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 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.
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 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 (~$689) – This 13.3-inch laptop skirts the line between ultrabook and full-sized laptop mainly due to its thicker build (8.94 x 12.44 x 1.05 inches) although the trade is an 8x DVD drive built-in. The battery life is also better than the Macbook Air (about 9 hours) and its got a much bigger storage capacity – 640GB – albeit on a hard disk drive (as opposed to flash storage). Still, at half the price of the Air, you might be willing to trade a few grams from your wallet as opposed to your laptop.
- Acer Aspire S5-391-9880 (~$,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
- Dell XPS XPS13-40002sLV 13-Inch (~$975) – This laptop makes a good hackintosh candidate.
- HP Folio 13-1020US 13.3-Inch (~$1,000) – 9 hours of battery life and a nice internal hardware configuration.
- ASUS Zenbook UX31E-DH52 13.3-Inch (~$925) – Nice hardware design and includes an SD card reader (something I look for in my 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.