Jeremiah Rogers

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Gear: Traveling with the World's Lightest Laptop: NEC LaVie LZ750/S

When I was in Japan last month I checked out, and immediately bought, the NEC Lavie LZ750/S. It's a 795 gram laptop only sold in Japan that I heard about through Tynan's excellent gear list.

I ended up getting rid of the laptop in favor of just using an iPad Air full time. I realized fairly quickly that I could sell the NEC LaVie for a small profit on eBay and use the proceeds to switch to the iPad Air. While the iPad Air comes with many compromises (listed here), the software is much higher quality in general. I can't do software development on an iPad Air, I can't run Linux on it and I can't quickly re-process 200 raw files. However the iPad Air kills the NEC Lavie in battery life and slightly in portability.

Still I figured I should write up some notes on my experiences since there is so little English language information available on this laptop.

Features

How light is 795 grams? Picking up the laptop it feels like it's fake or that the battery isn't installed. The best way to compare this is to how many people described first picking up an iPhone 5S. My hands were so used to carrying a 1,570 gram 13 inch Macbook Pro that I was blown away to find a laptop with the same specs at half the weight (50.6%, but who cares).

Another comparison: The 795 gram NEC is less than the weight of two iPad Airs (462 grams each). The difference is even lower when you consider that the iPad Air generally requires some kind of cover, and the lightest cover I can find is 102 grams (Apple's Smart Cover). Adding a keyboard to an iPad brings the weight to almost two pounds. Even an 11 inch MacBook Air weighs 1,080 grams, which is 35% heavier than the NEC. Every Apple laptop feels like a brick now.

Does this weight matter? Before buying the NEC Lavie my pack was 5.5 kilos, after buying it I'm hovering around 4 kilos. The difference is more than just the laptop weight. After buying this machine I've also been able to ditch my USB wall charger, my external USB backup battery, and cut my daily carry pack down from a roughly 700 gram Synapse 19 to a 300 gram Daylight pack.

Since there aren't many English language reviews of this laptop online I felt like I should add another one after using it full time for about a month.

Durability, design, and build quality.

It feels strange going from a 13 inch Macbook Pro to a much smaller and lighter machine. This NEC Lavie has basically the hardware I'd like to see in a revised MacBook Air. It has almost the same resolution as a MacBook Pro (2560x1440 vs 2560x1600), the same storage space (256gb), and basically the same processor (My rMBP had a top end i5, this comes with a low end i7).

The keyboard takes some getting used to. Since the laptop is only sold in Japan, it only comes with a Japanese keyboard. I followed Tynan's advice and mapped the small keys to the left and right of the space bar to the "home" and "end" keys to make writing faster. After a few weeks I love typing on a Japanese keyboard.

The touchpad kind of sucks. It's nowhere near as accurate or easy to use as an Apple trackpad. My solution was to get a folding external laser mouse. Overall this works out fine: it's one more thing in my bag but when I'm at a desk I'm far more efficient with a laser mouse than I am with any touchpad.

The laptop is reasonably durable, it's made of magnesium, but I doubt it would hold up well to a trip through India. Considering that everything on the laptop is special it made me anxious to use it as a full time road machine since it can't easily be repaired. In contrast the iPad Air is very strong and can easily be slipped into a large ziplock bag.

Performance and Battery Life

What you give up switching from a MacBook Pro or Air is battery life. Apple specifies 9 or 12 hours for the 13 inch variants of those machines and I think that's close to what most people see in real life. NEC says that the LaVie gets up to 9 hours of usage under Windows but I see closer to 5 hours under heavy use in Linux.

For me, 5 hours is more than enough battery life. There are very few times when I sit in one place using a computer for more than five straight hours. The NEC LaVie also charges to 80% within an hour or so of being connected to the wall. This charging rate is much faster than most other computer and the iPad (which takes 7-9 hours).

Accessories

The charger for the NEC LaVie feels a lot lighter and more functionally designed than MagSafe chargers for travel. One of my frustrations with Apple chargers is that you either use them with a very thick and long white cord or the brick needs to be plugged directly into the wall.

The NEC LaVie, like most PC laptops, has a standard "figure 8" prong adapter. This means I can plug it into the wall using the 0.5 meter cord it comes with, can switch out that cord for the right-angle figure 8 adapter that I use to charge my camera, or I can use the crazy Moons Moongallet adapter I found in Japan to add two extra power plugs right into my charger.

A final feature, which I desperately love, is that this laptop can finally charge my Android phone at full speed. Apple laptops charge iPhones at around 2 amps, but vengefully limit everything else to 0.5 amps. The NEC LaVie charges my phone at a full 2 amps when the laptop is sleeping or off. This means I can be walking down the street, see a low battery, and plug in my phone to the laptop to get an 80% charge within about an hour.

Pricing and how to buy

The NEC LaVie is not cheap, but it's a lot cheaper if you buy it yourself in Japan. Dynamism lists the same specifications I have (Core i7, 256GB SSD) for $2,800. In Japan the listed price is $1,750 and is another 13% lower if you're a foreigner and pay with a Visa card (you save 8% tax plus a 5% bonus for buying with a Visa).

My final price was about $1,530, and I'll save a bit more if I manage to sell the Japanese language version of Microsoft Office that it came with. For the $1,170 dollars you save buying it yourself you might as well take a mostly free trip to Tokyo.

Suggestions

Unfortunately you can't buy this laptop in the United States. One option is to buy it through Dynamism (about $2,800 for the top end model) or White Rabbit (supposedly it costs less). If you want something similar you might check out the 13 Inch Sony Vaio Pro (buy here on Amazon if you want to support my site.)

There aren't many other ultralight laptops that come anywhere close. As I said above I've switched to an iPad full time and don't see myself going back to a PC except for small excursions in software development and book production. If Apple releases a Macbook Air with a retina display my mind might change.

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