A 13-inch, thin-and-light laptop running Windows Vista Business typically would come outfitted with sparse features and a staid design for buttoned-up corporate users looking for a lightweight mobile work machine. Not so with the Portable One SXS37. This $1,399 laptop offers surprisingly powerful components--highlighted by a 256MB Nvidia GeForce graphics card--inside a sleek and polished chassis. Just make sure you opt for the battery upgrade, because the standard battery offers meager performance, at best.
When reviewing a laptop with a 13.3-inch screen, it's hard not to look at Apple's 13-inch MacBook for comparison. While the Portable One SXS37's overall design doesn't match that of the MacBook, it does get points for trying. Often we see laptops from smaller vendors using an OEM case that's rough around the edges. The Portable One SXS37's chassis features an attractive, glossy black lid with rounded, tapered edges similar to those found on the MacBook. It's also blissfully free of branding; the only Portable One signage comes by way of a small, silver badge below the display. Open up the laptop, and you'll find a wide-screen display with a silver bezel, a silver keyboard tray, and a black keyboard. (Befitting our MacBook comparison, the Portable One is also available with white trim; unlike with Apple, both colors cost the same.) On the whole, the chassis feels very solid with little flex, particularly the lid, which is always a comforting feeling--it helps knowing that your laptop's display is well protected against the daily abuse heaped upon a laptop.
The tale of the tape reveals that the Portable One SXS37 is slightly lighter (4.9 pounds vs. 5 pounds) and thicker (1.3 inches vs. 1.1 inches) than the MacBook, while also featuring a more square shape. The MacBook's power adapter is lighter than the SXS37's, however, giving the MacBook the edge with total travel weight. The Portable One SXS37's touchpad is on the small size, especially compared with the MacBook's generous trackpad, but it's very responsive and easy to use. It features the always welcome vertical scroll area along the right edge, but it lacks the admittedly less useful horizontal scroll area. Lending to the Portable One SXS37's minimalist design, the touchpad is slightly depressed from the rest of the keyboard tray but made from the same material. HP's Pavilion laptops feature a similar design, but because Pavilions, such as the just reviewed tx2000, feature a glossy coating, it's less practical because of the drag it creates. The SXS37 uses a plastic with a more matte finish, which makes the touchpad design excel in both form and function.
All is not perfect in touchpad land, however. Between the right and left mouse buttons sits a fingerprint reader (which works with the system's TPM chip). I've never liked this design, because it shortens the buttons. Perhaps I'd get used to it over time, but in the time I've been using this model, I hit the fingerprint reader instead of the right mouse button. I'd prefer the fingerprint reader reside off to the right and out of the way. The keyboard itself is very comfortable, with good travel and no shortened keys. Lastly, we found the SXS37 to be remarkably cool and quiet during operation, which isn't always the case with laptops that feature dedicated graphics.
|Price as reviewed||$1,399|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7250|
|Memory||2GB 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||256MB Nvidia GeForce 8400MG|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Business|
|Dimensions (WDH)||12.5 x 10.0 x 1.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.9 / 5.9 pounds|
|Category||Thin and light|
The 13.3-inch wide-screen display features a typical 1,280x800 native resolution. The display delivers a bright image, and Portable One has a $399 upgrade for what it calls TrioView, a transflective finish for presumably better outdoor viewing when you're battling direct sunlight. Above the display is a 2-megapixel Webcam, and while it looks a bit clunky, it's able to rotate 240 degrees so you can use the laptop like a camcorder and capture the action on the opposite side of the screen. On the front edge of the laptop you'll find the stereo speakers, which is the best placement for directing audio to you, the user sitting in front of the laptop. The sound was decent for an integrated pair of speakers but far from filling the room.
The Portable One SXS37 provides a standard allotment of ports and connections, with one notable exception: an eSATA port for faster data transfers to external hard drives. As is becoming more common, the laptop also provides 802.11n (draft) wireless.
|Portable One SXS37||Average for mainstream category|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire; eSATA, mulitformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, mulitformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||Express card slot||PC Card or Express card slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Portable One SXS37's specs compare favorably with the MacBook's, particularly when you consider that the SXS37 comes standard with a 256MB graphics card. Looking at Dell's 14-inch Inspiron 1420, however, tells a different story. I configured a nearly identical Inspiron 1420 on Dell's site (main difference being the GeForce 8400 card on the Dell has only 128MB of video RAM), and with the "Instant Savings" currently being offered, the Inspiron config comes in at $1,294, or $105 less than the Portable One. Still, the SXS37 represents a good value. Plus, I've never seen a cheaper memory upgrade than the $100 Portable One charges to double the RAM to 4GB. Moving in the opposite direction, you can shave $100 off the baseline price if you trade in the dedicated Nvidia graphics for integrated Intel GMA X3100 graphics.
In CNET Labs, the Portable One SXS37 turned in a bit of an uneven performance, scoring better on our Photoshop benchmark than it did on our Multitasking test. Though its 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7250 processor is clocked at the same speed as the T7300 chip found inside the Dell Inspiron 1420 and the HP Pavilion dv2500t, it features half the L2 cache (2MB vs. 4MB), which is likely the cause of its lackluster scoring on our Multitasking benchmark. The MacBook bested the SXS37 on all tests, but to be fair, our standard benchmarks don't take the graphics subsystem into large account. In anecdotal testing, we had a thoroughly enjoyable time with F.E.A.R. with smooth gameplay.
Battery life is the biggest drawback with the Portable One SXS37. Using its standard six-cell battery, the laptop ran for only 1 hour 40 minutes on our DVD drain test, which is barely long enough to get through a 90-minute romantic comedy on battery power. Our battery test is especially grueling; when the system isn't constantly spinning its optical drive, you can expect it to run longer. Still, we recommend you opt for the $100 upgrade, which adds a second and larger nine-cell battery to the package.
Portable One backs the SXS37 with a standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty. For a very reasonable $49, you can add onsite service for that year, and three-year plans are also available.