**This post is out-of-date! Click to the Top 5 Best Travel Laptops, 2013 edition.**
For a while, I’ve been a cheerleader of the netbook as a travel computer. I like them because they’re small and relatively cheap and can be encrypted to protect your data and identity. Some people vote for a tablet like the iPad as their travel device of choice, but I think iPads are too attractive to thieves and not secure enough. They also lack keyboards, so you either have to carry an external one or smudge up the screen to be productive. This is a dealbreaker for business travelers and for us travel writers. Laptop makers are now pushing Ultrabooks, but are they better for travel than a netbook? Well that depends. How do you travel?
Vagabonding on a Budget, Minimalist Adventure
Netbooks are the Pony Express of travel. Tiny but powerful. Feature-rich but minimalist. Reliable yet replaceable. Good netbook computers have webcams for Skyping while on the road, decent hard drives to hold all your files, and enough battery life to play a series of movies on a long flight. Most are around $300, but you can usually find a deal and may be able to score one for closer to $200 (check your local electronics store for last year’s model).
Business Travel on an Expense Account, Trust-Fund Travels
Ultrabooks pack normal laptop features into a small, sexy package. They’re thin and light and portable. But they’re more expensive. Anything the netbook can do, the Ultrabook can do better (usually). Battery life for netbooks and Ultrabooks is usually about the same and good ones get close to the 8-hour mark. Ultrabooks just do it at a much higher cost. The Acer Aspire S3 will cost you about twice as much as a netbook. A Samsung Series 9 will cost you 4x more. I want one (an ASUS Zenbook), but I’m not about to spend a grand on another computer.
Long Distance Jet-Setters, Business Travel into Developing Countries
Need more battery life? Not sure when you’ll find another outlet? Try one of these: the Lenovo ThinkPad T420 has a 30-hour battery, the HP EliteBook 8460p claims 32 hours! Boy, that’s tempting. We’ve been starved for power a lot lately.
So how do you travel? Do you need the amazing battery-life of the latest camel-like laptops from Lenovo and HP? Or do you have cash to burn on an Ultrabook? Or maybe you just need something with a bit more battery life and portability and don’t want to spend too much to get it.
Best Overall: Acer Aspire S3
The Acer S3 laptop combines all the coolness of an Ultrabook while still keeping costs down to (just?) 2-3x the cost of a netbook. Sure, it has 1/3 the battery life of the battery tanks above, but you can actually carry it in your bag without throwing out your back. Buy one!
Us? My computer is Ultrabook-ish but from before Intel copyrighted the term. I bought it because it had great battery life and wasn’t too expensive. It’s a few years old, but I still get about 5-6 hours of battery life. There’s a crack in the corner I’m hoping doesn’t spread. Lisa’s laptop died in Las Vegas and now she’s using the cheapest laptop we could find at a brick-and-mortar store (we don’t have a shipping address) with decent battery life (6-7 hours) and a 15-inch screen. With her photography, she wasn’t keen to go as tiny as a netbook. It’s portable enough for car travel but is probably a bit bulky for airline travel.
What do you think? Is the iPad worth another look? Or are you able to do everything you need on your phone? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Full disclosure: buy a computer through one of the links above and Amazon kicks us back a few bucks.