Finding a Laptop You Can Use in Coach


My first use of wifi onboard Virgin America last month made me realize something. My laptop is way too big. Ok, maybe the seat pitch is way too small, but either way it presents a problem. I want something smaller, especially now that Cranky Concierge is starting to take off (more than 50 clients so far) and I need to be in touch. Sony recently gave me the chance to take a netbook for a spin, and I think the netbook is going to be the way to go.

Sony P Series Comparison

Believe it or not, the idea of finding a smaller laptop is not anything new. My current laptop with the 15.4″ screen (on the right) is actually much smaller than the absurdly large desktop replacement I had before. But now, I want to shrink again. Somehow I got on Sony’s press distribution list, and I saw a release for their P series. I sent a note to them asking for more info and they actually sent me a loaner version for 2 weeks. Cool.

This thing is an absolute rock star, but for that reason, it’s not cheap. It’s tiny, but it’s also powerful. Typing on Sony P SeriesThe P Series has an 8 inch screen and it weighs only 1.4 pounds. That’s just silly.

My biggest fear was that the keyboard would be too small to be useful, but it actually was a piece of cake for typing. My only problem is that the Page Up/Page Down keys were difficult to use, and as a frequent tab flipper in Firefox, that was a pain. But typing wasn’t tough at all.

Don’t think that this is some mini-PC on the inside. It’s pretty damn powerful. It uses an Intel Atom processor between 1.33 to 2 GHz depending on the version. All versions have 2 gigs of RAM and anywhere from 80 gigs to 256 gigs of storage. The version they sent me was top of the line and instead of a hard drive actually has a solid state drive. No fan, no moving parts, just awesomeness. This was also my first look at Windows 7, and it ran with ease.

There are a couple of USB ports to hook into, and there’s a built-in camera. Of course, there is a wireless card, but even more interesting is that there is a Verizon mobile card built-in as well. If you want to sign up with Verizon, you can access the internet anywhere there’s Verizon service. The battery lasts up to 3.5 hours, but there is an extended life one you can get as well.

I’ve been using a touchpad for a long time now, so I was afraid that the little pointer stick thingy would be annoying. They’ve really improved these things since I first had one about 10 years ago. You can now tap on the pointer to click, and there’s a third button that you can use to scroll. Sony P Series ClosedIn other words, you can do just about everything you can do with a touchpad.

As the pictures show, “tiny” is an understatement. This makes other netbooks look large and clunky. I took it with me everywhere, and I had plenty of googly-eyed stares from people wanting to touch it and play with it. It’s definitely a head turner. So what’s not to like?

It ain’t cheap. The base level costs $850. The cheapest solid state drive unit is $1000, and the one I tested is a whopping $1900. Considering that other netbooks start around $300, that’s going to hurt its market size. But those other netbooks are larger, clunkier, and at the $300 pricepoint, slower. It’s the small size that really grabbed me and has me seriously considering buying one.

If I get one, it would the $1000 solid state drive model, but can I justify it? I’m still working that out, but man do I want it. Anyone have netbooks they love or hate? Chime in below.

[Sony P-Series information]

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30 comments on “Finding a Laptop You Can Use in Coach

  1. I saw a number of netbooks at Best Buy and they were just to small for me. My eyes aren’t getting any younger after all…

    But I did think they would be good for kids to use in school due their size.

    I also saw laptops that were the size of a suitcase, not even sure why they were called laptops.

    Sit using it for a long time (pretend you are on a 5 hrs flight) and see how you feel about it and how your eyes feel.

  2. I have a Samsung NC-10 (purchased Dec 2008) and have used it as my main computer for almost a year now, and I love it. At the time it was reviewed as the best netbook on the market, though a newer model came out this year and the 1005H is supposed to be very good as well. To be honest, the P series is essentially a gimmick. The graphic renderings are pretty terrible (OK you’ve got inflight wi-fi, but if you can’t watch a movie at greater than 320 resolution, what good is it?) and the keyboard is cramped. At 1.4 pounds, it’s not that much lighter than most other netbooks (2.2 lbs). Also, the half-sized screen makes to too hard to read websites in a comfortable way.

