The official end to Windows XP support may have sent many companies into a panic, but it was good news for PC manufacturers this winter… well, sort of. Both Gartner and IDC report a big increase in PC shipments during the first quarter thanks to companies scrambling to replace old XP computers at the last possible moment. However, the two analyst groups note that the sudden spike only managed to soften ongoing declines in PC shipments, rather than reverse them. Depending on which research firm you ask, the number of PCs on the market dropped between 1.7 percent to 4.4 percent year-over-year. That’s better than what system builders have seen over most of the past two years, but it’s not exactly a recovery.
As for the companies that came out on top, it’s a familiar story. Market share gains largely went to major players like Lenovo, Dell and HP, while the biggest blows came to a long-suffering Acer as well as small vendors. What happens next is less than certain, though. Gartner believes that the tablet boom isn’t hurting PCs as much as it used to, and expects upgrades from XP to help shipments over the course of 2014. IDC, meanwhile, isn’t so optimistic. Although the outfit sees the tablet market slowing down as it matures, it’s not anticipating a turnaround for computers any time soon.
[Image credit: AFP/Getty Images]
Fun fact: as of this writing, HP is still selling a display that came out back in 2008. That would be the DreamColor LP2480xz, a billion-color monitor that got lots of attention by dint of the fact that DreamWorks (yep, that DreamWorks) helped design it. Also, it cost an obscene $3,499, so that raised some eyebrows too. After six years, though — and many a price cut — the ol’ DreamColor is about to go the way of the dodo. HP just announced two models, both of which have billion-color displays, and one of which costs just $599. (How the times have changed, eh?) Starting with the cheaper model, the Z24x, it has a 24-inch screen, as the name suggests, with 1,920 x 1,080 resolution and a color gamut that include 99 percent of the AdobeRGB range. The Z27x ($1,599), meanwhile, steps up to a 2,560 x 1,440 panel, and covers 100 percent of sRGB, 100 percent of AdobeRGB and 99 percent of DCI-P3. Both are available today, but it’s unclear how sweet a deal you’ll get if you wait until 2020 to buy.
Move over, LaserJet. This week, HP CEO Meg Whitman said that her company will announce the details of its 3D printing strategy in June, expanding the lineup beyond the home-office systems we know so well. HP’s upcoming devices will apparently improve upon two weaknesses of currently available models. For one, Whitman said 3D printers are intolerably slow — “like watching ice melt” — so we can expect faster performance. HP is also looking to enhance printing quality, and Whitman implied both of these upgrades will be evident in the company’s big announcement in June.
Unsurprisingly, HP will target its 3D-printing products toward businesses rather than consumers, at least at first. The company has hinted that it will work with service providers who process 3D printing orders, while HP provides the actual hardware. We’ll have to wait a few months to find out more, but it’s worth noting that HP briefly had a partnership with 3D-printing firm Stratasys several years back. It didn’t pan out in the long term, and, judging by this photo, HP’s upcoming product will look a tad different.
Filed under: Peripherals
Source: PC World
It’s already March, dear readers, which means with the exception of this post right here, you’re not going to find many laptop reviews on this site. Why? Because Intel’s just three months away from launching its next-generation chips and besides, we’ve reviewed most of the current-gen models anyway. But not HP’s. We haven’t reviewed a Hewlett-Packard Ultrabook in more than a year. So here we are, picking up where we left off. The company’s newest flagship, the Spectre 13, has a metal-clad body, much like the older models we’ve tested, except it steps up to an optional 2,560 x 1,440 display and an extra-wide touchpad designed to make all those Windows 8 gestures easier to pull off. It also starts at $1,000, making it a good deal cheaper than most of the other models we’ll be name-checking throughout the review. So does that make it a good deal?
Look and feel
When the Spectre 13 Ultrabook first launched late last year, a company rep told me that the laptop takes design cues from other luxury items — namely, expensive cars. As much as that sounds like marketing hooey, it turned out to be a pretty smart strategy on HP’s part: The brown lid, metal keyboard and champagne-colored chassis make the machine look… expensive. To be fair, the build quality helps too — the palm rest doesn’t flex or bend when you hold it in one hand and, thanks to a strong hinge, the screen doesn’t wobble when you touch it. I also appreciate how clean the bottom side looks, right down to the metallic accents surrounding the rubber feet. (Of course, a clean underside means the parts aren’t user-replaceable, but that’s par for the course for Ultrabooks.) Really, my only complaint is that the brushed-metal lid picks up scratches too easily, but then again, the same thing can be said of the MacBook Air.
Actually, I do have a second complaint: At 3.34 pounds, the Spectre 13 is actually on the heavy side for an Ultrabook. Case in point: The Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro and Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus both come in at 3.06 pounds, while some models, like the Acer Aspire S7 and Sony VAIO Pro 13, come in well under the three-pound mark. All that said, it won’t break your back to put it in a bag — I even got away with using a leather tote. Also, for what it’s worth, the cut of the laptop at least makes it comfortable to hold; the wide, blunt edges leave lots of room for your fingers, and the chamfered hinge is also easy to grip. Speaking of those wide edges, the Spectre 13, as hefty as it is, does make room for a good selection of ports. These include two USB 3.0 connections, a full-sized HDMI socket, Mini DisplayPort and an SD card reader, along with the requisite headphone jack and power connector.
Though the Spectre 13 is available with a 2,560 x 1,440 display, we tested it out with the standard 1,920 x 1,080 option. Even with the lower (but not “low”) resolution, it’s still a lovely screen. The viewing angles are wide enough that I was able to watch many a Netflix movie from all sorts of angles — head-on, from off to the side, lying on the couch, dim light, fluorescent light. The Spectre 13′s display thrives in most any environment, and the colors are nice and punchy too (but don’t worry, not too punchy).
