Given that magnesium is almost half as dense as aluminum, it may come as an obvious choice to manufacturers looking to shave a few more grams from their ultra-thin Ultrabooks. NEC's recent LaVie Z, clad entirely in a magnesium-lithium alloy, has made us reconsider our own notebook priorities.
Say what you will about the recent spike in Ultrabook growth - thinner, lighter notebooks are good for all of us in the long run. We've seen a lot of laptops. A. Lot. Of. Laptops. (seriously like a whole bunch) - and some of them manage to feel like they're made of lead. They might be thinner than they ever used to be, but they're often still several pounds...
...except for the NEC LaVie Z.
Coming in at a mindblowing 875g, the LaVie is much, much lighter than you expect it be. When I first picked up the closed Ultrabook, I thought someone had mistakenly placed a dummy model out in the Ultrabook display area - and I'm not the only one. But then you open up this featherweight clamshell, and discover that there's an active screen, and it's responsive to your touch.
This is starting to sound gushing, but it's difficult to accurately describe how light this machine is. Consider another celebrated ultrathin (an Ultrabook in every way except name) - the 13-inch MacBook Air. That laptop weighs 1350 grams, more than one and a half times what the LaVie does. The LaVie Z has a superior screen, too - with a glossy (but not too glossy) finish, the display rings in with a 1600x900 resolution. On a 13.3-inch laptop, the sharpness is welcome.
The trackpad seemed to work okay; it's not great, but neither is it rage-inducing as are many of the trackpads we find on PC notebooks these days.
Along the left side of the LaVie is an SDXC card slot. On the right is a USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.0 port, HDMI-out, audio in/out, and the AC adapter jack. Inside is a reasonably powerful Intel Core i7-3317U running at 1.7GHz (turbo boost to 2.6GHz), Intel's integrated HD4000 graphics, 4GB DDR3 SDRAM, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0.
We obviously couldn't steal this beauty away for an in-depth battery test, but NEC claims that the LaVie Z gets a bit over 8 hours - more than respectable, and in line with most Ultrabooks.
The footprint is reasonable for a laptop of this size, with the LaVie measuring 313mm wide by 209mm deep. It's only 14.9mm thick - so perhaps WD's new 5mm hybrid drive would be a welcome addition here.
There's a downside, too
It's not all peaches and cream, however, as there are a couple of downsides to NEC's engineering marvel. The first is the keyboard. The keyboard just isn't very good. If you're a touch typist that places a lot of priority on having a really solid keyboard, you might not wish to seek out the LaVie Z. Hunt and peck typists will very likely never notice that there's something amiss.
It's difficult to say whether one might simply adjust to the keyboard after some time with the unit, though.
The second issue is the price. NEC sells the LaVie Z in Japan for something close to $1600. There's no current plans to bring the system across the ocean, though some savvy resellers have done it for you, if you're willing to pay the fees. So it's a pricey Ultrabook - certainly not as affordable as a dozen or so other options.
Still you guys it's seriously light
Having said all of that, good gravy this thing is stunningly light, weighing just 200 grams more than the third-generation iPad. If a laptop's weight is your primary concern, then you really need to take a look at the LaVie Z, regardless of the hoops you'd need to jump through to get one in the West.
In the meantime, we'll try and secure an evaluation unit - but so far we're pleased with what we see.