Buy a laptop you’ll love with our guide to the best executive machines money can buy
Gamers have their powerhouse rigs, designers their all-in-one workstations, but for most of us a premium laptop is our ideal PC. Thin, light and crafted from high-end materials,they’re both functional tools and objects of desire, built to work whenever and wherever, but also to look the part when we’re out in public. A premium laptop tells people that you’re not just a drone with a corporate laptop or an average Joe with a budget computer, but someone who demands the best. It’s the computing equivalent of travelling business class.
The standard has been set over the last decade by two devices. Apple’s Macbook Air defined the Ultrabook form factor and created the demand for thin-and -Light metallic laptops. Microsoft’s Surface Pro,meanwhile, redefined the 2-in-1 convertible, creating the high-end tablet with clip-on keyboard format that other manufacturers have rushed to copy. Thanks to the Surface Pro, the premium laptops we see today aren’t just thin and light, but powerful, versatile and equipped to work with more natural forms of input.
Touch isn’t quite ubiquitous on premium Windows Laptops,but it’s getting there. Whether you’re taking notes, sketching diagrams or roughing out designs, styluses have become useful. Touch is no longer a novelty but a tool.
Which premium laptop is the most premium of all? To find out, we’ve rounded up 11 of the most exciting, beautiful,powerful and versatile laptops available today, all of which support touch inputs. Read on, and prepare to inflict some serious damage to your bank balance.
CONTRIBUTOR: Stuart Andrews
Buyer’s guide to premium laptops
Here’s a premium laptop wishlist, including perhaps the most important part: what’s not worth paying extra for
While there are premium gaming laptops and premium mobile workstations, for this Labs we’ve chosen to focus on thin-and-light designs with touchscreen capabilities. These come in a range of convertible formats, not to mention more traditional laptop styles, but they all offer strong design, high-end materials and the kind of screens and features you won’t find on the average laptop. Just factor in the following when you make your choice.
■ Style,size and weight
Unless you’re looking for a big screen or raw horsepower, premium laptops are all about getting maximum style and usability inside the minimum size and weight. After a few years where the 13.3m laptop was king, the preferred size seems to be drifting down to the 12 to 12.5m of the Surface Pro and MacBook, while the ideal thickness is creeping downwards to between 15 and 17mm.
The smaller and thinner you get, the more compromises you have to make in terms of usability, but premium laptops are getting around this with space-saving keyboard designs, while all or part-metal constructions ensure that thin-and- light doesn’t mean fragile. You can go bigger if you want something to work on all day, or smaller if you prioritise mobility, but 12 to 13in gives you an effective balance.
Some premium laptops are just laptops, while others try to give you the best of both laptop and tablet worlds. It’s best to think analytically about your needs here. Are you going to be mostly focused on keyboard work? Would you benefit from a bigger screen on the move? Do you need lots of ports? Do you actually plan to use it on your lap? Then a laptop might be best for you.
On the other hand, is your priority to take digital notes with a stylus? Do you need something you can keep in a bag and use in cramped conditions?
Do you use touch-friendly apps or like having a tablet for watching movies? Then a tablet-style convertible such as the Surface Pro may serve you better.
ABOVE A2-in-1 convertible with a 360-degree hinge is a good compromise, but extra weight is inevitable
BELOW As premium laptops become smaller and thinner, makers are employing space-saving keyboard designs
In between, you have the 2-in-1 convertibles where a 360-degree hinge allows the screen to fold flat against the back of the laptop and work like a tablet, or the laptop to work in a screen-outwards tent configuration. This can be a great compromise, but inevitably you’re getting a heavier device than the tablet-style convertible.
■ Screen and sound
Screen quality and resolution have become real differentiators for premium laptops, and while sensible
people used to say that 1o8op (1,920x 1,080) was good enough below 15m, high-density 1440p (2560×1440) displays are rapidly changing minds. You get spectacular, crystal-clear images and video, plus a flexible working space for apps – at least those that can cope with such high resolutions, as not all can. Beyond that, though, there are big differences in terms of colour accuracy, colour depth and contrast – even premium laptops don’t always get these right.
Sound isn’t as important, but some of the models on test can deliver epic audio worthy of a blockbuster movie, while others dish out the kind
of thin, brash noise we’re used to from laptop speakers. That’s not a problem if you’re going to plug in headphones, but bear it in mind.
■ Core specification
Thin-and-light design always leaves manufacturers with a dilemma. High-end users want a laptop that does everything, but the more powerful the processor, the more drain on the battery in use and the more effort that has to go into cooling the thing.
Manufacturers are getting sneaky here, often using low-power variants of Intel’s i5 and i7 CPUs – usually of the Y-series, which have a name format of 7Yxx. Like most mobile Intel CPUs, these are dual-core, four- thread chips, but they don’t match the performance of the mainstream i5 and i7 products. Your laptop will still handle most sensible tasks, but don’t get the impression that you’ll be editing 4K video or playing the latest Call of Duty game – thin-and-light design and high-end graphics still don’t go together.
