Notebookcheck's Best of January 2012
Cheap is rarely the best option. This was confirmed by the office, subnotebook and multimedia test devices in January. No matter if it was a ProBook for EUR 430, a Compaq Presario for EUR 350 or an Aspire with dual core graphics for EUR 600 - none of the devices were really awe-inspiring.
In the month of January, 17 test devices went through our frozen hands. That is fewer than in the past months. Malicious tongues might speak of snow-afflicted UPS drivers or of icebound DHL parcel stations. A look at the news agenda however shows the real reason for the slowdown: Manufacturers and customers alike are anticipating Intel's next CPU generation, Ivy Bridge. However, the first notebooks of this kind will be available in April 2012 at the earliest. Until then, customers can take delight in discounts on Sandy Bridge notebooks.
Because of the lack of brand new components, we pounced on the budget sector in January. We found a few still untested models among the subnotebooks and Office notebooks. Although they aren't the cat's pajamas, they are at least cheap. The multimedia corner was dominated by AMD's Radeon graphics cards, e.g. the AMD Radeon HD 7670M in combination with an Intel CPU.
The HP Pavilion dv7-6b02eg went over the course as a desktop replacement. With its HD 6770M and the quad core Intel Core i7 2670QM, the 17.3 incher bids a lot of power as a multimedia control center for EUR 1300. A Blu-Ray burner and SSD-HDD configuration complete the bundle. Its performance achieves the rare rating of 97%. However, the total rating is affected by the poor keyboard, the high noise and the few interfaces.
Our U.S. editor, Allen Ngo, took hold of the brand new Amazon Kindle Fire 7" tablet that is now, at the end of February, sold for EUR 260. Tailored for Amazon services, the 7 incher doesn't offer much flexibility (games, performance, apps), but it at least has a color rich screen and a well-designed price-performance ratio.
Toshiba Portégé Z830-10N (i3) 83%
Medion Akoya E2312 MD97974 (German) 77%
Samsung Series 4 410B2B (3G) 85%
Toshiba's Ultrabook Portégé Z830-10N is an outsider in this round. Its price of EUR 1200 isn't aimed at bargain hunters, but rather at mobile Avant-gardes with high expectations on their 13.3 incher. We reviewed the same one in December 2011, but as the i7 version Z830-10J (83%). Our latest practical test at the CES convention in Las Vegas confirmed the rating in both its negative and positive features. The annoying fan noise and the easily twistable screen have been maintained. The low performance of the Core i3 2367M isn't noticed during mobile use. In return, the battery runtime is increased.
The HP ProBook 4330s 3G (LW759ES) can likely be seen as the cheapest ProBook on the market (starts at EUR 430). The price is only possible because the slowest Intel processor, the Celeron B810, is used. Inappropriate for a 13.3 incher that is aimed at mobile use with a UMTS module. A low voltage Core i5 2467M (17 watts) could have tickled more battery runtime out of the 47 watt hours than the not very energy-efficient 35 watt CPU. Nevertheless, our verdict is positive in view of the low price: Workmanship, design and input devices are good, just like system noise and temperature.
Medion's Akoya E2312 (MD97974) proved to be a real disappointment. If only the handy 12.1 incher had a built-in UMTS module. The runtime of not quite four hours would satisfy undemanding customers, but the glossy Hannstar screen and the greasy-finger looks of the creaking case ruin mobile fun to an extent. Just as inconceivable is the always audibly rotating fan that only has to discharge the low amount of waste heat generated by the low-performance E-450 from the AMD E series. Apart from the low temperature and the low weight, there aren't any features that would advocate buying the E2312. The price of EUR 400 doesn't, either.
The 12.5 inch Samsung Series 4 410B2B can be compared to the ProBook 4330s. Alike the ProBook, Samsung aims at professional users. However, it is twice as expensive as the HP model. USB 3.0, ExpressCard, docking port and Core i5 2520M are to justify this surcharge. It also has a UMTS module on board. Although the materials and workmanship can't quite keep up with the ProBook 4330s, we like the input devices a bit better (Point Stick). The non-glare screen is regrettably too dark for use in the sun (average: 145.6 cd/m2), but the ProBook isn't much better in this point either.
Subnotebook of January 2012: HP ProBook 4330s 3G (LW759ES)
The same total rating for two well-comparable devices. We opt for the ProBook because of its exceedingly low price. The user can compensate the lack of a docking port with a good USB replicator. USB 3.0 can be retrofitted via ExpressCard 34. It should be possible to temporarily disable the always audible fan, which is typical for HP, in the BIOS. The option "Fan Always on when on AC" has to be unchecked. A performance weak, though good to very good subnotebook in other concerns remains.
Those who have the test configuration, ProBook 4330s LW759ES, can count themselves lucky because only the expensive Core i3/i5 models without UMTS are being sold at the moment (starts at EUR 560).
What we like
The notebook's workmanship and design. HP has done a good job, considering the notebook doesn't even cost €500.
What we'd like to see
A docking port. A better screen would also suit the notebook well.
What surprises us
Buyers looking for a notebook with UMTS and a small screen size at an acceptable price normally turned to a netbook until now. The HP ProBook 4330s represents a serious alternative for these users now.
Those who prefer to work with notebooks from the manufacturer Lenovo may be happy with the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E325-12972FG for about the same price. AMD technology is used here, instead of technology from Intel. Another contender would be the Vostro V131 from Dell. It has a significantly better application performance thanks to an i5 processor. It also has a stronger graphics card and bigger hard disk. However, it is a lot more expensive with about €780. A less expensive alternative would also be the Fujitsu SH531.
