Chromebook arrives as Netbook checks out

The Google Chromebook has arrived at stores. You might call the timing uncanny. PC giant Lenovo signaled this week that it sees no future in a similar design–the Windows Netbook.

Chrome Netbook

Samsung’s Chromebook, now available at stores and sales sites like Best Buy and Amazon, runs Google’s Chrome operating system on top of an Intel dual-core Atom processor. Like its cousin, the traditional 10-inch Netbook, it is light at just over 3 pounds and about three-quarters of an inch thick.

A Wi-Fi-only Chromebook costs $429, while the 3G version is priced at $499. Other hardware features include a 16GB solid-state drive and a 1,280×800 display (which Samsung states has a brightness of 300 cd/m2).

Which brings us back to the Netbook, which has been plagued by the opposite problem. The Netbook tried to do too much with too little hardware. Windows 7–designed for more powerful Intel chips–never ran well on the Atom processor. And Netbooks have always been overshadowed by more powerful but inexpensive Windows laptops and, more recently, tablets like the iPad.

Lenovo, for its part, sees a future in tablets. “Netbooks are pretty much over,” Lenovo president and chief operating officer Rory Read said when speaking (subscription required) to Dow Jones this week. In the Netbook’s stead, the PC giant will launch two Android tablets and one Windows tablet later this year.

And recent market research from Gartner supports the rise of the tablet and fall of the Netbook. “Mini-notebook [Netbook] shipments have noticeably contracted over the last several quarters, and this has substantially reduced overall mobile PC unit growth,” Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, said in a statement earlier this month.

Will Chromebooks with a more robust Chrome OS–i.e. able to do more local tasks (sans Internet) and better at handling some of the gotchas cited above–succeed? An interesting question because an improved Chromebook may actually provide a decent alternative to a tablet.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 vs. ThinkPad Edge E220s

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 and ThinkPad Edge E220s: both slim, both sleek.

Fancy a thin ThinkPad? Lenovo’s venerable ThinkPad brand may seem from a distance to look the same every year, since lately the interesting changes have been made under the surface lately. It’s also a confusing landscape to navigate, even when you know what size you want. Case in point: the ThinkPad X1 and the ThinkPad Edge E220s.

In one sense, they’re completely different laptops. The X1 is a full-powered 13-incher, with a serious professional bent and durable construction. The Edge E220s is a smaller, low-voltage laptop, a 12.5-incher with a more reasonable price tag. And yet, in a number of ways, both ThinkPads are addressing the same market. Both have high-end design features: Dolby sound, updated raised keyboards with comfortable, concave keys, and multitouch clickpads. Both sell their design changes and thinness as advantages. Both choose glossy screens over matte.

Which one’s for you? Let’s compare.

CPU   :  2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2520M   1.4 GHz Intel Core i5-2537M
RAM :  4GB   4GB
Storage  :   320GB, 7,200rpm  320GB, 7,200rpm
Weight  : 3.8 lbs.  3.3 lbs.
Screen size :  13.3 inches   12.5 inches
Battery life :  205 minutes  251 minutes
Price as reviewed :  $1,399  $819 (via current Lenovo promotion)

The ThinkPad X1 is a notable, stylish laptop that’s heavier on durability and performance, but lighter on integrated battery life, portability, and affordability. 3.8 pounds isn’t particularly light, and the longer width of the X1 offsets its sleek angled compactness, making it feel more like a MacBook Pro than a MacBook Air.

The ThinkPad Edge E220s is lighter and has an edge in battery life, plus it’s considerably more affordable. The smaller footprint helps it slip into a bag much more easily, and its dimensions feel more compact. It’s not the modern powerhouse that the X1 is, but it’s a more portable experience.

Which catches your eye? Does battery life matter more than CPU performance? Does price trump all? Sound off in the comments. Which would you choose?

Dell XPS 15z Laptop

Dell this morning announced its latest addition to the high-end XPS laptop line, the 15-inch XPS 15z. Probably the worst-kept secret in technology since Dell’s last laptop announcement, the 15z has been the subject of many rumors and leaks, not to mention a teaser video from Dell itself, and a recent Tweet from CEO Michael Dell that revealed the new system’s name.