    Just my 2 cents.

  3. You don’t mention the battery life, which Sony pegs at only 3.5hrs (probably 3-cell). In-seat power would be required for a transcon flight.
    That screen packs in an impressive amount of pixels…how was it after a few hours of work?

  4. I’d be curious about battery life too. I have a nice big screen Mac at home, but on the road I use an HP Mini Netbook with a variety of flashdrives to store photos and movies to watch.

    It works great for websurfing and writing, and I even can VPN into my work PC on the road. At the netbook price point if it gets lost, stolen or damaged it’s not the end of the world. I even dropped it on a tile floor a month ago and no damage at all.

    But I’ve started to watch TV shows on it, (via flashdrives,) and have found the battery life only covers one or two one hour TV shows – which is a thumbs down for long long flights.

    Yours looks like the ultimate travel PC though!

  5. I bought an Acer back in September 2008 for around $350. Although this was a “low-end” netbook, it’s been more than adequate for my needs – internet, video, and Powerpoint . The OEM six-cell battery gets me ~5 hours and I picked up a nine-cell for $50 on eBay that gets me another 7-8. That’s enough to cover a US-Australia flight and makes LAX-SYD in UA’s E- almost bearable.

  6. I’m really mixed on these things. I’m a bit lazy, but I like only having one laptop. Managing what is on which laptop/netbook gets to be more of a pain than it is worth.

    Now I just wish there was a decent way to work the the person in front of me when they want to recline. On my last flight the guy behind me started to recline and caught my laptop screen. I was more than happy to move it around, but the communication got a bit odd..

  7. My eye site is also an issue. I use a 15 in laptop and increase the zoom setting to 150%. The netbooks just do not work for me.

  8. Cranky:

    It looks like you have an old 15 inch Laptop with the relatively square screen. The newer models are in a 16:9 format similar to HDTV’s. The profile is lower and wider (better for typing). I have a netbook and love it. It probably comes down to whether you need the CD/DVD drive on the laptop or can go with the Netbook. Acer makes a 15.4 inch lightweight Laptop called the “Timeline” which uses a backlit LED screen and up to 8 hours battery life.

  9. Brett,

    As a new user to Firefox (about a year now), I’m shocked about the tab-flipping with CTRL-PgUp or CTRL-PgDn. I am constantly flipping tabs as well and prefer using keyboard shortcuts as often as possible. Thanks for the tip!

  10. I’ve mostly gotten exit row seats lately, but my MacBook Air (about 3 months old) was very usable even on a CRJ-200 in a non-exit row window seat (about as cramped as seats get), and it has a full-sized keyboard with a 13.1″ monitor. In an exit row, I could even keep it out with my meal on an international flight. About $1300, which I consider a good price for a laptop that serves as my everyday machine and _just works_.

    Agreed that the (relatively) new widescreen laptops are much better for coach than comparably-sized squarish ones because they’re not as deep. I found my 15.1″ PowerBook G4 (16:9 aspect ratio) acceptable in coach for years, although the Air is better.

    Now, my bias: I’d never consider a Windows machine (I need Unix/Linux for work and hate Windows anyway), and I’m reluctant to use Linux. I didn’t even look at non-Apple options.

  11. I have a Gateway LT3103u netbook with an 11.6″ screen and what they brand as a full-sized keyboard. 250GB hard drive, 2GB RAM, $399. Gateway escaped the spec limitations that Intel puts on their Atom processors by using a low voltage AMD Athlon processor in this model. I got this thing for the same exact reason you are contemplating and I couldn’t be happier. Running Win 7, it’s got plenty of pep, albeit you can’t game or anything on it. But for running Office, browsing the web, and email, I give it an A+. I get about 5 hours of battery life with the screen brightness at 50%. The bigger 11.6″ screen and full-size keyboard make it a lot more usable than the usual netbooks.