Otherwise, look for lots of RAM – 8GB is a sensible minimum and 12 to 16GB even better – and plentiful storage. With excellent housekeeping, some people can get buy on 128GB for a secondary laptop, but 256GB seems like a sensible minimum to us. We’d lean to 512GB if budgets allow.
- Battery life
It’s hard to find a premium laptop that doesn’t promise all-day battery life, but the actual meaning of that “all-day” varies. In some cases it means eight hours provided you stick to lightweight tasks, turn the brightness down and don’t ask much of the Wi-Fi, while other laptops will storm through ten to 12 hours of moderately heavy usage. If you’re looking for something to use while travelling, buy accordingly. Even premium laptops aren’t so great when they won’t turn on.
The thinner and lighter laptops get, the more connectivity tends to suffer. USB-C is rapidly becoming standard, which is a good thing in terms of size and in that you can share a power adapter with a high-end smartphone. We’re also seeing more third-party USB-C port replicators appear.
However, USB-C means that you’ll need a dongle to connect most of your existing peripherals and, if you have your laptop charging, you’ll need a dongle to plug anything in. Even in an era where more displays offer wireless connectivity, having a physical HDMI or DisplayPort output is desirable, but a growing number of thin-and-light models don’t include one, or require a separate docking solution. If you plan to use your laptop both at your desk and on the road, bear this in mind.
On the wireless side, there’s better news. It’s hard to find a premium or even mid-range laptop without
ABOVE You should be realistic about how often you’re going to use the touch and pen features
“If you have the kind of handwriting that horrifies primary-schoolteachers, is it worth spending extra to doodle the odd note?”
BELOW The ideal thickness of modern premium devices is creeping downwards to below 17mm
802.11ac and impossible to find one without Bluetooth.
■ Pens and extras
Touch and pen functionality are now a key differentiator for high-end laptops, particularly Microsoft’s new Surface lineup where PixelSense displays and 4,096-pressure-level styluses make for devices with artistic aspirations. Microsoft is also pushing the idea of digital note-taking heavily, believing – quite realistically – that notes have more value if they can be stored, searched and shared through the cloud.
That’s all very good and exciting, but be realistic about how much you’ll use that functionality. If your work is primarily keyboard-driven and you have the kind of handwriting that horrifies primary-school teachers, then is it really worth spending extra just to doodle the odd note? Instead, your must-have feature might be Windows Hello security, either through a fingerprint scanner or a compliant camera. Signing in without a password might seem unimportant, but it’s great for strong security – and once you’ve tried it you’ll never want to go back.
How we test
We asked manufacturers to provide their most desirable premium laptops, with a focus on thin-and-light models with a touchscreen. We ran each laptop through our standard PC Pro benchmark tests, looking at how they coped in common image-editing and video-editing scenarios, and how they handled our bruising multitasking test, mixing 4K video playback with other processor-intensive tasks.
We also assess display quality, using not just our subjective judgement but a colorimeter to test brightness and contrast levels, colour accuracy and its ability to reproduce the full gamut of colours in the sRGB standard. To test battery life, we set the screen brightness to 170cd/m2, prevent the screen from dimming and the laptop from sleeping, then play a video clip on loop until the battery runs out.
With the formal testing over, we then use the laptop in a range of everyday scenarios, from document editing through to video streaming and -where appropriate – playing games, to get a good feel for its audiovisual capabilities, real-world performance and the quality of the screen, keyboard, touchpad and sound. We then take the design, features and connectivity into account before arriving at a final score and verdict.
|Acer Spin 7||Acer Switch 5||Asus ZenBook Flip UX560||Dell XPS 13 2-in-1||HP EliteBook x360 1030 G2|
|Dimensions (WDH)||325 x230 x11mm||292 x201x12mm||380 x254 x22mm||304 x 199 x 14mm||317 x218 x15mm|
|Tablet-only dimensions (WDH)||N/A||292 x201x9.6mm||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Weight(tablet only)||1.6kg||1.27kg (920g)||2.26kg||1.24kg||1.28kg|
|Service & Support|
|Warranty1||1yr RTB||1yr RTB||1yr RTB||1yr RTB||3yr RTB|
|Manufacturer reliability/ support score2||79%/76%||79%/76%||83%/77%||80%/74%||80%/72%|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-7Y75||Intel Core i5-7200U||Intel Core i5-6500U||Intel Core i7-7Y75||Intel Core i5-7200U|