Keyboard and trackpad
The kindest thing I can say about the Spectre 13′s keyboard is that I ultimately got used to it. Well, mostly anyway. Even now, after weeks of use, I still frequently have to go back and correct a typo, because my key presses didn’t register the first time around. It’s a shame because the buttons are well-spaced and easy to find without taking my eyes off the screen. And yet, between the shallow pitch and lack of bounce, it’s quite possible you’ll find
someting something you wrote has a letter or two missing.
If you’re like me, you’ll adjust your typing style over time without even really thinking about it, but even then, you’ll make some annoying mistakes. For most people, the layout here will be fine, especially since Ultrabooks by definition tend to have flat, space-saving keyboards. But if typing is of the utmost importance, you can still do better (might I suggest the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon?).
Unfortunately, I can’t be nearly as charitable about the touchpad. Which is ironic in a way, because the trackpad, with its so-called touch zones, was actually designed to reduce erroneous clicks. Here’s my problem: The main surface has way too much resistance, so that if I want to do something like scroll or pinch to zoom, I have to go out of my way to apply pressure with my fingers. I’d rather I didn’t have to think about it at all. What’s worse is that even when I do think about it, the touchpad doesn’t always respond the way I want it to; oftentimes, I either used the touchscreen to scroll through web pages, or (carefully) dragged my cursor to the arrows along the side of the screen. Not an ideal situation.
And what of those clearly marked touch zones? They do a good job of separating the “Windows 8 gesture” areas from the “regular touchpad areas,” so that you know exactly where to swipe if you want to expose the Charms bar or cycle through open apps. The thing is, most other touchpads do this just fine, even without an obvious line separating the main touch surface from the edges. Rather than solve a problem that doesn’t exist, we’d rather HP issue a driver update to ensure the touchpad works properly.
|PCMark7||3DMark06||3DMark11||ATTO (top disk speeds)|
|HP Spectre 13 Ultrabook (1.6GHz Core i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400)||4,786||6,005||
E1,837 / P962 / X293
|527 MB/s (reads); 327 MB/s (writes)|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro (1.6GHz Core i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400)||4,676||5,688||
E1,713 / P914 / X281
|546 MB/s (reads); 139 MB/s (writes)|
|Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite (1.4GHz “quad-core” processor, AMD Radeon HD 8250)||2,060||2,814||
E749 / P530
|550 MB/s (reads); 139 MB/s (writes)|
|Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (1.6GHz Core i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400)||4,973||5,611||
E1,675 / P867 / X277
|547 MB/s (reads); 508 MB/s (writes)|
|Acer Aspire S7-392 (1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400)||5,108||5,158||
E1,724 / P952 / X298
|975 MB/s (reads); 1.1 GB/s (writes)|
|Sony VAIO Pro 13 (1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400)||4,502||4,413||
E1,177 / P636 / X203
|1.04 GB/s (reads); 479 MB/s (writes)|
|Sony VAIO Duo 13 (1.6GHz Core i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400)||4,440||6,047||
E1,853 / P975 / X297
|546 MB/s (reads); 139 MB/s (writes)|
|Sony VAIO Pro 11 (1.8GHz Core i7-4500U, Intel HD 4400)||4,634||N/A||
E1,067 / P600 / X183
|558 MB/s (reads); 255 MB/s (writes)|
After using the Spectre 13 for weeks, I can assure you that the Spectre 13′s performance never calls attention to itself. And that’s a good thing. Throughout, as I was writing stories, streaming Netflix and Pandora, juggling browser tabs and talking in HipChat, I had no problem opening apps and switching from one program to another. The fast 10-second startup time is also easy to get used to, perhaps because almost every Ultrabook these days can cold-boot in a similar time. If anything, the biggest thing holding me back from getting work done was that flaky trackpad, but I, of course, won’t lay that at Intel’s feet.
As it turns out, too, that brisk performance wasn’t just a figment of my imagination: The Spectre 13 bests most of its Ultrabook peers, even those that have the same dual-core Core i5-4200U processor. In particular, you’ve gotta hand it to the Liteon solid-state drive, which achieves not just category-standard read speeds of 527 MB/s, but also write speeds as high as 327 MB/s. Big improvement over the SSDs in most of the other Ultrabooks we’ve tested.
|HP Spectre 13 Ultrabook||8:30|
|MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013)||12:51|
|MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch, 2013)||11:18|
|Sony VAIO Duo 13||9:40|
|Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus||8:44|
|Sony VAIO Pro 13||8:24|
|Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch||7:53|
|Acer Aspire S7-392||7:33|
|Acer Iconia W700||7:13|
|Sony VAIO Pro 11||6:41|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro||6:32|
|Microsoft Surface Pro 2||6:27|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13||5:32|
|Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite||4:33|
To say the Spectre 13 has “middling” battery life would be like saying a fourth-place Olympic skier is “slow.” The truth is, with eight and half hours of continuous video playback, according to our tests, it does rank somewhere in the middle as far as new Ultrabooks go. Sure, it’s no MacBook Air, which lasts nearly 13 hours on a charge. Then again, we’ve tested a handful of other models capable of eight to 8.5 hours, so at the very least, the Spectre 13 finds itself in good company.
Besides, doesn’t eight and a half hours count as “all-day battery life” for lots of people? We think it does, especially if you expect to be near an outlet for at least part of that time. And if eight hours isn’t enough, the sad truth is that most Haswell-based Ultrabooks won’t last longer than that anyway. And most “regular” notebooks won’t last longer than an Ultrabook, at least not without the help of a secondary battery. So even if you do need more runtime, this is very nearly the best you can do.
