Notebookcheck

Notebookcheck's Best of August 2011

Sebastian Jentsch (translated by Liala Stieglitz), 09/10/2011

Quality pays off. It's not always only performance that bestows our test devices with the monthly "Best Of!" award. No matter if DTR, Office or Multimedia, the August winners stand out with good input devices, low emissions and some even with perfect workmanship.

Since the rainy days didn't subside in August, the Notebookcheck editors kept themselves busy in their dry offices. A total of 33 laptops passed through their hands, whereby everything from small consumer tablets up to a six kilogram heavy DTR was represented. The convertible, ThinkPad X220T, is the winner among the tablets/convertibles (4 models) when only looking at its score. However, the clear winners would definitely be LG's V900 or Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1v if it were up to the buyers.

Among the (10) subnotebooks, the 2800 euro high-cost Vaio Z21Q9E (external graphics card) competed with low-cost laptops based on AMD Fusion and standard Intel CPU. We had everything within the price range of 300 to 1200 euros among the (7) office notebooks - and the winner is a machine for less than 900 euros. Multimedia was a big issue in August (9), but alas we couldn't find the perfect notebook. No machine really managed a really awesome total score. That was different in the group of 3 DTR / Gaming laptops. Not the ultimate performance machine wins here, but an Alienware classic followed closely by a Fujitsu underdog.

We now compare the reviewed models according to type in a total of five categories and elect our respective best of the class in  August 2011.

Category: Tablet / MID

Contenders:

Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 Oak Trail (July)

Lenovo ThinkPad X220T 4298-2YG 

LG V900 Optimus Pad 

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v 

Fujitsu aims its 10.1 inch Windows tablet at business customers, who want to simply bind a device into an existing infrastructure. This calls for a different approach than the numerous consumer tablets that we've had in review: LG Optimus Pad V900, Motorola Xoom WiFi/UMTS, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v and the HTC Flyer 7 inch WiFi + 3G.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1v, alike the LG V900 Optimus Pad, is equipped with Android 3.0 designed for touch-PCs. The most striking difference between the Samsung and LG is the size: 10.1 inches (1280x800) rather than 8.9 inches (1280x768). LG builds in two cameras for 3D video recordings, so to stand out from the monotonous uniformity of Android tablets. The V900 and the Galaxy 10.1v have a high contrast, a bright screen with wide viewing angles in common.

The convertible ThinkPad X220T clearly belongs in the Windows category. With a slight of hand, it turns into a pretty unhandy 12.5 inch tablet with a weight of almost two kilograms. The other models clearly have the lead in mobility (5:37 hours, WLAN test) in this round (7-10 hours). The Asus Eee Slate EP121-1A013M and the Acer Iconia Tab W500 Keydock are alternative Windows tablets of past months.

Tablet / MID of August 2011: Lenovo ThinkPad X220T

The shortest battery life and the heaviest case - yet the tablet of the month? With a total rating of 87%, the convertible has the lead on the Android consumer tablets, V900 and Galaxy 10.1v, by one, respectively two percent. A comparison isn't really possible since the latter are aimed at an entirely different user group. Looking at the points, we have to let the X220T win because the contrast rich and viewing angle stable screen built into the touch PC is first-rate. Moreover, the very good Core i7 notebook performance could very well make a secondary PC superfluous.

Lenovo ThinkPad X220T 4298-2YG
Lenovo ThinkPad X220T 4298-2YG
Lenovo ThinkPad X220T
Lenovo ThinkPad X220T
Lenovo ThinkPad X220T
Lenovo ThinkPad X220T
Award: ThinkPad X220T
Award: ThinkPad X220T

What we like

ThinkPad qualities with excellent computing power in a convertible dress.

What we'd like to see

ThinkLight, fast interfaces, a better solution for the battery's fitting in the case and more clearly structured tools.

What surprises us

That the convertible version is fairly heavy and big.

The competition

HP's Elitebook 2760p and Dell's Latitude XT3 aren't yet available. Fujitsu's alternative, Lifebook T901, starts at almost 1500 euros, has a 13.3" screen, USB 3.0 and weighs over 2 kg. The respective predecessor models, including the ThinkPad X201t, could soon be on sale.