|RAM fitted||8GB LPDDR3||8GB LPDDR3||12GB DDR4||8GB LPDDR3||8GB LPDDR4|
|Display Size & finish||14in IPS glossy||12in IPS glossy||15.6in IPS glossy||13.3in IPS glossy||13.3in IPS glossy|
|Resolution||1,920 x 1,080||2,160 x 1,440||1,920 x 1,080||1,920×1,080||1,920×1,080|
|Graphics chipset||Intel HD Graphics 615||Intel HD Graphics 620||Intel HD Graphics 530||Intel HD Graphics 615||Intel HD Graphics 620|
|Battery type (capacity)||Lithium polymer||Lithium polymer||Lithium polymer||Lithium polymer||Lithium ion|
|Stated capacity||2,770 mAh||Not stated||36WHr||46WHr||57WHr|
|Ports & connections|
|Wireless connectivity||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4|
|Memory card reader||N/A||microSDXC||SDXC||microSDXC||microSDXC|
|HDMI or DisplayPort||X||X||HDMI||X||HDMI|
|Other ports||HDMI and USB Type-A via dongle||X||X||X||Thunderbolt via USB-C|
|Infrared camera (for Windows Hello)||v||X||v||X||v|
|Operating system||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Pro|
|Huawei MateBook E (2017)||Lenovo Miix 510||Lenovo Miix 720||Microsoft Surface Book||Microsoft Surface Laptop||Microsoft Surface Pro (2017)|
|279 x194 x15mm||300 x205 x16mm||293 x216 x15mm||312 x232 x23mm||308 x223 x15mm||292 x201x13mm|
|279 x 194 x 7mm||300 x205 x9mm||292 x210 x9mm||312 x232 x7.7mm||N/A||292 x201x8.5m|
|1.1kg (640g)||1.25kg (900g)||1.1kg (780g)||1.58kg (730g)||1.25kg||1.08kg (784g)|
|1yr RTB||1yr RTB||1yr RTB||1yr RTB||1yr RTB||1yr RTB|
|Intel Core i5-7Y54 Intel Core i5-7200U||Core i7-7500U||Intel Core i7-6600U||Core i5-7200U||Core i7-7660U|
|8GB LPDDR3||4GB LPDDR4||8GB DDR4||16GB DDR4||8GB DDR4||16GB DDR4|
|12in IPS glossy||12.2in IPS glossy||12in IPS glossy||13.5in IPS glossy||13.5in IPS glossy||12.3in IPS glossy|
|Capacitive Capacitive||Capacitive Capacitive||Capacitive||Capacitive|
|Intel HD Graphics 615||Intel HD Graphics 620||Intel HD Graphics 620||Nvidia GeForce GTX 965m||Intel HD Graphics 620||Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640|
|SSD |ssd ssd |ssd ssd||SSD|
|Lithium polymer||Lithium polymer||Lithium ion||Lithium polymer||Lithium ion||Lithium ion|
|4,430mAh Not stated||41Whr Not stated||Not stated||Not stated|
|802.11ac, Bluetooth 4||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1|
|HDMI via dongle||X||X||mini-DisplayPort||mini-DisplayPort||mini-DisplayPort|
|USB Type-A via dongle||X||2xUSB 2||Surface Connect||Surface Connect||Surface Connect|
|Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Pro||Windows 10 Pro||Windows 10 Pro||Windows 10 S/Windows 10 Pro||Windows 10 Pro|
HP EliteBook x360 1030 G2
The hard-working executive’s dream machine, with a fine balance between power and portability
SCORE 5/5 – Recommended
It might seem presumptuous to call your premium laptop line EliteBooks, but HP’s EliteBook X360 lives up to the name. All straight edges and bevelled corners, milled from CNC aluminium, it’s a seriously beautiful device: slim and light enough to take with you anywhere and everywhere, but built like the proverbial brick outhouse. It’s exactly the kind of laptop you’d want if you spend time travelling or working between sites – but the price means only executive s will get the chance.
This is also very much a business laptop, in which case having a 2-in-1 convertible might seem a frippery. In fact it makes perfect sense. With the optional active pen you have a great surface for quick sketches and meeting notes, while putting the 13.3in touchscreen in a stand or tent mode works for ad hoc presentations and other client-facing apps. And when you need to create those presentations or edit spreadsheets and reports there’s a large, backlit keyboard and a good-sized screen to work with.
The keyboard is particularly impressive.
There’s no give in that solid aluminium base, and the keys combine a short travel and snappy action to help you maximise your typing speed. It’s great to see touches such as the tiny extra function keys for opening your Outlook calendar or picking up and ending voice and video calls. The EliteBook trackpad isn’t a letdown, either; it’s glassy-smooth and unerringly responsive.
The x36o also packs in some great security features, including HP’s SureStart BIOS protection and a choice of sign-in options. HP hasn’t squirrelled its fingerprint scanner away, making it easy to find just below the keyboard, and if you prefer a hands-free approach, you can sign in with your face using the built-in Windows Hello camera. You can also order this model with an integrated privacy screen, stopping anyone sitting to the side from being nosy.
When it comes to connectivity, 2-in-i convertibles have the edge over the Surface- style tablet hybrids. With a little more room to play with, the EliteBook x36o can cram in a USB-C and two USB 3 ports, an HDMI port, a headphone/ microphone socket and a microSD card slot. The 72op webcam and built-in microphone array also make this an effective conferencing tool for Skype for Business.
