Best lap­tops of 2018

Buy­ing a new lap­top is an im­por­tant and of­ten con­fus­ing process. MARIE BLACK re­veals the best lap­tops you can buy

Tech Advisor - - Contents - Mark Hachman

If you’re look­ing to buy a lap­top, we can help. Here at Tech Ad­vi­sor, we’ve tried and tested a huge range of lap­tops to de­ter­mine which are the best on the mar­ket. Here, you’ll find our pick of the top mod­els you can buy right now, and of­fer a ver­dict on each.

How to choose the best lap­top for you

Some­times you just can’t beat a big­ger screen, a key­board and Win­dows for get­ting stuff done, and then your only choice is a lap­top. There are many dif­fer­ent kinds, in­clud­ing hy­brids that can be ei­ther lap­top or tablet, high-end gam­ing lap­tops, cheap and cheer­ful bud­get mod­els, and even those run­ning macOS rather than Win­dows 10.

How much should you spend on a lap­top?

Some­times the best does come at a steep price, but equally you can get a lot of lap­top for un­der £500 or even £300 – pro­vided you need only com­plete ba­sic tasks such as web brows­ing, writ­ing emails and cre­at­ing the odd doc­u­ment.

Around £500 or above can get you a nice lap­top, but it’s likely to have an en­try-level set of spec­i­fi­ca­tions. We’re talk­ing a rel­a­tively ba­sic pro­ces­sor, min­i­mal SSD stor­age and a rel­a­tively lowqual­ity screen. It might also be on the heavy side.

Pay £700 or more and you should get a blaz­ing fast pro­ces­sor, plenty of RAM, hordes of stor­age and a gor­geous dis­play. You should also ex­pect ex­cel­lent build qual­ity and pre­mium ma­te­ri­als. Many these days are above £1,000.

What to look out for

We show you our favourite lap­tops and of­fer ad­vice on how much to spend, but if you’re still un­de­cided we might be able to help break down your op­tions fur­ther. Here we talk about screen size, stor­age, pro­ces­sors, and more to help you make your de­ci­sion.

Dis­play size

Lap­top screens range from around 11- to 17in. A smaller panel might be harder to work on and of­fer fewer ports, but it will be more por­ta­ble. A 17in lap­top, on the other hand, is a desk­top re­place­ment lap­top and not deigned to be moved around of­ten. You’ll likely get a full-size key­board and po­ten­tially an op­ti­cal drive. Gen­er­ally, 13in is the sweet spot for porta­bil­ity and us­abil­ity. While many lap­tops have a res­o­lu­tion of 1,366x768, Full HD, Quad HD and even 4K lap­tops are avail­able. A touch­screen will add to the cost and gen­er­ally isn’t needed on a lap­top. Also look out for a matte, non-re­flec­tive screen.

Stor­age

How much stor­age you need de­pends on what you want to use a lap­top for. As a gen­eral rule of thumb, we rec­om­mend you get as much as pos­si­ble without wast­ing money on the up­grade.

An SSD will help your lap­top run faster, but of­fers less space for your files (con­sider sup­ple­ment­ing it with a por­ta­ble USB drive). You can also use cloud stor­age – but only when you have an In­ter­net con­nec­tion.

Mem­ory (RAM) is where pro­grams and files are stored only while you’re us­ing them, and more is al­ways bet­ter – up to a point. Con­sider 4GB a min­i­mum, un­less it’s a Chrome­book, with 8- to 16GB the ideal.

Pro­ces­sor

Un­less you’re go­ing to run com­plex and de­mand­ing soft­ware or gam­ing, you don’t need a top-spec pro­ces­sor. If you’re happy to splash out you’re prob­a­bly

look­ing at the lat­est gen­er­a­tion (8th) In­tel Core i7 chip. En­try-level spec mod­els are likely to of­fer a Core i3 or even a Celeron, Pen­tium or AMD pro­ces­sor in­stead. A Core i5 is a good mid-range choice, so check how much ex­tra it is to up­grade be­fore mak­ing a fi­nal de­ci­sion.

The let­ters af­ter the model name are im­por­tant: Y and U mean they are ul­tra-low-power chips, which won’t be great for de­mand­ing tasks but should trans­late to longer bat­tery life. H means high­per­for­mance graph­ics, while Q means quad-core.

Buy­ing an ul­tra­book or ul­tra­portable lap­top

Buy­ing an ul­tra­portable lap­top is re­ally no dif­fer­ent than any lap­top, ex­cept that your pri­or­i­ties are likely to be dif­fer­ent. You might want an ul­tra­portable lap­top that’s light and will last a long time away from the mains.

How­ever, other peo­ple want an ul­tra­book that’s pow­er­ful and can han­dle de­mand­ing ap­pli­ca­tions without break­ing your back when you carry it around. Both types are avail­able.

Some com­pro­mises are in­evitable if you want a thin and light lap­top, though. There’s less space for a bat­tery, so it’s typ­i­cal to find shorter run­times.

Thin lap­tops tend to have shal­low key travel, so if you need to do a lot of typ­ing read our re­views to find out whether a key­board is a joy or a pain to use.

War­ranty and other con­sid­er­a­tions

We rec­om­mend all the lap­tops here: there isn’t a duff one among them. None is per­fect though, and what will best suit your needs might not be the de­vice ranked at num­ber one.

Bat­tery life and war­ranty vary be­tween lap­tops. The lat­ter may dif­fer de­pend­ing on where you buy the lap­top from, too. John Lewis, for ex­am­ple, tends to of­fer a longer war­ranty than its ri­vals. Af­ter-sales ser­vice is some­thing you should con­sider for ev­ery­thing you buy. Check whether the com­pany has a UK-based sup­port line, and fo­rums (in­clud­ing our own) are an ideal place to as­cer­tain whether a man­u­fac­turer is good or bad at car­ry­ing out work un­der war­ranty.

When you’ve bought a new lap­top, be sure to take a few min­utes to con­fig­ure it, so you can track your lap­top should it ever be stolen or lost.

1. Dell XPS 13 9370 (2018)

Price: £1,199 from fave.co/2xO6h8L Dell‘s XPS line has al­ways been good, but this year it is now cer­tainly great. The 2018 XPS 13 is the best lap­top the firm has ever made, and boy has it made a few. Com­par­ing it to the MacBook is lazy – the XPS 13 is more pow­er­ful by some dis­tance than Ap­ple’s lap­top, the 12in ri­val of a sim­i­lar price. In fact, the Core i7 XPS 13 we tested is the smoothest, fastest XPS ever and wor­thy of your con­sid­er­a­tion if you have the money to spend on a high-end lap­top.

De­sign

Barely had the press re­lease been flung to ev­ery corner of the earth be­fore the XPS 13 was be­stowed with a CES In­no­va­tion Award. Just like last year. It seems Dell has cut a niche for build­ing a high-end Win­dows lap­top that looks good on an ex­ec­u­tive’s desk as well

as per­form­ing well in all con­di­tions. And to be fair it does look the part. Whether or not you like the rose gold and white model is a mat­ter of taste, but at least it stands out from the crowd com­pared to the uni­form black ver­sion that is by now very fa­mil­iar with its car­bon fi­bre fin­ish on the in­side and slick sil­ver ex­te­rior.

The cas­ing is now 23 per­cent smaller, which is al­ways good so long as it doesn’t af­fect per­for­mance, and the XPS 13 still feels as close to the pre­mium build of Mac­Books that a Win­dows ma­chine has come, al­beit with a more prac­ti­cal, less space-age de­sign.

