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Looking for a lightweight laptop?

New featherweight laptops help travelers lighten their load

By Chris McGinnis
CNN Headline News

New featherweight laptops help travelers lighten their load

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(CNN) -- I know, I know. It's hard seeing all those slim new laptop computers across the aisle of the plane when you're weighted down with a 5-year-old ball-and-chain you're embarrassed to take out in public.

If you're smart, you're ignoring all the holiday come-ons and so-called "deals" for new laptop PCs, and waiting for the real sales that come after the holidays when prices at electronics retailers plummet. Here's some advice for travelers ready to lighten their load with a new laptop.

When choosing a new laptop, frequent travelers are looking for two things mostly: light weight and long battery life (and, of course, a decent price).

This year, many of the lightest so-called "ultra-portables" weigh in at about 3 pounds. Also this year, a notebook computer really is the size of a notebook -- or smaller.

What really amazes me, though, is how much power the PC manufacturers have packed into such small boxes -- they now have built-in DVD players, big hard drives, wireless systems and more.

Prices for the new featherweight ultra-portables start at about $1,500 and go up to about $2,500, but you can find some of last year's lightweights for a little over $1,000.

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Once you go under $1,000, you get out of the super light ultra-portable range and get into heavier models with fewer features.

In addition to light weight and longer battery life, almost all new notebooks now come with built-in wireless Internet access.

In recent years, most major hotel chains, airports, conference centers, Starbucks and other places travelers frequent have installed wireless "hotspots" which broadcast the Internet via radio waves in small areas.

When you are in a "hotspot," you just fire up your wireless-equipped notebook, log on, and you can access the Internet wirelessly and at high speed -- and you don't have to crawl around looking for a phone plug.

Sony's new VAIO TR series is one of the hottest sellers this year. This 3-pounder is one of the smallest, lightest notebooks ever, and it packs a big punch, offering wireless Internet, a built-in camera and something near and dear to long-distance travelers: a built-in DVD player (to watch movies on long flights.) Best of all, the unit comes with a battery that can last from four to seven hours. It weighs just 3.1 pounds, and it's actually smaller than a real notebook. Sony's VAIO TR1 retails for about $2,100.

You'll turn a few heads at airport security when you pull out a new bright blue Dell Inspiron 300m notebook. (Dell describes its new 300m as "Venice Blue with Moonlight Silver accents.") The new Inspiron line blew through the 3-pound barrier when it was introduced in July -- coming in at only 2.9 pounds and less than an inch thick. It offers a larger screen and keyboard than most featherweights, as well as a built-in wireless Internet antenna. However, its DVD drive is not part of the unit -- you hook it up externally when you need it, and leave it behind when you don't, to save weight. It starts at about $1,500.

The brand new Actius AV18P from Sharp is packed full of excellent features, like a built-in CD/DVD player, and sells for only $1,500, but weighs in a little heavier, at about 4 pounds.

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