Our review model came with a Full HD screen – you’ll have to pay even more for one with a UHD display – but that’s not a massive drawback for business users on a screen this size. It
ABOVE HP’s EliteBook lives up to its name, combining good looks with practicality
LEFT The EliteBook’s tent mode is handy for ad-hoc presentations and showing off client- facing apps
“It’s a seriously beautiful device, slim and light enough to take with you anywhere but built like the proverbial brick outhouse”
LEFT The x360 crams in a USB-C, HDMI and two USB 3 ports, plus a microSD card slot
wasn’t a particularly strong performer in our tests. We measured brightness at a mid-range 287cd/m2, an average Delta E of 2.55cd/m2 shows that out-of-the-box colour accuracy isn’t spectacular, and it’s only capable of showing 81.7% of the SRGB gamut – this isn’t a screen for photo editors.
But, viewed subjectively in normal lighting, we were quite happy with its overall image quality, and if you fancy some after-hours film-watching then note the impressive Bang & Olufsen- branded speakers: these deliver a big sound for a thin-and-light laptop, with a detailed high-end and more bass than you might expect.
Given the high-end style and premium pricing of this laptop, its spec, based around a Kaby Lake Core i5-7200U processor and 8GB of RAM, might seem underwhelming. As you can see elsewhere, though, a Core i7 is no guarantee of high performance, and the x36o holds its own with all but the fastest laptops on test, with a benchmark score of 49.
It’s a shame that the storage options top out at a 256GB SSD, but that’s adequate for most applications and you can plug in an external drive for desk-bound work.
Meanwhile, battery life is exemplary, with the EliteBook x36o managing nearly ten-and-a-half hours of video streaming, beaten only by the Surface Laptop and Surface Pro. This completes the picture of a hard-working laptop that’s both practical and beautiful. If you can afford it, the x36o is a hard convertible to beat.back to menu ↑ back to menu ↑
Microsoft Surface Laptop
A fantastic premium laptop for a reasonable price, as long as you don’t need upgrades to RAM or storage
It might be the least radical laptop or hybrid that Microsoft has yet produced, but that doesn’t mean the Surface Laptop is short of fresh and innovative thinking. The design, for example, drops the MacBook Air chrome look for matte-finish aluminium, a range of subtle colour tones and an angular, slimline style that looks amazing. And it’s as smart as it is stylish. Weighing only 1.25kg and a little bigger than a hardbound A4 notepad, you could comfortably carry Microsoft’s laptop around all day, yet it has the 13.5m screen and ergonomics to get just about anything done.
That screen is one point of contention.
There’s no disputing its incredible clarity and definition, with a 2,256 x 1,504 resolution giving a pixel density of 201 ppi. It’s perfectly bright, hitting a maximum luminance of 397cd/m2, and rich colours and punchy contrast make photos and movies look fantastic. Colour accuracy is also impressive, with an average Delta E of 1.41 and 95.6% coverage of the sRGB colour gamut. The 3:2 aspect ratio makes a lot of sense when you’re web-browsing or working on a single application, making the screen seem bigger than it is. It’s only when you’re snapping two windows to either side that you miss the width of a 6:9 display
Using Microsoft ‘s pen doesn’t feel as natural on the Surface Laptop as on the Surface Pro or Surface Book, particularly as the screen can’t tilt anywhere near as far backwards. When you do, though, it’s every bit as sensitive to motion, weight and pressure, so you can still take notes.
Most users will
probably eschew the optional stylus, but still use the touchscreen for simple Windows tasks and gestures; the kind of thing at which it excels.
Used in combination with the generously sized, smooth and ultra-responsive touchpad, it makes Windows a pleasure to navigate around. Does the keyboard let the side down? Not at all. Once you get used to the slightly odd feel of the Alcantara material on the surround and wrist rests – some love it, some aren’t so sure – the keys are well-sized, well-spaced and extremely well-weighted, and the Surface Laptop doesn’t suffer from the slight bounce that pulls the Surface Pro’s Type Cover back from greatness.
The sound, meanwhile, has you wondering how on earth the Surface laptop can produce such a racket. The bass isn’t massive or overt, powering
ABOVE Some users will love the unusual Alcantara material- some really won’t
LEFT Microsoft has eschewed MacBook Air-style chrome for a stylish matte-finish aluminium
“ The 3:2 aspect ratio makes sense when you’re web-browsing or working on a single application, making the screen seem bigger”
but there’s enough of it to give action film soundtracks some much-needed thump, while there’s a surprisingly wide stereo spread.
Performance is every bit as good. With Windows 10 Pro installed, the mid-range Core i5-7200U/8GB RAM version delivered a benchmark score of 49, behind the Core i7 Surface Pro but ahead of most of the competition. Move up to the more expensive Core i7/16GB variants, and you could comfortably do anything that doesn’t involve compositing and rendering 4K video or editing extremely high resolution images.
Of course, the Surface Laptop doesn’t come with Windows 10 Pro pre installed, but Microsoft’s more security-conscious Windows 10 S. For many of us, the limitations of Windows 10 S – particularly the fact that only Windows Store apps can be installed – outweigh its security advantages, but as Windows 10 Pro can be installed at no extra cost, this isn’t really a reason not to purchase.
Much the same goes for the Surface Laptop’s connectivity. There’s no USB-C connection, just a single USB 3 port, an audio jack and a mini DisplayPort, but while fitting the first would have been smart, it doesn’t really limit your options at this point.
