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Help Me, LAPTOP: I Need the Ultimate Note-Taking Notebook

At  LAPTOP, we're all about education. So when 8th grader Michael wrote us with his notebook shopping dilemma, we were all screens.

Michael writes:

I am an 8th grade student living in Virginia, and have had a laptop before. It ran hot and it was HEAVY. It weighed about 12 lbs. I am trying to pick out a new laptop, and I have narrowed my choice to 3 laptops: The Lenovo Thinkpad x201 (lightest, best battery life), the HP Pavilion dm4t (the best one for my budget), and the HP Envy 14(definitely the coolest looking and best specs). I plan to use the laptop to take notes in school (I’ll be carrying it around all day), check email, browse the web, use AIM, etc. I might do some occasional video editing for a school project every once in a while (that’s why the HPs caught my eye, they have switchable graphics), and store photos. My budget is $1,500 or lower. Please help!

A $1,500 budget is quite generous to say the least and it sounds like portability and battery life are really key for you. For those reasons, we'd avoid the HP Envy 14 as it weighs 5.4 pounds and gets only 4 hours and 26 minutes of battery life, though there's an optional battery slice that you can attach to the bottom for added weight and cost. The dm4t is bit better, but still probably too large to fit onto one of those tiny chair/desks that many schools have.

The ThinkPad X201 (7:30 battery life) or X201s (8:31 battery life) are definitely light enough and powerful enough to do what you're asking, even video editing, but not hardcore gaming (something you didn't ask about). The X201s lacks a webcam, but has a higher-res screen and longer battery life so it might be a better choice. That said, if you are comfortable usinga Mac, you may want to consider a 13-inch MacBook Pro, which lasts nearly 8 hours on a charge and has great discrete graphics performance.

You didn't mention convertible tablets as something you were considering, but many students love having a notebook that can swivel into tablet mode so they can draw or write on the screen with a stylus. Though these cost a bit more, they are worth considering if you think you'll use the stylus. Our favorite convertibles right now are the ThinkPad X201 tablet, which is a version of the ThinkPad X201 we mentioned above, and the HP  Elitebook 2740p. However, these are significantly more expensive than their non-tablet counterparts. Also, the X201 tablet is a little more difficult to type on than the regular X201 or X201s, because it has a very rigid palmrest that can be a little rough on the wrists.

Each week, we answers questions from readers in our Help Me LAPTOP section. If you need help buying or making the most of a notebook, smart phone, or other mobile gadget, e-mail us at helpme@laptopmag.com. We'll use the most interesting questions in a future Help ME LAPTOP post.

The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.