Apple, MSI Rank as Best Travel Laptops

Apple, Samsung and MSI produce the best laptops for staying in touch with work while traveling.
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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If you're looking for the silver lining to the Great Recession, here it is: Staying in work-touch as you travel has never been easier. Small-business laptops are better than they've ever been.

Between improved processors, more robust Web-based apps -- and some good, old-fashioned bare-knuckle competition -- major laptop makers like


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are making it pretty darn attractive to dump that clunky old laptop of yours and sink some serious dough into a new portable.

Today's notebook computers are lighter, have all-day battery life and offer once-unimaginable features like Blu-ray drives and powerful presentation add-ons.

But remember: Portable computers are


for portable use. Don't ruin your tendons, like I have, burning hours on a cramped laptop keyboard while in the office.

A dockable, legit full-sized keyboard and monitor are musts for any portable in your office.

With that in mind, here are my top picks for portable computers for your busy summer-travel season.

Apple MacBook

(starts at $999, plus $150 for Office for Mac 2008): The iPad, the iPhone and the iMac get all the media love, but the forgotten Apple MacBook is still the value play for that Apple vibe on the go.

I find the 13.4-inch screen seems larger than it is. And what's not to love about the true all-day battery life and slick, business-video-conference-ready iSight camera?

You'll want to temper Apple's pronouncements that its Intel Core 2 Duo chip renders the current MacBook as a performance powerhouse. Mondo apps like Photoshop are still a no-go. And for sure, spend the money on Office 2008 for Mac; Apple's office software suite iWork is just not business-grade code.

To be sure, for a mere grand, you get a state-of-the-art portable that can handle just about any task on the road. And it sure looks sweet.

Samsung N210

($360): If you ever wanted to know what the Apple brand really costs you, test-drive the Samsung N210 netbook: Assuming you don't go nutty trying to make this box do what it can't, like read a CD or handle heavy apps, the N210 is a simply ridiculous value at $360.

The Samsung is a perfectly business-worthy -- some might say MacBook-inspired -- netbook. The 10-inch screen is bright, Windows 7 and Web tools like Google Apps run fine. And the seven hours of battery life and 2.9-pound form factor make this a feather-light, worry-free travel companion.

Netbooks like the N201 do


replace a true laptop. Poor performance and small screen size will cramp your business style. But for basic staying-in-touch on the go, the rugged, handsome M210 is my pick of the travel summer 2010.

MSI X420

($690): Certainly, Dell, HP, Sony, Acer and all the rest make solid portables. But if you are willing to test the off-brand waters -- talk about value.

Right now it is tough to ignore what MSI is doing with its X-Slim series: the upscale case, decent-looking LCD screen, nearly full-sized keyboard and reasonable 5.5-pound weight make this a full-feature laptop that travels. Yes, you will miss the higher-end fit-and-finish of, say, a Dell or HP. But you won't be paying for those features either. Dollar for dollar, for decent mobile work PCs, MSI is the legitimate off-brand contender of the moment.

Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.