The Notebook Airline Test

The Notebook Airline Test
Battery life is crucial, but there’s an equally important test for any notebook that’s going to get regularly used on a plane: is it small enough to fit on the tray, allow typing when there’s someone sitting next to you and not end up half-closed when the person in front reclines their seat?

In the course of the Hand Luggage Only trip, I’ve noticed plenty of people making use of PCs in the air, but a surprising number fail these criteria, resulting in much wailing and gnashing of teeth. The most common problem is picking something that’s too large: a 17 inch screen might look lovely in the office, but it’s just not going to cut it in a standard economy seat, especially if the passenger in front is taking a nap.

Having a smaller machine (and the Portégé R600 I’m taking on this trip definitely fits in that category) also has more subtle benefits. Not only are you protected from reclining dramas, but there’s enough space to actually fit the drinks and snacks next to it. That’s obviously less important if you’re on a pay-for-the-food budget airline, but still useful. A smaller display can also translate into longer battery life, depending on what you’re doing.

So far, I’ve successfully used the R600 on planes ranging in size from a Dash 8 through to a 767. Apologies for the rubbish photo, which was taken on a 717: it’s near impossible to take a photograph of yourself using your own laptop in a confined space.

Once I’ve returned from Perth on a 747, I’ll have tried out pretty much the entire Qantas domestic range. Of course, it helps that I never work with a mouse. Several commentershave pointed out that wireless mice aren’t an option in the air due to radio transmission requirements — if you simply must have a mouse, grab a cable and pray that the next seat is empty. (Again, a smaller notebook will give you a small pool of mouse room, though probably not enough for Photoshop.)

Throughout May 2009, Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman will be travelling throughout Australia with just one carry-on bag for the Hand Luggage Only project.


  • I’ve got a HP tx1000 and it’s perfect for planes. 12″ rotatable touch screen means you can face the laptop away from you, rotate the screen 180 degrees and sit it at a nice angle for viewing. Not so good for typing though. Still it’s better than having your screen crushed when the person in front of you decides to recline their seat. Almost saw my friends screen snap in half because of this.

  • Consider one of the new netbooks for airline travel. The HP 2140 Mini-Note, with aircraft aluminum case is great size, great screen, and 93% of regular keyboard size. The Samsung N120 has a full size keyboard, 8hr battery life, and great ergonomics. I also like the Lenove S10 ato round out my top three choices, buth the new Dell Mini a close contender. Wt. is between 2 and 3lbs, so really great for airline frequent fliers.

    Seattle, WA

    • Also a close contender is the Asus N10 J series.. 10.2″ display, full sized keyboard, battery life depends on the application you’re using. If you’re thinking of watching a DVD during the flight, you will have to bring an external CD/DVD drive. You may have guessed, with a display that small there’s no room for a built-in drive. One word though, portability. It’s, I see it, for people on the go.

  • For portable computing, small is definitely popular. There are many macbook 13 inchers that come out at uni (mine is one of them) but I still find that I get “eee-nvy” looking at the tiny little net-books that seem so light and small!

    If it was in the budget, netbook = WANT.

  • Maybe wait for the new Ipod Touch to come out in early 2010. Rumors are that it will be the size of a Kindle, with a touch screen, all the iPhone Apps, and the ability to read books with the Kindle software, etc. Depending on the hard drive capacity, may be able to watch movies, etc.

    Personally, I use the HP 2133 Mini-Note, 8.9″ screen, with 2G ram and 120G harddrive. I use a bluetooth mouse, and a 500G LaCie external mobile “Little Drive” which holds all my files and movies. In addition, I use an 8G SD card for
    MS Office, 2 map/GPS programs, and a lite CAD design program. All this is tiny, fits really nicely on an airline tray, has a great screen, and 6hrs battery life. I travel with 2 batteries for long flights.

    Seattle, WA.

  • Try a eeepc 1000HA with a 13000mah battery. I have made it good for 8:58 hrs of continuous use with wifi or 9:30hrs without. Trip from sydney to singapore. It tips the scales at 1.5-1.6kg though.

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