Walt Mossberg

H-P and Lenovo Offer New Wave of Laptops: Small and Affordable

The laptop factories of China have begun to churn out a new wave of diminutive, portable PCs for brand-name computer makers that should help lighten the briefcases of road warriors without lightening their wallets too much.

These latest models aren’t quite as small as the teeniest laptops available, like Sony‘s Vaio TX series, which are flaunted at airports like skinny fashion models at a photo shoot. But the new contenders have larger screens than the TX and cost less than the $2,300 or more that the Sony commands.

These new laptops all have screens that measure 12.1 inches diagonally. All hover around four pounds, though in some basic configurations some can weigh as little as three pounds. Even well equipped, they cost between $1,400 and $1,700.

Gateway began the most recent wave with a slender model released earlier this year, the NX100X, starting at just $1,400. But, unlike the Sony TX and other new models, it lacks an internal DVD drive.

I’ve been testing and comparing two newer entries that do pack an internal DVD drive into their small cases. One is the first ultraportable laptop from Hewlett-Packard in years, the Compaq nc2400. The other is one of the first crop of portables to be sold in the U.S. under the brand name of Lenovo, the Chinese computer giant, which now owns the IBM ThinkPad line of laptops. It’s called the Lenovo 3000 V100.

The H-P Compaq NC2400, already shipping, can be bought for as little as $1,549. A stripped-down model of the new Lenovo 3000 V100, which will be available soon, can be had for a mere $1,099. But the configurations of both computers I tested — selected and provided by the manufacturers — each cost precisely $1,649.

I like both of these machines, despite the fact that the H-P and Lenovo marketing people apparently skipped the class in business school about giving products simple, memorable names. You won’t go wrong with either of these laptops. But for their identical price, you get very different computers.

Based on “speeds and feeds,” the raw specs of a computer, the Lenovo offers much more than the H-P. But based on the key components of road-warrior mobility — weight, size and battery life — the H-P crushes the Lenovo.

lenovo
Lenovo 3000 V100

The H-P is a dark-gray and black model that feels svelte, but solid. It is less than an inch thick, and the version I tested, with an extra-strength six-cell battery that protruded from the rear, weighed in at 3.8 pounds.

The Lenovo has a silvery lid and a black body that manages to look bulkier than it really is. It’s 1.25 inches thick, and the version I tested, which also had an extra-strength, six-cell battery that protruded from the rear, weighed 4.1 pounds.

The H-P also has a smaller footprint for a desktop or airline tray — 11.1 by 8.38 inches vs. 12 by 8.9 inches for the Lenovo.

I put the two contenders through my harsh battery test, where I turn off all power-saving features and keep the hard disk working.

The Lenovo’s battery lasted two hours, 41 minutes, an OK time for a little laptop. In more normal use with power saving on, it would likely approach 3.5 hours.

But the H-P Compaq nc2400 blew away the Lenovo on battery life, with a startling endurance of four hours, 27 minutes. This performance, one of the best I have ever recorded, suggests that with its power-saving features turned on, the little H-P could allow you to work for six hours straight without recharging.

On speeds and feeds, however, the tables are turned. The H-P I tested has a relatively wimpy Intel Core Solo processor running at 1.2 gigahertz, though it can be ordered with faster processors. The Lenovo has an Intel Core Duo, with the equivalent of two processors, running at two gigahertz. The H-P has 512 megabytes of memory; the Lenovo has one gigabyte — twice as much. The H-P has a 40 gigabyte hard disk. The Lenovo’s hard disk is 100 gigabytes.

I didn’t find the H-P sluggish at the typical, mainstream tasks I threw at it. But for the same price, you get much more power and storage in the Lenovo.

About the only basic spec where the H-P beats the Lenovo is screen resolution. The H-P’s is slightly higher — 1,280 by 800 compared with 1,200 by 800 on the Lenovo.

Both machines include built-in fingerprint readers, but the Lenovo also has a built-in camera, which the H-P lacks. The Lenovo also uses the same keyboard found on the ThinkPad line, which I regard as the best on any laptop.

The Lenovo lacks the rugged magnesium frame and hard disk shock-protection features that were pioneered on the ThinkPad. The H-P does have versions of these protective features. And the Lenovo uses a typical touch pad to control the cursor, while the H-P uses a mid-keyboard pointing stick.

With these two contenders, your $1,649 can either buy you a somewhat smaller machine with bare-bone specs but fabulous battery life, or a better-equipped model that’s a bit bigger and much more power-hungry.

Take your pick.


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