Notebookcheck's Best of December 2011

Sebastian Jentsch (translated by Martina Osztovits), 01/19/2012

Small is beautiful. In December the focus was on small subnotebooks and multimedia laptops and not on big power computers. Surprise: It was easier to select the winners than we thought: Dell, HP, and Apple win the cups.

In December, the biggest categories were subnotebooks and multimedia laptops with five test samples each. In return, we did not test any gamer and desktop replacements expect for HP's EliteBook 8560w (LG660EA) workstation (86%). Since it was the only device in this category, we could not compare the 15.6-incher with any competitors. Nevertheless, the editor liked AMD's brand new FirePro M5950 Business GPU. Despite knowing better, it had to undergo gaming tests.

As the most important tablets were already tested in previous months, the Asus Eee Pad Slider SL101 was bored. By achieving a rating of 88%, it can even keep up with the BlackBerry PlayBook WiFi 16GBSony's Tablet P, and Motorola's Xoom WiFi/UMTS. However, the 10-incher cannot reach the Apple iPad 2, which features a built-in foldaway keyboard. See Top 10 Tablets (German).

We face the same problems in netbooks. The only contender was the 11.6-inch MSI Wind U270-E4523W7H. The AMD Fusion device (E-Series E-450) even achieved a good rating of 85%. The tester especially disliked the glossy display and the moderate battery life. See Top 10 Netbooks.

Category: Subnotebook

Contenders:

Dell Latitude E6320: 86 %

Toshiba Satellite Z830-10J Ultrabook: 85 %

Dell Latitude E6220: 84 %

Lenovo IdeaPad U300s Ultrabook: 83 %

Samsung 300V3A-S02: 81 %

We'll start with Dell's Latitude E6320. The robust and resistant 13.3 incher is made of high-quality business materials and features office hardware. However, we did not like its high weight of 2.15 kilogram and the fan noise in low load scenarios was annoying. The low brightness and the mean display quality (narrow viewing angles) were disappointing as they limit outdoor usability. In contrast, the input devices with backlight and comfortable typing traits are perfect.

Toshiba's first Ultrabook, the Satellite Z830-10J, is completely different. Despite same size, it only weighs 1.1 kilograms and is not even half as thick as Dell's Latitude E6320. As a result, the featherweight can indeed be flexed to some extent, but quality is not impaired and the device cannot be damaged (magnesium-aluminum-alloy with honeycomb structure). Alike the Latitude E6320, it features a processor-graphics. Contrary to Dell, Toshiba incorporates an energy-saving low-voltage processor. The system performance is nevertheless very good thanks to the SSD. The Satellite Z830-10J's biggest disadvantage is the vibrating noise of the fan, which is always audible.

Another Dell? Dell's 12.5-inch Latitude E6220 gets out of the line, because of its uncommon screen size. Regarding look, haptics, and stability it resembles its bigger brother, the Latitude E6320. Surprising in the business-range: A trackpoint is missing. Considering the small size, the performance of processor graphics and Samsung SSD (256 GB) is vast. Nevertheless, waste heat and system noise are acceptably low and Turbo Boost works without Throttling. Just 2:25 hours battery life in our WLAN-Test is unsatisfactory (60 Wh, 6 cells).

Lenovo's IdeaPad U300s Ultrabook is completely different: Because it achieves a five hour battery life, you might think mobility is not an issue. Unfortunately, it is. Although we like the incredibly slim design and the high quality of the surfaces, the glossy display with narrow viewing angles and low brightness cannot be used in the sun. That's a pity as we like the featherweight's performance and ergonomics and would have loved to meet our friends in a café for a Facebook Live Meeting. 

The IdeaPad U300s's price of almost 1,000 Euros is rather steep. Maybe Samsung's 300V3A-S02 for 700 Euro suffices your needs? Obviously, a Ultrabook feeling cannot arise from the bulky case weighing two kilograms. In return, it features a dedicated GeForce GT 520M and a non-low-voltage Core i5 processor. Nevertheless, battery life is competitive: The 13.3-incher achieves six hours in our WLAN test. Contrary to Dell's 13.3 incher Latitude E6320, the matte display seems to do everything right: It is above-average bright (242 cd/m²), but the brightness falls to a maximum of 216 cd/m² (center) on battery. Temperature and system noise are not exactly as perfect as we are used to from Samsung.

