For years, notebook computers came in one nondescript size. Anything different - larger or smaller - were freaky specialised machines that cost a small fortune. Then the world got a little bigger. Instead of one device that existed in an awkward gap between true portability and computing speed, you could buy a netbook to carry in your hand and a giant so-called "laptop" to leave on your desk. From the toylike to the tremble-inducing, Mike Gimignani profiles three notebooks that could fulfil three very different roles in your life.
On the move The short answer is yes, this computer is portable. But this machine weighs 3kg and feels so gargantuan that it seems even heavier. It isn't the easiest model to whip out on the street. Under the keyboard There's little the MacBook Pro doesn't have. On top of the 2.66-gigahertz Intel Core i7, the biggest processor on the block, you'll get 4GB of RAM, a graphics card, a 250GB solid-state hard drive (faster and no moving parts!), a sparkling 43cm display and practically every port you can imagine to connect the machine to a TV or accessory. And you're getting Apple's easy-to-use operating system, which remains unmatched in the industry. Drawbacks Besides the expense, the MacBook Pro is unwieldy enough to cause problems if used and moved around frequently enough. Also, Apple's decision to enclose the computer's guts in a tough-to-access casing could make repairs - especially outside an Apple retailer - difficult and expensive.
On the move This bog-standard machine has an equally average profile - at 2.54kg, it's too large and heavy to carry around without its own bag, but it's lighter than many laptops of its size. Under the keyboard On top of the nearly state-of-the-art Intel Core i5 processor, you're going to get 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and a dedicated graphics card. Samsung is known for its LCD screens more than its computers and this 39.6cm display is a beauty. The Blu-ray drive is an unexpected but welcome touch. Drawbacks Battery life is an issue with this high-powered model - you are unlikely to get much more than three or four hours on a charge. While Blu-ray discs can show films in Full HD, the screen isn't quite as capable. Finally, while the price is excellent for all the bells and whistles you get, there are cheaper options for laptops of this size.
On the move Weighing barely a kilogram, the Mini can easily fit in a briefcase or handbag and can be carried in hand for long periods of time without discomfort, even by children. It's ideal for when you need to surf the web or watch a video when you're out of the house. Under the keyboard HP packed a lot into this tiny space, including a 320-gigabyte hard drive, 2GB of RAM and an HD-ready 25.7cm display. The biggest advantage is battery life, as you're likely to get seven to eight hours of use from this model before needing to recharge. Drawbacks There's no space for a DVD drive, so you'll have to download movies to watch them (or buy an external drive). Due to the small screen and the so-so processing power, intensive graphics work should be left to the bigger models. Most importantly, like most netbooks, the HP has a temperature problem, as the case can surpass 40 degrees Celsius while being used - it might be best to find a resting place other than your lap.