Super power portables
Words: Dan Grabham Photography: Neil Godwin
WE CHECK OUT THREE OF THE BEST ULTRAPORTABLES FOR WORK AND PLAY Of COURSE YOU COULD JUST GO OUT AND BUY
ANY NEW LAPTOP.
BUT YOU WON’T, BECAUSE YOU’RE
LOOKING FOR MORE THAN JUST AN ALSO-RAN. YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A DO-ANYTHING LAPTOP THAT’S LIGHT ENOUGH TO CARRY AROUND
ALL DAY (WITH A BATTERY LIFE TO MATCH) AND YOU’RE PREPARED TO PAY FOR IT.
So behold, three of the finest ultraportables money can buy for around ‘1,15,000. All three of our contenders have -some similarities – they all have 8GB of memory, for example, while their pricing is similar and they all boast the very latest generation of Intel Core processors. But our gang are also individuals, not least in terms of the processors and operating systems used. We’ve got the best that Apple has to offer in terms of portability, the brand-new Surface Laptop from Microsoft (bizarrely, the first non-tablet laptop Microsoft has designed itself) and the latest super Spectre x360 from HP.
When they were first released, the word ‘ultraportable’ mean having a ‘reduced experience’-but-that’s_ no longer the case; there’s true power with each laptop here. “Okay, so don’t expect to be able to edit a feature film on them they’re not workstations – but they can do everything else just fine. To be fair, their ability is shown by their price point, although there is truth in the fact that gadget pricing has risen sharply in the last year, and when you’re talking about spending more than a grand on a laptop, the difference really stings. But enough of the boring financials, let’s see which one of our super portables is the best!
1 HP Spectre x360 13
The only convertible in our roundup, the Spectre x360 comes with a stylus and powerful specs.
2 Microsoft Surface Laptop
Microsoft’s first nonconvertible laptop brings all the best of the Surface Book into a lighter form.
3 Apple MacBook
Apple relaunched the MacBook this year with speed improvements, plus the new ‘butterfly’ keyboard from the MacBook Pro.
HP SPECTRE X360 13
The Spectre x360 is one of the better-designed convertibles on the market – hell, it’s one of the best-designed laptops, too.
Looks are important, especially when you’re splashing this kind of cash
If we were going to sit on the fence during this test, we’d say that all three of these notebooks are excellently designed. But while that statement is definitely true, it doesn’t make your decision any easier. Plus, there’s one clear winner and that’s the HP Spectre x360.
Quite how a convertible is packed into the diminutive shell beggars belief; it’s just as impressive as the design skills that go into any smartphone, and the keyboard, speakers and hinges all flawlessly blend into one cohesive whole. The original Spectre 13 looked super, this 2-in-1 redraws the design, adding ‘360-degree’ hinges with no extra bulk.
Our favourite part of the design is the copper edging and the integration of the USB-C ports into the side.
While other laptops still make ports seem so ugly, HP has mastered the art of seamless integration. The Surface Laptop looks a little chunktastic in comparison and while it has some interesting design idiosyncrasies of its own (a fabric keyboard surround, no less), the HP clearly bats it into second place.
We think the Surface Laptop might be a little more desirable in one of the other colours available – Burgundy, Cobalt Blue and Graphite Gold (this one is
The x360’s keyboard, speakers and hinges all flawlessly blend into one cohesive whole
Platinum). As for the MacBook, the design is two years old even if the innards are brand new, yet it still looks rather svelte, the clean lines helped by the lack of ports (maybe not very practical, but great for design). This is the Space Grey model, and it’s also available in Gold, Rose Gold and Silver.
Like the decade-old MacBook Air, the 2015 and later MacBook redefined thin and light. While it’s worth bearing in mind that the screen size is smaller than our other two notebooks here, the fact remains that the MacBook is 300g lighter than anything else that we’ve put on test. That’s quite a feat considering how light the screen part of these laptops is, but it doesn’t sway us from our view that the HP is the top dog here overall.