Though HP didn’t pre-load the Spectre 13 with much extra software, what’s there calls a little too much attention to itself. I’m mainly referring to McAfee LiveSafe, which constantly greets you with pop-ups when you boot up and go to the desktop for the first time. The good news? HP at least threw in a year of McAfee service, as opposed to just 30 days, so you can at least get some use out of the app for a good while after you purchase the laptop. In addition, HP also included Adobe Lightroom 5 (nice!), Box, HP Connected Music and HP Support Assistant.
The Spectre 13 starts at $1,000 with a dual-core Core i5-4200U processor, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, 1,920 x 1,080 display and 802.11n WiFi. Basically, then, for a thousand bucks you’re getting specs that a year ago would cost you as much as $1,400. What’s more, even the base model includes a two-year warranty — about twice the coverage you’d get on most any other consumer PC.
Of course, no one’s stopping you from spending $1,400 if you do indeed want cutting-edge components. This year, that means a dual-core Core i7-4500U processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, a 2,560 x 1,440 screen and a faster 802.11ac wireless radio. With all the trimmings, you’re looking at a price of $1,435, not including extras like Microsoft Office.
We’ve already name-checked most of the Spectre 13′s main rivals, but it’s worth circling back to talk about what makes each of them a potentially good (or not-so-good) buy. Perhaps its most direct competitors are the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro ($899-plus) and Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus ($1,400 and up), both of which weigh about a quarter of a pound less and come standard with 3,200 x 1,800 screens — likely the same one, actually. If anything, the Yoga 2 Pro will win you over with its convertible design, which lets you use it as a notebook, tablet and in “Stand” or “Tent” mode, with the keyboard tucked out of the way. Our big caveat there is that the battery only lasts 6.5 hours, making it one of the shortest-running Ultrabooks we’ve tested lately. The ATIV Book 9 Plus, meanwhile, delivers almost identical battery life to the Spectre 13, but again, weighs a lot less. Point, Samsung.
Meanwhile, you might also want to check out the 2.34-pound Sony VAIO Pro 13 ($1,250-plus), the lightest laptop in its class. Despite its pin-thin frame, it manages to match the Spectre 13 in battery life. Similarly, the 2.87-pound Acer Aspire S7 ($1,350-plus) ekes out some respectable runtime, even if it’s not quite as long as the Spectre 13′s. Word to the wise, though: We’re betting that if you get the Acer Aspire S7 with a 2,560 x 1,440 display instead of the 1080p panel we tested, the battery life will probably dip.
Finally, we have two oldies. One is the Dell XPS 12 ($1,000-plus), which came out in 2012, but has since been refreshed with Haswell processors, NFC and a bigger battery. In short, we like it a lot. Finally, there’s the Toshiba Kirabook. Though it was one of the first Ultrabooks to rock a 2,560 x 1,440 display, we ultimately panned it because it launched at $1,600 with already-old processors. Now that it’s been refreshed with Haswell processors, you can surely expect longer battery life. But man, that $1,500 starting price still stings.
It’s easy for us to give the Spectre 13 a good review, but that’s partly because the price is so reasonable. Were this priced in line with its peers, we’d have a harder time forgiving its flaky trackpad, sticky keyboard and relatively heavy weight. As it stands, though, it offers an attractive design, fast performance, a bright display and a generous two-year warranty, all for a relatively low $1,000. For the money, you can get used to the keyboard, and the slightly heavy design won’t kill you, either (though we still think there should be a bigger battery inside). Assuming HP can come through with a much-needed touchpad update, the Spectre 13 is a solid, if imperfect, choice.
Edgar Alvarez and Daniel Orren contributed to this review.
Hewlett Packard is trying to pull off a flanking maneuver on the Android market, through low-profile launches of low-cost devices. We recently came across the company’s VoiceTab phablets during a side-show at Mobile World Congress, and now we’re looking at a more traditional 7.85-inch tablet called the HP 8. In return for $170, you’ll get a plain-looking device that, aesthetically, has more in common with last year’s Slate 7 than with the faux-metal VoiceTabs. However, since we’re making comparisons, we should also point out that the HP 8 has a worse display than both the Slate 7 and Dell’s rival Venue 8, with fewer pixels (1,024 x 768) spread out over a larger area. The software and internals seem functional enough, though: Android 4.2.2 running on a quad-core ARM chip made by the Chinese company Allwinner, with 1GB of RAM, 16GB of expandable storage, stereo speakers, and a just-about-okay 3,800mAh battery that promises up to seven hours of use.
HP just announced its Pavillion x360 convertible laptop, and was in the mood to show it off here at MWC 2014 along with its gigantic new VoiceTab phones. As we noticed earlier, the new devices bear a strong resemblance to Lenovo’s Yoga convertibles, but start at a cheaper $399 price point. For that, you’ll actually get a nice-looking device in dark silver or red that has a solid-feeling, mostly metal build. You can use it in regular laptop mode or flip the screen around and perch it on the table tent-style to use it in a more tablet-like fashion. As for performance, it’s hard to tell with the brief time we had, but the Intel Bay Trail processor, lowish 4GB of RAM and mechanical 500GB don’t exactly spell “speed.” Nevertheless, it seemed to work well on basic tasks, and the 1,366 x 768 IPS touchscreen was bright and responsive. The red model will hit shelves on February 28th starting at $399 — for more, see the gallery and video below.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Lenovo ought to be tickled right now. HP just announced the 11-inch Pavilion x360, and it takes more than a few cues from Lenovo’s iconic Yoga design. Not only does it have a 360-degree hinge allowing it to be used in four modes, but HP is even using the same terminology to describe how it works (think: “stand mode” for when the keyboard is folded under, and “tent mode” when the machine balanced upside down). Also like the Yoga, the keyboard disables automatically when you flip the screen back into tablet mode.