With sim­ple lines, that just-about-sub­tle-enough car­bon fi­bre ef­fect on the in­side and a sleek, com­pletely flush 4mm bezel round the screen, it’s a good-look­ing piece of kit. The white model has a UV coat­ing on it too, and Dell claims you can wipe

per­ma­nent marker off ei­ther one should you have a fran­tic board­room ac­ci­dent.

The bot­tom of the lap­top (yes it mat­ters) looks much nicer than pre­vi­ous years, with Dell get­ting rid of all the le­gal text and other odd stick­ers to give a sleeker feel to the ma­chine. When you’re spend­ing this much, that stuff mat­ters, so well done Dell, for leav­ing just the fan grates and the XPS logo.

The key­board has a su­perb clacky yet springy feel to it, while main­tain­ing the slim­mer pro­file of the base – there are no low travel but­ter­fly keys you might find on a new MacBook or MacBook Pro. Add to that a finger­print sen­sor in the power key and you have a mighty fine de­sign, re­fined for 2018 needs.

Less fun is the we­b­cam place­ment, now un­der the Dell logo on the bot­tom of the screen. Even if it is a space saver, it’s still an­noy­ing, but Dell told us it’s work­ing to fit­ting one into the top bezel on fu­ture mod­els. Although it’s eas­ier to stick a piece of tape over it where it is now, and you prob­a­bly should.

And at 1.21kg with those slim bezels, the lap­top is as com­pact and por­ta­ble as you could hope for.

This is an ex­cel­lently made ul­tra­book, nig­gles aside. Most of the Tech Ad­vi­sor staff when asked would se­lect this as their pre­ferred Win­dows lap­top. So how do the specs hold up?

Pro­ces­sor, RAM and stor­age

Dell has added these 8th-gen In­tel Core i5-8250U and i7-8550U pro­ces­sors to the XPS 13, de­pend­ing on your needs and bud­get, while all mod­els have the In­tel UHD Graph­ics 620 GPU. Note that Cof­fee Lake chips are

re­served for desk­top only – here the sil­i­con is 8th-gen, but is tech­ni­cally a re­freshed Kaby Lake ar­chi­tec­ture.

Other op­tions for you are a min­i­mum of 128GB and a max­i­mum of 1TB stor­age and 4-, 8-, or 16GB RAM. Our high end 16GB RAM model per­formed out­stand­ingly, but you can ex­pect slower mul­ti­task­ing speeds in the 4- and 8GB ver­sions.

Dis­play

You can choose be­tween a non-touch 1,920x1,080 FHD or a touch­screen 3,840x2,160 4K Ul­tra HD. Again, we were given the high-end touch­screen ver­sion and it looks in­cred­i­ble. The in­sanely high res­o­lu­tion looks amaz­ing on a 13in panel and colour re­pro­duc­tion is a pleas­ant level of sat­u­rated. Bright­ness is also out­stand­ing, and there’s very lit­tle oc­ca­sion you’ll want to have it on 100 per­cent. Un­der half­way is usu­ally fine.

Touch­screen in­put is still odd on Win­dows 10, but here the ex­pe­ri­ence is the best it can be. Un­like on cheaper lap­tops with the same fea­ture you don’t have to prod the screen re­ally hard, and it’s a good thing see­ing as the XPS’s lid is so thin. With min­i­mum wob­ble from in­ter­ac­tion, we found our­selves us­ing it more, as much down to the qual­ity of the hard­ware build as the soft­ware in­ter­ac­tion.

While the 4K touch­screen looks truly phe­nom­e­nal, it’s not nec­es­sary for many. Touch­screen on full Win­dows 10 is still a hin­drance to pro­duc­tiv­ity in some cases where us­ing the track­pad or a mouse is sim­ply eas­ier, and the non-touch­screen ver­sion is still HD and fully ad­e­quate for all work and play uses and still bears a great res­o­lu­tion.

Key­board and track­pad

The key­board is bril­liant, with a great level of phys­i­cal re­sis­tance for longer typ­ing ses­sions. Keys are well spaced with a tex­tured fin­ish and a two-level back­light.

The track­pad is smaller than we are used to on a MacBook, but aside from Ap­ple’s mas­ter­ful con­trol in­put, it’s the best Win­dows track­pad we’ve ever used – re­spon­sive, smooth and ac­cu­rate.

Its cen­tral po­si­tion is prefer­able as the car­bon fi­bre tex­ture ei­ther side proves a com­fort­able palm rest. The cur­sor doesn’t ran­domly shake or fire off in the wrong di­rec­tion in prob­lems that plague other lap­tops.

Con­nec­tiv­ity

For con­nec­tiv­ity needs, the Dell has two Thun­der­bolt 3 USB-C ports and a fur­ther USB-C 3.1 socket. All

share re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for Pow­erShare, DC-In and Dis­playPort. Dell has re­moved the SD card slot and all USB-A slots. We are go­ing to all have to get used to USB-C as it turns up on the phones in our pock­ets and the lap­tops on our desks. One day it will hope­fully be stan­dard­ized well enough that we’ll all only need one charger for all our gad­gets.

Un­like Ap­ple, Dell puts a USB-A adap­tor in the box, ac­knowl­edg­ing the an­noy­ing tran­si­tion.

There is a mi­croSD card reader built in though, so if you have an An­droid phone with ex­pand­able stor­age or dig­i­tal cam­era this might come in use­ful to trans­fer me­dia. Oth­er­wise, it’s a new stan­dard to ad­just to in 2018.

Per­for­mance

The 1.8GHz In­tel Core i7-8550U CPU is overkill for most peo­ple, as most likely is the 16GB LPDDR3 2133MHz RAM. 8GB RAM should be enough for you even if you stick with the i7 model.

If you’re look­ing for the most pow­er­ful Dell ul­tra­book, note that the U-se­ries pro­ces­sor used here is po­ten­tially less pow­er­ful than the quad-core HQ CPU used in the last gen­er­a­tion of XPS 15. That said, speed in­creases thanks to 8th-gen are de­cent and re­flected in our bench­mark­ing.

The fol­low­ing re­sults are en­cour­ag­ing for the new XPS 13. Its score in Geek­bench 4, which mea­sures raw pro­cess­ing power (CPU, GPU and RAM) was only just shy of the 2017 15in MacBook Pro.

The XPS no­tably out­per­formed the HP Spec­tre x360’s i7 set up, though aside from the lower Sur­face

Pro re­sults, all these scores are com­pa­ra­ble. The per­for­mance be­tween the Dell XPS 13 and the lat­est 8th-gen Len­ovo Yoga 920 is also very sim­i­lar.

The PCMark 10 score for the XPS is also de­cent, with good re­sults for Cinebench against the Sur­face Book 2, but con­sid­er­ably lower in 3DMark, mean­ing the XPS 13 is still not quite the ma­chine you want to opt for if you want to in­dulge in very high-end graph­i­cal PC gam­ing. But for most gam­ing needs it’s not far off the com­pe­ti­tion.

Bat­tery life

Dell claims the 52Wh bat­tery can run in some con­di­tions for up to 19 hours. Bear in mind that Dell has cut this down from 60Wh from the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion. This is to save on weight and com­po­nent space, while the next-gen pro­ces­sors should make the smaller ca­pac­ity more ef­fi­cient.

It cer­tainly ex­cels in bat­tery life and charges re­mark­ably fast with the sup­plied charger, but in our stan­dard video test it didn’t hit 19 hours.

With a 720p video loop­ing and with screen bright­ness at 120cd/m2 (40 per­cent in this case) the XPS 13 man­aged 10 hours, 51 min­utes. This is highly re­spectable, but less than the 12 hours, 30 min­utes of the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion model.

