Best lap­tops of 2017

GOR­DON MAH UNG, MELISSA RIOFRIO and ALAINA YEE’s top picks fea­ture the best tech ad­vances in por­ta­ble PCs

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

Choosing the best lap­top can be dif­fi­cult th­ese days. With com­pa­nies like Dell, HP, Acer, and Asus con­tin­u­ally launch­ing up­dates of pop­u­lar note­books and ex­pan­sions of prod­uct lines, we’re all but swim­ming in op­tions right now.

Sum­mer has pushed even more con­vert­ibles, 2-in-1s, and tra­di­tional note­books onto store shelves. The most in­ter­est­ing ones poke holes in ex­ist­ing as­sump­tions

about cer­tain cat­e­gories. Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face Lap­top, for ex­am­ple, is an at­tempt to re­vive the com­pany’s bat­tle with Chrome­books, while Dell’s In­sp­iron 15 7000 Gam­ing – our ‘Best bud­get gam­ing lap­top’ pick – of­fers 1080p gam­ing for just £899. Ven­dors also are se­ri­ous about squeez­ing AMD’s new CPUs into their line-ups, with Asus re­cently de­but­ing the first Ryzen lap­top at Com­pu­tex. Best ul­tra­book lap­top Win­ner: Dell XPS 13 Price: £1,149 from inc VAT fave.co/2h50xTh Dell might be stick­ing to the adage of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ when it comes to the XPS 13 (pic­tured), but that strategy keeps pro­duc­ing the best ul­tra­book of the bunch. The Kaby Lake XPS 13 shares the same de­sign as its pre­de­ces­sors: a qual­ity alu­minium ex­te­rior and car­bon fi­bre top, and that won­der­fully com­pact, bezel-free 13in screen.

The firm ac­tu­ally re­leased two up­dates to the XPS 13 in 2016: the one at the start of the year swapped in a Sky­lake CPU, added a USB Type-C port that served as an al­ter­na­tive charg­ing port, and of­fered up­graded stor­age op­tions. The most re­cent re­fresh – and our new pick for Best Ul­tra­book – keeps the same chas­sis changes as the Sky­lake XPS 13, fea­tures a jump to In­tel’s new Kaby Lake pro­ces­sor, and sports a slightly larger bat­tery. You get im­proved per­for­mance across the board, with a nice bump of an ex­tra half-hour of bat­tery life dur­ing video play­back.

Our only lin­ger­ing com­plaint is the small key­board, but over­all, you can’t lose with the new­est XPS 13. It’s a truly com­pact ul­tra­book that punches out of its class. Run­ner-up: HP Spec­tre Lap­top Price: £1,249 inc VAT from tinyurl.com/y84d­nxd2 If looks are more your thing, the HP Spec­tre Lap­top cer­tainly has a dis­tinct pro­file: It’s one of the thinnest ul­tra­books around. For any­one cov­et­ing the stream­lined ex­pe­ri­ence of Ap­ple’s 12in MacBook, this 13in note­book will bring you close while pro­vid­ing su­pe­rior per­for­mance.

You might ex­pect such a skinny lap­top to sport a lower-wattage Core i3 or i5 pro­ces­sor, but HP fits a 15 watt Core i5 or i7 pro­ces­sor into this Spec­tre. That puts it on par with other, chunkier top-tier ul­tra­books, like the XPS 13. Com­bined with its 256GB M.2 SSD, it runs smoothly and swiftly dur­ing typ­i­cal of­fice drone work (word pro­cess­ing, spread­sheet edit­ing, web brows­ing, and so on), with­out any heavy throt­tling of per­for­mance dur­ing CPU-in­ten­sive tasks. HP also made the ports

count: While there are just a few, you get not one but two Thun­der­bolt 3 ports, as well as a USB-C port.

The draw­backs of this mod­ern and sleek note­book are its bat­tery life, which is mod­est due to its smaller bat­tery, and its wider frame. (The Spec­tre 13.3’s hard­ware and cool­ing con­fig­u­ra­tion re­quires a cer­tain amount of space – HP’s en­gi­neer­ing is im­pres­sive but can’t defy the laws of physics.) It’s for those rea­sons that we pre­fer the XPS 13, but this is still a fine com­pan­ion.