SPECS SCREEN SIZE:
13.3 inches RESOLUTION:
1920×1080, 226ppi PROCESSOR:
2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U
360GB SSD MEMORY:
Intel HD 620
Windows 10 Pro ‘1,15,290
Test 01 winner
HP SPECTRE X360
—> The HP’s clean lines and lux materials make it a laptop that’s more than the sum of its parts – considering the hinges offer complete rotation, they are incredibly small.
MICROSOFT SURFACE LAPTOP
Bizarrely, Microsoft refuses to put a USB-C port on its laptops, instead sticking with a USB 3.1 and DisplayPort combo.
13.5 inches RESOLUTION:
2256×1504, 201ppi PROCESSOR:
2.5GHz Intel Core i5
256GB SSD MEMORY:
Intel HD 620
Windows 10 S ‘1,10,000
The MacBook sticks to its one USB-C port and one headphone port, which was controversial when this design was first launched in 2015
12 inches RESOLUTION:
2304×1440, 226ppi PROCESSOR:
1.2GHz Intel Core m3
256GB SSD MEMORY:
Intel HD Graphics 615
macOS Sierra ‘1,04,800
STEPPING UP (OR DOWN)
If you have a little more (or less) to spend, what are your options?
Each of our laptops has other versions. The MacBook has an option with a 2.9GHz Core i5 processor and 512GB Storage for ‘1,28,700. That’s around ‘25,000 more, which is quite steep, but it may be worth it if you need the space. There’s a cheaper
‘1,07,990 version of the Microsoft Surface Laptop available which has 4GB RAM and 128GB of storage, but those specs aren’t great and 8GB/256GB is our recommendation these days. The HP is available with a stronger processor and 512GB of storage for around ‘1,57,290.
HP SPECTRE X360 13
MICROSOFT SURFACE LAPTOP
A laptop screen is all-important. Just as well we have three stunning examples
Displays are super-important. They’re the way we interact with our laptops and, in the case of the Surface Laptop and HP Spectre x360, we can use them for touch, too. If you haven’t used a Windows 10 laptop with touch but used an older Windows touch display, forget everything you knew before; the latest-gen laptops make touch as easy as with an iPhone. That’s not to say Windows is the best operating system for touch-based interaction – in fact at times it’s incredibly annoying – but it’s finally possible to flick through photos or zoom into web pages on Windows just as you would on iOS or Android. Apple’s refusal to give the Mac a touchscreen looks more bizarre with every month that passes, yet it seems like that’s going to be how it stays. You can use trackpad gestures with all these laptops, most notably the MacBook, so basics like pinch-to-zoom do work.
All three displays are bright and punchy, although we found the Surface Laptop the clearest of the bunch – just – and the Spectre seemed a little less bright than the MacBook and Surface Laptop. Despite the HP having a lower resolution than the other two displays, it’s still Full HD. Indeed, all three displays will only seem inadequate if you start playing 4K video. What we do have here are three different display sizes. Only the HP is the more standard 13.3-inch portable size.
The three displays are bright and punchy but we found the Surface Laptop to be the clearest
The 12-inch MacBook is a bit of an acquired taste if you’re not used to that size of screen; it can be hard when multitasking and switching between windows. This is where the multiple desktops feature in macOS (known as Spaces) becomes rather handy. Surface Laptop, too, has a quirk; because the aspect ratio of the ‘PixelSense’ display is 3:2, the screen is taller (it’s 13.5-inches), but it’s our favourite here for sure – after all, you can fit more on the screen with more height.
Test 02 winner
—> The 3:2 aspect ratio really works in favour of Microsoft’s new baby – the screen is vibrant and sharp while touchscreens are no longer taboo on laptops.
HP SPECTRE X360 13
MICROSOFT SURFACE LAPTOP
Which is our choice based on specification (and cool features)?
All three notebooks have a lot to offer in terms of specification and features, but we’ve got to choose the HP again here. There is a price premium, but for that you get a fast PCIe 360GB SSD for storage – more than anything on offer here – plus a top-notch Core i5 processor. To get 512GB on the Mac costs another 10 to 13 thousand – and then you get an inferior processor. Audio is also well-catered for on the HP with a quad-speaker system by Bang & Olufsen.