The lat­est HP Spec­tre x360 13 lasted 10 hours, 32 min­utes with a 60Wh bat­tery, so the lat­est XPS 13 wins in this re­gard with a lower ca­pac­ity bat­tery.

By far the best per­form­ing lap­top we’ve tested for bat­tery life is the Len­ovo Yoga 920. It man­aged 16 hours, 45 min­utes in the same test, which is ut­terly

amaz­ing. It also costs less pound for pound when you com­pare sim­i­larly spec­i­fied mod­els to the XPS. It’ll come down to which de­sign you pre­fer and if bat­tery life mat­ters that much to you (and it gen­er­ally should).

Part of the rea­son for the dif­fer­ence is the Dell’s 52Wh bat­tery in com­par­i­son to 70Wh, and its 4K res­o­lu­tion dis­play. We are still at the stage where most main­stream streamed con­tent is not 4K, but the XPS will have used more power even when play­ing 720p video. Un­less you need 4K, you can spend less on the lower end XPS 13, though we haven’t re­ceived this model to see the pre­sumed im­prove­ment in bat­tery life.

A lap­top that can go a full nine-hour work day away from the plug is a lux­ury, but Dell is still near the top of the pack, de­spite the XPS 13’s drop in bat­tery longevity here.

Au­dio

With a head­phone jack present, you’re able to plug in when­ever. But the speak­ers are pretty de­cent too, with Waves MaxxAu­dio im­prov­ing the clar­ity of streamed and down­loaded video con­tent. Paired with the 4K screen of our re­view unit, it makes for a very en­joy­able Net­flix ex­pe­ri­ence. Like prac­ti­cally any lap­top speaker though, it has its down­sides, and we haven’t reached the point where a lap­top speaker should keep the party go­ing. There’s lit­tle to no dis­tor­tion here though, so even the high­est vol­umes are ac­cept­able if needed.

Soft­ware

In our time with the XPS 13 (2018), there’s not a lot to re­port other than you, of course, get Win­dows 10

Home. Busi­ness pur­chasers can opt for Win­dows 10 Pro. Hav­ing said this, Win­dows 10 has never looked – or per­formed – bet­ter on a Dell XPS. The com­bi­na­tion of 4K dis­play, fluid pro­cess­ing power and best-in-class key­board and track­pad in­ter­ac­tion mean this is the best com­pact lap­top Win­dows 10 ex­pe­ri­ence go­ing. Even if you buy the en­try-level Core i5 model, you’re get­ting the ben­e­fits, mi­nus the 4K. As men­tioned be­fore, touch­screen in­ter­ac­tion is a sur­pris­ingly good one here, but it’s not nec­es­sary. It’s down to the clean feel af­forded by the track­pad and the ex­cel­lent use of RAM to mean the XPS 13’s soft­ware feels truly part of the ma­chine in a way only the truly best lap­tops do. It’s as good as you’ll find on a Mi­crosoft Sur­face prod­uct.

Ver­dict

If you need a com­pact, high per­for­mance Win­dows lap­top, the Dell XPS 13 (2018) is the best lap­top

you can buy along­side the HP Envy 13 (2018). It is com­pet­i­tively priced, and even the high-end touch­screen Core i7 model at £1,649 is at least £300 cheaper than the same spec 13in MacBook Pro.

In fact, for value for money, it is a bet­ter pur­chase than the Mi­crosoft Sur­face Lap­top as you get Win­dows 10 Home rather than Win­dows 10S, as well as sav­ing at least £500.

For all but the most hard­core gamers (for whom this lap­top is not the tar­get au­di­ence) and those who re­ally do want USB-A con­nec­tiv­ity, there is not a bet­ter Win­dows lap­top on the mar­ket. Henry Bur­rell

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 13.3in Ul­traSharp 4K Ul­tra HD (3840x2160) In­fin­i­tyEdge touch dis­play or 13.3in FHD (1920x1080) In­fin­i­tyEdge dis­play • Win­dows 10 Home or Pro • 8th Gen­er­a­tion In­tel Quad Core i5-8250U pro­ces­sor or In­tel Quad Core i7-8550U pro­ces­sor • In­tel UHD Graph­ics 620 • LPDDR3 4- to 8GB Dual Chan­nel SDRAM at 1866MHz or 16GB Dual Chan­nel SDRAM at 2133MHz • 128GB SATA, 256GB PCIe, 512GB PCIe, 1TB PCIe SSD • 52Wh bat­tery (built in) • 2x Thun­der­bolt 3 with Pow­erShare, DC-In & Dis­playPort • 1x USB-C 3.1 with Pow­erShareDC-In and Dis­playPort • Mi­croSD card reader • 4 Dig­i­tal Ar­ray Mi­cro­phones • Full size, back­lit chi­clet key­board 1.3mm travel

• Op­tional Win­dows Hello com­pli­ant finger­print reader in power but­ton • Blue­tooth 4.1 • Mira­cast ca­pa­ble • 7.8-11.6302x199mm • 1.21kg

2. HP Envy 13 (2018)

Price: £849 inc VAT from fave.co/2NzBre8 Read our re­view on page 28.

3. Mi­crosoft Sur­face Lap­top

Price: £999 inc VAT from fave.co/2BTZ1O1 Our Sur­face Lap­top re­view looks at Mi­crosoft’s note­book in two ways: as a stylish ul­tra­book, de­signed and priced to com­pete with Ap­ple’s MacBook Air for uni­ver­sity stu­dents’ favour. But it’s also a ma­chine pur­pose-built for Win­dows 10 S, which re­stricts users to Win­dows Store apps. We’ve there­fore re­viewed the Sur­face Lap­top us­ing its na­tive Win­dows 10 S.

Af­ter us­ing the Sur­face Lap­top for sev­eral days as a Win­dows 10 S ma­chine though, we can al­ready say it does a great job of ad­dress­ing ex­actly what stu­dents need. For other users in­trigued by it though, we rec­om­mend look­ing a bit fur­ther afield, or at least bail out of Win­dows 10 S early on.

An ul­tra­book with style

The Sur­face Lap­top fol­lows in the for­mi­da­ble foot­steps of the Sur­face Pro, Sur­face Book, and Sur­face Stu­dio – all cat­e­gory-defin­ing prod­ucts with prices to match. It’s a strik­ing ul­tra­book with prices that are at­tain­able, if not ex­actly af­ford­able. For now, it in four con­fig­u­ra­tions: £949: 128GB SSD, In­tel Core i5, 4GB RAM £1,249: 256GB SSD, In­tel Core i5, 8GB RAM £1,549: 256GB SSD, In­tel Core i7, 8GB RAM £2,149: 512GB SSD, In­tel Core i7, 16GB RAM

Mi­crosoft also sep­a­rately ships a Sur­face Arc Mouse (priced £79 from fave.co/2MHiMxt), which is colour-co­or­di­nated to match the Sur­face Lap­top. The Sur­face Pen (priced £99 from fave.co/2rkBIqM) and Sur­face Dial (priced £89 from fave.co/2rTQHVx) will work with the Lap­top, but they’re not re­quired.

We re­viewed the £1,249 model, which we’d con­sider to be the price/per­for­mance sweet spot, as­sum­ing a uni­ver­sity stu­dent with gen­er­ous par­ents. Though gamers want 16GB of RAM, 8GB is suf­fi­cient for web brows­ing and some ba­sic apps, and 256GB of stor­age is fi­nally be­com­ing more of the norm.

