Can a laptop ever be too thin?

Can a laptop ever be too thin?

Summary: Ralph Lauren is on the receiving end of a blogosphere backlash today over an apparent Photoshop job gone awry. It turns out there is such a thing as too thin.

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Ralph Lauren is on the receiving end of a blogosphere backlash today over an apparent Photoshop job gone awry. It turns out there is such a thing as too thin. I mention this because yesterday both Dell and Sony introduced new laptops that give new meaning to ultra-thin. The trend toward mobile computing is undeniable--there's a reason some 25 million people will choose netbooks this year. But we're fast approaching the point where some laptops are thin purely for thin's sake, without adding any additional user value.

The ultra-thin laptop craze began in early 2008 when Apple first pulled a MacBook Air out of an interoffice envelope. The product sparked many "MacBook Air killers" such as the ThinkPad X300, Voodoo Envy 133, and original Dell Adamo. More recently, Intel lowered prices on its ultra-low voltage chips spawning a new class of ultra-thin laptops such as the Acer Timeline series and MSI X-Slim series.

These, it turns out, were just the start. At a press event yesterday to introduce new laptop lid designs, Dell officials also gave a brief glimpse of Adamo XPS, the next version of its luxury laptop for consumers. At this point, the only thing we know for certain about the Adamo XPS is that it will be very thin, more specifically 0.4 inches. By comparison, the MacBook Air measures 0.76 inches at its thickest point (it tapers toward the front). There's plenty of coverage of the Adamo XPS--here's Crave's post on yesterday's Dell event with some photos.

Not to be outdone, Sony announced its VAIO X, an 11.1-inch ultraportable with a carbon fiber frame that the company says is the world's lightest notebook at 1.6 pounds. I can't argue with that. The X series doesn't quite match the Adamo XPS' belt size, but at 0.55 inches it is still notably thinner than even other ultra-thin laptops on the market. The VAIO X starts at $1,300 with the 11.1 inch (1366x768) display, 2.0GHz Intel Atom Z550, 2GB of memory, a 64GB SSD and Windows 7. The $1,500 Signature Collection comes in gold, as well as black, and has a 128GB SSD. Both models come with both a standard battery, rated for 3.5 hours, and an extended battery that Sony says will last for 14 hours (if that holds up in real-world testing, it will be very impressive).

With their ultra-thin profiles, the Adamo XPS and Sony X series look great. So what's the catch? I haven't tested either yet, or seen full reviews, so I'll wait to issue a verdict on these particular models. But generally speaking, when computer companies set out to design the thinnest possible laptop, it still entails some compromises. Many of these systems have under-powered processors (sometimes with a single core), fewer ports and connectors, and shorter battery life. Apple took a lot of flak, for example, for eliminating the Ethernet jack on the MacBook Air. Internal optical drives are long gone, though many users find that to be a fair trade-off.

Portability is, of course, important and I'm glad the days of lugging 6- to 7-pound laptops are long gone. But it reaches a point of diminishing returns. Laptop bags aren't getting much smaller, and my Lenovo ThinkPad X series fits just fine. It could be that some of these new ultra-thin models will manage an engineering feat, and squeeze in nearly everything you'd want in a laptop. But if I have to choose, I can live with a slightly thicker ultraportable that has better performance, longer battery life and more features.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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19 comments
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  • It is disgusting how you guys rewrite history for Apple ad $$$

    [i]The ultra-thin laptop craze began in early 2008 when Apple first pulled a MacBook Air out of an interoffice envelope.[/i]

    Don't you guys feel ashamed lying about [b]facts[/b] in order to get a few $$$ from Apple's marketing department?

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/edwardbaig/2004-07-21-baig_x.htm

    [i]Sony weighs in at a svelte 1.85 pounds (also with battery) and is just 0.38 inches thick. The outline of each computer is smaller than that of a standard sheet of loose-leaf paper.[/i]

    The date? July 21, 2004.

    So no, Apple did [b]not[/b] start the craze. By all measures, the MBA is a sales flop and, in typical Apple fashion, is 5 years late.
    NonZealot
    • This much is true. nt

      nt
      T1Oracle
    • The claim is not that Apple had the first

      ultra thin laptop, but that Apple's ultrathin is the one that started the
      craze.

      To disprove this assertion, you must demonstrate the mad rush to
      create ultrathins after the Sony and before the Macbook Air.

      Unfortunatley for you, you can't because the article is correct. The
      Macbook Air started the craze.

      Once again, your blind hatred for all things Apple causes you to miss
      the point. It has never been about Apple doing it first, but Apple doing
      it better.
      frgough
      • Wow, talk about drinking the Kool-aid

        There have been plenty of ultra-thin laptops after the Sony mentioned and before the Air.
        And judging by the pathetic Air sales, I would have to say it isn't really a craze.
        Outside of folks like you, where Apple is a legend in your mind, regardless of what really happens.

        Step outside the distortion field. It's nice out here!
        mdemuth
    • Perhaps remedial reading is in order?

      The ultra-thin laptop <b>craze</b> began in early 2008

      You do notice the word craze. Neither of the two systems mentioned in the article you reference could even come close to having gained much interest much less referred to as having started a craze.

