Notebookcheck's Best of February 2013 - Notebooks and Convertibles

Sebastian Jentsch (translated by Martina Osztovits), 03/22/2013

Elite versus low-cost. 4K workstation, 1.3K gamer and 375 Euros (~$5195, $1688 and $487 respectively) typewriter. With Dreamcolor display, HP set a high standard. Samsung favor AMD and use a Radeon HD 8870M in their new Chronos. Lenovo aim to sell masses and cut the price with a cheap AMD APU. These were the best laptops in February.

For the original German article, see here.

Which devices did we like most in February 2013? We compare reviewed laptops of five categories and elect a winner of each. Tablets and smartphones are elected separately: Best of February 2013 – Smartphones and Tablets.

Office (6) and Multimedia devices (6) were the most populated categories in February. In the latter, Samsung's 770Z7E-S01DE with the brand new Radeon HD 8870M and powerful Core i7-3635QM quad-core was outstanding and only barely missed a “very good” (86%) rating. In office laptops we focused on the elite: Dell's Latitude E6530HP's Spectre XT TouchSmart 15-4000eg or Sony's Vaio SV-T1511M1E/S. Despite being equipped with a Full HD panel and offering an excellent build quality, the Sony clearly missed a “very good” rating. Learn about the reason below in our review. 

We reviewed fewer subnotebooks (2) and convertibles (3), but their quality was sometimes ‘very good’ (Lenovo's ThinkPad X230i or Asus' VivoTab TF810C).

In February we only tested a single gaming notebook, Toshiba's Satellite L875D-10E. However, despite being a quad-core it was not powerful: AMD's A-Series A8-4500M and dual graphics from AMD Radeon HD 7640G + HD 7610M are still slower than decent Intel dual-core CPUs combined with mid-range Nvidia graphics cards. We liked its low emissions, but disliked its poor connectivity and input devices.

Convertibles

Contenders:

Asus VivoTab TF810C-1B026W 87%

Fujitsu Stylistic Q702 84%

Toshiba Satellite U920t-100 79%

The reviewer headlines "unbalanced" about the Asus VivoTab TF810C (949 Euros/~$1232) with a nearly “very good” rating of 87%. Why? Pros are a very good build quality, an excellent IPS display, a keyboard for prolific writers and an enormous battery life of 33 hours (with the second battery in the keyboard dock). Cons are the poor system performance of the Atom system, which slows down Windows 8.

The VivoTab TF810C benefits from many pros and achieves a rating of 87% despite very poor performance. Fujitsu's Stylistic Q702 (1,780 Euros/~$2312) with high application performance (Ultrabook CPU) is the other way round. The build quality is below average and the fan is nearly always active, the display is too hard to read for this price category and the high weight of the Slate PC decreases the rating. However, the battery life of 7:43 hours is still very good and the SSD + Intel Core processor delivers performance, which customers expect from a Windows Slate.

Toshiba's Satellite U920t-100 (1,249 Euros/~$1622), which does not detach from its keyboard, is in between. The slider mechanism moves the panel upwards and opens the notebook. The build quality is all right, but the mechanics are somewhat fragile around the hinges. Unfortunately the keyboard is weak (poor feedback), the small touchpad is not much fun and the brightness of 126 cd/m² on battery is too dark for comfortable use in the sun. Many criticisms result in a rating of only 79%.

Convertible of February 2013: Asus VivoTab TF810C-1B026W

The high rating and weaker competitors make the decision easy. Although the 11.6-incher cannot replace a Windows notebook or a desktop PC (performance), those who only surf the Internet or write and draw with the stylus might like it. The excellent quality of the 8 MP camera is surprising. The extremely bright display (also on battery) and its high contrast are a stunner, thus it is forgiven that it is glossy and gets dirty easily.

ASUS Vivo Tab TF810C-1B026W
ASUS Vivo Tab TF810C-1B026W
ASUS Vivo Tab TF810C
ASUS Vivo Tab TF810C
ASUS Vivo Tab TF810C
ASUS Vivo Tab TF810C
Award ASUS Vivo Tab TF810C
Award ASUS Vivo Tab TF810C

What we like

The clean and high quality aluminum frame of the keyboard. The docking inputs are convenient and the stylus refines working with the Windows desktop. The additional docking battery should be mandatory; its weight avoids tipping of the device in notebook mode. The 8 MP main camera with flash is a highlight and produces sharp images.

