There is a new trend in portable computing: the mini-laptop, or sub-laptop. So far, the smallest notebook computers have had 12-inch screens, but you have had to pay a premium. The UMPC (ultra-mobile PC) is small, with a screen (sometimes touchscreen) typically under 5 inches, but the prices for those tend to run into the high-end laptop range (easily over $2000). The mini-laptop rush has been spurred by the success of the Asus Eee PC, and when something is successful, imitators and competitors will follow (even if those same companies have unsuccessfully tried to enter the market before). When discussing portability, weight and battery life are important features. Mainstream notebooks average 6 pounds and 2-3 hours of battery life. The 12-inchers can drop to 4 pounds and live up to 3.5 hours on one charge. The mini-laptops aim for 2-3 pounds maximum, and at least 5 hours of juice before needing an outlet. Card readers and USB ports are common on all laptop classes, to make digital photo transfer even simpler (or act as extra storage space) or to plug in other peripherals, like an optical drive (which will undoubtedly hinder the portability factor).
These new gadgets typically have 7-10 inch screens and weaker specs than a mainstream laptop: a lower power processor (allowing for longer battery life and lower prices), smaller storage, integrated graphics (no running the latest games), and no optical drive. However, the sacrifice in computing power is offset by the whole point of a portable – low price and lightweight. Asus seems to be fighting themselves – introducing the first 7-inch Eee PC, then scrapping a 9-inch model, only to introduce a redesigned 9-inch and a 10-inch model. Some of the companies with their own offerings include HP, Acer, MSI, Via, and Dell, and some even allow a few configuration choices. Intel will be introducing a new chip within a month called the Atom chip that should be more robust than the VIA chip found in some models, like the HP 2133 Mini-Note, so be sure to research thoroughly before you go shopping.
I’ve taken a 15-inch, 7-pound laptop on many trips before, where the main purpose was to write a travelogue, offload digital photos, and play the occasional CD or DVD (and work on my thesis, of course). I have usually trusted hotel security enough to leave my laptop in the room, in its bag, in the closet, covered by the extra blankets. I was worried most in a hostel in Australia, even though I had a private room. With a laptop this small and cheap (and no more thesis work to protect), I would be much less worried about losing or breaking it. Since the hard drive is small (from 4GB of flash to 80GB HDD), you couldn’t install much onto it anyway. I would use the mini-laptop for the same things, since I’m not one for gaming on the go: write these blog entries for your amusement and education, watch movies and listen to music, go online (back then, high speed internet wasn’t as widespread), and offload photos. I have a habit of filling hard drives, but when travelling, I would be deleting music and videos when space is required, as it would be backed up at home anyway. I would also leave the photos on the camera cards as long as possible, clearing them when more space is required.
Tangent: My older Sony digital camera’s memory cards (128, 64, and 16MB) maxed out at around 180 photos at highest settings (which I prefer), so it was necessary to offload pics, often twice a day, not to mention the 6-hour battery life over two proprietary batteries with a charger brick. This required returning to the room to empty photos to the laptop, let the batteries recharge while I sit around and write, then head back out for more exploring. Common travel advice is to leave the laptop at home, and just load up on memory cards. Back then, Sony Memory Stick prices were too expensive for a budget traveler. My camera could only handle a maximum 128MB card, which meant around 100 pictures (video ate up lots of space), and those were expensive enough. Fortunately I had a PCMCIA Memory Stick adapter that I could leave in the card slot and not have to bring an external card reader.
My current Canon point-and-shoot can handle over 600 photos (or 15 minutes of high quality video) per 2GB card, of which I have 3, and if I need more, they are much cheaper than what I paid for the 64MB card for my older Sony. With AA batteries, I can carry back ups for hot-swapping, or I can buy more in countless shops in an emergency. Combine both, and it means I can stay out longer, capturing the world around me.