Just as im­por­tant as what’s in­side is the Sur­face Lap­top’s out­side, which is dressed to kill MacBook Airs. Lift­ing the tinted alu­minium ve­neer of the lid to re­veal the softer Al­can­tara fab­ric of the key­board tray be­neath evokes the el­e­gance of a jew­ellery box. Mi­crosoft also stream­lined the ex­te­rior by elim­i­nat­ing the vol­ume con­trol rocker switch and power but­ton, mov­ing them to the key­board.

The Sur­face Lap­top is very thin, just 14.47mm at most, com­pared to the MacBook Air’s 17mm pro­file. At 308x223.2mm, it’s also a lit­tle smaller than the MacBook Air. Grab the Sur­face Lap­top by its key­board, and its 1.25kg weight will feel im­pres­sively light. There’s one catch: the base £949 Core i5 model ships only in the sil­very ‘plat­inum’ colour. The only con­fig­u­ra­tion to of­fer the three other colour op­tions (graphite gold, bur­gundy, cobalt blue) is the model we tested. While Mi­crosoft should even­tu­ally of­fer the ex­tra colours across the en­tire prod­uct line, it hasn’t yet – a sit­u­a­tion that’s sure to frus­trate some con­sumers.

A sur­pris­ing lack of ports

Thin ul­tra­books have to give up some­thing, and the Sur­face Lap­top’s con­fig­u­ra­tion is no dif­fer­ent. Most of it is good: our unit houses a 2.5GHz Core i5-7200U, part of the 7th-gen­er­a­tion Kaby Lake fam­ily. Each of the Core i5 op­tions in­cludes an In­tel HD 620 graph­ics core, while the Core i7 ver­sion in­cludes the pow­er­ful (for in­te­grated graph­ics, that is) Iris Plus 640 core which we tested on the new Sur­face Pro. For es­says and web brows­ing, an HD 620 core will be just fine.

One of the hall­marks of the Sur­face line-up is the dis­play, and we en­joy the bright Pix­elSense 10-point touch­screens. The 13.5in (2,256x1,504, 201ppi) ver­sion, aligned in Mi­crosoft’s stan­dard 3:2 ra­tio, lives up to the name. The IPS panel pumps out 365 lu­mens, enough even for out­door use. Some com­pet­ing de­vices of­fer 4K dis­plays. Keep in mind though, that push­ing more pix­els re­quires more power, and one of the strengths of the Sur­face Lap­top is its ex­cel­lent bat­tery life.

On the right side of the Lap­top is Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face con­nec­tor, main­tain­ing com­pat­i­bil­ity with older charg­ers as well as op­tional pe­riph­er­als such as the Sur­face Dock. The other ports – USB 3.0 Type A, Mini Dis­playPort, head­phone – ap­pear on the left side of the chas­sis. There is no miniSD or other re­mov­able stor­age slot, recog­ni­tion that pho­tos and other files are more of­ten stored on­line or on USB sticks. We can agree with that ra­tio­nale, though the sin­gle USB-A port looks lonely, and the lack of USB-C is the op­po­site of fu­ture-proof­ing.

The Sur­face Lap­top re­clines about as far as the Sur­face Book, about 50 de­grees or so off the

hor­i­zon­tal. Un­like the Sur­face Book, how­ever, there’s no ac­cor­dion hinge. In­stead, an barely-vis­i­ble hinge smoothly moves the dis­play back and forth. The screen tends to wob­ble a bit when ink­ing or when the key­board moves sharply.

The key­board

You can sum up the Sur­face Lap­top’s key­board sim­ply: aside from one small mod­i­fi­ca­tion, Mi­crosoft bun­dled the Sur­face Pro’s back­lit key­board with the Sur­face Book’s touch­pad. The space al­lo­cated to the key­board

on both de­vices is the same – 4x 10.75in – and the touch­pad di­men­sions on both the Book and the Lap­top are iden­ti­cal. That said, the Sur­face Lap­top’s typ­ing ex­pe­ri­ence falls slightly short of the Sur­face Book’s. We pre­fer the flu­id­ity of the Sur­face Book’s keys. There’s also a bit of struc­tural give in the Lap­top’s key­board that isn’t present on the Book. To test it, we placed a small screw be­tween the R, T, F, and G keys. On the Lap­top, we no­ticed a bit of bow­ing that wasn’t present on the Sur­face Book, which ex­presses it­self as a slightly mushy feel that’s in­de­pen­dent of the keys.

The Sur­face Lap­top’s touch­pad feels great, slightly oilier than the Book’s alu­minium sur­face. Click­ing and ges­tures worked as ex­pected.

A pair of ‘om­nisonic’ speak­ers are buried be­neath the key­board. The vol­ume reaches sat­is­fac­tory lev­els, slightly vi­brat­ing the keys as you type upon them. Nat­u­rally, there’s not a lot of bass, and we’d rec­om­mend us­ing head­phones.

Win­dows 10 S

In a bid to make the Sur­face Lap­top as man­age­able as Chrome­books pow­ered by Google’s Chrome OS, Mi­crosoft de­signed the Sur­face Lap­top and other ed­u­ca­tion-minded PCs around Win­dows 10 S, an op­ti­mized ver­sion of Win­dows 10. Win­dows 10 S re­stricts Sur­face Lap­top users to apps found within the Win­dows Store, and adds a few man­age­abil­ity fea­tures found in Win­dows 10 Pro to help ad­min­is­tra­tors keep tabs on the de­vices.

Win­dows 10 S pro­vides an ex­tra layer of se­cu­rity, Mi­crosoft says, as well as quicker boot times than

Win­dows 10 Pro. Holes have al­ready been poked through these claims: the op­er­at­ing sys­tem was breached by a re­searcher us­ing Word macros, which are only blocked if you have an Of­fice 365 sub­scrip­tion. And in our tests, the Sur­face Lap­top took 19 sec­onds to cold-boot to the desk­top, com­pared to 14 sec­onds for a Sur­face Book run­ning Win­dows 10 Pro. Our Sur­face Lap­top did, how­ever, come with de­vice en­cryp­tion en­abled, help­ing pro­tect files from unau­tho­rized ac­cess. That’s a fea­ture nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with Win­dows 10 Pro.

Re­strict­ing Win­dows 10 S users to the Win­dows Store un­der­stand­ably con­cerns some users. For

one, you’re sub­ject to the whims of Mi­crosoft: as long­time users know, Mi­crosoft’s Store has ranged from abysmal to where it is now, an ad­e­quate to de­cent ex­pe­ri­ence.

Un­for­tu­nately, not ev­ery app within the Store can be used by Win­dows 10 S, in­clud­ing some Win32 ap­pli­ca­tions that Mi­crosoft has be­gun pub­lish­ing. If you do try to use a pro­hib­ited app, you’ll know it: a pop-up win­dow will ap­pear, with a link to the Win­dows 10 Pro up­grade at the bot­tom.

Mi­crosoft re­cently made its Of­fice apps ac­ces­si­ble through the Store in pre­view, and they worked

smoothly, without any bugs that we could find. The Sur­face Lap­top ships with a year’s sub­scrip­tion to Of­fice 365 Per­sonal, good for a sin­gle de­vice like the Lap­top.

The big­gest app hurdle that Win­dows 10 S users will likely en­counter, though, is some­thing rather pro­saic: their choice of browser. Be­cause browsers such as Chrome, Fire­fox and Opera aren’t found within the Store, you’ll be forced to use Edge. Ex­port­ing book­marks from an­other browser and im­port­ing them into Edge is sim­ply a pain – and for­get about saved pass­words. Worse, Edge Favourites we’d saved in a Win­dows 10 Pro ma­chine re­fused to carry over to Win­dows 10 S. Win­dows 10 S also re­turns search re­sults from Bing alone, though noth­ing pre­vents you from book­mark­ing Google.co.uk.