So how is it different? Cost, really. Whereas most convertible notebooks command flagship prices, the x360 starts at $400. (For comparison’s sake, even Lenovo’s mid-range “Flex” convertibles still cost $549 and up.) Of course, a lower price means lesser specs, which in this case include a Pentium-series Intel Bay Trail processor, a 500GB hard drive (no SSDs here) and a 1,366 x 768 display. On the bright side, the display uses IPS technology for wider viewing angles, and HP also included Beats Audio. So the sound quality, at least, might be better than what the Lenovos of the world have to offer. Three USB ports and a full-sized HDMI socket might further sweeten the deal for prospective buyers.
As for battery life, HP isn’t yet saying how long the two-cell battery is expected to last, though a company rep did assure us the final runtime would exceed four hours (on a portable, three-pound laptop, we’d actually hope for more than that). Look for the x360 to ship this week, on February 26th, with a red color available to start, and a silver shade following later. In the meantime, we’re sure to get a peek at Mobile World Congress, so stay tuned for hands-on photos and some early impressions.
No, it’s not exciting as HP copying Lenovo’s Yoga design, but hey, tablet news is still news. In addition to launching a consumer laptop, Hewlett-Packard is using Mobile World Congress to unveil a couple new business tablets. Chief among these is the ProPad 600, a 10.1-inch device intended for the small biz market. HP hasn’t revealed the price yet, but it’s obviously going to cost less than the company’s existing ElitePad 900 tablet — the move to plastic build materials makes that pretty clear. That plainer design aside, it offers comparable performance, with a 64-bit Intel Baytrail chip, dual 2MP/8MP cameras and a 1,920 x 1,200, optically bonded display that supports pen input. Connectivity-wise, you’re looking at micro-HDMI-out, along with a microSD slot and a standard micro-USB port for charging. Really, then, it’s not that different from the current ElitePad, except there’s no 3G and it’s not compatible with HP’s so-called Smart Jackets. Again, no word on price, but look for it to arrive sometime in mid-April.
Oh, and speaking of the ElitePad 900, HP is refreshing it with some updated specs. Now called the ElitePad 1000, it rocks the same aluminum design as the original, except it steps up to a 64-bit processor and a sharper 1,920 x 1,200 screen — the same one used on the new ProPad 600. It also has an LTE radio, and trades a USB 2.0 port for USB 3.0. Otherwise, the battery life is the same, at around 10 hours, and it fits all the same optional Smart Jackets as the old model. That’s mainly good news for IT guys, who may have already purchased productivity and power covers to issue to employees. At any rate, the tablet should land in March, with a starting price of $739.
CES has been over for a month now, which means it’s high time we update all our buyer’s guides with some of the new stuff that was just announced. In the coming weeks, we’ll have fresh tablet and phone picks, but today, we’re all about the laptops. Whether you’re in the market for an Ultrabook, convertible, gaming rig or a Chromebook, we’ve got a suggestion that should fit the bill. Read on to see what made the cut — and what’s been dropped from our guide since last fall.
When Windows 8 first came out, PC makers were experimenting with all sorts of inventive designs in an effort to figure out what consumers actually wanted. In those early months, we saw laptops whose screens could rotate, pop out, detach and fold over. Others had a sliding design, and one even attempted two screens. The results were mixed — so mixed, in fact, that our last two laptop buyer’s guides have had just two recommendations in the convertible category. Now that these companies have had a chance to go back to the drawing board, we’re starting to see more form factors we’d actually want to use.
Dell XPS 12
The Dell XPS 12 has always been on this list, so you can bet we have effusive things to say now that it’s been upgraded with Haswell, NFC and a larger battery (50Wh, up from 47Wh). All told, between the beefier battery and new chipset, Dell is promising this thing will last 9.5 hours on a charge — more than three hours longer than the OG model. Otherwise, it’s the same machine it always was, with a 12.5-inch, 1080p screen that flips around in its hinge so that you can show off presentations and stuff to people sitting opposite you. It might not be quite as versatile as the Yoga, but we love it anyway for its solid build quality, attractive design and unusually cushy keyboard. After all, if you can’t enjoy one of these convertibles in regular notebook mode, why even bother?
The bottom line: Even if you rarely use it in tablet mode, the XPS 12 makes an excellent Ultrabook, especially now that Dell’s refreshed it with Haswell and a bigger battery.
Key specs: Up to a 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i7-4650U CPU, 4GB to 8GB of RAM, up to 256GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 5000, 12.5-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display.
Price: $1,000 and up from Dell
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro
Even back when we included just two convertibles on this list, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 was always one of them. Though lots of companies make missteps with their first-gen products, Lenovo won us over right away with the Yoga, whose screen could fold all the way back into tablet mode. Over time, though, as rival companies began upgrading their wares, the original Yoga started to seem stale. Well, just in the nick of time, Lenovo gave it a makeover. The new version, the Yoga 2 Pro, comes standard with a 3,200 x 1,800 screen, making it one of the crispest you’ll find on a 13-inch Ultrabook. It also comes in a thinner, lighter package, and runs on Haswell processors for faster performance and longer battery life. Best of all: The price is low compared to other premium Ultrabooks.
As a side note, Lenovo also has the ThinkPad Yoga, whose keyboard flattens out as you flip the screen over. Even then, we’d only really recommend it if you want pressure-sensitive pen input, as the machine itself is noticeably thicker and heavier than the Yoga 2 Pro (in large part thanks to that newfangled keyboard!).
The bottom line: The most versatile Windows convertible is back with a slimmer, lighter design, sharper screen and longer battery life.
Key specs: Up to a 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i7-4500U CPU, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, 128GB to 512GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 13.3-inch (3,200 x 1,800) display.
Price: $1,049 and up from Lenovo
Sony VAIO Duo 13
Remember we said some companies made missteps their first time out? We give you Sony. The VAIO Duo 11 didn’t make our original list. In fact, no slider Ultrabooks did. The propped-up display eats up too much of the potential keyboard space, we said, leading to a compromised typing experience. The Duo 11, in particular, also suffered from short battery life and an ugly hinge design that left too many of the mechanical bits exposed.
