (Yes, there’s an etiquette lesson in here somewhere.)
Dell has perfected the art of build-it-yourself PC purchasing, which makes it tempting to scrimp a little and buy a stripped-down model. For example, you can buy a no-frills Dell Inspiron 15 for $400 with 2GB of memory and the much-maligned Windows Vista operating system. But a better bet is the upgraded Dell Inspiron 15 ($550), which has Windows 7, an Intel Pentium Dual Core chip, 4GB of memory and a 320GB hard drive.
The Inspiron 15 is a reliable workhorse, and its 15.6-inch display is crisp and colorful. The keyboard is roomy but lacks a dedicated numerical keypad (the Timeline and Hewlett-Packard’s Pavilion dv6z both have one). The 5.8-pound Inspiron is a bit bulkier than the Timeline, particularly with its lid shut, and its basic black shell is a tad drab; you can jazz it up by adding an optional color or custom-design top ($40 and up).
Big and brawny.
The HP Pavilion dv6z ($600) isn’t svelte like the Timeline and, at 6.5 pounds, it’s the heftiest full-size laptop in the group. But if your portable spends most of its time sitting atop a desk or table, what’s an extra pound or so? The version available at HP’s online store is nicely configured: It has an AMD Athlon II Dual Core chip, 4GB of memory, a 250GB hard drive, a 15.6-inch display and Windows 7.
In terms of appearance, the Pavilion dv6z falls somewhere between the Timeline and the Inspiron. It lacks the Timeline’s slim fashion sense, but it’s hipper than the stodgy Inspiron. The standard espresso-black case features an imprint that resembles large raindrops. If that’s not your thing, you can upgrade to moonlight white for an extra $25.