What we miss

A standard SD card reader and an HDMI port on the dock. The low performance leaves a bad impression; the VivoTab cannot be used as a desktop replacement. The drivers of the PowerVR SGX 545 are suboptimal; we could not determine the specifications and the display calibration did not work.

What surprises us

The high price. For only 150 Euros (~$195) more you could, for instance, get a Satellite U920t-100, an Intel Core based convertible with ultrabook performance.

The Competition

Intel Atom based: HP Envy x2 11-g000eg, Acer Iconia W510, Samsung ATIV Smart PC XE500T1C 

More power with  Intel Core processor: Dell XPS 12, Sony Vaio Duo 11Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13Asus Taichi 21; soon: Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro.

Subnotebooks

Contenders:

Lenovo ThinkPad X230i-NZC7PGE 87%

Schenker XIRIOS S402 80%

A-Brand versus C-Brand. Basically, the clear victory of the cheaper Lenovo ThinkPad X230i over the Schenker XIRIOS S402 Ultrabook is not surprising. While the 12.5-incher from Lenovo does not need to conform to the Ultrabook conventions (Standard CPU Core i3-3110M and hard drive) a low voltage CPU and a fast (but expensive) Samsung SSD 840 Pro with 256 GB work inside the Schenker. Despite excellent performance, the Schenker's keyboard and build quality rate only "good". Furthermore, its thin chassis gets relatively hot. Although the Lenovo does not perform excellently in aspects important in practice, like battery life and display (XIRIOS glossy, very dark), it is significantly better than its competitor.


Subnotebook February 2013: Lenovo ThinkPad X230i-NZC7PGE

What good is a thin Ultrabook with vast performance that is hardly useful outdoors? The Xirios is unappealing because of its dark display.

Lenovo ThinkPad X230i-NZC7PGE
Lenovo ThinkPad X230i-NZC7PGE
Lenovo ThinkPad X230i
Lenovo ThinkPad X230i
Lenovo ThinkPad X230i
Lenovo ThinkPad X230i
Award Lenovo ThinkPad X230i
Award Lenovo ThinkPad X230i

What we like

All the important ports are provided and the noise emissions are quite low. The keyboard lighting and ThinkLight ensure good legibility of the keys even in the dark and the workmanship is still great.

What we miss

A better IPS display.

What surprises us

Despite the limited performance, this model lives up to the high ThinkPad standards.

The competition

First would be the ThinkPad X230 with IPS display. However, even the Dell Latitude E6330 and HP ProBook 6360b are worth a look. If you can live without typical business qualities, then you might favor the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A or the Samsung 900X3C.

Office Notebooks

Contenders:

Dell Latitude E6530 88%

HP Spectre XT TouchSmart 15-4000eg 85%

Sony Vaio SV-E14A3M2ES 84%

Lenovo B590 MBX2JGE 83%

Lenovo B575e 82%

Sony Vaio SV-T1511M1E/S 80%

Technology and price of the six office devices under review could hardly be more different. Dell's Latitude E6530 is really powerful compared to the weak AMD Vision (Lenovo B575e), Intel Core i3- (Lenovo B590 MBX2JGE), and low voltage devices (Vaio SV-T1511M1E/S & Spectre XT TouchSmart 15-4000eg). A Core i5-3360M, integrated graphics and a 1920x1080 pixel Full HD display: What else do office users desire? Typical of Latitude models, input devices and build quality are excellent and it outperforms the reviewed competitors in connectivity.

However, Dell's E6530 is bulky and weighs 2.84 kg. (~6.26 pounds) HP's Spectre XT TouchSmart 15-4000eg and Sony’s Vaio SV-T1511M1E/S are quite different. They are only 25 mm (~1 inch) high and weigh 2.15 – 2.30 kg (~4.74 – 5.07 pounds), but are also 15-inch devices. Both of them come with a Full HD display, but only the HP comes with a contrast-rich IPS panel with wide viewing angles. The HP's battery life is not good for an Ultrabook (3:34 h, WLAN test), but Sony does not perform better here (3:52 h).

Do you demand at least a battery life of 6 hours? If so, it does not need to be an expensive Ultrabook. Sony's Vaio SV-E14A3M2ES (749 Euros/~$973) with Core i3-3120M is a 14-inch laptop with long battery life (6 hours) and a performance that suffices office tasks. We like the quiet operation, the low waste heat, and the decent input devices.