Fortunately, Sony went back to the drawing board and returned with a much-improved follow-up, the VAIO Duo 13. With its “Surf Slider” hinge, the Duo is now much easier to open with one hand, and the back side has been cleaned up as well. Interestingly, though this rocks a larger 13.3-inch screen, the dimensions are about the same, and the weight is only slightly heavier. The secret? Thinner bezels to maximize screen real estate. But wait, we’re not done yet: There’s now a clip to hold the included pressure-sensitive pen. The keyboard, meanwhile, is more comfortable this time around, even if the touchpad is a bit cramped. And the battery life is much longer too, thanks to a fresh Haswell processor.
The bottom line: Sony got the slider design right on its second try, thanks to a completely revamped hinge, a more spacious keyboard and longer battery life.
Key specs: Up to a 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i7-4650U CPU, 4GB to 8GB of RAM, 128GB to 512GB of internal storage, up to Intel HD Graphics 5000, 13.3-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display.
Price: $1,400 and up from Sony
Just because every PC maker is experimenting with some strange, convertible form factor, doesn’t mean regular, old notebooks are going the way of the dodo. In fact, most of the laptops we’ve seen this season are standard notebooks, many with touchscreens attached (at least in the case of Windows machines). In fact, with the exception of the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, Dell XPS 12 and Sony VAIO Duo 13, all of the high-end systems on our list actually do hew to this design. Find our favorites below.
Acer Aspire S7-392
If there’s one theme coursing through this guide, it’s that Intel’s new Haswell processors have transformed laptops with poor battery life, and turned them into lean, mean, all-day machines. That couldn’t be truer of the Acer Aspire S7, which came out in 2012 to mostly rave reviews. Well, raving about everything except the runtime, which topped out at around four hours. Recently, though, Acer refreshed its 13-inch flagship Ultrabook with Intel’s fourth-generation processors, and is now promising up to seven hours of juice (we got seven and a half). Aside from that very important under-the-hood change, Acer didn’t alter the design much; the keyboard layout is similar, as is that white Gorilla Glass lid. Also, until recently, the only display option in the US was a 1080p IPS panel. This month, Acer finally started offering the choice of a 2,560 x 1,440 screen. About time, we say.
The bottom line: The new S7 addresses all the shortcomings of the previous model, and is now one of our favorite Ultrabooks.
Key specs: Up to a 1.8GHz dual-core Core i7-4500U CPU, 8GB of RAM, 128GB to 256GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 13.3-inch (1,920 x 1,080 or 2,560 x 1,440) display.
Price: $1,350 and up from Acer
Apple MacBook Air
Apple’s current MacBook Airs look just like the ones that came out in 2012, but they still bring some meaningful improvements. In particular, they come complete with Haswell processors and the promise of much longer battery life (up to nine hours on the 11-inch model, and up to 12 on the 13-inch version). And remember, Apple has a tendency to make conservative battery life claims — in fact, we got nearly 13 hours on the 13-inch model when we took it for a spin. Meanwhile, Apple also switched to faster PCIe SSDs, which yield much faster I/O speeds. On top of all that, Apple dropped the starting price of the 13-inch model by $100, making it that much easier for us to recommend. The only thing you might want to keep in mind is that the new Retina display MacBook Pro offers similar battery life and doesn’t weigh that much more, so you might be tempted to get that instead if you want a sharper screen and don’t mind a little extra heft.
The bottom line: No, there’s still no super-sharp Retina display, but the unbelievably long battery life more than makes up for it.
Key specs: 11-inch model: up to a 1.7GHz dual-core Core i7 CPU, 4GB to 8GB of RAM, 128GB to 512GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 5000, 11.6-inch (1,366 x 768) display; 13-inch model: up to a 1.7GHz dual-core Core i7 CPU, 4GB to 8GB of RAM, 128GB to 512GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 5000, 13.3-inch (1,440 x 900) display.
Price: $999 and up (11-inch)/$1,099 and up (13-inch) from Apple
HP Spectre 13 Ultrabook
HP took its time refreshing its line with new designs and fresh processors, but it looks like the delay may have been worth it. HP recently announced the Spectre 13 Ultrabook, and it’s better than its predecessor in almost every way. In addition to running Haswell Core i5 and i7 processors, it’s available with a 2,560 x 1,440 display for an extra $70 — a first for HP. Additionally, it has an extra-wide touchpad with “Control Zones” on the sides that give you tactile feedback as you’re doing things like exposing the Charms Bar or swiping in from the left to cycle through open apps. As for performance, we’ve already begun testing one, and can attest that it delivers both long battery life and brisk SSD speeds.
The bottom line: The Spectre 13 remains one of the few Ultrabooks available in the US with a screen sharper than 1080p.
Key specs: Up to a 1.8GHz dual-core Core i7-4500U CPU, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, up to 256GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 13.3-inch (1,920 x 1,080 or 2,560 x 1,440) display.
Price: $1,000 and up from HP
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Lenovo’s X1 Carbon hasn’t had a spot in our laptop buyer’s guide since last spring. A curious thing, considering it was once our favorite business Ultrabook — heck, one of our favorite Ultrabooks, period. Eventually, however, even the best products grow stale, and indeed, it took Lenovo a while to deliver a refresh. Finally, though, we have a revamped model with a lighter design, sharper screen and up-to-date processors. Without overwhelming you with speeds and feeds, here’s what you need to know: The new X1 weighs just 2.8 pounds (make that three if you add a touchscreen). Either way, it’s shockingly light for a 14-inch system. Also, in keeping with modern-day specs, the X1 now has a 2,560 x 1,440 screen option and a battery rated for nine hours of runtime. Be warned: Lenovo did tweak the keyboard, adding an “adaptive” panel up top, but fortunately, it doesn’t appear to interfere with the typing experience (or the TrackPoint, for that matter).
