Starship enterprise

Starship enterprise

If you’re paying more than a lakh for a laptop, what would you expect to see in it?

The beefed-up gaming laptops strut their status with glowing lights, and the designer laptops with limited-edition artwork and use of unconventional materials. But a high-end business laptop can’t afford to be gaudy or conspicuous. It prefers to be elegant, light and a work of engineering genius.

The executive ultraportable laptop is a niche most laptop brands have a presence in. These are sleek machines priced above 50,000 that usually weigh less than 1.5kg, have good enough specifications and sport a minimalism in their design that is striking.

They’re not just high-end niches to plug in a firm’s product portfolio. Michael Tatelman, global vice-president of sales for laptop maker Dell Inc, says they serve another vital purpose—trickle-down technology and engineering expertise. Dell’s executive ultraportable, the Adamo, is the thinnest laptop in the world at 9.9mm.

“Creating that sort of form factor is what gave us the expertise to attempt a tablet like the Streak," he told Mint last month in an interview. The Streak is a 5-inch tablet device like Apple’s iPad that is due to be launched in India in October. Apple’s own ultraportable, the Macbook Air, could have opened similar doors to the iPad’s design.

That progression, however, may prove to be ironic—tablets such as the Streak and the iPad could significantly cannibalize high-end ultraportable sales.

While they won’t disappear, analysts say some of their specific use cases—like the monolithic travelling executive that these laptops target—may be taken over by tablets. “Tablets will be a real disruptive force for this segment," says Rajarshi Sengupta, leader, technology, at Deloitte in India. “As a user, when you’re travelling, most of your needs are met by tablet devices, and even a fully loaded tablet will not cost more than $800-1,000 (approx 40,000)."

But tasks such as typing documents and putting together a quick presentation are still difficult with tablets, and data from research firm IDC’s Quarterly PC Tracker report shows that sales of notebook computers in India grew at 61% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2010 with over 800,000 units shipped (the number of PCs shipped by a vendor through all distribution channels).

We look at six executive ultraportables available in the market today.

Apple Macbook Air

Rs 93,300 onwards

My, my. This is indeed a strange situation for an Apple product to be in. Apple’s ultraportable, the Macbook Air, is not the sleekest of the lot (the Adamo and Vaio X beat the Air in thinness and weight respectively) and, horror of horrors, it’s not the most expensive either. In the company we’ve put it in, it is actually middle-of-the-road. At 93,300, it features a lovely aluminium unibody design, a razor-thin 19mm frame and the joys of OS X. But here lie caveats—there’s only one USB port, and the battery isn’t user-replaceable.

Toshiba Portege T210

Rs 50,490

Toshiba’s Portege T210 neatly occupies the middle ground between Dell’s high-end Adamos and Asus’ new aluminium-brushed Eee PCs.

At 50,490, you get an 11.6-inch laptop with an energy-efficient Intel UVM processor, 4 GB of RAM and Windows 7. The Portege’s design also sports Toshiba’s trademark extreme metallic shininess, so don’t place this in view of direct sunlight, lest it blind an unfortunate co-worker.

HP Elitebook 8440w/8540w/2540p/2740p

Rs 77,000 onwards

HP’s Elitebooks are so elite they’re not even called laptops. HP prefers the wonderfully corporate term ‘Military-standard mobile workstations.’

Military-standard because they approach Thinkpad levels of durability, that is, they are able to brave dust, humidity and extreme temperatures. ‘Workstations’ because the high-end 8000 series models come loaded with 9-cell batteries, up to 8 GB of RAM and Core i7 processors. With all that, however, ‘mobile’ becomes a bit of a question mark, but that’s where the sleeker 2000 series comes in. It offers reasonably similar performance in a 12- inch display and 1.5kg frame.

Lenovo T410s and X201T

Rs 1.4 lakh

Rs 1.8 lakh

You gotta love the Lenovo Thinkpads with their square finish and tank-like chassis. They’re incredibly durable and endearingly distinct. The T410s, which start at 1.4 lakh, is the ‘thin-and-light’ subset of the Thinkpads. That means they’re like miniature tanks—rugged as ever but less than an inch thin and weighing less than 2kg. Though most ultraportables have one or the other feature, the Thinkpads have both beefy system specifications–high speeds, lots of RAM—and marathon battery lives. The X201T, which retails at the ridiculously high price of 1.8 lakh, also marks a new direction for the line. It’s a touch-enabled tablet on top of a normal laptop—one that is responsive and breezy, no less.

Dell Adamo Onyx/Adamo Pearl/Adamo XPS

Rs 1.05 lakh onwards

9.9mm. That’s thinner than most mobile phones. It’s the same thickness as an average gel-pen, but your gel-pen can’t run Windows 7. Dell’s Adamo XPS can. It’s the world’s thinnest laptop, and it is almost unbelievably sleek—featuring a chiselled metal exterior which opens by swiping a finger across a magnetic strip placed in front. It’s got a competent 4 GB of RAM, and a two-and-a-half-hour battery life. It features a spiffy solid-state drive and weighs merely 1.44kg.

What isn’t magical, however, is the price. While the Adamo series starts at 1.05 lakh, the XPS retails at 1.51 lakh. At that price, you could buy a Tata Nano and two Asus Eee PCs instead.

Asus Eee 1018P

Launching October; 27,000

Hello, entry-level ultraportable. A price of 27,000 seems jarring in the company of our elitist brethren, but this proletariat Asus ultraportable beats its class enemies with ease on many fronts.

Asus’ Eee PC range was the original subnotebook or ‘netbook’, and is known equally for its solid performance and bewildering array of available models and variants.

The 1018P, which arrives in India in late October, takes a lot of design cues from Apple’s Macbook range. It has a shiny aluminium frame and is super-thin, with a 10-inch display. The prodigious battery claims it can distil 10 hours of computing time and, in a timely stroke, the 1018P is 3G-enabled as well.

*Prices mentioned are exclusive of taxes.