For some time now, Apple has delivered the best mix of portability and large screen size in a laptop. The MacBook Pro 17" weighs just 6.6 lb. and is only 10.4" deep. While that won't sound tiny to those of you with so-called subnotebooks (11, 12 or 13" screens and 3 lb. weight), for a large-screen notebook this is pretty good. The MacBook Pro 17" has typically been 1-3 lb. lighter and 1-2" smaller in each dimension than the Windows competition. Price is another matter, but you knew that.
Now a new generation of displays has come out which changes the equation. Sony and Hewlett-Packard, among others, have launched laptops with true 16:9 displays and these models are encroaching on Apple's territory. I've just spent some time with the Sony VGN-FW290 and the HP HDX 16t. The Sony comes the closest to challenging Apple so I'll concentrate there (the HP has a smallish 16" display and weighs almost a pound more than the MacBook; it is also hews to a "bling is best" aesthetic that I doubt would appeal to anyone attracted to a Mac).
The Sony FW series has a 16.4" display, with a 16:9 aspect ratio (Full HD or ultrawidescreen). That may not sound new, because you probably have or have seen widescreen laptops (in the past few years that's about all you could buy, 4:3 aspect ratio laptops except in a few business settings having gone the way of the dinosaur). But widescreen laptops have a 16:10 aspect ratio. 16:9 and 16:10 aren't really all that different, but there are a few tradoffs.
First of all, and I'm sure this is Sony's thinking, a 16:10 screen wastes a little area when displaying movies. If you've seen a movie on a widescreen laptop you've noticed black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. The 16.4" screen on the Sony doesn't do this. I liked the appearance of movies, but really you don't gain much except a better feeling because you don't see those wasted pixels. That's because a 17" 16:10 screen shows 8.1" of image when a movie is playing. A 16.4"16:9 display shows 8.04" of image. Essentially the same.
The Sony is available with a full 1920x1080 pixel screen. That means you'll be able to see as much text or image vertically as you would on a typical 17" display. This is because the standard resolution for 17" displays is 1680 x 1050. So the 16.4" Sony display has just as many pixels vertically as a 17" MacBook Pro (a few more actually). Text and images on the Sony will be physically a little smaller, though, and that can be an issue for some users whose near vision isn't great. On the other hand, I though text and images on the Sony display looked outstanding.
The other nice thing about that high res display is that it is almost like having a dual monitor setup. For those of you who've tried this, it can be addicting. You can open two browsers, or have a full spreadsheet and a browser open at the same time. You can have a pretty nice TV window open, with a browser fully visible in another window. Well, the Sony 16.4" FullHD display comes close to this. That's because most web sites are designed for ancient bottom-feeder 1024x768 displays. Since the Sony packs 1920 pixels across, you can almost get two websites up side-by-side at full resolution. Even slightly squished things don't look too bad. And, if you want the true dual monitor experience, Sony offers an optional ATI graphics card that will allow you to run a second (desktop) monitor.
The final nice aspect of these new screens is that they get the size and weight of the Sony down into the Apple class. The Sony FW is 10.4" deep, just like the 17" MacBook Pro. The Sony weighs 6.5 lb., which is 0.1 lb. less than the MacBook. Whether Sony can match the Apple battery life remains to be seen, but at least (or ominously depending on your view) Sony offers an option large battery for longer life or the occasional Chicago to Tokyo flight.
Most other aspects of the Sony FW are pretty standard. You can get a read-only or read-write Blu-ray drive. Sony also offers a version of the machine with the Vista Business OS that comes without games and other bloatware. Wireless WAN is the main missing piece, but Sony may simply be awaiting the next generation of this much needed technology.