The bottom line: The refreshed X1 Carbon returns with a sharper screen, improved battery life and an even lighter design.
Key specs: Up to a 2.1GHz dual-core Core i7-4600U CPU, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, up to 512GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 14-inch (1,600 x 900 or 2,560 x 1,440) display.
Price: $1,299 and up from Lenovo
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus
Samsung went a long time without refreshing its Series 9 Ultrabook, save for adding a 1080p screen option in 2012. Finally, though, the company announced a proper replacement, the ATIV Book 9 Plus. Though it’s similar in design to the aluminum version that came out in 2012, this steps up to a much sharper screen — a 13.3-inch 3,200 x 1,800 panel with enough pixel density to surpass even the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. On the inside, it makes use of Haswell processors, solid-state storage and a battery rated for 12 hours of runtime (we managed nearly nine hours in our video rundown test). The only unfortunate thing is that thanks to the added touchscreen, the ATIV Book 9 Plus is heavier than it used to be: 3.06 pounds versus 2.55. Make no mistake: It’s still plenty portable, but there are even lighter touchscreen Ultrabooks out there.
The bottom line: One of our favorite Ultrabooks from 2012 gets refreshed with an eye-melting 3,200 x 1,800 display and a more robust battery.
Key specs: Up to a 1.8GHz dual-core Core i7-4500U CPU, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, up to 256GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 13.3-inch (3,200 x 1,800) display.
Price: $1,400 and up from Samsung
Sony VAIO Pro 13
Sony broke a lot of hearts when it discontinued its super-thin, super-light Z series. Fortunately for VAIO fans, though, the company last year came out with the Pro 13, a 2.34-pound, carbon fiber machine that’s the spiritual successor to the ol’ Z. Sony says it’s the lightest touchscreen Ultrabook of this size, which sounds about right to us: This thing feels utterly insubstantial in the hand. In addition to that featherweight design, the Pro 13 offers PCIe SSDs, a 1080p display with wide viewing angles, a backlit keyboard and built-in NFC. Battery life is rated at seven hours (thanks, Haswell!), but you can double that with an external sheet battery (another nice carryover from Sony’s older machines). Most importantly, though, Sony slashed the starting price of the 13 to $1,250, down from around two grand. There’s also a less-expensive 11-inch version, the Pro 11, but the keyboard is a tad cramped, and you won’t get those fast PCIe SSDs (just regular solid-state drives).
The bottom line: Sony’s discontinued Z series laptop gets a new life with the Pro lineup, which offers great battery life, crisp displays and a much more reasonable starting price.
Key specs: Up to a 1.8GHz dual-core Core i7-4500U CPU, 4GB to 8GB of RAM, 128GB to 512GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 13.3-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display.
Price: $1,150 and up from Sony
Budget and mid-range
Acer’s M5 always makes our list for offering good specs at a decent price, and for being surprisingly lightweight, at that. Be warned that Acer had to cut corners in some areas to make that price point; the build quality is fairly mediocre, and you’ll have to make do with a spinning hard drive. That said, we appreciated the narrow bezels on 2012′s M5, and we have a feeling the battery life will be more impressive this time around too. Of note, this model replaces the M5-583P-6428, which held a spot in our laptop buyer’s guide for two straight seasons running. The main difference is that this has 6GB of RAM instead of 8GB, which allowed Acer to push the price down to $630 from $700. Wanna go even cheaper? The Acer V5-473P-6459 goes for $600 with 4GB of RAM and a smaller 14-inch screen.
The bottom line: Acer’s mid-range laptops were already well-priced, but they’ve lately seen price cuts that have made them even more tempting.
Key specs: 1.6GHz dual-core Core i5-4200U CPU, 6GB of RAM, 500GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 15.6-inch (1,366 x 768) display.
Price: $600 from Best Buy
HP Envy TouchSmart 15t-j100
The Envy TouchSmart 15 (once called the dv6) steps into the modern age with an aluminum chassis, backlit keyboard and a touchscreen with up to 1080p resolution (1,366 x 768 is the standard). Also offered with AMD processors (that’d be the TouchSmart 15-j070us ), it starts at $750 whether you go with a quad-core A10 chip or a dual-core Core i5 processor. As a performance machine, it comes standard with speakers and a subwoofer for your audio needs, and can be configured with up to a 4GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M GPU.
The bottom line: A great pick for mid-range budgets, with enough flexibility that you can turn it into a performance powerhouse.
Key specs: Up to a 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4702MQ CPU, 6GB to 16GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage with a 24GB SSD, up to a 4GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M GPU, 15.6-inch (1,366 x 768 or 1,920 x 1,080) display.
Price: $750 and up from HP
It’s taken a while, but we think we can finally start recommending Chromebooks to regular consumers. Not the Chromebook Pixel, necessarily — that’s not a practical purchase for anyone — but the cruder, less expensive variety. Specifically, Samsung’s $249 Chromebook, which got a significant price cut after Sammy moved from an Intel Celeron processor to a homegrown Exynos 5 Dual SoC, based on ARM’s Cortex-A15 chip. To be sure, you may suffer a slight performance hit as a result, but this new, lower-powered chip is still hearty enough to support everything Chromebooks were built for: namely email, web surfing and video streaming. Meanwhile, the comfortable keyboard and trackpad make it a pleasure to use — something we can’t even say about some pricier laptops. As a runner-up, the new Toshiba Chromebook is also a good choice. That model brings longer battery life (nine hours versus six and a half) and boasts a more powerful Haswell processor. Just remember that it costs $300 and is noticeably heavier, so it’s not necessarily a slam dunk, either.
