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Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Weighing up ultra-thin new laptops from Japan
By RICK MARTIN
Over the past few weeks we have seen a barrage of great new laptop offerings from PC manufacturers, all hoping to deliver thin, light, and powerful mobile-computing solutions driven by Intel's new Ivy Bridge processor. Competition in this space will be fierce, perhaps even more so now that Apple's has upgraded its Macbook Air offerings. PC powerhouses such as Lenovo, Hewlett Packard and Dell offer great options for Windows users. But this week I thought we'd look at a few of the latest notebook offerings from three Japanese manufacturers to see how they stack up.
When talking about ultra-thin notebooks, Sony is an intriguing player since its VAIO series was doing ultra-thin years before it really came into fashion. And Sony's latest iteration, its VAIO Z, is indeed very slim at 17 mm thin, and it weighs a paltry 1.2 kg. Unlike many PC makers who put forth the same teardrop profile that the Macbook Air has made famous, Sony has refrained from that design in favor of a traditional, but still very thin, profile.
This notebook features solid state RAID drives and is powered by Intel's latest Ivy Bridge i7 quad-core processor. Sony claims a battery life of up to 6 hours 45 minutes, which can be extended up to 14 hours via an optional "sheet" battery attachment you can append to the bottom. The body is composed of carbon fiber and aluminum and though the VAIO Z might look all business, it does sport some notable features that make it great for media consumption. The 13.1-inch full HD display (1920 x 1080 resolution) offers wide viewing angles and impressive color accuracy. It went on sale this month in Japan, and while retail prices may vary, the cheapest you'll find this one for is about ¥125,000.
Among the MacBook Air competitors set to emerge this summer, NEC's LaVie Z is a standout. The 13-inch LaVie notebook weighs in at a very slight 999 gram, while Apple's 13-inch offering is 1.35 kg. Like Sony, NEC didn't mimic the tapered design of the MacBook Air, although this new notebook doesn't really seem to need it, cracking the 1 kg barrier to become one of the lightest laptops you'll see on the market.
How did NEC pull off such a feat? The LaVie Z isn't actually on the market yet, but they claim their secret is that the ultra-lightweight chassis is composed of a lithium-magnesium alloy casing that's lighter than aluminum, but still rigid and durable.
The notebook will come with offerings of either i7 or i5 Intel Ivy Bridge processors, and the 13.3-inch display will feature a screen resolution of 1600 x 900. Keep an eye out for this one to hit stores in the coming months. There's no word on any price point from the folks at NEC just yet.
One of the more eye-catching ultrabooks to hit the Japanese market recently is from Mouse Computer Japan (MCJ), in the shape of its 11.6-inch LuvBook X Series.
If you thought NEC's LaVie Z was light, wait till you check out this one. The design is sleek and sexy with a black carbon-fiber body weighing just 985 grams, which is actually lighter than NEC's 13-inch LaVie. But more importantly, it's lighter than Apple's 11-inch Macbook Air (which weighs 1.08 kg).
In fact, you'll see an uncanny similarity between this LuvBook and the Macbook Air, with the profile measuring 17 mm at its thickest point, tapering to 5 mm at the tip. On a somewhat related note, Apple secured a patent for their wedge design back on June 5 (see U.S. patent No. D661,296 S). So it will be interesting to see if this affects PC-makers going forward.
For those who want an ultra-portable Windows machine, the LuvBook X certainly looks like a fun option.
The display has a resolution of 1366 x 786 and it features a light sensor to adjust screen brightness according to the surrounding environment. There are USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports and a mini display port, although like the Macbook Air there is no ethernet port and you'll have to use a USB adaptor to connect over LAN.
Like the LaVie Z, the LuvBook X will have options for either an i7 or i5 Intel processor, coming at a price point of ¥99,800 and ¥89,880 respectively, and it sports 4 gigabytes of RAM and a 120-gigabyte solid-state drive. But it's important to note that Mouse is going with Sandy Bridge CPUs instead of the latest Ivy Bridge incarnations. Perhaps that's the sacrifice they made for coming to market sooner, but it certainly looks like an impressive notebook all the same.