Notebookcheck's Best of February 2012
Bread and butter. After the Tegra 3 quad-core, focus was placed on low and mid-priced mainstream devices. One highlight: The Radeon HD 7670M for less than EUR 500. Also, the first 3D notebook with an AMD graphics, the HP Envy 17 3D. Here, an overview of all Notebookcheck reviews in February.
After the test marathon of December and January, our editors laid back and relaxed in the Caribbean. There was more than enough time for that because only few real novelties arrived at Notebookcheck in form of test devices. One highlight was the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF201 – the first Android 4.0 tablet (Ice Cream Sandwich) with a Tegra 3 quad-core CPU.
We put the slate PCs, Dell Latitude ST and HP Slate 2, through their paces for the corporate division that depends on Windows. The enthusiasm was moderate. Windows 7 isn't perfectly suitable for finger inputs and the sluggish Atom processor partly was an ordeal.
The majority of reviews in February dealt with the so-called "bread and butter" devices. Everything from a EUR 600 Office laptop, in form of Lenovo's ThinkPad Edge E525 with an AMD A-Series APU, up to a EUR 1000 expensive HP Envy 14 with a Core i7 2630QM was represented. Gamers with a small budget were just as attended to (Packard Bell Easynote F4312, i3 + Radeon HD 7670M) as bargain hunters (HP Pavilion g6-1352eg, dual graphics + AMD APU).
The sole desktop replacement, HP Envy 17 3D (Early 2012), was doomed to a shadowy existence in February. The high-performance 3D notebook with a Radeon HD 7690M and Core i7 2670QM is now also available in Germany as the Envy 17-3010eg (A2Q28EA). We had the US model in for review because of its earlier release. For just under EUR 1400, you get active shutter glasses that enrich games with the third dimension via TriDef-3D-Ignition. Unfortunately, the frame rates in games nosedive by about 50% in 3D mode, as is the case with Nvidia's 3D Vision. The Radeon HD 7690M can't compensate that because it equals its precursor, HD 6770M, to the largest extent.
The Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF201 (starts at EUR 670) is a subnotebook and a tablet in one. A push of a button releases the display from the base unit and the user holds a 10.1 inch tablet in his hands. The keyboard dock is a docking station with numerous ports and a built-in battery. It can almost double the battery runtime of the TF201 (wifi surfing is possible for ten hours). The IPS+ screen, perfect in contrast, brightness and viewing angles, is ideally equipped for outdoor use. Regrettably, we miss the UMTS module, which would fit perfectly to the mobile device in our opinion. The NVIDIA Tegra 3 SoC is the first serialized quad-core built into a tablet.
The Dell Latitude ST-LST01 (price: EUR 500) is primarily aimed at companies that have to completely incorporate a Windows tablet in the existing IT network. Equipped with an Atom Z670, a 32 GB mSATA SSD and Windows 7, the low performance recurrently slows down our work speed. What's more, Windows 7 proves to be unfavorable for speed and productivity time and again. The rubberized and rugged device makes an everyday-suitable impression, has many interfaces (incl. HDMI) and a docking port. The high brightness, the wide viewing angles and the good contrast would be a clear advantage for notebooks. But this is almost standard in the field of high-priced Android and iOS tablets. Unfortunately, the tablet needs a total of twelve hours for recharging when it's turned on and four when it's off.
The HP Slate 2 Wi-Fi + 3G (EUR 750) follows in the footsteps of the Dell Latitude ST because it aims at similar applications as a Windows 7 Slate PC. The Atom Z670 1.5 GHz slows it down though. The 64GB SSD (mSATA) is regrettably slower than the one or other hard disk and in turn causes waiting times. Like with the Latitude ST-LST01, Windows 7 is yet another stumbling block for Android-spoilt users. An accurate use is only possible with the included stylus. Moreover, many inputs are awkward. Thus, we put great expectations in Windows 8. We will soon publish a practical test with a Windows 8 tablet.
Tablet/MID of February 2012: Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF201
With its unbeaten rating of 89% in the monthly comparison, the new Transformer places itself at the top of our tablet charts right away. Even the recently reviewed Apple iPad 3 (89%) can't surpass it in our rating. The very good IPS screen, the strong battery runtime in the keyboard dock plus the high-end and solid workmanship make the Prime TF201 to one of the best Android tablets. Nevertheless, the device can't replace a PC. Windows Office Suites are simply too extensive and comfortable for that.
What we like
The elegant aluminum design is a successful improvement of the predecessor.
What we'd like to see
A 3G/UMTS module, we can't say it often enough. At least for Europe.
What surprises us
A faulty GPS module in a finished product. How can this mishap pass through dozens of monitoring bodies in development?
First, the much less expensive predecessor, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v as an attractive tablet with the last Tegra 250 chip. Of course, the latest version of the genre founder, the iPad 3. And the Asus Eee Pad Slider as another aberrant device with integrated keyboard.
We kick-off the battle between two affordable yet good office laptops with the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E525 (approx. EUR 480). The 15.6 incher sports an AMD-APU (A-Series A8-3500M) which has an integrated AMD Radeon HD-6620G graphics. The ThinkPad label however doesn't live up to its name: Although the keyboard is well-made, the workmanship isn't satisfying. A low noise level and low waste heat make the E525 suitable for the office. However, the matt but too dark and contrast weak screen just isn't fun to use out in the sun. That's too bad because the acceptable runtime of 4:39 hours would have been a perfect match for that.