Best con­vert­ible lap­top

Win­ner: HP Spec­tre x360 Price: £12,499 inc VAT from fave.co/2vM2UgY We liked the first Spec­tre x360 when it launched back in 2015, but that 2-in-1 lap­top had a few flaws. The up­dated ver­sion, which re­leased in Oc­to­ber 2016, blew away its pre­de­ces­sor by be­ing smaller, thin­ner, and no­tice­ably lighter, while still pro­vid­ing ex­cel­lent per­for­mance and bat­tery life. Now there’s a 2017 edi­tion that adds ac­tive pen sup­port and the op­tion of a 4K screen to the 2016’s al­ready-ex­cel­lent pack­age.

In­side our re­view model was a Kaby Lake Core i7 pro­ces­sor that kept pace with a quad-core Sky­lake CPU dur­ing tasks like word pro­cess­ing and spread­sheet edit­ing, and han­dled games like Minecraft and League of Leg­ends at low-res­o­lu­tion and low-qual­ity im­age set­tings. If you opt for a FHD (1920x1080) screen, the bat­tery will last al­most 11 hours dur­ing con­tin­ual video play­back, and just over seven if you go for the beau­ti­ful 4K (3840x2160) dis­play. Ac­tive pen sup­port rounds out the ex­pe­ri­ence – it’s easy to jot clear notes and sketch clean di­a­grams with the in­cluded pen ac­ces­sory.

This lap­top is so good, it gives our top pick for Best Ul­tra­book a run for its money. If it weren’t for the wide-as­pect ra­tio track­pad, the low num­ber of ports (just three to­tal, and you lose one to charg­ing when­ever it’s time to top up), and a cou­ple of slight per­for­mance dips on the 4K ver­sion, it might have won. For now, though, it can rule this con­vert­ible cat­e­gory un­til it’s time to chal­lenge the Dell XPS 13 yet again.

Best bud­get con­vert­ible lap­top

Win­ner: Asus ZenBook Flip Price: £799 inc VAT from tinyurl.com/yaxn8q5n For years, Asus has of­fered great value in its note­books, and the ZenBook Flip is a strong ex­am­ple of its af­ford­able, high-per­form­ing of­fer­ings. For £799, you

get a fully con­vert­ible note­book that can han­dle ev­ery­day tasks with ease.

In fact, its pric­ing and specs are sim­i­lar to our favourite bud­get ul­tra­book, the Asus UX305 (now dis­con­tin­ued). In­side you get a Core m3-6Y30, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and out­side there’s a 1920x1080 IPS screen with an anti-glare fin­ish.

Yet de­spite the mod­est CPU, the Asus ZenBook Flip is fairly peppy. In our bench­marks, it ac­tu­ally out­per­formed faster (and newer) Core m5 and m7 pro­ces­sors in ri­val ma­chines dur­ing short CPU-in­ten­sive tasks. Its stor­age drive is no slouch, ei­ther.

This lap­top is slen­der and light­weight, too. It mea­sures 56mm thick and 1.3kg, which keeps it in line with more ex­pen­sive ul­tra­porta­bles. You’re not

sad­dled with chunkier di­men­sions or ex­tra weight in ex­change for a lower price.

A cou­ple of com­pro­mises do ex­ist: There’s no back­light­ing on the key­board, and the track­pad is a tad springy. Still, it’s a good deal in a price range that usu­ally nets you thick, ugly, and plas­tic.

Best hy­brid lap­top

Win­ner: Mi­crosoft Sur­face Pro 4 Price: £749 inc VAT from fave.co/2vLkRfr That a Sur­face Pro lap­top is the win­ner of this cat­e­gory shouldn’t come as a sur­prise. Af­ter all, Mi­crosoft gave legs to the con­cept of hy­brid tablet/lap­top de­vices (also known as ‘2-in-1’ lap­tops) – the Sur­face se­ries is re­ally an evo­lu­tion­ary step be­yond the typ­i­cal ‘con­vert­ible’ de­vices that phys­i­cally sep­a­rate from the key­board to run in­de­pen­dently as tablets.