In the run-up to this official unveiling, predictions from some corners of the Internet have pegged this new 15-inch as Dell’s latest version of a MacBook Air competitor or a successor to Dell’s now-cancelled Adamo laptops. As is often the case, these prerelease analyses were way off the mark, and any comparisons to either the MacBook Air or Adamo are unfounded. In fact, the XPS 15z is 0.97 inch thick, which is even bigger than the 0.95 inch thick 15-inch MacBook Pro.

That’s why Dell says this is the “thinnest 15-inch PC on the planet,” rather than the world’s thinnest laptop. But though it may not make for as compelling ad copy, the XPS 15z is better than its gimmicky thickness claims, and is in fact a well-made, reasonably configurable, upscale multimedia and gaming laptop that includes almost all the high-end extras we’d want, from an (optional) 1080p screen, to a backlit keyboard, to 3D support.

Dell Alienware M11x, M14x, M18x laptops

The new Alienware M11x R3.

Despite leaked product announcements dampening the impact of the streamed Webcast today, Alienware added to its product lineup with additional Alienwares at the extreme small and large ends of the laptop spectrum. The M11x, M14x, and M18x cover the size gamut. We’ve already reviewed the M14x: check out the hands-on video below for a look at the M14 close-up.

Last year, we loved the Alienware M11x, particularly for its combination of size and power. During today’s Alienware Webcast, the successor was announced–and it’s got the updated Sandy Bridge specs we expected.

The new Alienware M11x R3 starts at $999. New specs include a choice of second-generation Core i5 or Core i7 ULV CPUs, Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics, up to 16GB of DDR3 RAM, and either a hard drive up to 750GB/7,200rpm or a 256GB SSD. A Klipsch 5.1 speaker system, USB 3.0, and Intel Wireless Display support are other notable additions. They’ll be available in early May–you can check out the specs yourself on Dell’s site.

On the other end of the scale, Alienware also announced the 16-pound M18x. Just in case the 17-inch-screened M17x wasn’t a large enough laptop, the M18x has an 18.4-inch 1080p display, a second-gen Intel Core i7 quad-core CPU, Nvidia SLI or AMD Crossfire DX11 graphics with up to 4GB of DDR5 video memory, HDMI input for connecting external game consoles or media devices, and up to a whopping 32GB of DDR3 RAM. It sounds more like the flightless bird of laptops–you won’t be moving this from your desk much, or at all–but for a starting price around $2,000, you’ll at least get a lot of gaming laptop bulk.

Toshiba Satellite L645-1146X

  • O/S: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium.
  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i5-480M Processor (2.67 GHz, Cache 3 MB).
  • Chipset: Intel HM55.
  • Memory: 2 GB DDR3 SODIMM PC-8500, Max. Memory 8 GB (2 DIMMs)
  • Graphics Engine: ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 512 MB.
  • Display: 14″ WXGA LED, Max. Resolution 1366 x 768, Clear SuperView LED.
  • Audio: 16-bit Stereo with Intel® High definition Audio Support With Stereo Speakers.
  • Hard Drive: 500 GB Serial ATA 5400 RPM.
  • Optical Drive: DVD SuperMulti (+/-R double layer) drive.
  • Networking (Lan): 10/100 Mbps Ethernet LAN.
  • Wifi: Wi-Fi® Wireless networking (802.11b/g/n).
  • Bluetooth: luetooth V 2.1 + Enhanced Data Rate.
  • Keyboard: QWERTY 82 keys.
  • Webcam Integrated.
  • Interface: 2x USB 2.0, eSATA/USB, VGA, LAN, Audio.
  • Card Reader: SD, MMC, Memory Stick/Stick PRO.
  • Battery: 6 cell Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery.
  • Weight: 2.12 kg.
  • Warranty: 1-year Limited Warranty by Authorized Distributor.