NEW YORK (AP) — 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.
Put another way, you can unplug your laptop in the morning and go a full day without a charge, with some breaks for meals, exercise and errands. The 13-inch MacBook Air, for instance, promises up to 12 hours of battery life. Three Windows machines I tried promise seven to nine hours. For students, that's a full day of cutting classes — and more. For business travelers, that's a cross-country flight including delays.
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'sMacBook Air and Dell, Sony and Acer computers running Microsoft's Windows 8. Samsung and other PC makers are just coming out with Haswell laptops, so you should expect even more choices by the holidays. 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. You can spend a few hundred dollars more for additional storage and faster processors.
Here are the four Haswell laptops I tried, starting with the cheapest:
— MacBook Air from Apple Inc. 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. Spend the extra $100 for three additional hours and a larger screen if you can afford it.
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. The base model of the Air also has a slightly slower processor — at 1.3 gigahertz, compared with 1.6 gigahertz for the three Windows laptops.
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. I ran that test four times and got nine to 10 hours of playing the same episode of "Revenge" over and over. As with other laptops, performance drops significantly when streaming video over Wi-Fi, down to six to seven hours of Hulu.