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best travel laptops 2012

I’m asked all the time what is the best travel laptop and I’ve said many times there is no one best. It’s like asking what’s the best car, or shoe; everything really depends on your needs, budget, and personal preferences. That being said, there are some great laptops on the market now and I’ve put together a spectrum of those ranging from netbooks to higher-end full sized laptops to help guide your decision. (And after you’re done here you can check out my Traveler’s Guide To Choosing The Right Laptop to find a good fit for your jet-setting style.)

Budget Laptops And Netbooks

Generally speaking, the lower the price range of laptop, the more selection there is, and the greater variation within that group. That makes selecting a laptop of any kind in the sub-$600 range more difficult probably than any other. Mostly because there’s a lot out there and the shelf lifespan of these products is accelerated with frequent model updates that are hard to decipher.

  • asus 1025c netbookAsus EEE 1025C-BBK301 (~$259) – This 10-inch 2.4 pound (1.08 kilogram) netbook falls into a perfect storm of reliability and power (battery life listed at 12.5 hours) for an exceptional price. The Asus EEE 1025C-BBK301 is a good choice for those travelers who aren’t especially concerned about work or connectivity on their trip. You can check email, whip up a few documents, and probably reduce your anxiety about laptop theft at this price.
  • HP Pavilion dm1-4210us (~$450) – HP netbooks tend to be hit or miss but when their parts come together as they do in the dm1-4210us you get a relatively powerful netbook with more 4 times more memory and a 60% larger hard drive than the Asus EEE 1025C-BBK301 above. You also get an extra inch or so of screen, however the drawbacks are a slightly heavier build (3.52 lbs/1.29kg) and less battery life, around 7 hours.

Ultrabooks

Those of you who’ve read my The Ultimate Tech Guide For Travelers Version 2.0 know what I think of the term “ultrabook.” To put it mildly, I’m not a fan. But since I don’t get to add and remove words from languages as I please, let’s talk about this category of laptop that are distinguished by their small size and thinness. Ultrabooks are usually less than 2.5cm thick and weight less than a kilo and a half, the difference between them and netbooks usually being price and power – though there is some overlap between those laptop groups.

  • macbook airMacbook Air 11-Inch (~$1,100) – If you ask me, unless you’re looking for a straight-up Windows machine, the Macbook Air is the ultrabook for travelers. The Air really defined the category before it was made up by Intel in a marketing ploy, and it’s a powerful little machine. Aside from the solid 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, the Air is made even zippier with 64-128GB of flash storage (no spinning hard drive) sitting inside its 0.11-0.68 inch (0.3-1.7 cm) frame. The only drawback of the 11-inch is the 5 hour battery life, surprisingly low for a laptop of this design.
  • Toshiba Portege R835-P94 (~$689) – This 13.3-inch laptop skirts the line between ultrabook and full-sized laptop mainly due to its thicker build (8.94 x 12.44 x 1.05 inches) although the trade is an 8x DVD drive built-in. The battery life is also better than the Macbook Air (about 9 hours) and its got a much bigger storage capacity – 640GB – albeit on a hard disk drive (as opposed to flash storage). Still, at half the price of the Air, you might be willing to trade a few grams from your wallet as opposed to your laptop.
  • acer aspire s5 ultrabookAcer Aspire S5-391-9880 (~$,1299) – If you’ve got the luxury to browse by laptops at a store, this Acer Aspire is worth getting a hands-on look at if you’re in the ultrabook market. The size (12.77 x 9.85 x 0.59 inches with a 13.3-inch screen) and weight (2.65lbs/1.2kg) of the Aspire won’t be a problem in your backpack and its 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) is slick as ice. The only big concern are the ports (e.g. USB); built on to a little motor that drops them down when needed. Why Acer would add unnecessary moving parts to a laptop is beyond me but that said, everything on the inside makes it an ultrabook to consider.

Honorable Mentions – Ultrabooks

Full-Size Laptops

  • Macbook Pro with Retina Display 15-inch (~$2,199) – There is so much to like about Apple’s latest addition to their Pro line, including, obviously, the retina display (basically the highest resolution your eyes can notice). A huge 768GB of flash storage, 7 hours of battery life, weighing only 4.46lbs (2.02kg), and it’s thin enough to give “ultrabooks” a run for their money.The only drawback however is the price, though Apple is likely to add a a few tweaks within the next 12 months (or release a 13-inch version) which might send this model sub-$2,000. At the very least in refurbished models.

  • Dell XPS 14z [2.8GHz Core i7-2640M] 14-inch (~$1,300) – This Dell won’t replace the Macbook Pro above or even come close, but it’s a strong overall candidate for good travel laptop in the mid-size range. Especially, this 2.8GHz processor build, though there is less expensive $1,000 1.7GHz version. The Dell cases in general don’t make their laptops feel as nice as they should but the screens on this model appeared crisp and bright when I looked them over. With a few tweaks Dell could really make this laptop feel like a higher-end machine but don’t let the appearances fool you, the insides are much better than the cover suggests.

You’re Probably Asking Which One You Should Buy?

As I mentioned in the beginning, there is no single best laptop and a few more could have been added to this list. However, for travelers in general, the top considerations tend to be: physical size, battery life, and the all important “can it do what I want it to.” Unless you’re a power-user (you know who you are) most of these laptops could probably meet your needs; keep in mind how long you’ll be starring at a screen and typing on a keyboard. Those considerations might be incentive enough to get a sightly larger screen or test out a few laptop keyboards to see how your fat fingers or pixy pinkies do typing on them.

Once you do get your travel computer, you can load these 5 programs you shouldn’t travel without, lock down your laptop from theft, and protect your privacy from invasive governments around the world.