Still too expensive? You'll get a Core i3-3110M (Lenovo B590 MBX2JGE) for just under 500 Euros (~$649) and an energy-saving, but weak AMD E-Series E2-1800 (Lenovo B575e) for less than 400 Euros (~$519). The B590 is a simple plastic office notebook, which does everything right in important aspects, like ergonomics, keyboard and matte display. The battery life of 4:33 hours (WLAN test) is on par with the Lenovo B575e (4:28 h). The latter is solid and comes with a matte display and an excellent keyboard. Its ergonomics is perfect too, but the brightness falls on battery. Overall, the quality is fair for 379 Euros (~$492).

Office notebook of February 2013: Dell Latitude E6530

The Latitude E6530 rejoices over the weak competition. The standard office device from Dell does not have serious flaws. Even its base configuration delivers all core features of a solid business device. Furthermore, you can configure many models on Dell's site.

DELL Latitude E6530
DELL Latitude E6530
DELL Latitude E6530
DELL Latitude E6530
DELL Latitude E6530
DELL Latitude E6530
Award DELL Latitude E6530
Award DELL Latitude E6530

What we like

Configuration options, quality and capabilities are well tuned to the business user.

What we'd like to see

Professional image editors would prefer a display with better viewing angles and color reproduction.

What surprises us

Some components and upgrades are not available in the online shop.

The competition

Dell Latitude E5530, HP EliteBook 8570p, Lenovo ThinkPad T530, Fujitsu LifeBook E752

Multimedia Notebooks

Contenders:

Samsung 770Z7E-S01DE 86%

Acer Aspire V3-571G-53214G50Maii 84%

Acer Aspire V3-571G-53238G1TMaii 84%

Dell Inspiron 15R-5521 82%

Dell Inspiron 17R-5721 81%

Acer Aspire E1-571G-3114G50Mnks 79%

In the multimedia category, the test devices also range from cheap to high-end. It is striking that even the Aspire E1-571G for 500 Euros (~$649) only falls roughly 5% behind the best model (Samsung 770Z7E 1,249 Euros/~$1622). All other devices are in between. Therefore, customers can get a decent multimedia experience for little money.

Samsung's Series 7 Chronos 770Z7E uses high-end hardware: AMD Radeon HD 8870M and Intel Core i7-3635QM require a 3 kg (~6.61 pounds) 17-inch device for the cooling system. Nevertheless, the case is only 26 mm (~1.02 inches) high and so really slim for a 17-incher. Gamers get their money's worth: Most games can be played in medium to high details, but not in native Full HD resolution. The TN display is not perfect in terms of viewing angles, but its brightness and contrast are decent. 

Acer's Aspire V3-571G, of which we tested two models, brings a real surprise: Depending on the model the customer gets a 15-incher with an extremely contrast-rich Full HD IPS panel for 650 to 800 Euros (~$844 to $1039). Furthermore, the display is better than the significantly more expensive Chronos 770Z7E's. But, the touchpad, high waste heat, short battery life, the relatively modest plastic case and the speakers are weak points. Nevertheless it could convince gamers, as GeForce GT 640M and GT 730M are more or less on par with the Radeon HD 8870M mentioned above. 

The technically identically equipped 15- and 17-inch Dell Inspiron 15R-5521 and 17R-5721 models cannot deliver such a display. They come with a glossy screen (HD/HD+) usually found in the price category between 600 and 700 Euros (~$779 and $909). Nevertheless, the two multimedia devices are interesting as the standard case houses low voltage hardware as used in Ultrabooks (Core i5-3317U). Therefore, they are frugal and battery life of up to 4:30 hours is possible (WLAN test). Because of the weak CPU, the AMD Radeon HD 8730M is slower than the Nvidia solutions mentioned above and more appropriate for occasional gamers. 

Bargain hunters can go even cheaper. Acer's Aspire E1-571G with GeForce GT 620M and Core i3-3110M is available for 499 Euros (~$648). The build quality is all right, but its keyboard is hardly appropriate for office work. Notebookcheck rarely gives a rating of 60% in these aspects. The battery life of 4:27 hours and the ergonomics of the 15-incher are surprisingly decent. 

 

Multimedia notebook of February 2013: Acer Aspire V3-571G

Despite the higher rating of the Samsung 770Z7E-S01DE, we elect the Acer Aspire V3-571G-53238G1TMaii (GT 730M model), because of its outstanding price performance ratio. It is hardly important if a GT 640M or 730M is inside the notebook, as their 3D performance is quite similar.