Category: Subnotebook

Contenders:

Sony Vaio VPC-Z21Q9E/B

Apple MacBook Air 11 Mid 2011 (1.6 GHz, 128 GB SSD) 

Apple MacBook Air 13 Mid 2011 (1.7 GHz, 256 GB SSD) 

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E325-12972FG 

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E320 (i3-2310M) 

Lenovo Thinkpad X121e-204562U (Intel-Version)

Lenovo IdeaPad S205 (Fusion) 

Lenovo Thinkpad Edge E125 (Fusion)

Dell Vostro V131 

HP EliteBook 2560p LG666EA 

Ten subnotebooks, which could not be more different passed through the editorial offices in August. The 13.1 inch Vaio VPC-Z21Q9E/B excelled with superlatives: 1200 grams, strong external graphics with a Light Peak connector, high brightness and excellent contrast. Of course, it also had an SSD and an Intel i7 Sandy Bridge CPU. However, the expensive 2400 euro, premium class subnotebook's 3D performance didn't appeal to us: Old OpenGL drivers and an inadequate synchronization of ATI and Intel drivers caused the performance to cave-in.

Apple's aluminum unibodies, MacBook Air 11 and 13, arrived at the editorial offices. Basically, they have been updated to state-of-the-art by 2011 Intel Core processors. The predecessor already clearly lagged behind the time at the end of 2010 with its Core 3 Duo SU9400.

We received the proud number of five small Lenovo subnotebooks almost simultaneously. The reason: the 11.6 and 13.3 inchers had been advertised for a long time, but they were first available in online stores in August. Edge E325 and E320 (13.3 inch) are equipped with AMD Fusion, respectively Intel Core i3. Aggressively priced (AMD) or for reasonable money (Intel), they put a high-quality looking ThinkPad into the hands of the user. The body has however lost its former stability.

The Thinkpad X121e (Intel version) has a good battery life, very good input devices and a matt, bright screen. Thus, it clearly distinguishes itself from the consumer IdeaPad S205 (Fusion) with the same 11.6 inch size. However, it only has a scanty brightness of 165 cd/m2 on a high-gloss surface. The last Lenovo was the Thinkpad Edge E125 that proved to have more than one drawback with low AMD C-50 Fusion performance and a short battery life.

The Dell Vostro V131 puts an end to plastic use and shows up in a heavy, thus very stable and quality aluminum case. Thanks to a removable and large battery, the predecessor model, V130's miserable battery life is all water under the bridge now.

The HP EliteBook 2560p is a heavy chunk in comparison, with a weight of 1961 grams, and is definitely only a portable subnotebook due to its 12.5 inch screen size. In return, its feel and workmanship is top notch. It has more performance and ports than many 15.6 inch multimedia laptops.

Subnotebook of August 2011: Apple MacBook Air 13 Mid 2011

The MacBook Air 13 Mid 2011 is the winner according to the score. The merely 1.33 kg heavy model, with a regrettably reflective screen, delivers top quality workmanship and premium input devices, as already its predecessors. The noise emission is low and the waste heat stays within limits despite the increased power (Intel Core instead of Core 2 Duo, SSD). The battery life of five hours is within a good range and the screen is bright and contrast rich at the same time. Downers are the reflective display and interfaces on netbook level. Although the brand-new Thunderbolt port is installed, Apple's compatible 27 inch monitor is next to unaffordable at a street price of about 900 euros.

Apple MacBook Air 13 Mid 2011 (1.7 GHz, 256 GB SSD)
Apple MacBook Air 13 Mid 2011 (1.7 GHz, 256 GB SSD)
Apple MacBook Air 13 Mid 2011
Apple MacBook Air 13 Mid 2011
Apple MacBook Air 13 Mid 2011
Apple MacBook Air 13 Mid 2011
Award: Subnotebook of August 2011
Award: Very Good

What we like

All the good of the previous model, but with significantly more power under the hood.

