After looking at countless laptops during 2008, a small handful have jumped out as personal favorites. I'm not saying these are the very best laptops of the year, nor the highest-rated--they're just the ones that struck me as particularly interesting, useful, or well-designed.
Chances are high that you'll disagree with some or all of this list--which is what makes the comment section below so handy. Share your personal favorites, and see how they stack up against mine.
For a brief time in 2008, PC gamers had a single bright spot in their otherwise drab world (well, except for the success of World of Warcraft, I guess). Gateway made a series of FX-branded laptops that combined serious gaming power with ridiculously modest prices. The laptops, originally available at Best Buy stores, were very popular. In fact, the P-7811 version offered so much for so little, I couldn't imagine how Gateway was going to make money on these things.
Maybe they couldn't, because that P-7811 model was (very) quietly discontinued. The replacement model (the P-7801u) is about $300 more expensive and is no longer available at retail--only from specialty mail order outlets such as Newegg.
Lenovo IdeaPad U110
With low-cost Netbooks taking over the small form factor market in a big way, it was easy to forget that only a year ago, an 11- or 12-inch laptop would probably run $1,500-$2,500 or more. Sure these machines sported excellent industrial designs and fancy cases, but the low-voltage processors they used really didn't run much quicker than your average $500 Atom-powered Eee PC.
Still, it's nice to see the high-end ultraportable still has a little life in it, and the 11-inch Lenovo IdeaPad U110 from the company's new consumer-focused line is an impressive showpiece, with an intricately etched lid, a nice big keyboard, and even cool designs for the air vents.
HP Mini 1000
Let's be honest--for the most part, Netbooks are commodity products, using the same parts and components to largely the same effect. Therefore, any point of differentiation is a huge plus, and can even let you get away with charging a few bucks more than the competition.
HP's Mini 1000 has one major thing going for it. It largely solves the Netbook's tiny-key problem by including a really nicely designed almost full-size keyboard. Sure, the system has a few other quirks, such as a single audio jack and a weird proprietary memory stick port, but that very cool keyboard makes it our favorite of the current crop of Netbooks.
What else can we say about what is probably the single most popular laptop out there right now? The Intel-powered MacBooks have been winners since their debut, and the latest revision somehow manages to make them even better, with a thinner, lighter aluminum chassis and a killer giant touchpad.
As tinkerers and DIY types, we'll probably always be PC guys at heart, and clicking the giant button touchpad thing is about as awkward as using a Blackberry Storm (just turn on tapping, you'll be much happier), but the incredibly useful three- and four-finger gesture controls have totally ruined us for PC touchpads.
Sony Vaio AW125
Every laptop stable needs a massive desktop replacement multimedia model. With a big push from the factories that make the actual glass for the screens to move to 16:9 displays, expect more and more 16- and 18-inch laptops next year--or just get ahead of the curve and jump in now.
While not really radically different from the competition, Sony's was not only the slickest-looking of the initial run of 18-inch systems we checked out, it was also the cheapest Blu-ray model.