Subnotebook of December 2011: Dell Latitude E6320

According to the ratings, Dell's Latitude E6320 (86 %) wins, but Toshiba's Satellite Z830-10J Ultrabook follows closely. If you require high mobility you likely won't select the winner, but rather Toshiba's Ultrabook as it weighs less and is brighter. However, the Latitude E6320 with its docking portexcellent input devices and high stability appears to be most robust. Neither the Satellite (999 Euros) nor the Latitude (from 969 Euros) are a bargain.

Dell Latitude E6320
Dell Latitude E6320
Latitude E6320
Latitude E6320
Latitude E6320
Latitude E6320
Award Dell Latitude E6320
Award Dell Latitude E6320

What we like

The extra-fast CPU performance, high quality build and numerous expansion options make this Dell feel more fully featured than many other 13.3-inch notebooks.

What we'd like to see

A larger touchpad and options for a higher resolution display would go a long way in terms of presentation and usability.

What surprises us

The reserved amount of bloatware is much appreciated!

The competition

Competing 13.3-inch notebooks: 2011 MacBook ProThinkPad Edge 13Sony Vaio VPC-SB1Z9EBHP ProBook 5330m. Competing 14-inch notebooks: ThinkPad T420HP EliteBook 8460pFujitsu LifeBook S751.

Category Office

Contenders:

HP ProBook 4535s-LG855EA: 84 %

Chiligreen Platin TS (German): 82 %

HP 630-LH384EA: 74 %

All three of December's Office devices belong to the below-500-Euro price range. The most expensive among them also appeared to be the best too. HP's ProBook 4535s-LG855EA is a 15.6-incher. Typical HP Business it features excellent input devices (including a number block) and a high battery life of five hours. Unfortunately the brightness of the non-reflective display falls to 177 cd/m² on battery. Compared to Intel models system performance low, because an AMD APU (A4 Dual Core) with integrated Radeon HD 6480G works inside. 

Austria has a computer manufacturer, too: Chiligreen. Like the others, they also order in Taiwan or China.  Nevertheless, the result is impressive. The Platin TS is a balanced Office laptop for just 399 Euro. Although it is completely made of plastics, we like its workmanship. Considering the price, the input devices are decent too. However battery life and display do not meet our expectations: The matte screen is not especially bright and the Chiligreen's battery does not even last three hours. 

Cheap laptops boom before Christmas. Therefore we also tested the successor of  HP's 620. The HP630 with Intel Pentium P6200 and integrated Intel HD graphics is available for 380 Euros. As expected the performance of the 15.6-incher is rather mean. Waste heat and system noise are correspondingly very low. True to the motto: When there's nothing inside, there's nothing that can make noise. Furthermore, we are a little disappointed that it only houses few interfaces. The manufacturer did not only cut USB 3.0 but HDMI. At least you get a matte display. Because of the below-average brightness and the short battery life of less than three hours, mobility falls by the wayside.

Office-Notebook of December 2011: HP ProBook 4535s-LG855EA

Although it is far from perfect, it wins the award due to lack of better competitors. Disregarding the weak display and performance the 15.6-incher has many strong points seldom found for less than 500.- Euro. These are basically the input devices and used materials. The cheap HP 630 and the Chiligreen Platin TS cannot keep up in these aspects.

HP ProBook 4535s-LG855EA
HP ProBook 4535s-LG855EA
HP ProBook 4535s
HP ProBook 4535s
HP ProBook 4535s
HP ProBook 4535s
Award HP ProBook 4535s-LG855EA
Award HP ProBook 4535s-LG855EA

What we like

Although it's a low-budget model, we find a Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0 and brushed aluminum.

What we'd like to see

A 24 month warranty.

What surprises us

The case's good quality with aluminum and magnesium components.

The competition

Number 1: The big brother, the HP Probook 4530s, outshines the 4535s. Others: Dell Vostro 3555Sony Vaio EH1MSI A6400Asus X53EDell Vostro 1540,...