What we'd like to see

A large range of Thunderbolt accessories.

What surprises us

Apple has managed to deliver the epitome of a ‘notebook’ or ‘laptop’ in this model of the Air.

The competition

We have to say, as we have said before, that Apple outclasses almost everyone with the Air. Dell’s Adamo XPS 13 was supposed to be a direct competitor but in fact fell far short. Samsung’s current premium 900X3A range is probably the machine that comes closest to the Air at present.

Category: Office

Contenders:

HP 635 LH416EA#ABD 

Lenovo Thinkpad Edge E520 

Dell Latitude E5520 

ThinkPad L420 NYV4UGE 

Sony Vaio VPC-EH1M1E/W.G4 

Toshiba Tecra R840-11E 

Acer TravelMate TimelineX 8573TG

The office laptops of August cover the low-cost division of the market quite well. The most inexpensive office configuration is currently AMD's APU Fusion, which we again had in for review as the HP 635. As expected, the battery life is long due to the Zacate APU (5 hours), but it is quite powerless. But, the 15.6 incher is available at 299 euros in return.

The E520 from Lenovo's Edge series is intended for the somewhat bigger spenders at 650 euros. Good Intel Core performance, an occasional game (Radeon HD 6630M) and a matt, outdoor suitable screen. Nevertheless, the 15.6 incher has its drawbacks. For example, the lack of a docking port and the contrast poor screen.

The Latitude E5520 is the newcomer in Dell's premium business product line. Equipped with a simple WXGA screen and without a graphics card, the 15.6 inch notebook has the very good input devices and workmanship in common with its higher priced family members. Although 810 euros doesn't include a 3G module or USB 3.0 port, the battery life (5 hours) and the remaining interface variety are impressive.

In contrast to the Edge Thinkpad, the L420 is a real Thinkpad with docking port and a bulky, yet very everyday suitable plastic case. The mouse replacement and keys are first-rate and the operating noise is low at all times. If you find the L420 too boring, you might take a liking to Sony's Vaio EH1M1E. An extravagant, honeycomb pattern adorns the lid and wrist-rest. However, the 15.6 incher can't pride itself with its contrast weak screen.

For those who consider the Thinkpad L420 too heavy and too bulky, they'll find a lighter 14 inch alternative in the Toshiba Tecra R840-11E. The inputs aren't quite as perfect, but the ergonomics are in no way inferior. The R840 has a longer battery life, but also a higher price of 1200 euros.

The TravelMate TimelineX 8573TG is an office laptop according to its label, but the 15.6 inch model could also pass as a multimedia laptop due to the mainstream GPU, Geforce GT 540M. The case's torsional stiffness and input devices are surprisingly good. Acer has accomplished designing a good office notebook with the docking port and matt display. It merely suffers under its weak TFT brightness and intense heat development.

Office Notebook of August 2011: ThinkPad L420

Lenovo's L420 reaches 85%, closely followed by the Tecra R840 with 84%. The bulky, 14 inch ThinkPad doesn't achieve the highest scores in battery life, weight and display, but very good inputs, lowest noise and waste heat, as well as good application performance are the most crucial requirements for a mobile office. The price of currently 880 euros is a major bonus for the decision to buy, compared to the 14-inch Tecra (1200 euros).

ThinkPad L420 NYV4UGE
ThinkPad L420 NYV4UGE
ThinkPad L420
ThinkPad L420
ThinkPad L420
ThinkPad L420
Award: Office Notebook of August 2011
Award: Office Notebook of August 2011

What we like

The first-rate keyboard that Lenovo installs into its ThinkPads is also one of the L420's big highlights.

What we'd like to see

Lenovo has unfortunately not given the laptop a USB 3.0 port. It would have really been a sensible expansion for the ThinkPad L420.

What surprises us

The display's poor contrast rates. We would have liked to see somewhat better rates especially in view of outdoor use.