The Surface Laptop isn’t necessarily the best premium laptop of the moment, but it’s the one that offers the best balance of mobility, ergonomics, performance and price. Throw in a battery life of 10hrs 42mins and it’s an outstanding device in nearly every way.
LEFT The incredibly clear screen has a resolution of 2,256x 1,504,resulting in a pixel density of201ppi
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Acer Spin 7
The 14in screen marks this convertible laptop out from the crowd,but so flaws prevent a recommendation
If you’re looking for maximum screen space on a thin-and-light laptop, Acer’s Spin 7 is an interesting proposition. It’s compact, with the sort of footprint you’d associate with a 13.3m laptop, and just 11mm thin, while the 1.6kg weight is perfectly manageable for a convertible design. Open the lid, though – or push it back so that it sits flat against the base for a tablet-style configuration – and you’ll see a narrow-bezel 14in screen. That’s a big plus when you’re working across multiple apps on your desktop, even if the 1920×1080 resolution seems a little lacking.
It’s still a bit too big and heavy to double as a tablet, but fine for watching video or standing screen- outwards in a tent configuration. As a hard-working laptop, meanwhile, the Acer is very practical, with a full-sized keyboard that’s let down only by a slightly flabby typing action and a small Enter key. The touchpad is big, smooth and responsive, and the touchscreen doesn’t lag behind either. The only real issue may be connectivity; two USB-C ports don’t give you a lot of options, although Acer thoughtfully supplies a USB-C to USB-A dongle.
This isn’t a laptop for artists or designers. Its screen can only reach a mediocre maximum brightness of just 275cd/m2, and mediocre again applies to the average Delta E of 3.13. That’s not a problem when you’re watching HD video streams, but note the sound – despite Dolby Audio Premium speakers – gets brash at high volumes.
Battery life isn’t bad considering the screen size, with the Spin 7 lasting 7hrs 23mins in our video-rundown
ABOVE The Spin 7’s large 14in screen allows you to work across multiple apps at the same time
LEFT There are only two USB-C ports, but Acer bundles a USB-C to USB-A dongle
tests. Unfortunately, this comes at some cost to performance. To keep the batteries lasting longer, the chassis slimmer and the Spin 7 quieter – it’s very nearly silent – Acer has fitted its convertible with Intel’s Core i7-7Y75 CPU, running at 1.3GHz with a turbo speed of 3.6GHz. It’s power-efficient, but not as fast as mainstream Core i7 chips, even if you’ll only see it struggling with more demanding, multi-application workloads.
This is a classy, understated, practical laptop, but the overall package isn’t quite strong enough for any prizes.back to menu ↑
Acer Switch 5
A flawed Surface Pro clone but its low price means it might appeal to those on a tight budget
While it clearly owes a lot to the Surface Pro, Acer has tried to make the Switch 5 distinctive through a different hinge mechanism: here, a picture-frame stand pops out from the rear of the tablet. It can’t lie near-flat like the Surface Pro and the support isn’t quite so sturdy, but for the purposes of holding the screen in a range of viewable positions, it works well.
The keyboard doesn’t veer far from the Microsoft original, connecting quickly and intuitively to the tablet, either lying flat or clipping magnetically to the front for a raised typing angle. While its rubberised feel isn’t quite as luxurious as the Surface, the actual feel is fine, with just enough travel and a little less bounce than on its rival. The trackpad feels smooth and responds well to multi touch gestures, and the same goes for the touchscreen itself. Acer provides its Active Pen stylus, too, and while it doesn’t have the weight or sensitivity of the Microsoft version, it’s still great for quick diagrams, annotations and handwritten notes.
The Acer shows, though, the value that goes into detail. Its 2,160 x 1,440-resolution screen is beautifully crisp, hitting a respectable brightness level of 323cd/m2, but can’t match the Surface Pro on contrast or colour accuracy, with an average Delta E of 3.07. Audio is loud but rather tinny, and while it has a USB-C port, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack and a full-sized USB 3 port, it’s charged through a proprietary connector with the cable protruding awkwardly from near the top of the right-hand side.
The edge-mounted fingerprint reader, which doubles as the power button, is
ABOVE The keyboard detaches, very much like the Surface Pro
BELOW The Active Pen is great for quick diagrams or notes
perfectly effective, but hard to find by feel alone. This is an attractive, solidly built hybrid, but not the most thought-through design.
On performance, the Switch 5 is good without being outstanding; our Core i5-7200U model with 8GB of RAM managed a mid-table benchmark score of 46. That’s not a serious drawback unless you’re multitasking with heavy-duty apps, but the battery life – just shy of seven hours of video playback – might be. Where the Switch 5 cheaper, we’d say these compromises were worth living with. As it stands, though, they aren’t.back to menu ↑
Asus ZenBook Flip UX560
Big, heavy and powerful, the ZenBook Flip UX560 is an interesting alternative to its lightweight rivals
How far can you stretch the terms ultra-thin and ultra-light? In the case of the ZenBook Flip UX560, Asus might be stretching both to breaking point: this 15.6in convertible, which is 18.5mm thick and weighs 2.2kg, is arguably neither. We have our doubts about a convertible of this size, but the 360-degree hinged form factor works for ad hoc presentations while in tent mode, or watching movies.