  12. I have an HP Touchsmart 12″, and it works fine for my needs (I do about 150-200 segments a year).

    I’m a pretty good sized guy (read: a bit fat), but I can use this thing on almost any airplane. If you can get the tray table down, you can use it just fine. It also has a full-size keyboard and a mousepad, so I can type normal speed. The screen also pivots, so you can fold it over and close it, and tilt the whole thing back and watch a movie.

    It’s got 3 gig of RAM, and cost $850.

    And in the office, I just dock it in, and I use a 17″ monitor and freestanding keyboard to make it even easier.

    No WAY would I get one of those netbooks. This works just fine.

  13. I am stoked on netbooks, particularly my Toshiba NB205. Yes, I wear bifocals and the screen is a little small, but it ran for about seven (7) hours on a flight from Heathrow to San Francisco. The keyboard is large, the computer ran Photoshop Elements and Microsoft Office and iTunes at the same time, the display was bright, and it even left a little space on the tray for a drink, snacks, or notebook. I also carried it around all the time in England and Scotland in a small Case Logic E-sling case, as it is very light, compact, and great for those unsecured WiFi points.

  14. I have a 10″ Toshiba I just got and I love it. Funny, I bought it after using Virgin America’s wi-fi as well :).

    I haven’t been able to use it on a plane yet, but just taking it around wherever I go is VERY handy. I wouldn’t want it as my main computer, but it is a good travel one!

  15. Thanks for all the thoughts, everyone. I think I still have some more research to do before I make a final decision . . .

    David SFeastbay wrote:

    Sit using it for a long time (pretend you are on a 5 hrs flight) and see how you feel about it and how your eyes feel.

    I did use it for hours at a time, and it didn’t bother me. I did end up increasing the font size in Firefox because I was straining too much, but it was fine once I blew it up.

    Zach wrote:

    To be honest, the P series is essentially a gimmick.

    Maybe, but for my purposes it’s great. I don’t want to carry a laptop bag around, and this thing can fit into a coat pocket. That’s huge.

    Tim wrote:

    did you get ~3.5 hr?

    I don’t think I got quite that much, and battery life is a concern compared to some netbooks. But they do have an extended life battery that you can buy and add another hour or two.

    Nicholas Barnard wrote:

    I’m a bit lazy, but I like only having one laptop. Managing what is on which laptop/netbook gets to be more of a pain than it is worth.

    That’s one thing I was trying to figure out and I never got an answer back from Sony. I wanted to know how easy it would be to sync it up with another, larger Sony or really any other computer. I imagine it’s a pain. That’s why I was looking at this as a good travel computer and pretty much a hard drive at home. I could plug it in to a keyboard, monitor, and mouse when I’m there.

    Joe wrote:

    It looks like you have an old 15 inch Laptop with the relatively square screen.

    Yep, I do. I know the newer ones give a little more room and that will certainly be something I consider.

  16. We bought a ASUS Eee PC 1005HA. It has the 10.1(diag) screen and works well in airline seats – even for someone who is larger. The model we got has the larger battery pack so the battery life is really good – at least 5+ hours (but haven’t checked the batt. life w/ video running). Weight is around 3 pounds. Bought primarily for travel and although it doesn’t fit in a pocket, it is small and easy to carry. I’m pleased with the size of the keyboard and the touchpad. I can’t remember the exact cost, but it was around $375. I would (and am) recommending it!

  17. I purchased an EeePC last July. Love it… Great for travel. Got a couple accessories ie. mouse, portable hard drive, noise canceling head phones. (Oh, be careful if you buy a portable hard drive. I thought I had one that reads and writes, but discovered when I got it home… didn’t. Returned it for one that does) Use Magic Jack phone. My greatest pleasure is getting recipes on line and setting my notebook on the counter in the kitchen to follow the recipe. I think my battery life is 4 hrs. Going Green by not printing recipe! Hubby uses the big laptop so I’m not interfering with his use,

  18. I travel almost as much as you cranky, and often in coach (employer rules, any flight under 9hrs is coach), and so I researched the hell out of what notebook/netbook to buy as a second computer. I ended up getting an Acer 1810TZ, which is either a very small and light notebook (11.5in screen, 3lbs) or a netbook on steroids (Pentium dual core processor, full HD resolution screen, almost full-size keyboard, actual 7hrs of battery life). And while it’s not priced like a netbook ($550), it beats the hell out of typing on one of those things not to mention the battery life, speed, graphics, etc. Check it out! I love this thing.

