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Work Crew

The latest business laptops are a world away from their boxy, buttoned-down forebears


AS A FREQUENT BUSINESS TRAVELER, I primarily need three things from my laptops: compactness, a spacious keyboard and battery life long enough to get me from New York to L.A. I also want a webcam and the ability to watch movies, play games or stream music without having to add external speakers. And a bit of style never hurts.

Five years ago, that was a tall order for any notebook, much less a business one. But thanks in part to ever faster and smaller processors, a serious work laptop can now be had for as little as $500. The models I recently tested all had webcams, two USB ports and memory card slots. Most important for business travelers, none was more than an inch thick.

The Lenovo X1 ($1,300) is essentially a slim, modern version of the classic Thinkpad laptop, down to the rugged black casing and the iconic red trackpoint controller in the center of the keys. The spacious backlit keyboard is spill-resistant and has molded keys that are a pure delight to use. The slim battery lasts only three hours, but can charge up to 80 percent in just 30 minutes, a feature that comes in handy during layovers. It’s fast, too, with the state-of-the-art i7 processor usually found in bigger laptops like the MacBook Pro.

Bigger and boxier, with subtly different shades of brushed metal across its casing, the HP ProBook 5330m ($800) looks the way a laptop might if Jacob Jensen had designed it for Bang & Olufsen in the ’80s. Which is fitting, as it’s one of the first business notebooks to really pay attention to audio. With the addition of Beats Audio, it offers surprising clarity and depth, and even bass that sounds full and defined without distortion. The ProBook also comes with a host of CIA-grade security features, like login via facial recognition (which requires posing for almost a dozen images from different angles), password and fingerprint.

While many business notebooks still come in black or brushed-metal silver, the Dell Vostro V131 (starting at $500) is a perfect example of the aesthetic liberation of the form. In addition to boring gray, it comes in a brilliant metallic red. Besides 9.5-hour battery life and a speedy dual-core i5 processor, the V131 has built-in WiDi, a wireless technology that lets your computer connect with, say, an office projector, in order to show presentations or videos.

The elephant in the room is the MacBook Air (starting at $999), a modern-day marvel that starts up in less than 30 seconds. Truth be told, the superslim Air continues to be my personal favorite for business or pleasure — not to mention a fine iPad killer — but I’m still a daily user of PCs as well. Why? Because, cool factor aside, where design and features are concerned, the greatest variety and innovation are happening in the PC/Windows arena. And in a world of ubiquitous Apple iPhones and laptops, variety is something to be championed.

TOM SAMILJAN can’t wait for the day when he can fold up his razor-thin OLED laptop and put it in his pocket.

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