The Flip looks good for such a big-screen laptop, either in its silver version or a metallic black. It feels bulletproof with an incredibly robust hinge, while that extra size means it can cram in not just a USB-C port, but
three full-sized USB 3 ports, an HDMI port and a headphone/microphone jack. The fly in the ointment? A huge bezel around the screen, reaching 17mm on either side, 23mm at the top and 35mm at the bottom. On the plus side, that top bezel includes an infrared camera, giving you Windows Hello sign-in using just your face.
The picture inside that frame isn’t quite so premium. Brightness is just about on the right side of average at 276cd/m2, and the same could be said of colour accuracy, with an average Delta E of 2.47 and sRGB coverage of just 71.7%. The built-in Harman Kardon speakers have power on their side, particularly at the low and high end – subtlety is not their strong suit.
Still, there are other advantages to a bigger laptop, including a massive, sensitive touchpad with integral buttons and a full-sized keyboard. We didn’t fall in love with its lacklustre action, though, despite a respectable 1.5mm travel. At least the Asus storms ahead when it comes to horsepower. We tested a model with a Core
ABOVE The ZenBook carries the heft of its big screen well
BELOW A USB-C, HDMI and three full-sized USB 3 ports are all present
i5-6200U, 12GB of DDR4 RAM and a 512GB SSD, which achieved a benchmark score of 60, but Asus has just upgraded to a faster, more power- efficient Kay Lake Core i7-7500U CPU. (Prices are likely to rise too.)
Throw in an Nvidia 940MX GPU and you have a laptop that can even handle games like Forza Motorsport 6: Apex at smooth frame rates, providing you dial the detail levels down. Yet, despite this, it still does well for battery life, nearing eight hours of continuous video playback. The Flip UX560 won’t be for everyone, but if it suits you then it’s terrific value.
The perils of buying
Read the small print carefully or you might end up with a specification you didn’t expect, or spend hundreds of pounds more than you need
You might think that having chosen your preferred laptop from this month’s Labs, the actual purchase would be easy. Sadly, manufacturers and stores sometimes seem hell-bent on making it as difficult as possible.
For a start, they usually sell what’s essentially the same product in a range of different configurations, featuring different processors, screen technologies and storage capacities. They then label these with model numbers of such complexity that you could spend months trying to work out the minor distinctions.
To make things even more complex, some stores may still be selling what’s effectively the same laptop but with last year’s components inside. The cheaper model may include a sixth-generation Core i5 rather than a seventh-
“To make things more complex, some stores may be selling what’s effectively the same laptop but with last year’s components”
generation processor (look for a product name that goes Core i5-7xxx rather than Core i5-6xxx; the 7 denotes a seventh-generation chip). Others sell their own variations, either to provide a cheaper option or (more cynically) to ensure they can’t be beaten on a price comparison.
How do you know you’re getting what we’ve tested? Well, in some cases you won’t want or need the exact same product; review samples tend to reflect the higher end of a product line-up, and there’s no point spending, say, on the Core i7/512GB Surface Pro if the Core i5/256GB model fits your needs for less.
Manufacturers are also all too aware that these thin-and-light models aren’t user-upgradable, allowing them to demand massive price hikes for additional RAM or a larger SSD. For instance, the price of the Surface Pro creeps up by £280 for an extra 4GB of RAM and 128GB of capacity.
It makes sense to compare prices across the same spec from different manufacturers to make sure you’re getting the best deal, and remember that a stylus or backlit keyboard that’s an “optional” accessory with one product could be bundled in with comparable alternatives.
The best way to get exactly what you want is to make a note of the manufacturer’s part number or SKU. Where possible, we publish this for the exact model tested in the feature table on p80. With some products that ship with various custom options, that’s not always possible – but we try to provide a specific offer code to help identify what we’ve reviewed.back to menu ↑
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1
A superb, practical convertible, but a bit too slow for an outright recommendation
It might not be the flashiest 2-in-1 hybrid in town, but there’s still something quietly miraculous about the way the Dell XPS 13 2-in-i crams a i3in screen into an 11.6in body. It’s a practical design, too, with the machined aluminium lid and base protecting the carbon-fibre body, and the soft-touch palm rests making this one of the most comfortable small laptops around for long-term use. What’s more, the lightweight design makes this a hinged 2-in-i that actually convinces as a tablet, helped no end by the 1.24kg weight.
The screen on our test model had a modest 1o8op resolution – not the QHD+ InfinityEdge display of the most expensive models – but it’s still a beauty. The 245cd/m2 brightness level is nothing to write home about, but there’s no shortage of clarity or contrast. Just be aware that, while the screen has a decent colour gamut – we measured it at 81.6% of sRGB – actual colour accuracy isn’t so good, partly because the screen cleverly switches brightness levels to optimise what’s being shown. That’s fine when you’re watching video, which looks fantastic, but might not be so great if you’re doing tasks such as grading video and editing photos.