Samsung's Series 3 300E5A-S01 (EUR 550) can defeat the ThinkPad Edge E525's shortcomings in a few points. This applies to the workmanship, for example. The Samsung chassis has a higher quality feel to it, but we have to criticize the unsatisfactory torsional stiffness. The matt screen in the Series 3 300E5A doesn't show any advantages: The brightness assessment is superior, but it is dimmed to 199 cd/m2 (center) on battery power. The input devices can't keep up to those of the ThinkPad, but they aren't bad either. In return, the long battery life of 6:23 hours in the wifi test is good.
Office Notebook of February 2012: Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E525-NZ62KGE
It's a tight victory for Lenovo when looking at the points. It wins due to extremely low waste heat and noise emissions. The gap could have been wider, but Samsung clearly has the longer battery runtime. Like all consumer ThinkPads, it doesn't have a docking port. In return, an ExpressCard 34 and eSATA are available. Neither contender has USB 3.0. Power-hungry users will nevertheless opt for the Samsung Series 3 300E5A in cases of doubt because the GeForce GT 520MX and a Core i3 2330M bring along a limited amount of gaming capability for a slightly higher price.
What we like
Keyboard and mouse convince; it's nice to see that Lenovo also provides its lower end notebooks with good input devices.
What we'd like to see
A better display than the current one. We would have expected much more from the display.
What surprises us
A battery and DVD drive that wobble shouldn't be present in a ThinkPad.
One contender comes from Lenovo's own rows, the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 is a strong rival. It's a bit more expensive, but with an Intel Core processor and slightly better application performance. Corresponding notebooks from other manufacturers would be the HP ProBook 6560b, the Samsung 200B5B, the Toshiba Tecra R850 or the Dell Vostro 3550 notebook.
The multimedia division was well represented with six device ranging from 14 to 17 inches. The HP Envy 14-2090eo covers the higher price range. It's sold as the HP Envy 14-2000eg in Germany. Our US production model boasted with excellent workmanship, good gaming performance (Radeon HD 6630M) and noteworthy battery runtime. Unfortunately, the TFT's poor brightness wasn't any fun outdoors and we couldn't indulge ourselves in vivid colors. The Intel Core i7 2630QM provides the 14.5 incher with a lot of power whereas the case stays surprisingly cool.
What's this? Asus K53SK versus Asus X53SK? Is this perhaps a typo? Not at all. The reason is the manufacturer's inconsistent naming policy. Here, the same notebook is advertised under two names. In terms of looks and for the most part even the hardware, the Asus K53SK is identical with the X53SX. Although the X version has a Core i5 rather than only an i3, the rating is pretty much the same. Both notebooks have the advantage of low emissions in common. But, unfortunately the contrast weak screen, the cheap-looking mouse replacement and the not particularly good runtime of about three hours as well. The AMD Radeon HD 7610M in both devices can cope with a few games in medium details and resolutions.
The Packard Bell EasyNote F4312 doesn't manage a better score than its Asus contenders. In return, the 17 incher bids more gaming power with the AMD Radeon HD 7670M at approximately the same price (EUR 550). The 1600 x 900 pixels can't be run natively, but all test games ran smoothly in a width of 1024, respectively 1366 pixels (medium details). Buyers who want to take advantage of such good graphics for so little money have to make compromises in screen (low contrasts), speakers, input devices and connectivity. However, no compromises have to be made in emissions – the temperature and noise are surprisingly low. This is particularly appreciated in office use.
HP's Pavilion g6-1352eg is available for a lower price. The A-Series A4-3305M (dual-core) is installed here. In total, the APU doesn't have as much application performance as a device with an Intel Core i3/i5, but it excels with very low emissions and with a good battery life of 4:24 hours. Unfortunately, the AMD Radeon HD 6480G + HD 7450M dual graphics CrossFire performance isn't stable.
The below average screen is a common point of criticism with its sister model Pavilion g7-1353eg (17.3 inches). It is based on the A-Series A6-3420M 1.5 GHz. The quad-core reaps in a measurably better application performance, but the diversity of interfaces is meager and the glare screen is poor.
Multimedia Notebook of February 2012: HP Envy 14-2090eo
It's a clear victory in terms of points despite the poor TFT screen. The reason is obvious: All compared devices are inexpensive to cheap multimedia entry-level machines in the most basic cases and with the simplest input devices. However, HP pulls no punches in keyboard and case. The construction is beyond doubt. We had a US production model in review; the test device is sold as HP Envy 14-2000eg (LS491EA) in Germany for starting at EUR 900.
What we like
The Envy 14-2090eo is a powerful and versatile laptop in a small form factor. At the same time it offers a more than decent battery life thanks to switchable graphics.
What we'd like to see
HP does not impress with the choice of display. The low-end panel does not match the laptop's otherwise striking appearance.
What surprises us
It is a positive surprise that the included Radeon HD 6630M is capable of playing most current games.
One of the Envy 14's closest competitors is the Dell XPS 14z--also a "premium" laptop but equipped with a graphics solution from Nvidia.