  19. The mini Dell notebook is nice. I find that using any of the minis for more than a couple hours is maddening, but it is so nice to have a tiny little device that can perform. The flash hard drives are lightning quick.

  20. I have the an Asus 10-inch from Amazon. I also but an additional 2GB of memory. I love this machine, and the brushed aluminized case does not show fingerprints. Also, the battery life is close to 5 hours before a recharge. Specifics below:

    ASUS Eee PC 1002HA 10-Inch Netbook (1.6 GHz Intel Atom Processor, 1 GB RAM, 160 GB Hard Drive, 10 GB Eee Storage, XP Home) Brushed Aluminized. $4414.88

    Crucial 2GB 667 Mhz CT25664AC667 DDR2 200-Pin SODIMM Laptop Memory, $23.98

  21. I am the happy owner of an Asus EeePC 900 (out of production now); the machine accompanies me on all overnight trips (and some day trips too). It is easy to carry around, the average economy class table has enough space to work with it and (partly) thanks to the SSD the machine is robust, it hardly received a scratch in 1½ years. I use it for web surfing, web-mail, light editing tasks and giving presentations; moving files to and from my main workstation over my home network. It is a secondary machine in most respects, except that I plug some external speakers in at home and use it as my main music player. Only negative point is battery life (~1.5 hours).

    Yes, there are cheaper netbooks available than the Sony, but carefully look at the size and specs. Battery life and size/weight are important if you are on the road a lot; having 3G built in is convenient too instead of hooking on an external GSM. A netbook is no replacement for a full-blown PC, but can replace a laptop if you have a good machine to work on at home.

  22. I used an 8 inch laptop when I was travelling around for 8 months this year, but I found it slightly too small for my liking. If you’re looking to spend a lot of time on the computer (for example with your blogging) you might find it difficult with such a small screen and keyboard.

    I actually bought a new one recently, slightly bigger (eee pc 1005HA 10″) with an ergonomic keyboard. Made a huge difference!! Easy to type and the 2 inches larger screen makes a big difference.

    I initially wanted the Mac book 13 inch one, but found it too expensive bringing with me on the road.
    If money isn’t a problem, check that one out, it seems awesome!!

    Good luck!!

  23. How about simply flying JetBlue, with the most seat pitch available in coach, and saving yourself the cash to buy a laptop… problem solved!

  24. Acer Aspire One with 8.9″ screen, extended cell battery for 5+ hours of life. Load with Window XP. 2 pounds

    About $250 with shipping.

    But then again, I am the Frugal Travel Guy

  25. Thank you everyone for the input. I ended up with a Toshiba. I knew that I wanted built-in 3G, so that narrowed the field dramatically. I really liked the new Nokia netbook but that is tied only to AT&T and their coverage sucks. I looked at the HP ones, but I hated the keyboard. In the end, the Toshiba had just about everything I wanted including a good keyboard. And, if you’re willing to sign a two year contract (which was fine with me), you can get it for a mere $199 at Best Buy. What a deal.

  26. I have a Siny P500 and they are great for airline use and everywhere else (as I type on her).

    This is actually my second one because I left my 1st one in my first class seat on a NWA flight. So be warned… they are easy to misplace.

  27. Sorry hit post by mistake.

    I have been using it since May. It is VERY easy to type on. I have the first model so my HDD is only 60GB and Sony uses a lot of that out of the box.

    It does have a decent amount of USB ports.

    However, I also have an Acer Aspire One and that one is less than 50% of the cost, bigger harddrive, and still at 8.9″ screen is still small enough for plane use.

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