Category Multimedia

Acer TravelMate 5760G: 81 %

Asus U46SV-WX036V: 81 %

Acer Aspire 5755G-2678G1TMtks79 %

Toshiba Satellite L750-16W: 78 %

Apple uses Intel's new Core i7 2760QM and AMD's Radeon HD 6770M. So, the MacBook Pro 15 Refresh (October 2011) is currently Apple's top model. It features a decent, bright, yet glossy sRGB display with vivid colors and a very good gaming performance (17 games tested!). In absolut terms, the performance of the 5400-rpm HDD and the Quadcore does not belong to the top range. A fast SSD would have been required for this. An old shortcoming remains: Turbo 2.0 cannot be used fully because the power adapter is too small and throttles the clock rate under maximum load. However the battery life between 4:45 and 7:02 hours does not need to hide.

The Acer TravelMate 5760G (81 %) follows with a low, yet not bad rating. As a Travelmate, it belongs to Acer's business range. Nevertheless it lacks a docking port and vast connectivity. Instead, gamers will be attracted by the mid-range graphics GeForce GT 630M. For this reason the 5760G belongs to the multimedia category. Considering a price of 750 Euro battery life (4:28 hours, WLAN test) and performance (Core i5) are impressive. Unfortunately, the matte display has a below average brightness and its viewing angles are narrow. 

Asus' U46SV-WX036V is a 14-incher with remarkable looks and surfaces. In featuring a Core i5 and a dedicated GeForce GT 540M, it is nearly a small power device in the 14-inch category. It is capable of games and demanding calculation tasks. Despite good brightness and a long battery life of 5:38 hours (WLAN test) the laptop unfortunately looses points because of its reflective display. The later does not even have a good contrast, which could have improved the impact of the reflections.

Acer's Aspire 5755G is a typical multimedia model and focuses on good gaming performance at a tolerable price. Although 900 Euro might be too much for some, customers get a brand new quad core (2670QM) and a GeForce GT 630M. This configuration suffices for current games in medium and partly high detail/resolution settings. As typical for a consumer display, the common 1366 x 768 pixel screen unfortunately only features a low contrast (160:1). A big advantage is the quiet fan, which did not even get loud during gaming.

Toshiba's Satellite L750-16W is a relatively simple plastic chunk in a 15.6 inch size. It cannot keep up with competitors that feature a higher quality chassis (MBP 15, Asus U46, TravelMate). Although it looks cheap, it is  robust and stays cool most of the time. Gaming performance suffers from the entry-level Geforce GT 525M GPU and the display's poor contrast. Being a glare type the later does not even suffice office or outdoor use. On the other hand, the battery life of 3:40 hours (WLAN-Test) is not too short. 

Multimedia laptop of December 2011: Apple MacBook Pro 15 inch 2011-10 MD322

Never touch a running system. Looks and workmanship remain the same and are on a very high quality level. The stable aluminum unibody is still a handy gem. In terms of feedback, the input devices outperform every competing models. Unfortunately this is also true for the price: Apple friends have to pay 1,945 to 2,200 Euros. If you cannot or do not want to spend that much money, you'll find cheaper alternatives with partly high workmanship in our Top 10 Multimedia. December's test samples fear comparison, because none of them is a quarter as good as Apple's MacBook Pro 15 in terms of input devices and workmanship.

Apple MacBook Pro 15 Late 2011-10 MD322
Apple MacBook Pro 15 Late 2011-10 MD322
Apple MacBook Pro 15
Apple MacBook Pro 15
Apple MacBook Pro 15
Apple MacBook Pro 15
Award Apple MacBook Pro 15 Late 2011-10 MD322
Award Apple MacBook Pro 15 Late 2011-10 MD322

What we like

more performance for the same price

What we'd like to see

reasonable prices

What surprises us

That there is still no comparable Windows laptop at the market. So far, the combination of high-quality case, excellent input devices and very good display is unrivaled.

The competition

Apple users will only consider laptops from Apple. The entry-level model with 2.2 GHz quad-core CPU and 6750M graphics card might be of particular interest. Furthermore, the smaller 13" model might be a good alternative because of its low price. If you are only interested in the performance and prefer a Windows platform, you'll find many cheap alternatives (e.g. HP DV6-6008).

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Notebookcheck's Best of December 2011
Author: Sebastian Jentsch, 2012-01-19 (Update: 2013-06- 6)