Small wonders: Putting mini laptops to the test

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They're tinier, faster and more portable than ever – but how do the new wave of mini-laptops measure up in the real world? Five readers put them to the test


The housewife

Helen Love, 44
Asus EEE PC, £249.99

Does it pack a punch?

It runs not on Microsoft Windows but on Linux, a free operating system, and I was sceptical about how easy that would be to use, though it obviously does help keep the price down. I'm trying to set up my own business from home, and I have been brainwashed by standard PC software and applications, but I found that this machine is actually really intuitive.

My children were straight into the "play" section and having a whale of a time, too. The built-in webcam fires up easily and I dumped a load of music files direct from my mp3 player into the machine and suddenly there was no need to take the Asus and my mp3 player on the train. I've used a high-spec laptop in the past – and I would say that the Asus is even quicker. I love the fact that I can plug my SD card straight into a slot and see camera's photos on the seven-inch screen. There are three USB ports, so plenty for printers, mp3 players and anything else you need to hook up. 4 stars

How portable is it?

I can scarcely believe how dinky it is. It weighs 936g and measures 22.5x16x2.5cm; the novel I'm reading measures 1,200g and measures 24x16x6.5cm. 5 stars



Would I buy one?

The only snag is that it doesn't have a CD drive. This is fine for most things and only a bind when you want to install software. The inconvenience is only slight though, especially when you consider the portability and the price, and I'm very tempted to buy one. 5 stars

www.uk.asus.com; available from www.pcworld.co.uk

The blogger
Henry Brennan, 21, recent graduate
Apple MacBook Air, £2,028

Does it pack a punch?

This is more than just a cool object to look at. It's incredibly fast and one of the most impressive features is that it's silent: it has 60Gb solid-state memory rather than a hard drive, which means there is no whirring of disks, no noisy fans and no overheating of the nether regions when it's on your lap. It's very fast, and the latest version of the Mac operating system is very good – especially the new "spaces" trick, which lets you to split the screen into four different activity zones, like having four mini-screens. The touch-pad lets you scroll through text and pictures and zoom in and out by using finger strokes – like the iPhone. 5 stars

How portable is it?

This is the sort of laptop that deserves to be called portable. The 13.3-inch screen means it's wider than all the other laptops here, but it scores because it's so thin (less than 2cm at its widest point) and light (only 1.3kg). This is a laptop you acn carry around without feeling as if gravity is tugging the fingers away from your hands. When closed, it feels more like a stylish A4-sized clipboard, and the tapered edges of the mean that it slips easily in and out of the pockets of a shoulder bag. 3 stars



Overall, would you buy one?

It only has one USB port, which is a bit tricky if you want to use a memory stick and download pictures from your camera at the same time. And there's no DVD or CD drive. The price has to go down as another drawback, but there is a model with a normal, 80Gb hard drive rather than the solid-state memory, and that's £1,199 – more than £800 cheaper. 3 stars

www.apple.com/uk

The social networker
Ali Pope, 27, office temp
HP 2710p, £1,200

Does it pack a punch?

As a technophobe – though one whose Facebook and MySpace obsessions are at worrying levels – I was surprised by how easy this is to use. The big selling point of this "tablet laptop" is that you can twist the screen and fold it back over the keyboard, so you're left with the 12.1-inch screen on which to write. It works incredibly well – it translated mine and various friends' scrawl into type instantly. But it struggles with slang, which makes it more suited to formal reports than MySpace. It's quick and has a 60GB hard drive. 3 stars



How portable is it?

This is about as small as tablet laptops get. At 1.7kg and 28mm thick, it's no great burden, though it's not as small as other mini laptops. 2 stars



Would I buy one?

Another potential downfall for this laptop is that you need a special pen to write on the screen, and to use instead of a mouse. I found that a bit fiddly, and dropped it a few times. To be honest, I often found that I'd use the keyboard instead of writing on the screen, and that sort of misses the point. It might not be worth the money if you'd do the same. 2 stars

www.hp.com; 0845 270 4142

The executive
Nick Grange, 40, video games PR director
Samsung Q1 Ultra, £800



Does it pack a punch?

The first thing I noticed about the Samsung Q1 Ultra is that it's really funky looking – shiny, tiny and a real boy's toy. I first used it on a plane when I was away for business and everyone sitting near me was asking what it was. It has a touch-sensitive screen which is supposed to do away with the need for a mouse – it's a cool idea but using it is a bit fiddly. As for the keyboard, there are three ways you can type. There's the on-screen keyboard. Second, there are "qwerty" keys split into two groups on either side of the screen, where your thumbs are. Or, third, you can plug in a separate keyboard. I don't like the separate keyboard as I think it spoils the whole idea of an on-the-go device. In some ways it's impressive – it comes with Windows Vista, 1GB of memory and a 60GB hard drive – but I found the battery life disappointing. I thought that the small screen would mean that the battery would last a long time but a charge only lasted about three hours – not brilliant when you're on a transatlantic flight. 3 stars



How portable is it?

It's incredibly portable – only 22.7x2.3x12.3cm – but that's without the separate keyboard. A slide-out keyboard would be better. It's lightweight and fits into a jacket pocked. It worked well for going through my emails while I was away from home and didn't want to drag my big work laptop around with me. 5 stars



Would I buy one?

It looks amazing, and it's very slick but I think it fails in practicalities – and price. Realistically, I need a proper keyboard to type on, not a touch screen, and you can buy a laptop for less. In fact, I'd rather buy an Apple iBook. 2 stars

www.samsung.com/uk; 0845 726 7864

The student
Elsa Vulliamy, 13, student
Packard Bell Easynote XS20-006, £349.99



Does it pack a punch?

It's slightly slower than other laptops I've used, which is a bit frustrating, but not bad enough to have a big impact on what I use it for. The mouse function is annoying because the click button is on the top left of the keyboard and the mouse pad is on the top right so I have to use both hands to move the mouse. My mum thought it would be difficult to set up but it was quite and easy and it connected to the internet instantly. It doesn't have a DVD drive, and that's something I use quite a bit, but at this price you could go out and buy a cheap external one. It does have a webcam and it's installed right next to the seven-inch screen, which is neat. It had all the programs I need – like Microsoft Word and Explorer – with the added thrill of pinball. 2 stars



How portable is it?

Amazingly tiny – 23x17.1x2.9cm. And light, too – 950g. My mum was concerned about the size of the keyboard because it's so small but it doesn't bother me. It slips into my schoolbag and feels the same as taking a paper file with me. 5 stars



Would you buy one?

I would definitely like one. It's just so small and light, and does everything I need it to. 4 stars

www.pcworld.co.uk, 0844 5610000

With thanks to PC World

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