The bottom line: With more bang for your buck than any other Chromebook, Samsung’s offering is great if all you want is a cheap secondary laptop and would have spent all your time in the browser anyway.
Key specs: 1.7GHz dual-core Samsung Exynos 5 Dual (5250), 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, integrated graphics, 11-inch (1,366 x 768) display.
Price: $230 from Amazon
Sony VAIO Fit 14 and 15
Sony turned heads when it announced that all of its laptops — even the low-end ones — would boast some fairly cutting-edge specs. In particular, the company promised that nearly all its new notebooks would rock 1080p touchscreens with NFC, backlit keyboards and webcams making use of Sony’s own Exmor R sensors. It all sounded swell, but there was one problem: Some of these laptops shipped with Ivy Bridge processors, and at a time when Haswell was coming out, no less. Finally, though, Sony’s upgraded its entry-level Fit line with the latest Intel Core chips, which means we can finally recommend them here in our buyer’s guide. Whether you buy the 14- or 15-inch model, both start at $580, with the lowest-end Haswell model starting at $630. Even when we tested the Fit 15 with Ivy Bridge, we enjoyed solid performance and fast-boot up times, and we suspect that with Haswell, you’ll also get longer battery life.
The bottom line: You’ll be hard-pressed to find an entry-level laptop with better specs than Sony’s recently refreshed Fit series.
Key specs: Up to a 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i7-4650U CPU, 4GB to 16GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage, up to a 2GB NVIDIA GT 740M GPU, 14- or 15.6-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display.
Price: $580 and up from Sony
Toshiba Satellite P50
All told, Toshiba sells several laptop lines, starting with the “L” and “C” series at the bottom, moving up to the “S” (for “speed”) and the “P” (for “premium”) lines. Because even the P series is fairly affordable, though, there’s no reason not to just focus your search there. In particular, we recommend the 15-inch P50, which offers a nice mix of higher-end design elements and robust performance. With the latest models, Toshiba’s made the aluminum chassis up to 25 percent thinner. It’s also added features like an optional touchscreen and an HDMI 1.4 port for 4K output (should you actually have some compatible content). Rounding out the list, Toshiba included Sleep and Charge/Sleep and Music ports as well as Harman Kardon speakers with DTS sound — pretty much what we’ve already come to expect from Toshiba’s high-end machines.
The bottom line: Toshiba’s P series is as feature-rich as ever, except now it’s significantly thinner.
Key specs: Up to a 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU, 6GB to 12GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage with an 8GB SSD, up to a 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 740M GPU, 15.6-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display.
Price: $650 and up from Toshiba
Sometimes an Ultrabook just isn’t good enough. Maybe you want discrete graphics for editing photos or chopping HD video. Maybe you’re looking for a little more processing power, better speakers or — gasp! — an optical drive for burning the occasional Blu-ray. Whatever it is, we’ve got the selection narrowed down to three. (No promises on the BD-RW drive, though.)
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display
We’ve always liked Apple’s Retina display MacBook Pros, but we could never recommend them without a caveat: They were good (really good), but only if you could afford them. Recently, it’s become a little easier to suggest them — especially the 13-inch model, which has seen a $400 price drop (the 15-incher is cheaper too, but only by $200). The 13-incher in particular is now closer than ever to the 13-inch MacBook Air in both weight and thickness, with just half a pound between them. And thanks to a new Haswell processor too, the battery life is also fairly similar; we got over 11 hours of runtime in our battery rundown test, compared with nearly 13 for the Air. All told, you’ll be faced with a difficult choice: Buy the MacBook Pro for its stronger graphics or get the Air for its lighter weight and slightly longer battery life? It all depends on your priorities.
The bottom line: Apple’s Retina display MacBook Pros are easier to recommend now that the prices have dropped, and now that the battery life has improved.
Key specs: 13-inch: Up to a 2.8GHz dual-core Core i7 processor, 4GB to 16GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage, Intel Iris graphics, 13.3-inch (2,560 x 1,600) display; 15-inch: Up to a 2.6GHz quad-core Core i7 CPU, 8GB to 16GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage, Intel Iris Pro graphics or a 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M GPU, 15.4-inch (2,880 x 1,800) display.
Price: $1,299 and up (13-inch)/$1,999 and up (15-inch) from Apple
Dell XPS 15
The Dell XPS 15 fell off our shortlist for the summer buyer’s guide just because it was getting long in the tooth and hadn’t yet been updated with Haswell. Since, then, though Dell has come out with a redesigned model, complete with fourth-generation Intel processors and a 3,200 x 1,800 screen option. So with that, it’s returned to our laptop buyer’s guide with a vengeance. If you check out Dell’s site, you’ll see it’s available in two configurations, with the higher-end $1,999 model matching the 15-inch Retina display MacBook Pro spec-for-spec in nearly every case (weight, screen quality, graphics, et cetera).
The bottom line: Windows users who always wanted a machine as light and powerful as the Retina display MacBook Pro with just as sharp a screen now have a solid option in the new Dell XPS 15.
Key specs: Up to a 2.2GHz quad-core Core i7-4702HQ CPU, 8GB or 16GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage with a 32GB SSD, Intel HD Graphics 4400 or a 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M GPU, 15.6-inch (1,920 x 1,080 or 3,200 x 1,800) display.
Price: $1,500 and up from Dell
Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p
When the IdeaPad Y510p came out, Lenovo was quick to clarify it’s not a gaming laptop, per se. Instead, the company would rather you think of it as more of an all-around multimedia machine, the sort of thing you’d use to edit full HD video or batch-edit lots of photos. And while we would indeed recommend this to anyone planning on doing serious editing, we’d also suggest gamers take a look: The system comes standard with a 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M GPU, and almost every configuration sold has a 1080p display to match. Even design-wise, it straddles the line: The red backlit keyboard suggests this is a gamer’s machine, regardless of what Lenovo says, but thanks to an otherwise simple chassis, it’s still restrained enough that you can use it in public. Obviously, we still recommend it, even after all this time, but if you can wait until March, Lenovo will be releasing the similar IdeaPad Y50, which will have a 3,840 x 2,160 screen option.