What may be sur­pris­ing is that our best pick re­mains the Sur­face Pro 4, even given the launch of the Sur­face Pro (£2,149 from fave.co/2tMPosC). (This Ap­ple-style of nam­ing hides the fact that the new Sur­face tablet is akin to a Sur­face Pro 5.) How­ever, given the Sur­face Pro’s per­for­mance throt­tling and higher price tag, we think the Sur­face Pro 4 of­fers the bet­ter mix of value and per­for­mance while it’s still avail­able.

Sure, Sur­face clones have arisen that are also light yet still very ca­pa­ble, like Len­ovo’s Miix 700 (£799 from fave.co/2h5aSOL). But we like this hy­brid tablet bet­ter than its cheaper ri­vals for its top-rated dis­play, great per­for­mance, and the fact that its key­board and track­pad are miles ahead of com­pet­ing de­signs.

The only caveat: It’s ex­pen­sive – and the es­sen­tial key­board adds £124 to the price (avail­able from fave. co/2h5s2vK). (No, it’s not in­cluded.) That means the midrange Sur­face Pro 4 with 256GB of stor­age, 8GB of RAM, and a Core i5 is a £1,099 com­puter. Hope­fully, prices will get cut now the new Sur­face Pro has ar­rived.

In any case, if you value porta­bil­ity – it re­ally is lap­top per­for­mance in a tablet – and will ac­tu­ally use it as a tablet on oc­ca­sion, you’d be hard-pressed to beat the Sur­face Pro 4 right now. Run­ner-up: Sam­sung Galaxy Book Price: £649 inc VAT from fave.co/2vM8Pmm Sam­sung’s fol­low-up to its first 2-in-1 doesn’t take any ex­treme turns off the es­tab­lished path. It’s still in­cred­i­bly thin and light­weight, and it of­fers an even more stun­ning AMOLED screen that sup­ports HDR.

But it’s still not quite our favourite con­vert­ible, and that’s par­tially due to Sam­sung’s de­ci­sion to sell both a small and a big ver­sion of the Galaxy Book. The more af­ford­able, lower-power Core m3 model has a smaller 10.6in screen (£649 from fave.co/2vM8Pmm). If you want a 12in screen, you’ll have to jump to a start­ing price of £1,099 from fave.co/2vM8Pmm.

De­spite th­ese two tougher choices, the Galaxy Book is still com­pelling. It of­fers solid per­for­mance (in­clud­ing over 10 hours of video play­back on the 12in Core i5 model) and ad­dresses some of our com­plaints with the Galaxy Tab Pro S (£699 from tinyurl.com/y9wl6mw5). You now get two USB-C ports, and the key­board se­cures tightly to the tablet. And of course, it has that gor­geous dis­play. So while it may no longer have a huge ad­van­tage in price, Sam­sung still man­ages to hold its own with a few com­pelling fea­tures. Par­tic­u­larly the in­cluded pen – Mi­crosoft’s equiv­a­lent ac­ces­sory is an op­tional pur­chase (£99 from fave.co/2vLMl4U).

Best gam­ing lap­top

Win­ner: MSI GT73VR Ti­tan Price: £2,599 inc VAT from fave.co/2vLO21W The ar­rival of Nvidia’s Pas­cal-based mo­bile GPUs has trans­formed high-end gam­ing lap­tops – for the first time, they’re able to give desk­tops a run for their money. Case in point is MSI’s GT73VR Ti­tan, which pairs a GTX 1080 mo­bile GPU with a 17.3in, 1920x1080, 120Hz G-Sync panel. It de­liv­ers crazy-smooth, high frame-rate gam­ing at an un­prece­dented level: We saw frame rates over 150fps with ev­ery­thing maxed out in our Tomb Raider and Shadow of Mor­dor bench­marks.

Credit: iS­tock

Credit: HP

Credit: Asus

Credit: Mi­crosoft

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