If you spend much time away from mains power you’ll appreciate an extra battery or the option of a larger one. Of the tested laptops only the Lenovo shipped with a second battery as standard equipment. It was supplied with both a 4-cell and a 7-cell battery, giving you the option of trading off size and weight against battery life.
The 7-cell battery gave the Lenovo the second-highest battery life score, just one minute ahead of the Dell and four minutes behind the top-scoring Sony which lasted 2 hours 47 minutes in heavy usage. By contrast, the Lenovo’s 4-cell battery lasted only 47 minutes, making it a nice emergency fallback option, but not very useful as a main battery.
The ability to secure your personal information is all the more important with an ultraportable, due to the higher risk of theft, loss or accidental damage that comes with mobility.
Five of the eight ultraportables tested included a fingerprint reader for security — the BenQ, Dell, Pioneer, Sony and Toshiba.
A fingerprint reader can be set up to grant instant access to the computer without having to type in a password. Our testing had a 100% success rate in stopping access by people who didn’t have a fingerprint registered on the system. For stronger security however, we recommend that you also have a password as an alternative access option.
The Lenovo includes facial recognition software, called VeriFace, which works using the built-in webcam. Quite simply, your face becomes your password. This can also be set up to grant you access to other programs that may require a password, such as email.
In our testing the VeriFace system worked well, but it may not work properly in low-light areas or when wearing a hat or reflective glasses. While convenient, we don’t recommend using either VeriFace or fingerprint security as the sole means of access to the computer, nor should it be a major factor in selecting one.
Design and construction
Our expert user panel assessed all the ultraportables for design and construction to see which had the best usability and features.
Best for ease of battery insertion and removal was the Toshiba, while the Dell was a clear winner for status lights/indicators, including a battery status meter on the battery itself for quick reference. The Sony also had a handy power status light on the power cord. For ease of opening and closing the lid the BenQ and Dell were best, allowing easy one-handed operation, with the Apple not far behind.
The Sony was considered to have the best design overall, with a good colour scheme, easily accessible multimedia buttons and a touchpad with both horizontal and vertical scrolling. The Apple was considered the most stylish, with its outstanding features being its slim shape, clean lines, large multi-touch touchpad and was less prone to marking.
Our general user panel found that three Ultraportables stood out for keyboard comfort, with the Apple ranked as ‘excellent’ by all users. Next were the Dell,Toshiba and Twinhead, all rated as ‘very good’.
The Apple also got the nod from our panel for best touchpad, with a rating of ‘excellent.’ The touchpads of the BenQ, Dell, Pioneer and Twinhead all rated as ‘very good’.
Heat underneath an ultraportable is an important consideration as it’s likely to spend quite some time sitting in your lap. Three ultraportables failed our temperature test — the Apple, Pioneer and Toshiba — with the Toshiba registering the hottest at 60-62ºC, which is too hot to touch. Our pass/fail temperature is 44 ºC.
The Pioneer registered 49-54 ºC and the Apple was 46-49 ºC at its hottest point. Though it passed our comfortable temperature test, the Sony was recently the subject of a product recall due to overheating around the power socket (not the underside where we test for heat). This affected all Vaio TZ series models. See Sony’s website for more information.
The trade-off for power and features is a heavier laptop to carry and every extra bit of weight counts when out on the road.
Of the eight laptops tested, half weighed 2 kg or more, which is at the upper limit of this category. The Dell, Pioneer and Toshiba all tipped the scales at 2kg, with battery attached. The BenQ just squeaked under, with 1.9 kg. The Twinhead was the heaviest at 2.1 kg.