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Modern Models Of Lighter, Slimmer Computing

Competition in the Ultrabook category of laptops resembles a runway cat fight among skinny supermodels, as these thin and light devices battle it out over looks and vital statistics. The models from Toshiba and Hewlett-Packard, and a hybrid alternative from Asus, all excel but the right option will depend on your needs.

Toshiba Portégé Z835:

Toshiba's first Ultrabook is truly lighter than Air, as in the MacBook Air, which has shaped this category.

It is so light that I thought it must be hollow inside when I first picked it up, yet it has more features than some of its rivals.

And did I mention it was light? At 2.47lb, this 13in model is a half-pound lighter than the 13in Air, a difference you really sense once these devices are less than 3lb.

The Portégé Z835 is also the lightest-on-the-wallet Ultrabook: at $870 in the US, (£900 in the UK) it is $30 cheaper than the Acer Aspire S3, and $430 cheaper than the Air.

Intel invented this category to defend its PC territory from tablets, where its processors have so far failed to figure. The first models have appeared in the past six weeks: the Acer Aspire S3 and the Lenovo U300s, both of which I have reviewed, and now the Toshiba, Asus Zenbook and the Hewlett-Packard Folio 13.

Ultrabooks are more likely to really take off once they are nearer the $500 than $1,000 price range, and when battery life lasts a waking day. Windows 8 – appearing in the latter part of 2012, to replace Windows 7, which looks rather antiquated to those of us accustomed to apps and touch interfaces – would also help.

But Ultrabooks are getting better fast. The Toshiba has a backlit keyboard and an Ethernet networking port, both absent in the $1,200 Lenovo. It has a faster solid-state drive, cleaner design and stronger construction than the Acer, which has a hybrid hard-drive combination.

On the downside, you can flex the Portégé's ultra-thin screen, the keyboard feels cramped and a basic Intel Core i3 processor is preferred. But the Toshiba still seems quick and nimble and so, so light.

Hewlett-Packard Folio 13:

Perhaps I seem to be developing a weight obsession here, but the Hewlett-Packard Folio 13's most striking feature is that it is heavy, really heavy – I'm talking 3.3lbs heavy. In Ultrabook terms, that ranks as obese: none of its rivals tops the 3lb mark.

So how can HP justify this attractive but overweight object? The answer is that it is aimed more at the business user – or the consumer who mixes business with pleasure – and has a solidity and battery life treasured by companies and by the mobile professional on the road.

The Folio boasts nine hours of battery life, which is more than an hour better than the competition, and its battery is designed to stop its performance fading as others do.

Other pluses are full-sized ports, including Ethernet, an HD webcam, solid-state hard drive and backlit keyboard.

It lacks the smooth unibody design of the Air or the Lenovo, but at $900 (£849), there is plenty to like about this Core i5 Ultrabook, and, even at 3.3lbs, you don't need the shoulders of Atlas to tote it.

Asus Eee Pad Slider:

It may be that the future of slim computing will combine tablet touchscreens and laptop keyboards in some form resembling Asus's Eee Pad Slider.

This unusual device has a mechanism that can slide its tablet screen into a propped-up position to reveal a narrow physical keyboard.

I liked this proximity of screen and keys "there was no physical strain on the arms to switch from typing to tapping the touchscreen to move around its Android 3.2 interface.

The Slider is solid, easy to grip and has a scratch-resistant 10.1in screen, plus front- and rear-facing cameras. It is more tablet-cum-netbook than Ultrabook, which is reflected in its $480 (£430) price for a 16Gb version.

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