That web-based ap­proach works well for some apps that haven’t made it into the Store. We’ve never been a fan of us­ing a ded­i­cated Win­dows app for Twit­ter, for ex­am­ple, though we use Slack’s app. With Edge, we could put both ser­vices into a tab and snap them to a corner of our screen.

We were a lit­tle shocked to dis­cover that apps we didn’t con­sider to be apps were also blocked, namely the Com­mand Line. It doesn’t ap­pear within Win­dows 10 S, and com­mands that would nor­mally launch Com­mand Line or Pow­er­Shell sim­ply don’t work – or, if they do, a Com­mand Line win­dow will blink into ex­is­tence and then ‘pop’, or crash.

For those users who want a lit­tle more, Win­dows 10 S does pro­vide an es­cape hatch: a built-in up­grade path to Win­dows 10 Pro.

Per­for­mance

Be­cause we couldn’t run many of our con­ven­tional bench­marks on Win­dows 10 S, we selected browser­based tests that could stress the Sur­face Lap­top.

We com­pared it to ma­chines in­clud­ing the Sur­face Book and the re­cent Sur­face Pro. Re­call that Mi­crosoft also claims the Core i5 Sur­face Lap­top is 50 per­cent faster than the Core i7 MacBook Air. We didn’t have a re­cent MacBook Air to test, so we com­pared it to the 15in MacBook Pro, as well as a Core m3-based MacBook. The Sur­face Lap­top was slower than all of them, at least where these browser­based bench­marks were con­cerned.

Both Speedome­ter and Jet­Stream mea­sure the re­spon­sive­ness of web ap­pli­ca­tions, which is tied to the CPU’s pro­cess­ing power. We­bXPRT asks the pro­ces­sor to per­form more in­ten­sive tasks, such as photo en­hance­ment and al­bum or­ga­ni­za­tion. Oc­tane 2.0, a Google bench­mark, per­forms a suite of tests mea­sur­ing how well a sys­tem per­forms JavaScript.

Just for fun, we also ran a built-in bench­mark from Rise of the Tomb Raider, an game that’s avail­able via the Win­dows Store. Thirty frames per sec­ond is con­sid­ered to be the min­i­mum for game­play; the Sur­face Lap­top’s 4fps is not re­motely playable.

One of the ar­eas in which Mi­crosoft’s sys­tem ab­so­lutely shines, how­ever, is bat­tery life. We were a lit­tle scep­ti­cal at Mi­crosoft’s claims of 13.5 hours for the Sur­face Pro proved to be only eight hours. We’re be­gin­ning to think that this may have been the fault of the Iris Plus chip, for the bat­tery in­side the Sur­face Lap­top with In­tel’s HD 620 lasted a whop­ping 12 hours,

45 min­utes, con­tin­u­ally stressed as we looped a 4K video. That stamina is what a stu­dent needs as they go from class to class and then to the li­brary.

Ver­dict

Oddly, the Sur­face Lap­top feels like progress for­ward and back, all at once. Mi­crosoft orig­i­nally de­signed the Sur­face line-up to hus­tle its hard­ware part­ners faster into the fu­ture, im­plic­itly strip­ping Ap­ple of its de­sign ca­chet and en­cour­ag­ing con­sumers to buy new PCs. Now, the Sur­face Lap­top has stepped down a rung, chal­leng­ing some of the cheaper, more main­stream prod­uct lines of its hard­ware part­ners to keep up. Lap­tops such as HP’s lat­est Spec­tre x360 al­ready do, but other ven­dors could use a push.

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 13.5in (2256x1504, 201ppi) Pix­elSense Dis­play, • Win­dows 10 S • In­cludes 1 year of Of­fice 365 Per­sonal • 7th Gen In­tel Core i5 or i7 • 4-, 8- or 16GB RAM • 128-, 256- or 512GB SSD • In­tel HD 620 (i5)/In­tel Iris Plus Graph­ics 640 (i7) • 720p HD cam­era (front-fac­ing) • Stereo mi­cro­phones • 3.5mm head­phone jack • USB 3.0 • Mini Dis­playPort • Sur­face Con­nect • 802.11ac Wi-Fi wire­less net­work­ing • Blue­tooth 4.0 LE • 308x223.2x14.47mm • i5, 1.25kg; i7, 1.28kg

4. Dell XPS 15 9560 Price: £1,279 inc VAT from fave.co/2QX9LyQ

The Dell XPS 15 9560 is one of the best lap­tops in the world if you want a com­puter that can do just about ev­ery­thing, rather than one that weighs as much as a multi-pack of crisps. It has a pow­er­ful pro­ces­sor, a de­cent graph­ics chipset, sur­pris­ingly good bat­tery life and an ex­cel­lent screen. It’s also far smaller than the av­er­age 15in lap­top. While we’d pick a 13in model to use on the road ev­ery day, this is one of the most por­ta­ble 15in sys­tems money can buy. There’s very lit­tle to dis­like about this ex­cel­lent lap­top.

De­sign Dell’s lat­est of­fer­ing looks and feels much like its pre­de­ces­sor, the XPS 15 9550. Its changes are all about the in­sides: up­grad­ing the CPU to a 7th Gen­er­a­tion Kaby Lake model, and the graph­ics to one of Nvidia’s great new 10-se­ries cards.

The firm is still ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion here, though, thanks to the In­fin­i­tyEdge screen. Its tiny bezels make this lap­top un­usu­ally small for one with a 15in dis­play. It’s 357mm wide when, for ex­am­ple, the 15in Asus ZenBook UX501 is 383mm wide. This makes the Dell that much eas­ier to fit in a bag. Its di­men­sions are sim­i­lar to those of the 15in MacBook Pro.

At 2kg, it’s per­haps a lit­tle heavy to carry with you all the time. How­ever, it is cer­tainly among the best op­tions if you need a lap­top with a pow­er­ful quad-core pro­ces­sor and a 15in screen.

The lid and un­der­side of the XPS 15 are alu­minium, but the in­sides around the key­board are soft-touch car­bon-fi­bre re­in­forced plas­tic. There’s a car­bon fi­bre­like fin­ish on the top to tell you it’s not plain plas­tic. This re­in­force­ment en­sure that the key­board sur­round is very stiff, man­ag­ing the un­usual feat of mak­ing some­thing that at first ap­pears to be ba­sic plas­tic seem high end. As with just about all of Dell’s more ex­pen­sive lap­tops, the XPS 15 is ex­cep­tion­ally sturdy.

For all its for­ward-think­ing de­sign moves, there’s still more than a hint of that clas­sic Dell prag­ma­tism to the XPS 15, though. When the com­pany de­signs a style lap­top, you can tell it still wants it to look at home in a board meet­ing.

Con­nec­tiv­ity

The XPS 15’s con­nec­tions at­tempt to cover most bases too. There are two USB 3.0 ports as well as a newer USB-C shape 3.1 con­nec­tor. For video there’s a full-size

HDMI, and on the right side is a full-size SD card slot. There’s no eth­er­net con­nec­tor, but the USB-C could be ‘turned into’ one with the right adap­tor, and Dell also makes a dock­ing sta­tion for its lap­tops should you need true desk­top-like con­nec­tiv­ity. It costs around £155.

The XPS 15 also has a Kens­ing­ton se­cu­rity slot and a lit­tle 5-LED dis­play next to it, which dis­plays the bat­tery level when the but­ton along­side is pressed.

