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Haswell laptops deliver on long battery

By Anick Jesdanun Associated Press
Sept. 4, 2013 at 11 p.m.


NEW YORK - Just in time for the back-to-school season, new laptops with extended battery life are hitting store shelves.

What these laptops have in common are microprocessors that belong to a new family of Intel chips called Haswell. The chips consume less power than previous generations and promise a 50 percent boost in battery life for watching video. The improvements extend to word processing, Web surfing and other computing tasks as well.

The catch: Slim, lightweight laptops with Haswell chips cost more than $1,000. Cheaper laptops will be heavier or come with older chips.

I reviewed Apple's MacBook Air and Dell, Sony and Acer computers running Microsoft's Windows 8. The four I tested use solid-state flash drives, which keep laptops light but don't have as much capacity as traditional storage. They also lack Ethernet ports for wired Internet connections and slots for DVDs. Expect to use Wi-Fi a lot, though USB ports are available to connect devices. Base models come with 128 gigabytes of storage.

Here are the four Haswell laptops I tried, starting with the cheapest:

<strong>MacBook Air from Apple Inc.</strong> Starts at $1,099 for 13-inch model. With a screen measuring 13.3 inches diagonally, the larger model weighs 2.96 pounds and costs $1,099. An even lighter, 11.6-inch version is available for $999, but promised battery life is just nine hours.

It's odd that the Air is the cheapest of the four I reviewed, as Apple's computers are traditionally pricier than their Windows counterparts. But in this case, the Windows laptops I tested all come with touch screens, something Apple has avoided in laptops on the premise that people don't want to lift their hands off the keyboard to use touch controls.

Although promised battery life on the 13-inch review unit was 12 hours, I was able to get more than 14 hours once by turning off the Wi-Fi connection. I typically got nine to 11 hours for general Web surfing. Apple promises up to 10 hours for playing video downloaded from its iTunes store.

Beyond having a long battery life, the Air is a solid machine that is easy to hold and carry. Only the 13-inch model has a slot for SD memory cards.

Apart from its limited storage compared with laptops with regular hard drives, the MacBook Air will work fine as a primary computer.

<strong>XPS 12 from Dell Inc.</strong> Starts at $1,200. The XPS 12 is part of a category called ultrabooks - slim and light laptops, much like MacBook Airs, except they run Windows. The XPS 12 is also a convertible. The screen spins like a pig roasting on a spit. In one position, you get a laptop. Spin it 180 degrees, close the lid, and you have yourself a tablet. Magic.

Unfortunately, the XPS 12 is on the heavy side. The base model is 3.35 pounds. The XPS 12 is alone in lacking an SD card slot, and its 12.5-inch screen is the smallest. But it is also the only one to have physical volume buttons on the side, and it's more affordable than the other two Windows laptops I reviewed.

Promised battery life is about 8.75 hours. I got nearly 8.5 hours for word processing, spreadsheets and other tasks that didn't need Wi-Fi. With wireless turned on, I got 7.5 to eight hours of use.

What I like most about the XPS 12 is the fact that it automatically disables the on-screen keyboard when in laptop mode.

<strong>Vaio Pro 13 from Sony Corp.</strong> Starts at $1,250. The Pro is an ultrabook that's light. Very, very light. The 13.3-inch laptop weighs just 2.34 pounds, only 60 percent more than an iPad. Sony uses carbon fiber to keep it light.Sony assures me that it's more durable than aluminum. The base model starts at $1,250, though you can save $100 with an 11.6-inch Vaio Pro 11 instead.

I was ready to hate the Pro 13 because the cursor keeps jumping around when I type, making it difficult to complete sentences.Turns out I had to download a piece of software to give me settings for touchpad sensitivity. I had two weeks of frustrations until then, though Sony tells me most consumers won't need the separate download.

I consistently got more than the seven hours of battery life promised for general Web surfing and word processing.

<strong>Aspire S7 from Acer Inc.</strong> Starts at $1,450. The Aspire has what I want in a laptop, except for the price. The laptop's aluminum body is covered on one side with glossy white glass. It's also fairly light, at 2.87 pounds.

You can flip its screen all the way back so that both the keyboard and the screen are level with the surface, just like a tablet on a tabletop. Just press Function-O on the keyboard and the image on the screen rotates 90 degrees at a time, allowing you to show something to others sitting at your table.

Acer's website promises eight hours of battery life. I exceeded nine hours with Wi-Fi off and got seven to 8.5 hours of general Web surfing.

Two complaints about the design: The power button is near the hole for the charger, so I accidentally turned the machine off by mistake several times.

I also had the cursor jump around when I first used it. A replacement unit Acer sent me to review worked without a hitch.

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