The bottom line: Powerful enough for a gamer, but discreet-looking enough for everybody else.
Key specs: Up to a 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU, 8GB to 16GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage with an optional 24GB SSD, up to a 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 755M GPU or 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M GPU with optional Ultrabay SLI graphics, 15.6-inch (1,366 x 768 or 1,920 x 1,080) display.
Price: $1,169 and up from Lenovo
We know what you’re going to say, dear readers: Gaming laptops are overpriced, and it’s better to just build your own desktop anyway. We don’t necessarily disagree. If, however, you don’t mind paying a premium, they’re a good way to enjoy still-playable frame rates, even while on the go.
After wowing us with its 17-inch, absurdly thin Razer Blade laptop, Razer is back with a 14-inch model (yep, also called the Razer Blade). Like its big brother, now called the Razer Blade Pro, it costs a pretty penny, with a starting price of $1,800. As before, then, you’re not getting the best bang for your buck, but if you insist on a lightweight form factor and strong performance and can only really compromise on price, this could be the thing for you. What’s interesting is that Razer got rid of its Switchblade UI — that secondary LCD that doubled as a touchpad — a move that allowed the company to achieve the smaller, thinner laptop we have here. All told, rock-solid build quality, fast performance and surprisingly long battery life make it a good pick for on-the-go gamers, but for the money, we wish it had a higher-res screen.
The bottom line: Razer expanded its gaming lineup to include a smaller, 14-inch model. It’s as thin and powerful as you’d expect, but it’s about as expensive too.
Key specs: 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4702HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, 128GB to 512GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 4600/2GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M GPU, 14-inch (1,600 x 900) display.
Price: $1,800 and up from Razer
After years of just simple CPU refreshes, Dell finally unveiled an entirely redesigned line of gaming notebooks, with screen sizes ranging from 14 to 18 inches. For the purposes of this guide, we’re focusing on the in-between-sized one, the Alienware 17, but really, we’d recommend any of them, with the caveat that the specs (especially screen quality) improve as you go up in size. Whichever you choose, Dell has retired the old plastic chassis and switched to a metal one, replete with a magnesium lid and aluminum body. These new systems also have even more customizable LED lights than before: Not only are there multiple keyboard zones, but the touchpad also fully lights up, and you can change the color of that glowing alien head on the lid. Rounding out the design changes, Dell gave the keyboard more depth, moved the vents to the back edge where they’re not in the way and introduced Klipsch speakers across the board.
The bottom line: The biggest name in gaming laptops recently came out with a line of brand-new models. If you trust the Alienware brand, this couldn’t be a better time to take a look.
Key specs: Up to a 3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4930MX CPU, 8GB to 32GB of RAM, up to 2TB of internal storage with an 80GB SSD, up to a 4GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M GPU, 17.3-inch (1,600 x 900 or 1,920 x 1,080) display.
Price: $1,499 and up from Dell
The 17-inch MSI GT70 excels where you’d expect it to (graphics performance), and also in some areas you wouldn’t — namely, battery life. Even with 2012′s chips, it lasts nearly three hours on a charge, but with a new Haswell processor, you can expect runtime in the four-and-a-half-hour range. Performance aside, it also has an exceptional keyboard: sturdy, tactile and loaded up with customizable backlights. The one thing you should keep in mind is that the benefit of having a 1,920 x 1,080 display is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the viewing angles are so narrow. Oh, and if you want something smaller, MSI is now selling the 14-inch GE40; it’s reasonably priced, starting at $1,300, but it’s not as configurable as, say, the Alienware 14.
The bottom line: Strong performance, a great keyboard and long battery life (for a gaming machine, anyway) make this worth considering.
Key specs: 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU, 8GB to 32GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage and up to three 128GB SSDs, up to a 4GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M GPU, 17.3-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display.
Price: $1,500 and up from MSI
If you’re looking for a Haswell-powered gaming notebook, we’d advise you not to count out ASUS and its Republic of Gamers line. Its refreshed 17-inch G750 laptop, available in three configurations, packs a 2.4GHz quad-core processor similar to what you’ll find on competing models, like the MSI GT70 detailed above. For the money, though, it starts with more RAM, and has a lovely design defined by brushed-metal surfaces. Additionally, ASUS has added an amplifier inside the headphone socket, so you should expect better in-game audio with this generation.
The bottom line: ASUS’ 17-inch gaming machine is back with a new processor, fresh graphics and improved audio quality — something the notebook wasn’t known for in previous generations.
Key specs: 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4700HQ CPU, 12GB to 32GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage with an optional 256GB SSD, up to a 4GB NVIDIA GTX 780M GPU, 17.3-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display.
Price: $1,283 and up from Amazon
Many PC users are used to getting free firmware updates, even after the warranty runs out. HP won’t be quite so generous with its server customers in the near future, though. Starting February 19th, the company will only dish out system-level firmware updates to ProLiant server owners if they’re either under warranty or have bought extra support. Those who don’t qualify will still get some peripheral updates and urgent patches, but nothing else. HP contends that the move helps it invest in future upgrades, and that it isn’t pushing companies into support contracts. However, customers aren’t buying the claims. They note that other server makers (including Dell and IBM) aren’t cutting off firmware updates, and they’ll still have to go through administrative hassles just to get bug fixes for older machines. The policy won’t affect those with regular PCs, but there’s concern that it sets a bad precedent — few want to pay extra just to get a computer that works as promised.