Help for a Hater: A PC to Blow Away Apple's MacBook Air
Dear Hater: We don't think it'll surprise you that, as professional know-it-alls, we sometimes find ourselves stifling a chuckle at the naive queries we receive. And yet here we are, coming to you with a tail between our legs, as we admit we've found ourselves as stymied by this dilemma as you are. But that isn't to say we don't have a recommendation.
It is true that, to date, there really is no exact counterpoint to the MacBook Air in terms of profile, power and price, as compared to the slew of PC laptops on the market which are just cookie-cutter clones of each other, minus a spec here and there. But we're thinking that maybe there's a good reason. After all, there's much to recommend about the Air, but we've found it's an especially niche product because of its pronounced shortcomings: the lack of an optical drive, memory card slot, Ethernet port and standard graphics port (it has Mini DisplayPort) and just a single USB port. That might explain why PC makers took a look at the apparently lukewarm sales of the Air and decided an exact knock-off simply wasn't a prudent business decision.
Yet, this doesn't mean that PC makers haven't ventured into the ultra-thin, ultralight laptop market on their own with a different paradigm in mind. We took a long, hard look at the offerings from every reputable PC maker out there and came up with a short list of recommendations. Though none precisely fill every spec on your wish list, we're confident you'll be pleased.
To answer your frustrated queries and have us JUST TELL YOU WHAT TO GET, email Switched at firstname.lastname@example.org
HP Envy 13
As for actual use, the Envy boots to a nifty Linux multimedia mode for photo, music and Web access in just 15 seconds, or can be booted to Windows 7 Professional in about a minute. Response is generally zippy, so don't worry about suffering an underpowered netbook experience. The chicklet-style keyboard, clearly influenced by the MacBook series, is excellent, though its multitouch trackpad/touchpad is a bit unfortunate: it takes serious getting used to and doesn't scroll or zoom consistently. It's more of hassle to use and we simply ended up ignoring it. We also found that the forward-facing speakers sounded nice but were far too weak; even in a quiet room we struggled to hear audio playback with the volume jacked all the way up. In our tests, the standard 4-cell battery lasted 4-plus hours watching 480p streamed video from Hulu, though an optional super-thin and lightweight "slice" battery for an extra $150 runs the entire length of the base and reportedly boosts battery time to about 10-to-15 hours.
Otherwise the Envy compares well with, and sometimes outdoes the Air, with a higher-res and gorgeous backlit LED display, a built-in camera and full wireless array (Wi-Fi 802.11n and Bluetooth), and the addition of a second USB port, an HDMI port, an SD card slot and an included USB/ethernet adapter-- all for a $150 less than the base Air.