Acer Aspire V3-571G IPS FHD
Acer Aspire V3-571G IPS FHD
Acer Aspire V3-571G IPS FHD
Acer Aspire V3-571G IPS FHD
Acer Aspire V3-571G IPS FHD
Acer Aspire V3-571G IPS FHD
Award Acer Aspire V3-571G IPS FHD
Award Acer Aspire V3-571G IPS FHD

What we like

Despite the higher rating of the Samsung 770Z7E-S01DE, we elect the Acer Aspire V3-571G-53238G1TMaii (GT 730M model), because of its outstanding price performance ratio. It is hardly important if a GT 640M or 730M is inside the notebook, as their 3D performance is quite similar.

What we like

The matte display with great colors and first-class IPS viewing angles. Finally, an affordable laptop offers a display quality common in tablets.

What we'd like to see

That cheap? The reviewer does not dare to complain. Prolific writers will not like the short travel of the mouse buttons and perfectionists will criticize the moderate build quality.

What surprises us

How easy it is to read from a matte display even under daylight.

The competition

Sony Vaio VPC-F24M1E/B (i5, GT 540M, matte); MSI GE60-i560M245 (i5, GTX 660M, matte); MSI GE60-i547W7H (i5, GT 650M, matte); Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 (i5, GTX 660M, glossy); Lenovo IdeaPad Y500 (i5, GT 650M, glossy); Medion Akoya P6815 (i7, GT 650M, matte); Dell Inspiron 15R SE (i7, HD 7730M, matte).

Workstation/DTR

Contenders:

HP EliteBook 8770w DreamColor 88%

MSI GT60 0NG-294US 84%

In workstations we encounter an unusual matchup. MSI competes with HP. That never happened before. HP's EliteBook 8770w with DreamColor display (covers AdobeRGB!) is the best display currently available. The 17-incher is therefore appropriate for CAD/CAM designers and professional image editors (pre-press etc.). HP demands over 4,000 Euros (~$5195) for this colorfulness. Of course the EliteBook 8770w is also technically up-to-date: Quadro K4000MCore i7-3610QM, and a 750 GB hard drive with 24 GB cache.

What does MSI say? Cheap is the keyword for the comparison. The GT60 0NG-294US costs just under 1,600 Euros (~$2078). We reviewed the US model. Unfortunately, it does not use IPS technology, but German models do. However, the viewing angles are decent for a TN display and also AdobeRGB is (nearly completely) covered. We know the barebone from the gamer with the same name: MSI GT60-i789W7H. The hardware no longer features a Consumer GeForce, but a Quadro K2000M. Together with the Intel Core i7-3630QM, the performance is on a high level for CAD and CAM applications. However, the HP has significantly better input devices and a lower system noise.

Workstation of February 2013: HP EliteBook 8770w DreamColor

Nearly 4,000 Euros (~$5195) are a steep price, but the laptop houses top mobile workstation hardware. Why it does not come with a RAID 0 connection of two 250 GB SSDs is incomprehensible. If you want to buy an EliteBook 8770w for less money, you can configure a smaller configuration. However, you will not get a DreamColor display, but only a WVA model for below 2,000 Euros (~$2597).

HP EliteBook 8770w DreamColor
HP EliteBook 8770w DreamColor
HP EliteBook 8770w DreamColor
HP EliteBook 8770w DreamColor
HP EliteBook 8770w DreamColor
HP EliteBook 8770w DreamColor
Award HP EliteBook 8770w DreamColor
Award HP EliteBook 8770w DreamColor

What we like

The powerful workstation with the DreamColor display, which is very good in all areas.

What we miss

A quieter storage device and a display free of issues.

What surprises us

Few manufacturers offer RGB LED displays with IPS technology for their notebooks.

The competition

Dell Precision M6700, Fujitsu Celsius H920 and the Clevo derivatives, like Bullman E-class with Nvidia Quadro GPU. Depending on the required performance, the 15-inch workstation may also be a valid choice: Dell Precision M4700, Fujitsu Celsius H720, Lenovo ThinkPad W530, HP EliteBook 8570w or MSI GT60WS.

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Notebookcheck's Best of February 2013 - Notebooks and Convertibles
Author: Sebastian Jentsch, 2013-03-22 (Update: 2013-06- 6)