Key­board and touch­pad

Some 15in lap­tops fit in a num­ber­pad as well as the stan­dard ar­ray of keys, but to do so with the Dell XPS 15 would be a se­ri­ous stretch. In­stead, it just has the stan­dard lay­out, with larger, for ex­am­ple, Shift keys than you of­ten see in a lap­top.

All that space to the left and right of the key­board may look a bit funny, but in use it’s a great setup. It means you’re al­ways work­ing at the cen­tre of the lap­top, not off to the side. The track­pad is right in the cen­tre of the XPS 15, whereas on some 15- and 17in ma­chines it’s lo­cated to one side. Although a sub­tle dif­fer­ence, it in­creases how in­tu­itive the XPS 15 feels.

The qual­ity of the key­board is great, too. While key travel is ‘nor­mal’ for a lap­top rather than su­per-deep, the keys have a meaty feel pro­vided by a de­cent less of re­sis­tance. There’s also a back­light that can be ad­justed to two dif­fer­ent lev­els

We’ve read a few crit­i­cisms about track­pads of pre­vi­ous Dell XPS 15 mod­els, but this one is great. There’s no floaty feel, it’s not prone to mis­fir­ing right but­ton clicks or phan­tom cur­sor lunges and the click ac­tion is spot on. There’s some re­sis­tance, but not so

much that quick dou­ble-taps are laboured. The sur­face of the track­pad is ex­cel­lent too, made of tex­tured glass with a su­per-soft fin­ish.

Dis­play

Dell sent us the top-end ver­sion of the XPS 15, the one with an ul­tra-high res­o­lu­tion 4K (3,840x2,160) screen. This is like four 1080p screens stacked to­gether.

It’s a very sharp dis­play, but it’s the colour that im­presses the most once you get over how small the screen sur­rounds are. It cov­ers 99.9 per­cent of the sRGB colour stan­dard, 96.9 per­cent of Adobe RGB and 91.4 per­cent of DCI P3. This is a pro­fes­sional qual­ity screen in terms of colour. Films and games look fan­tas­tic, although the tone is a lit­tle cool/blueish.

We would also like to see slightly bet­ter con­trast. While the 800:1 con­trast is good, you can tell the blacks

are less than per­fect in a room with mid-level light­ing. Some of Dell’s older lap­tops man­age over 1000:1, which would be ideal for a high-end IPS LCD like this.

To re­it­er­ate: we’re only com­plain­ing be­cause the price is quite high and the screen is oth­er­wise beau­ti­ful.

The 4K ver­sion is also a touch­screen (the 1080p mod­els aren’t). In a lap­top like this we don’t think it’s a must-have, but it’s a nice ex­tra if you’re ac­cus­tomed to us­ing a tablet.

Per­for­mance

Our re­view unit has a quad-core In­tel Core i7-7700HQ CPU and a border­line ridicu­lous (for most peo­ple) 32GB DDR4 RAM. How­ever, for the most part the per­for­mance is go­ing to be sim­i­lar to the 16GB stan­dard setup, as noth­ing we’re do­ing is go­ing to be bot­tle­necked by 16GB, or even 8GB, of RAM.

This sys­tem is far more pow­er­ful than al­most any other style-lean­ing lap­top out there, be­cause it uses a quad-core HQ CPU rather than the dual-core U-se­ries ones seen in slim and light lap­tops. It has desk­to­pre­place­ment style power, and that ex­tends to the en­try-level £1,279 Core i5 spec ver­sion, too.

In PCMark 8, it scores 2810 points and, the real telling score, 14,049 in Geek­bench 4. That’s twice the score of the HP Spec­tre 13 (6894), which has an In­tel Core i7 but the dual-core va­ri­ety.

This is one of the small­est lap­tops ready to be­come a real work­sta­tion, if you up­grade the RAM to your re­quire­ments. How­ever, it also uses a bit of sys­tem throt­tling to keep the fans quiet. For a lap­top with a quad-core pro­ces­sor it’s eerily quiet most of the time,

and its P Mark score isn’t the best we’ve seen from a HQ i7 sys­tem.

The Dell XPS 15’s ver­sa­til­ity doesn’t end there. On its re­lease it was the first we’d seen with the new en­try-level Nvidia GTX 1050 dis­crete graph­ics card. We were hop­ing this would usher in a new se­lec­tion of af­ford­able gam­ing lap­tops, but even though the 9560 isn’t cheap, the 1050 still lets you play games de­mand­ing games at de­cent frame rates.

At 1080p with the graph­ics maxed-out, Thief runs at 42.4fps. Alien: Iso­la­tion av­er­ages 60fps at 1080p. You won’t hit 60fps with very de­mand­ing games and this lap­top isn’t per­fect for VR or 4K gam­ing be­yond ca­sual ti­tles that won’t ben­e­fit hugely from the pix­els any­way. It is, how­ever, a per­fectly good gam­ing lap­top. And a sur­pris­ingly de­cent given it’s only 17mm thick.

If you’re won­der­ing how well those games run at 4K, the re­sults are less-than-favourable. Thief av­er­ages 13.4fps, Alien: Iso­la­tion 21fps. Hard­core gamers should con­sider a lap­top with a GTX 1060/1070/1080 in­stead, de­pend­ing on your bud­get.

Bat­tery life

Given the pro­ces­sor power, we’d ex­pect the Dell XPS 15 to last four- to five hours. That’s the stan­dard for a very pow­er­ful per­for­mance lap­top. The Dell XPS 15 sails through that, though. Play­ing a 720p video on loop at 120cd/m2 bright­ness, it lasts six hours, 24 min­utes. Part of this is down to the use of a de­cent-sized 56Wh bat­tery, but there’s far more to it.

Dell clearly uses much more dynamic (and in­va­sive) power man­age­ment than most, scal­ing back the CPU’s

power to suit the sit­u­a­tion. This is also why it is so eerily quiet most of the time. We’ve no­ticed no ob­vi­ous draw­back, sur­pris­ingly. You don’t want to feel that shift­ing of gears or that any man­age­ment of CPU clock speed is hold­ing the lap­top back, and we haven’t.

The Dell’s speak­ers are de­cent too, although they do not have much greater vol­ume than some 13in lap­tops. Their tone is warmer than a MacBook’s, but with less pro­nounced tre­ble.

Ver­dict

The Dell XPS 15 is an amaz­ingly flex­i­ble lap­top, de­spite look­ing like an or­di­nary high-end one on the sur­face. It’s very pow­er­ful, but has un­usu­ally good bat­tery life for its class. Also, it’s smaller than al­most all other

15in lap­tops. Plus, the 4K dis­play means it’s suited for pro­fes­sional de­sign work. It’s also good-look­ing, and while not ul­tra-por­ta­ble is not that heavy given the com­po­nents in­side. It makes the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar seem a bit friv­o­lous in com­par­i­son, not to men­tion ex­tremely ex­pen­sive. An­drew Wil­liams

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 15.6in (3840 x 2160) 4K 282ppi IPS LCD glossy • Win­dows 10 Home 64-bit • 2.8GHz In­tel Core i7-7700HQ (3.8GHz boost) 4 cores, 8 threads • Nvidia GTX 1050 GPU with 4GB RAM • Up to 32GB 2,400MHz DDR4 RAM • Up to 1TB SSD • 802.11b/g/n/ac sin­gle-band 2x2 MIMO • Blue­tooth 4.1 • 1x USB-C 3.1 • 2x USB 3.0 • HDMI • Kens­ing­ton se­cu­rity slot • SDXC card slot • Stereo speak­ers • HD we­b­cam • Sin­gle mic • 3.5mm head­set jack • UK tiled key­board with num­ber­pad • Two-but­ton track­pad • 57Wh lithium-ion bat­tery, re­mov­able • 357x235x17mm • 2kg • One year on-site war­ranty

5. Len­ovo IdeaPad 720S Price: £899 inc VAT from fave.co/2ft5LYM

The Len­ovo IdeaPad 720S is a lap­top with it all. It looks great, feels ex­pen­sive, is pow­er­ful enough for most peo­ple’s needs and is even much bet­ter at gam­ing than vir­tu­ally all style lap­tops twice the price.

