There's a huge array of choice when it comes to laptops, but with everything from netbooks and ultraportables to machines suitable for gaming and those designed to withstand use in rural locations, which should you choose. We've put together the ultimate laptop guide to help you decide.
Ultramobile PCs (UMPCs)
Small and travel-ready, ultramobile PCs (UMPCs) are the Lilliputians of the laptop world. These small wonders are ideal for those who don't want to weigh themselves down when on the go.
The smallest of the small, many UMPCs often lack many of the amenities of mobile life we've become accustomed to, with minimal ports for connections, screens that are about half the size of traditional laptops and barely enough RAM to run Windows XP (and especially Vista) reliably. But it is their tiny keys that disappoint UMPC users the most. On some systems, even typing a web address is tough going.
While clamshell designs with hinged-lid displays still dominate the category, new formats are starting to appear. Take Samsung's Q1 Ultra, which has a tablet shape with a miniscule keyboard that's split on either side of the screen. Other new designs mimic mobile phones, with keyboards that slide out from the case.
These machines can handle the day-to-day routine of scheduling appointments, staying in touch and accessing corporate data. In other words, for many, the UMPC is a constant digital companion and career lifeline. Super-mobility is the operative concept here, and many UMPCs have optional GPS navigation receivers and can access 3G mobile phone networks for always-on data.
But all this miniaturisation comes at a high price. Despite being cramped and underpowered, UMPCs don't come cheap. At between £900 and £1,500, they sell for the price of three budget machines. Still, they're so small that they go places the others can't.
Ultramobile PCs at a glance
Target audience: This is the machine for those who absolutely must have a PC with them but need to travel extremely light, such as salespeople, traveling repair technicians and mobile data junkies.
Pros: UMPCs are tiny, weigh just over half a kilo and are extremely mobile.
Cons: They are so small that everything is undersized and underpowered; plus, these small wonders can be expensive.
Typical size/weight: 178x127x25mm/600g
Screen size: 5 to 7in
CPU/RAM: 600MHz to 1.6GHz Intel Ultra Mobile or Atom / 512MB to 1GB
Storage: 40 to 120GB HDD or 32GB to 64GB SSD
Ports and connections: 1 to 4 USB ports, VGA, audio, Ethernet and flash card slots
Price range: £900 and £1,500
Examples: HTC Shift, Samsung Q1 Ultra
Buying tips: Before you buy, try one out in person to see if your fingers can manage the tiny keyboard. Also, if available, GPS and 3G network data cards can come in very handy.
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