The competition

HP supplies a serious opponent with the Pro Book 6460b that has similar rates at a similar price. But it's likely a matter of taste. Another opponent comes from Dell as the Latitude E5420 Essential. There's not as much performance for your money, but better battery runtimes and a keyboard backlight. And then there still is a model, naturally, from Lenovo - the ThinkPad T420. The T420 virtually burst with performance, offers better battery runtimes and an illuminated keyboard. But it also costs a bit more and also doesn't have USB 3.0.

Category: Multimedia

Contenders:

LG P420-N.AE21G

Toshiba Satellite P770-10P 

LG A520-T.AE31G (3D/2820QM) 

Toshiba Satellite L775-125 

Medion Erazer X6815 

MSI GE620-i748W7P 

Sony Vaio VPC-CB2S1E/B 

Nexoc E643 

Sony Vaio VPC-F22S1E/B (FHD) 

August brought us almost as many media machines as office laptops, adding up to nine. The smallest among them was LG's snow white P420. Its power suffices for the average user with a Core i5 and GT 520M. However, the battery life, the screen and the ports are below average, which reduces the P420's rating to 79%. In return, Satellite P770-10P is a real bolide that could even pass as a desktop replacement due to its two hard disks. The GPU's power is apt for gamers, but the low contrast and narrow viewing angels fail the high-end claim.

The A520 from LG has a screen that we would have liked to see in the Satellite P770-10P: High color contrast, wide horizontal viewing angles and Full HD. It gives no reason for complaint. It also has a 3D effect with passive polarizing filter glasses (TriDef). Unfortunately, the support of current games is as weak as the under-sized 90 Watt power adapter. The latter forces the extremely strong Core i7-2820QM to throttle under very high load.

Toshiba's Satellite L775-125 is a reserved 17.3 inch laptop. It doesn't want to attract attention and consequently doesn't really excel anywhere – nor does it really fail anywhere, either. At least its price of 650 euros is acceptable. The Medion Erazer X6815 is available for mere 150 euros more. The model has extreme gaming and application power under its hood due to a GeForce GT 555M and quad core CPU, as well as a Full HD screen. All test games ran perfectly smooth in high details (1366x768) - even Crysis 2. In return, the bargain hunter has to accept a next to unfeasible, dire touchpad.

This remarkable gaming power can't be found under the 15.6 inch MSI GE620's hood available for about 800 euros. Nevertheless, it is enough for a very good application performance with a quad core CPU and GT 540M. But sadly, the GE620's inputs aren't very well made and the ergonomics are also inferior to the Erazer X6815.

The Sony Vaio VPC-CB25S1E/B relies on an AMD Radeon HD 6630M, which is on a par with the popular GT 540M in this 15.6 incher. The Full HD resolution, the good contrasts and the BluRay drive are attracting. The rounded package is only marred by the poor keyboard and short battery life.

The Nexoc E643 is armed with the rare AMD Radeon HD 6730M and crosses the finish line with good to very good gaming performance. The many drawbacks, such as the contrast weak TFT, high noise emissions or poor input devices, reduce the rating to 77% though.

The Sony Vaio VPC-F22S1E/B (FHD) is the non-3D version of the 3D machine, F21. We wanted to know how the Full HD screen in a matt case can score and could basically confirm the good specs. The price of 1350 euros is a bit inordinate for a 16.4 inch model, in particular seeing that the CPU-GPU hardware, as in the MSI GE620, is already available for less than 800 euros.

Multimedia Notebook of August 2011: Sony Vaio VPC-F22S1E/B

Although no laptop of superlatives (rating: 83%), it's easy for the 16 incher's matt sRGB screen, very good keyboard, and the high application performance to be a bit better in the overall weak test environment. The verdict is made in regard to the ratings, but the F22 isn't the true winner. It doesn't have enough interfaces, the gaming performance is too weak and the temperature as well as noise emission is too high for a price of 1350 euros. A look at the following list of opponents shows models with a rating of up to 87%.

