Help Me, LAPTOP: International Business Traveller Seeking Productivity Notebook

Working during a long flight is productive way to spend your time, and right up Sasha’s alley. She’s the director of an international non-profit that’s based in London, but she lives in Australia with her three-year-old. She recently wrote to us at seeking advice on her next laptop purchase because her current Toshiba Portege R500 is about to die.

“I do a great deal of traveling for work. I mainly use Outlook, World, and Excel, in addition to Skype and online video conferencing tools. I value a full-size keyboard, and reasonably bright screen, but it doesn’t have to be big. I need the weight to be as light as possible with the features and reliability I need, such as long battery life as I am often on 12 hour flights. While I have never had back-lit keys before, I think this would be useful.  One thing I really don’t like about my current laptop is the fact that the touchpad is way too sensitive, so I just turned it off and carry around a mouse.  An international warranty would come in handy, as would an built-in webcam. I am not that price sensitive, as this is the most important tool I need for my work. What would you recommend?”

There are several good options for what Sasha needs. (Update: We’ve added another recommendation.)Since Sasha says she’s not that price sensitive,we think the Sony VAIO Z is a stellar choice. This 13-inch notebook (starting at $1,799) weighs only 3 pounds but packs in a Core i5 processor, twin SSDs, and a backlit keyboard, The touchpad works well, too, and you get a backlit keyboard. Wrapped in aluminum and magnesium, the VAIO Z is easily one of the best ultraportables ever made, but make sure you spring for the extended capacity battery for longer endurance.

Another good choice would be the Apple MacBook Air 11-inch. This ultraportable weighs a mere 2.3 pounds and features FaceTime for video chats and will work with Skype. It offers more than 5 hours of battery life, and has a very good keyboard and touchpad. But the keyboard is not backlit. Or if you like your Toshiba, you could go with the 3.2-pound Toshiba Portege R700 with its 6 hours of battery life and long three-year warranty. However, the touchpad will present the same problems you’ve experienced on the R500.

We also really like the Lenovo ThinkPad X201 with the extended battery. This 3.4-pound, workaholic has a sharp and colorful screen and a class-leading keyboard, and it lasts for 7 hours and 30 minutes on a charge. Plus, you may find you prefer the pointing stick over a touchpad.

If you have a question about fixing a technical problem or buying a new product, drop us a line at and we’ll respond to the most interesting questions in this section.

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  1. aftermath Says:

    Another option that not many people know about, and which might be easier for her to obtain because she lives in Oceania, is the Panasonic J Series.

    It is certainly more expensive than those mentioned, but it’s a premium device that’s better than all others for somebody in her situation: more powerful, more compact, more rugged, better warranty (especially for International travelers), longer battery life, more battery options. If I was traveling around the world and I could only have one computer, then this would be it (or the highest-end Vaio Z).

  2. PaloAltoWorldView Says:

    The Sony X is lighter than the Apple Air 11-incher and gives 14.5 hours.

  3. Questionable? Says:

    May I ask why the MacBook Air is the clear choice… It has the least battery life of the 3 solutions mentioned and he needs as close to 12 hours as possible. He also clearly defines Outlook and Excel as distinct requirements. There may be a Mac version of Office but it is a shadow of the Windows version. If someone clearly requires the use of Microsoft software I don’t understand the reasoning of recommending a Mac at all… Yeah it can run Windows with Bootcamp but at a clear premium, with previous generation components and reduced performance The only thing it has going for it is aesthetics. There seems to be some unreasonable fixation with Apple these days. Reviewers just go mad for them… I have used Apple components and they are quite disappointing for the price you pay. Spend the same money on a PC and you get far better hardware.

  4. wvbailey Says:

    PaloAltoWorldView is absolutely correct. What is it about the press’s drooling-idiot fascination with anything Apple? I recommend for lightest weight, durability and long battery life (with the big battery) the Sony X. Mine’s almost a year old (10 months, actually) and it has been with me hither and thither around New England, to no-where-Wyoming where I survived for about 3 weeks doing serious business by virtue of built-in Verizon internet access. It got us out of being lost in Utah (via the built-in GPS — we had a GPS but the Microsoft ), and it served as telephone and internet link in Scotland (via Skype + a dongle because the for-US-market-built-in-Verizon doesn’t work in Europe). Plus with the Microsoft AutoRoute maps we were able to navigate anywhere in Britain (etc on the Continebt). If you’re willing to go another $500 “upscale” I’d recommend a hard, long look at the Sony Z rather than the X, because there’s even more power there (in the Z). This is the machine I’ll probably buy to replace my Dell and my wife’s work-supplied Lenovo.

  5. mike Says:

    I can’t believe Sony Vaio Z isn’t recommended, a 3lb PC that trumps even some of the large 15″ notebooks. I recommend Vaio Z, though 5.5 hours of battery might not be that much, but considering the amount of performance and features in this laptop, Core i7, 8GB RAM, twin SSDs in RAID, Full HD Screen, Blu-ray, backlit keyboard, switching GPUs (330M/Intel HD), Premium Carbon drive. At an entry of $1799, it might be too steep.

  6. Mark Spoonauer Says:

    The commenters are totally right. We’ve added the Sony VAIO Z as a recommendation, which we awarded an Editors’ Choice in September.

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