New gizmos put laptops on a higher playing field
Not long ago I was on a Skype call with a friend in Portugal. I normally don't use the Web cam on phone calls, but my friend insisted that I check him out on the screen. It was evening in Europe and, as he held up a glass of local port, I saw a big smile on his face.
The image was crisp, and the Web cam captured the movement of his raising the wine glass without the jagged motion you'd expect. He wasn't trying to impress me with his latest purchase at the bodega. What he wanted to show off was his cool new Macbook with built-in Web cam and microphone.
I was impressed. However, after doing a little research, I discovered it's not only Macs that have the cool tools. Even Windows laptops, which were traditionally behind the curve compared to Apple, now come with built-in Web cams. There are a number of other new features that are on the way.
Wall Street Journal tech columnist Walter Mossberg reports that soon manufacturers will be introducing a super fast "solid-state drive," or SSD. This will take the place of the "classic" disk drive because it will be constructed something like the memory chips in your digital camera. A variation on this is a quick-starting "hybrid hard drive" ("HHD") which brings together the memory chips with a standard drive.
Mossberg writes that we can also look for super-bright LED powered screens that sap less energy, and a new Wi-Fi networking standard called "N," which is supposed to be both faster and have longer range.
So with all these new gizmos and powerful chips, are laptops ready to take over the heavy-duty functions of desktops, such as number crunching, video editing or even making video calls?
Power users such as real estate economist Mike Sklarz, of New City Corp., who uses a Dell notebook at his Kaimuki office, says he's been a big fan of the "laptop as desktop" for a long time. At the end of the day, says Sklarz, "I can always take my office with me, whether I'm going home or jumping on an airplane to Asia."
PC manufacturers such as Sony, Acer, Hewlett-Packard and others have recently come out with powerful laptops that are every bit as proficient at completing multimedia tasks. Many of these utilize a chip from Intel called the Centrino Duo, which provides ample processing power and very fast wireless networking capabilities. Of course, you'll have to pay for this kind of extra horsepower. The minimum price would be in the range of $2,000.
This brings us to the disadvantages of laptops. With more powerful laptops you're going have a shorter battery life. This is especially true with power-intensive applications.
Laptops are also, in general, more expensive that desktops. The average price for a notebook is about $850 whereas you'd pay only $600 for a desktop with similar features.
The lesson is that you still get more bang for the buck with a desktop. However, you get what you pay for, and if having a mobile office is your goal, the price is worth paying.
If you're interested in a general overview of the latest laptops, good places to look include www.CNET.com, www.notebookreview.com or www.pcmag.com.