Those des­per­ate to be neg­a­tive could call it a jack of all trades. And, sure enough, you can find lighter, longer-last­ing mod­els if you look. How­ever, at the price this is a jaw-drop­pingly ver­sa­tile ma­chine that is ex­tremely like­able and a fan­tas­tic buy if you like to un­wind with a game or two on oc­ca­sion.

While a lovely lap­top even without its ex­tra gam­ing cred­i­bil­ity, the Len­ovo’s dis­crete GPU is a key rea­son to buy. You don’t of­ten see lap­tops this slim that can han­dle games rea­son­ably well.

De­sign

Looks are sub­jec­tive, but we think the 720S is a stun­ner in this class. Len­ovo has a knack for mak­ing sim­ple but at­trac­tive pre­mium lap­tops. This is a great ex­am­ple of one. It’s all-alu­minium apart from the key­board keys and the glass over the screen, and un­like Asus and Acer ri­vals, Len­ovo hasn’t em­bel­lished the 720S with any ex­tra tex­tures. Ev­ery­thing has a re­laxed an­odized fin­ish. Some may find it bor­ing, but we see new lap­tops all the time and to our eyes it’s clean, and has enough Len­ovo flavour to avoid look­ing generic. Look at the shape of the keys: Len­ovo’s have an al­most cutesy round­ness that’s dif­fer­ent from a Dell, Ap­ple or Asus lap­top. The 720S is also one of the first slightly more af­ford­able lap­tops to have a very slim screen sur­round. While we know £899 is still a sig­nif­i­cant out­lay for any­one, this is an al­ter­na­tive to lap­tops that cost well over £1,000. With just a 4mm be­tween

the end of the dis­play and the edge of the lap­top, the Len­ovo fits a 14in screen into the foot­print of a tra­di­tional 13in slim lap­top, like the older gen­er­a­tion HP Envy 13. It’s rapidly be­com­ing the norm for higher end por­ta­ble lap­tops, although the Acer Swift 3 still has a thicker sur­round.

Svelte dis­play de­sign aside though, the 720S doesn’t try to com­pete with the thinnest and light­est lap­tops around. It’s 16mm thick and weighs 1.55kg (our re­view model is 1,492g ac­cord­ing to our scales). That’s a cou­ple of hun­dreds grammes heav­ier than some, but light enough for ev­ery day por­ta­ble use. And, let’s not for­get, it also has a dis­crete graph­ics chipset to weigh it down.

Build qual­ity is ex­cel­lent for a sub-£1,000 lap­top, too. The screen doesn’t flex and the key­board area is ex­tremely rigid, sim­i­lar to that of a MacBook. There are even some neat aes­thetic touches we don’t ex­pect in a lap­top that keeps an eye on the bud­get. For ex­am­ple, the cut-outs for the con­nec­tions on the sides are all bev­elled rather than square-cut, ex­pos­ing tiny sliv­ers of bright, non-an­odized alu­minium. It demon­strates real at­ten­tion to de­tail.

Ports and con­nec­tions

The 720S also has con­nec­tors com­monly be­ing re­moved from to­day’s most fash­ion­able lap­tops. As well as a Thun­der­bolt 3.0-com­pat­i­ble USB-C port there are two full-size USB 3.0 sock­ets, a full-size HDMI and an SD card slot.

Your ex­pe­ri­ence may vary, but it’s ev­ery­thing we look for in a por­ta­ble lap­top used daily for work.

Other light lap­tops are start­ing to use USB-C to func­tion as both power con­nec­tor and data socket, but the 720S still has a sep­a­rate cylin­dri­cal power plug.

Key­board and touch­pad

We’ve al­ready men­tioned that the key­board looks a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the crowd thanks to their curvy keys. How­ever, the typ­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is fa­mil­iar.

The keys are slightly shal­low, but have de­cent def­i­ni­tion and rea­son­able re­sis­tance. Those

des­per­ate for a meatier feel should look at the Len­ovo ThinkPad 13, although we’re con­fi­dent most will get on with the 720S’s just fine.

It also has a back­light. Press the Fn key and the space bar and the un­der-key LEDs cy­cle be­tween two in­ten­sity lev­els, pro­vid­ing a soft white/blue glow for late-night typ­ing.

We’re also rather im­pressed by the track­pad. This is one of the more af­ford­able lap­tops we’ve seen re­cently to use a tex­tured glass pad rather than a plas­tic one. It of­fers a smoother glide. The ThinkPad X1 Car­bon’s is softer and smoother still, but that lap­top also costs £800 more.

Next to the pad sits an in­dented finger­print scan­ner. It lets you lo­gin to win­dows se­curely with a quick press, and is among the more re­li­able we’ve used.

Lap­top fin­ger scan­ners are of­ten a lit­tle flaky, re­quir­ing a few at­tempts to work. How­ever, the Len­ovo seems to work ev­ery time.

Dis­play

Like the Acer Swift 3, one fea­ture the 720S lacks is an ul­tra-high res­o­lu­tion screen. 1080p res­o­lu­tion across 14 inches makes pix­i­la­tion fairly ob­vi­ous if you look for it. How­ever, most ri­vals charge more for a true high­res­o­lu­tion panel, in­clud­ing the Dell XPS 13. The HP Envy 13 has even dropped from 3,200x1,800 res­o­lu­tion to 1080p in its lat­est it­er­a­tion. Strangely, it was eas­ier to get a sub-£1,000 high-res lap­top a year or two ago. This isn’t a touch­screen, de­spite hav­ing a tablet-like glossy, glass-topped fin­ish. This is a lap­top without even a hint of hy­brid to it.

Colour and con­trast are good, how­ever. The 720S cov­ers a re­spectable, if not truly im­pres­sive, 80.9 per­cent of the sRGB colour stan­dard, 57.6 per­cent of Adobe RGB and 60.3 per­cent of DCI P3. It’s not deep enough for de­sign pros, but thanks to very good con­trast it’ll do the trick for the rest of us.

Con­trast is 1023:1, which is enough to make blacks look con­vinc­ing even in a low-lit room.

Given the glossy sur­face though, we’d have liked to see slightly higher bright­ness. The 720S reaches a re­spectable 305cd/m2 at max back­light, but oth­ers get closer to 340- to 350cd/m2. This will be use­ful on a sunny day. How­ever, it is still sig­nif­i­cantly brighter than the new Acer Swift 3.

Per­for­mance

The Len­ovo has a 7th gen­er­a­tion In­tel Core i5-7200U pro­ces­sor with 8GB of DDR4 RAM. For an ex­tra £100 you can up­grade to the i7-7500U model.

For the kind of uses that suit this por­ta­ble lap­tops best, though, many may not no­tice that much dif­fer­ence be­tween the two.