The HP can also convert itself into a tablet. The x360 comes with HP’s active pen for writing or drawing on the screen, while there’s a handy USB- C to Ethernet adapter in the box (plus an old-style USB 3.1 port as well as USB-C on the laptop’s side). There’s also a nice long power cable, which excited us more than we expected. Hat tip to the Surface Laptop here for its super-compact power adapter, though we wish it was USB-C like the others – we’ve never been a fan of the cylindrical power plugs of the Surface line-up, and this is no exception.
The MacBook impresses in terms of its zippy storage and surprisingly, while the Surface Laptop wins in terms of keyboards overall, if you’re a fan of Apple’s portable keyboards then you’ll love the MacBook. All three keyboards are very comfortable but they’re subtly different. Long gone are clicky laptop keyboards and
Long gone are clicky laptop keyboards and good riddance
good riddance. Surface Laptop has a feature that neither of the other two does – an SD card slot. We also liked the Surface Laptop’s speakers, which had good bass. The MacBook lags behind in one key area and that is its webcam, which is a poor 480p compared to the Surface Laptop’s 720p model and the HP’s Full HD cam.
The MacBook does well in battery life, with around nine hours of everyday usage (web surfing and general apps) and around seven hours when playing a Full HD video on a loop. The Surface Laptop stayed alive for around eight hours for the video test, the same as the HP, while it has a MacBook-equalling nine hours of everyday usage. In our everyday usage test the HP pushed the nine hours 30
Test 03 winner
HP SPECTRE X360
— Despite the higher price point, it’s clear that the x360 offers a lot for the money. And with top-drawer battery life and performance, it wins hands down.
The overall winner is…
1st HP Spectre x360
Price: ‘1,15,290 URL: hpshopping.in
T3 RATES: There’s so much to like, but the design is just wonderful. Everything is so well integrated and it’s always a joy to use. It doesn’t skimp on speed and power, either, despite strong battery life.
T3 SLATES: The screen wasn’t the brightest here and there’s no memory card slot, but yes, we are nitpicking.
T3 SAYS: Even if you’re not bothered about using it in tablet mode ever, the x360 is still a superb choice – a real powerhouse machine in every respect. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth the cost – and there’s a 4K screen option available for a pretty reasonable price.
2nd Microsoft Surface Laptop
T3 RATES: We love the screen and keyboard.
T3 SLATES: No USB-C is increasingly silly; the fabric keyboard surround wears fast.
T3 SAYS: We know you’d rather have the MacBook, but this is a light notebook to be reckoned with.
3rd Apple MacBook
Price: ‘1,04,800 URL: apple.com/in
T3 RATES: The MacBook is very comfortable to use and the keyboard is a dream. It’s also the lightest on test.
T3 SLATES: The low-res webcam and single USB-C port can be pretty challenging.
T3 SAYS: If ultimate portability is your goal, you can’t do better than this.
- TIME MACHINE
If you have a Mac, it’s easy – Time Machine is baked into macOS. You’ll need an external hard drive or Time Capsule to do it. Open Apple menu > System Preferences, then click Time Machine and you’ll be guided through the steps.
- WINDOWS BACKUP
There’s a similar feature in Windows, too. Select Start > Settings > Update & security > Backup > Add a drive, and then choose an external
drive or network location for your backup. You might want to do this and take it elsewhere for extra security (rather than storing it at home).
03 USE LIVEDRIVE
Livedrive is a cloud-based subscription service starting from ‘450 per month for a PC. But if you pay more, it’ll backup all your computers.
It makes a complete copy of all the files on your PC – you tell it what to back up.
- Free backup software
There are numerous free Windows backup apps available, like Easeus Todo Backup Free (bit.ly/t3easeus). These software packages enable you to have more control over your backups than Windows Backup.
- DROPBOX, GOOGLE DRIVE AND ONEDRIVE
If you have a preferred cloud storage service, you can use it to back up some of your files, though this can get expensive
depending on the amount of storage you need. Backup is also limited to what’s in the relevant folder on your PC.
06 NETWORK STORAGE
A network-attached storage (NAS) drive like the WD MyCloud (wdc. com/en-gb) usually comes with backup software and can create a backup of your files across your home network, so you don’t need to be directly plugged in to back up.
SIX WAYS TO BACK UP YOUR COMPUTER