      BTW, you could perhaps have also linked to other information on the VGN-X505 where even Sony's own information -- those cached webpages are so useful -- makes it clear that the device is 0.83 inches thick at it's thickest point. The 0.38 inch number quoted in your reference fails to make it clear that 0.38 inches is the thinnest point and not the maximum thickness. But hey, for $3000, what can you expect. And heck, being a Windows machine, it couldn't have been overpriced and millions were sold before it was discontinued.
      DNSB
      • If it were a craze wouldn't they sell better? nt

        nt
        T1Oracle
  • Can a laptop be too thin? Only when it is thinner than an MBA.

    Can a cell phone be too small? Only when it is smaller than an iPhone.

    Can a cell phone screen be too big? Only when it is bigger than an iPhone's screen.

    Can a laptop have too much battery life? Only when it has more life than a MacBook.

    etc. etc. etc.

    When you guys arbitrarily define Apple products to be perfect in every way possible, you will of course have to defend that ridiculous assertion and the only way you can do that is by complaining about the areas where the competition is clearly ahead.
    NonZealot
  • I will assume that you're joking

    otherwise, it might be time for the men in the little white coats.
    chrome_slinky
  • RE: Can a laptop ever be too thin?

    NonZ is right on. Too many of these writers are using Apple products as their basis, when the actual prescedents were set years before.
    Droid101
    • Oh yes.

      Yes But ALL the designers, video, music, art use Apple yeah, and they must be right? After all, aren't they the ones who publish magazines, make the cool adverts that educates us all how live perfect lives?

      Remember if it ain't brand x then you're a loser. And who wants to be a loser eh? You?
      Bozzer
  • RE: Can a laptop ever be too thin?

    This is a poor article. Constructed of convenient supposition and iAir. Please srite something useful or find another job.
    seaczar
  • Can a laptop ever have a 4:3 ratio screen?

    Laptops are primarily used for working on portrait (Letter/A4) documents, or viewing web sites (most of which are fixed-width these days).
    So why are ALL laptops WIDESCREEN???
    Rather than going for thinness, manufacturers should invest in making a range of models that suit the multiple uses laptops have. Not force widescreens on us all.
    rgwoneness
    • Widescreens

      Possibly, the number of people who are watching 16x9 videos on their laptop screens might have something to do with the lack of 4x3 laptop screens. Even for netbooks, it seems that 1024x576 is a popular screen size though it makes viewing many webpages a pain.
      DNSB
    • Because taller screens get crushed by reclining chairs

      Because taller screens get crushed by reclining
      chairs on airplanes, so the priority is to give
      more screen real-estate without increasing the
      height of the laptop. There were concepts that
      pushed the LCD screen forward over the
      keyboard, but the weight/thickness penalty and
      the fact that you can no longer see the
      keyboard might have been a problem.

      The other factor is that widescreens are more
      popular because of movies. That means they are
      cheaper due to economy of scale.

      Of course, it drives me crazy that Microsoft
      only allows you to have horizontal tool bars
      when screens have so much space on the sides.
      georgeou
  • RE: Can a laptop ever be too thin?

    The thinner--the less durable. Hold your laptop down and
    try to pick up a corner. The flex is BAD. thickness makes for
    less flex. What's a quarter inch in your bag-less than a
    magazine's width? One section of the newspaper. Lighter is
    better. Thinner is not a big deal.
    My macbook pro has a little dent in the side which has not
    effected it's usability. An Macbook Air could've never taken
    that hit. There is little air inside and Air.
    ElvisPresley2
  • RE: Can a laptop ever be too thin?

    Can this laptop even work as it's marketed to???

    If you value reliability, good service and your business, I would NOT even touch Sony with a barge pole, hope this saves others from serious down-time when using VAIOs for business. I am absolutely convinced Sony VAIO is designed to fail and a complete rip-off. They should be avoided for their lousy and incompetent customer service, especially in Europe.
    Once it BSODs you have an expensive brick, go with a manufacturer that *tries* to backup their products, it?s a scandal the way Sony handled the GPU problem.
    ZDMV2009
  • RE: Can a laptop ever be too thin?

    Laptops/Netbooks need to be strong enough to survive a 4
    foot fall to a concrete floor. Other then that the
    thinner the better - provided the cost isn't outrageous.
    shanedr
  • Size doesn't matter

    When I was shopping for a new laptop, I would
    have been happy with a 2" thick laptop if it
    had all the features I wanted(at that
    thickness, it'd have to be bullet-proof
    though). I figure that when you're buying a
    Macbook, you're paying extra for thinness. I
    chose to pay only for the features I
    needed(like a numerical keypad and real page
    up/down buttons).

    At the thickness of the Macbook Air, I would
    want the computer to be bendable.
    Garrett Williams
  • RE: Can a laptop ever be too thin?

    Yes, when it is occupies a negative volume, thus creating a singularity that sucks in all the matter around it, this creates a vortex that destroys all of gods creations.

    That is when a laptop can be too thin. I mean, how are you supposed to put it down anywhere.

    Bozzer