This a quick and re­spon­sive lap­top. Day-to-day this is im­proved by the re­spon­sive and re­li­able fin­ger scan­ner, and fast all-SSD stor­age. The 256GB drive reads at 1,558MB/s and writes at 595MB/s. While not the ab­so­lute fastest by cur­rent SSD stan­dard, it’s enough to make the lap­top feel much quicker than any hard drive model. There’s enough power and RAM to let you use ap­pli­ca­tions such as Pho­to­shop, and to browse away with far too many win­dows open without the 720S slow­ing to a crawl.

We did no­tice, how­ever, that bench­mark re­sults are slightly lower than some lap­tops we’ve re­viewed with the same CPU. For ex­am­ple, it scores 6,940 in Geek­bench 4, whereas the Acer Swift 5 man­aged 7,424. Geek­bench 4 re­sults vary a lit­tle be­tween at­tempts, but a con­sis­tent slight low­er­ing of per­for­mance sug­gests some throt­tling. This will be in or­der to keep tem­per­a­tures at man­age­able lev­els.

The fan sys­tem is rea­son­ably quiet even un­der stress, and in our ex­pe­ri­ence its rev­o­lu­tions per minute (speed) doesn’t jump about too much. This helps it avoid be­com­ing too in­tru­sive. How­ever, like most slim lap­tops the fan has a rel­a­tively small di­am­e­ter, so does be­come high-pitch un­der pres­sure.

This is among a new wave of lap­top with real, if mod­est, gam­ing abil­i­ties. As well as a Core i5

pro­ces­sor, the 720S has an Nvidia GT940MX GPU with 2GB RAM.

It makes play­ing mod­ern games for more en­joy­able than most other slim lap­tops, with up to dou­ble the frame rates of a ma­chine us­ing an in­te­grated graph­ics chipset. For ex­am­ple, Alien: Iso­la­tion runs at an av­er­age of 64fps at 720p, low set­tings rather than around 30fps.

This gives you much more head­room to make the game look bet­ter. At 1080p, maxed set­tings it runs at an av­er­age 26.4fps. That’s below the ideal min­i­mum of 30fps, but shows that if you tweak the set­tings a lit­tle you’ll be able play com­fort­ably in Full HD.

A more de­mand­ing game such as Deus Ex: Hu­man Rev­o­lu­tion shows that the GT940MX isn’t a re­place­ment for a higher-end rig, though. At 720p res­o­lu­tion, low graph­ics, the game is playable at an av­er­age 29.2fps. How­ever, at 1080p ul­tra it plays at a very slow 10.3fps.

Given the lap­top is 16mm thick, 1.55kg and not ridicu­lously ex­pen­sive, we think this sort of gam­ing per­for­mance is great.

How­ever, there’s just one is­sue: the GT 940M is now an older chipset, and Nvidia has al­ready re­leased a next-gen­er­a­tion fol­low-up, the MX150. We haven’t re­viewed a lap­top with this graph­ics pro­ces­sor yet, but early in­di­ca­tions sug­gest a worth­while 33 per­cent boost. HP al­ready uses the MX150 in its 2017 model Envy 13, which is £100 more ex­pen­sive than the 720S but oth­er­wise looks very ap­peal­ing.

That’s some­thing to think about if you’re in­tend­ing on play­ing games.

Bat­tery life

The 720S has a four-cell 56Wh bat­tery, a non­re­mov­able unit of solid if ‘nor­mal’ ca­pac­ity. It had us wor­ry­ing the use of dis­crete graph­ics might lead to unin­spir­ing bat­tery life. We needn’t have wor­ried.

When play­ing back a 720p video on loop, the Len­ovo IdeaPad 720S lasts 12 hours, five min­utes, a very re­spectable up­per-rank­ing re­sult. As long as you keep the ex­er­tion level rea­son­ably low, you’ll eas­ily get a full day’s work out of a charge.

Un­usu­ally, this is when the lap­top is used at 79 per­cent screen bright­ness, too. This isn’t some­thing to get ex­cited about, though. The Len­ovo IdeaPad 720S uses a rather odd bright­ness curve that only reaches our test level of 120cd/m2 at that point. It’s the sort of bright­ness you might use in­doors.

The speak­ers are solid too, if a lit­tle too re­liant on their Dolby Atmos pro­cess­ing. This max­i­mizes the

im­pres­sion of vol­ume us­ing dynamic com­pres­sion: so the solo gui­tar into to a song might sound very loud, only to drop in vol­ume as the rest of the band come in. Ac­tual vol­ume isn’t close to that of a MacBook, but there is at least enough rich­ness to the sound to avoid a thin, ugly tone.

Ver­dict

The Len­ovo IdeaPad 720S is a lap­top that proves you can some­times get more if you pay less. Its more ver­sa­tile than a lot of £1,000-plus por­ta­ble lap­tops be­cause it has a sep­a­rate graph­ics card, mak­ing it a pass­able gam­ing ma­chine. That it adds this without ru­in­ing bat­tery life or porta­bil­ity is ex­cel­lent. It is one of the most ver­sa­tile porta­bles around.

The one re­gret is that the lap­top doesn’t have Nvidia’s lat­est GeForce MX150 graph­ics, us­ing the older 940MX kind in­stead. How­ever, maybe we shouldn’t com­plain too much if such a move would have added sub­stan­tially to the price.

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 14in (1920x1080) 1080p 157ppi IPS LCD glossy • 2.5GHz In­tel Core i5-7200U (3.1GHz boost) two cores, four threads • Win­dows 10 Home (64-bit) • Nvidia GeForce GT 940MX 2GB GDDR5 • 8GB 2,133MHz DDR4 RAM • 256GB SSD • 802.11b/g/n/ac sin­gle-band 2x2 MIMO • Blue­tooth 4.1 • 1x USB-C 3.1

• 2x USB 3.0 • HDMI • Kens­ing­ton Se­cu­rity Slot • SDXC card slot • Stereo speak­ers • HD we­b­cam • Sin­gle mic • 3.5mm head­set jack • UK tiled key­board with num­ber­pad • Two-but­ton track­pad • 56Wh lithium-ion bat­tery, re­mov­able • 320.7x222.8x15.9mm • 1.55kg (1,492g mea­sured) • 1-year on-site war­ranty

If you are go­ing to be us­ing your lap­top out of the of­fice, then porta­bil­ity will be an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion

We rec­om­mend you look at a lap­top’s bat­tery life if you are go­ing to be away from mains power for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time

The Dell has a fan­tas­tic key­board

The XPS 13 comes with Win­dows 10 Pro

The Sur­face lap­top is avail­able in four dif­fer­ent colours

Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face Arc Mice are colour-co­or­di­nated to match its lap­tops

A pair of ‘om­nisonic’ speak­ers are buried be­neath the key­board

You can move apps around like any other file, but you sim­ply can’t run them un­less they’re Mi­crosoft-ap­proved

Many com­mon apps aren’t in the Mi­crosoft Store. For­tu­nately, Mi­crosoft Of­fice is one of the ex­cep­tions, though you’ll need to use the built-in ‘Get Of­fice’ app to find it

The Sur­face Lap­top is a stylish ma­chine

Dell’s XPS 15 9560 is a great all­round lap­top

The Dell of­fers a de­cent se­lec­tion of ports

We were im­pressed by the XPS 15’s key­board and track­pad

This is a fan­tas­ti­clook­ing lap­top

The IdeaPad 720S is a pow­er­ful and stylish lap­top

The 720S fits a 14in screen into the foot­print of a 13in lap­top

We were im­pressed by the Len­ovo’s track­pad

This a quick and re­spon­sive lap­top

The Len­ovo’s bat­tery lasts over 12 hours, which will be more than enough for most peo­ple

The IdeaPad is one of the most ver­sa­tile porta­bles on the mar­ket

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