Sony Vaio VPC-F22S1E/B
Sony Vaio VPC-F22S1E/B
Sony Vaio VPC-F22S1E/B
Sony Vaio VPC-F22S1E/B
Sony Vaio VPC-F22S1E/B
Sony Vaio VPC-F22S1E/B
Award: Multimedia Notebook of August 2011
Award: Multimedia Notebook of August 2011

What we like

Top-rate display with a lot of overview for working. Input devices with good, yet not perfect feedback.

What we'd like to see

Better extendability with ExpressCard and eSATA ports

What surprises us

A high contrast of 1007:1 is extremely rare in laptops.

The competition

Full HD screens in 15.6 to 16.4 inches for less than 1500 euros: Dell Latitude E5520 (1230 euros); Dell Precision M4600 Workstation (1400 euros); Fujitsu Celsius Mobile H710 (1410 euros); HP EliteBook 8560w (1430 euros); Lenovo ThinkPad W510 (1480 euros); Schenker XMG A501-4OQ (1020 euros); Sony Vaio VPC-F22J1E/B (875 euros, a different screen!)

Category: Gaming / DTR

Contenders:

Schenker XIRIOS W710

Alienware M17x R3 GTX 580M i7-2820QM 

Fujitsu Celsius H710

The three heavy weights of August are led in by the six kilogram heavy, 17.3 inch XIRIOS W710.  Its performance is the best that we have ever experienced in a portable laptop, due to a desktop CPU (Intel Xeon X5670), NVIDIA Quadro 5010M (4096MB), RAID0 SSD and 24576 MB of RAM. It should be clear that mobility comes to short here (an hour at most). The matt Full HD screen's insufficient sRGB coverage is a tragedy at a price of just under 7000 euros.

Alienware's M17x R3, with the strong gaming GPU, Geforce GTX 580M, and the quad core, i7-2820QM, is aimed at gamers with a fat purse. Just under 2600 euros are due for the maximum configuration that we had in review. The 17 incher with a color rich Full HD screen is the basis for very good performance scores. Especially in games, as it allows almost all to be played smoothly in ultra settings (i.e. FHD native).

The 15.6 inch Fujitsu Celsius H710 stands beside the two thick laptop bolides as an outsider. It accomplishes a very good application performance with an SSD and fast quad core i7 2820QM. However, the NVIDIA Quadro 1000M (2048MB) isn't designed for high-end gamers. The high contrast screen, the large amount of ports and the low noise emission are beneficial. The mediocre mouse replacement and the lack of a separate numpad don't at all fit into the image of an expensive 2150 euro workstation.

Gaming / DTR Notebook of August 2011: Alienware M17x R3 GTX 580M

Dell's gaming laptop pockets the work machine, XIRIOS W710, although the Alien's application performance isn't as good (92 instead of 99%). In return, the ergonomic key data in noise and waste heat are better because they are lower. The display is slightly superior (higher brightness, but not matt) and the inputs are much more agreeable in terms of typing, respectively clicking. The M17x R3's price of 2600 euros is still quite considerable. However, there is yet no equal in build, configured with a GeForce GTX 580M (2048MB), for high-end gamers with a claim on luxury.

Alienware M17x R3 GTX 580M i7-2820QM
Alienware M17x R3 GTX 580M i7-2820QM
Alienware M17x R3
Alienware M17x R3
Alienware M17x R3
Alienware M17x R3
Award: Gaming/DTR Notebook of August 2011
Award: Gaming/DTR Notebook of August 2011

Shortcut:

What we like

The 5.1 loudspeaker set especially appealed to us in the test.

What we'd like to see

A proper display would enhance the Acer Aspire 8951G considerably.

What surprises us

The removable touchpad that can be used as a remote control.

The competition

MSI GT780RDell Inspiron 17R (N7110)Asus G73SWAlienware M17x R3Dell XPS 17DevilTech Fragbook DTXPackard Bell EasyNote LX86Asus K73SV-TY032VFujitsu Lifebook NH751MacBook Pro 17 Early 2011 (2.2 GHz Quad-Core, glare)Asus N73SV NotebookHP ProBook 4720s

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Notebookcheck's Best of August 2011
Author: Sebastian Jentsch, 2011-09-10 (Update: 2013-06- 6)