IF YOU daydream of typing the next Bonfire of the Vanities while travelling to work on a carriage crammed with commuters, then this column is dedicated to you. There is, though, one thing you need to know about buying a laptop: before you take it out of the box it will be redundant. Computer manufacturers bring out newer, speedier, slimmer models faster than Zoe Ball can slam Tequilas. So be warned: everything you are about to read will be out of date before you get your car keys into the ignition, let alone make it to PC World.


Name: The Hewlett Packard Jornada 820

Price: pounds 799

Stockist: 0990 474 747

Description: The Jornada effectively bridges the chasm between electronic organisers and grown-up laptops. It's light (1.14kg), has a long battery life (10 hours), and comes fully equipped with software (albeit the stripped- down stuff commonly found on Personal Digital Assistants): Windows CE version 2.2, Pocket Word, Excel, Pocket Power Point and Pocket Outlook and unlike micro PCs, it has a decent-sized screen (8.2-inches wide) and keyboard. The ever-pulsating brain at the heart of this machine comprises an acceptable 190MHz processor, 16Mb ROM and RAM, and it also comes with an in-built modem (a now standard 56kbps speed), ideal for faxing and exploring the web (it comes with Internet Explorer software). Its major drawbacks are that it isn't particularly upgradeable and there's no CD- ROM drive.

Style: ***

Anything else worth considering?

Hewlett Packard's cheaper, HP 620 V2 (pounds 499.99, 0990 474 747) organiser, if you're only needs are memo-writing and storing phones numbers.


Name: Sony VAIO Note PCG-505 FX

Price: pounds 2,099

Stockist: 0990 424 424

Description: This slimline laptop is slightly heavier than the Jornada, more than twice the price and about five times the machine. Despite being less than an inch thick and less than foot wide, this 1.35 kg computer houses a 10.4-inch LCD colour screen, 266MHz MMX processor, 32Mb RAM and a chunky 4.3Gb hard disk. Standard accessories include a 56kbps modem, external CD-ROM and floppy drives, a rechargeable lithium battery pack (the battery lasts around three hours) and a touchpad pen. And because it's constructed using modular principles, elements of the machine can be upgraded when necessary to delay the usual freefall into obsolescence. The main drawback is that it doesn't come with anything other than operating software: so expect to shell out more moolah before you get into second gear.

Style: ****

Anything else worth considering?

Compaq's Presario 1255 (pounds 1,499, 0845 270 4000) if your priority is a take it home and plug-in all-in-one package rather than something small and light. Bulkier than the Sony, the Compaq has sleek Batmobile curves and feels like it could take a knock. It's also brainier, housing a substantial 3.2Gb hard disk, and has a larger screen (12.1-inch). Its most notable design feature is a set of buttons around the touch-sensitive cursor control panel, which allow instant access to e-mail and the Internet. It also comes with an impressive array of accessories as standard including a 56kbps fax/modem CD-ROM drive, 3D accelerated graphics (a boon for playing games), enhanced audio software, and Microsoft Word and Microsoft Works word-processing software - just about everything you need to plug in, play games, write your first novel and cruise the Internet. For those addicted to Macintosh the king of kings in the laptop world is Apple's Powerbook G3 (pounds 2,400, 0870 241 0212) which outstrips everything on the market for pace and price. It boasts a 266MHz processor, 64Mb RAM and a 4Gb hard drive, a CD-ROM drive, a 56kbps fax/modem and a 14.1-inch screen. Everything else, though, will cost serious wedge (including the notably absent floppy drive). In fact, it's been observed that computers are so much cheaper in America (around the same price in dollars there as they are in pounds here), that you'd save more money than the cost of the tickets were you to fly to New York to buy it. Just remember that small matter of duty, before you book those tickets.

Shaun Phillips

Deputy Editor ZM Magazine