It doesn’t take long to find more positives, however, starting with the keyboard – a backlit affair with a slightly soft but snappy action – and the touchpad, which is big, smooth and lag-free. Sound doesn’t match the quality we’ve heard from, say, the Surface Laptop, but it’s clear and surprisingly powerful. And while some might be frustrated by the connectivity, with just two USB-C ports, one of which must be used for charging, this is very much the way the industry is headed in the future. Moreover, Dell supplies a USB-C to USB-A dongle plus a tiny power
ABOVE As the name gives away, the XPS 13 2-in-1’s lid flips around to become a tablet
BELOW The practical machined aluminium lid protects the Dell’s carbon-fibre body
supply, which you won’t mind carrying around.
Battery life is another strength, with the XPS 13 2-in-i managing nearly nine hours of video playback Sadly, performance isn’t as impressive. Here’s another machine with a Core i7-7Y75 processor that visibly struggles with intensive, multi-application workloads.
Still, in general use it’s more than fast enough, making the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 a real contender for those who don’t need outright power; it’s lighter and more versatile than your average laptop, as well as more practical than many hybrids.back to menu ↑
Huawei MateBook E (2017)
A premium hybrid with minor failings, the updated Mate Book will appeal to the style-conscious buyer
Huawei’s first attempt at building a 2-in-1 Surface-like hybrid had its strengths – primarily its looks – but these were hard to appreciate when faced with its unstable folio keyboard design and awful typing experience. Luckily, with this year’s iteration, Huawei has pretty much cracked it. Bound in its folio keyboard case the NoteBook still feels quietly luxurious, but the hinged support on the rear now holds the tablet more securely on its magnetic contacts – at a wider range of angles.
What’s more, it’s genuinely nice to use. As it sits flat on the desk or your lap, you miss the more comfortable
raised angle of the Surface Pro, but the lightweight action and relatively spacious layout help you get up to speed. The touchpad feels smooth and responds quickly to touch, while the touchscreen itself is sensitive and accurate. Huawei’s pressure-sensitive stylus doesn’t have the weight or finesse of the Microsoft and Lenovo pens, but it’s a fine tool for drawings, notes and annotations.
We always liked the screen on the MateBook E, and the new version’s 12in, 2,160 x 1,440 IPS display is spectacularly bright, colourful and clear. We measured the maximum brightness at 396cd/m2 and the average Delta E at a very low 1.73, with the screen capable of showing 99.2% of the sRGB gamut. Sound isn’t as stellar; the MateBook E has a louder, wider sound than your average tablet, but it loses clarity along the way.
Connectivity remains a weakness, with one USB-C connection that’s also used for charging, plus a headphone/ microphone socket. Huawei gets round this by bundling in a breakout dock with an extra USB-C port, a USB 3 port plus VGA and HDMI outputs.
ABOVE The MateBook E’s screen is a real strength, with great colour accuracy
BELOW The MateBook is bundled with a breakout dock with extra ports
This could work out well if you plan to use the MateBook mobile some days, plugged in on the desk at others, but it’s a hassle to carry.
Performance and battery life are more serious concerns. With a Core i5-7Y54 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 250GB SSD, the Huawei struggled with our multitasking benchmarks, finally delivering a score of just 24. Battery life, meanwhile, was one of the worst on test, falling nine minutes short of six hours. Given the competitive pricing, great screen and good design, you might be happy to forgive these shortfalls, but think them through.back to menu ↑
Lenovo Miix 510
A cheaper Surface Pro clone, but note its flaws before you’re lured in by the price
A less expensive sibling of the Miix 720, the Miix 510 hopes to give you a taste of the premium 2-in-i experience at a lower price. However, it’s not hard to spot signs of the reduced budget. The type cover has the same faux-leather style as the 720’s, but feels thinner and less luxurious. Meanwhile, the keyboard loses its backlighting, there are fewer connectivity options and the screen drops in resolution from 2,880 x 1,920 to 1,900 x 1,200.
Don’t be too disappointed, though. Clipped onto the tablet section at a raised typing angle, the keyboard cover bounces more than the Miix 720’s or the Surface 2’s, but it has the same comfortable, spacious layout
and a crisp action. The touchpad may be smaller with an odd, rough surface, but it’s effective enough in general Windows use, while the touchscreen works brilliantly with the optional Active Pen, which is sensitive enough to handle some creative work.
While the Miix 510’s screen can’t match the 720’s for definition or brightness – it topped out at 335cd/m2 in our tests – it’s still sharp with lovely rich, vibrant colours. Don’t expect photographer-friendly levels of accuracy, though, with an average Delta E of 2.7. Sound is somewhat disappointing: bright and clear at low volumes but it grows shrill as you push the levels up.
The Miix 510 has a single USB 3 port along with one USB-C, but curiously the latter isn’t used for charging, forcing you to use a proprietary power connection instead. With the only other connection a headphone output, you’ll need either an adapter or Miracast if you want to connect to an external display.
The Miix 510 comes in a few configurations, scaling up from a
ABOVE The screen works brilliantly with the Active Pen
BELOW The Miix 510 has just a single USB-C and USB3 port
cheap and cheerful Core i3 with 4GB of RAM to a Core i5 with 8GB. Our sample arrived with a Core i5-7200U, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, and while this left it languishing near the bottom of our benchmarks table, there’s still enough power here for any mainstream app. It’s just a shame that it has such a noisy fan. Battery life also lags behind, with the Miix 510 only just scraping through six hours of video playback.
All of this adds up to a decent, cut-price Surface Pro alternative, but one that can’t hold pace with the more serious contenders.back to menu ↑
Microsoft Surface Book
A fantastic convertible with an innovative design, but it’s starting to look dated-wait for the Surface Book2
Arguably the most innovative laptop design since the original Surface, Microsoft’s Surface Book takes the 2-in-1 concept from the opposite direction; not so much a tablet that converts into a laptop as a laptop that deconstructs. The clever magnetic locking hinge that holds the screen and keyboard modules together is a brilliant piece of engineering, while you have to love details such as the way the keyboard curves away towards the sides.
Disconnect the screen module and use it as a tablet and it’s a delight to use, helped by the 3,000 x 2,000 pixel resolution, the incredible 462cd/m2 maximum brightness level and superb colour accuracy, with an average
Delta E of just 1.01 and 96% sRGB coverage. In addition, the audio benefits from a surprisingly rich tone and wide, spacey soundstage, and you’ll struggle to find a better device for watching video. The new Surface Pro makes more sense if you want to use a stylus frequently, but the Surface Book gives you a larger and very sensitive drawing area for illustrations, diagrams and notes.
Plug the module back in, and you still get a great mobile computer. The full-sized keyboard has a fantastic typing action and a layout that feels right under the fingers, and with two USB 3 ports, a mini-DisplayPort and an SD card reader, it’s easier to forgive the omission of USB-C.
Models run the gamut from a Skylake Core i5 with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD to a Skylake Core-i7 6600U with 16GB, a 1TB SSD and a Performance Base with additional battery and a discrete Nvidia GPU.
Our Core i7/16GB test version managed a credible benchmark score of 47 and had enough power to run Forza Motorsport 6: Apex with the
ABOVE The Surface Book is a delight to use as a tablet and laptop
BELOW The hinge is very impressive piece of engineering
detail levels dropped down to medium. Battery life is also top drawer, with around nine-and-a-half hours of video playback.
This is a seriously tempting premium laptop, particularly with a recent price drop, but it’s still expensive and arguably caught between two stools. In many respects,the Surface Pro makes more sense as a practical, ultra-mobile hybrid, while the Surface Laptop beats the Surface Book on convenience and bang for buck. We eagerly await a new iteration, but the current model has been overtaken.
View from the Labs
Don’t be suckered in by gorgeous design: make sure you choose the right machine for your specific needs
“You still need practicality, which is why the laptops I’ve enjoyed using most this month are the ones with both style and substance”
Believe me: working on a Labs like this is both a blessing and a curse. It’s the former because you get to spend time with some of the most expensive, most exciting devices around. It’s the latter because you know that time is limited and you’ll soon be going back to the everyday stuff. I imagine it’s like this for motoring journalists who get to test drive the latest Porsche or Ferrari. You’ve had the best, now get used to the rest.
I’ve spent a few weeks trying out the finest the laptop world can offer, but I actually spend most of my time working on a trusty but rather boring mid-range Lenovo ThinkPad. The ThinkPad isn’t glamorous in any way. It’s not what you might call sleek or stylish, while it’s a little too heavy to carry with me when I’m on a trip. Frankly, it’s a laptop frump. Yet it’s also extremely practical. For simply sitting down and getting work done, it’s better than some of the designs on test this month.
As much as style matters, you still need practicality, which is why the laptops I’ve enjoyed using most this month are the ones with both style and substance. I would love to have the Surface Pro as my travelling laptop, because everything from the Type Cover to the kickstand and the easy-to-connect magnetic charging cable makes it a smart, effective tool. The Surface Laptop might not have the most innovative design, but it gives you a large screen and keyboard to work with on a laptop that’s incredibly lightweight. I’d easily have it as my primary device.
What’s more, you only have to look at the Lenovo Miix 510 and 720, the Acer Switch 5, the Surface Pro and the Huawei MateBook E to see how five devices based on a very similar concept can vary. I’m not just talking about the screen and choice of processor, but all the little, practical details that make each easier or harder to live with. The Miix 510 is cheaper than both the 720 and the Surface Pro but it feels it. The proprietary power connector annoys me every time.
The Miix 720 and Surface Pro feel like laptops where attention to detail was paramount, and where huge amounts of effort have gone into improving an already good design.
The same goes for HP’s EliteBook x360. It’s monumentally expensive and our review model didn’t even have a QHD + screen, yet every element, from features to finish, feels designed to make the EliteBook an incredibly functional business tool. That matters to me when I’m working and travelling. After all, it’s not the laptop itself that really matters, but where I go and what I can do with it.