Asus U56E-XX028V 82%
The Asus U56E-XX028V leads in our block of eight office devices. The unusual but attractive looking 15.6 incher finds its main competency in work because a Core i5 and Intel HD 3000 don't kindle any gaming ambitions. The reflective screen unfortunately prevents outdoor use and that is tragic in view of the excellent battery runtime of nine hours. Moreover, runtime is paid for by the protruding 74 Wh battery. The keyboard isn't anything for uncompromising typists because the pressure point is too weak. The price: EUR 730.
We worked our way through the bargain counter of current low-cost notebooks to uncover the HP Compaq CQ57-3035G. Although the 15.6 incher for EUR 350 is state-of-the-art, its performance is nevertheless low due to AMD's E-450 from the E series. If you don't want to wait for programs to start and don't need long processing times, you should avoid taking this AMD APU designed for netbooks and subnotebooks. On the other hand, the battery runtime (five hours in wifi test), input devices and heat development are exactly what we'd expect from a basic Office laptop: Long, high feedback and low.
The ProBook 6465b LY433EA starts at a price of EUR 880 despite the low-cost AMD platform. It is identical to the Intel Core versions (6460b) with a higher performance, but is justified due to a 128 GB SSD. A lower computing performance with a quad core AMD A6-3410MX (4x 1.60 GHz), but with a higher system performance thanks to SSD? The plan works. The rating of application performance reaps in 90%, whereas the integrated Radeon HD 6520G has its share. The longer battery runtime (5:35 hours in wifi test), the basic design and the good input devices round off the office bundle. Outdoor use isn't a problem due to the matt screen and HP's Advanced Docking Station is clicked under the stable case within seconds back in the office. Not to forget: The 14 inch screen has a high resolution of 1600x900 pixels.
Lenovo's B570 is an Office laptop for tight budgets. The 15.6 incher can at least call a Core i3 2330M and Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit its own for EUR 420. The ports surprise with an eSATA/USB 2.0 combo. We like the stable workmanship and the very good keyboard. But stable doesn't apply to the wobbly display lid. Minus points are the reflective and color weak screen.
Samsung aims its midrange Series 6 at demanding business customers. The model 600B5B-S01DE has a steep price of EUR 1120 and has a lot of power (Core i5 2520M) and overview (WXGA++) to offer. The matt screen is agreeably bright and makes it possible to work in the sun. In return, the contrast is very poor (116:1). We like the very good keyboard that even has a conical indentation for typing accuracy. Samsung's Series 6 doesn't lag behind the ProBooks: It has a docking port, an ExpressCard slot and (2x) USB 3.0.
The second business model comes from Asus and has the very promising name Pro P53-SO102X. However, there's not much of "professional" left over at the end of the tests: Poorly positioned interfaces, low brightness, the plastic feel and no docking port can't stir up pride in ownership. But maybe the 15.6 incher doesn't have to offer this anyway. A Core i3 2330M with Windows 7 Professional is available for piggybank-friendly EUR 450. The list of positive qualities is long: Stable base unit, matt screen, good keyboard, low heat dissipation and good application performance, only to mention a few.
Samsung's Series 3 is the low-cost range from the Koreans. The affordable prices are made possible by using a basic case and installing the minimum of ports. Samsung's (Series 6) Duracase isn't used here and an acceptably bendable case is the result. Office fans will notice the E3520-A01DE (EUR 500) because of its non-glare 15.6 inch screen. The performance is good due to the Core i5 2410M. However, it doesn't have a dedicated graphics card (HD Graphics 3000) as typical for Office devices. We like the low noise and heat development and the long battery runtime of almost five hours. The input devices clearly lag behind the Series 6, which seems to be logical in view of the price difference.
Acer sets up a 14 incher, called TravelMate TimelineX 8481TG, which is everything but a dull Office book for bores. Little show-offs get their money's worth with the slim case and extremely narrow TFT bezel. The battery runtime is 9:20 hours. That's no mistake: the gigantic wifi runtime is achieved with the energy-efficient Core i5 2467M (1.6 GHz), which is otherwise almost exclusively installed in ultrabooks (e.g. Aspire S3-951). Of course, the 87 Wh lithium ion battery contributes to that, but it protrudes evidently.
The user doesn't have to waive on performance with the Timeline X. A SanDisk SSD and a GeForce GT 520M that can be disabled ensure a very good performance. However, we noticed the very slow read and write rates of the SanDisk SSD P4 64GB in detail. It is combined with a 320 GB HDD so that there aren't any space issues. Finally, the low weight and the high quality materials meet our high demand on quality. The total score is nevertheless remote from a Very Good because of the poor screen and the wobbly keyboard. In particular the last point is out of place in a TravelMate.
Office Notebook of January 2012: HP ProBook 6465b LY433EA
The ProBook 6465b is a round Office bundle for stationary and mobile use. The AMD quad core isn't suitable for performance fans, but the SSD nevertheless achieves a high work speed. Users who aren't willing to pay the surcharge for the Intel Core + SSD will be well-served with the 6465b. The i5, SSD, WXGA++ version, 6460b, has a steep price of EUR 1150. The AMD platform consequently costs EUR 270 less. Office fans with high demands should also take a look at the Samsung Series 6 600B5B-S01DE.
What we like
The plain yet elegant design as well as the many ports and expansion options.
What we'd like to see
The latest USB 3.0 and a brighter screen.
What surprises us
That the SSD increases the performance to such an extent, according to PCMark.
Packard Bell pulls the 17 inch EasyNote LS11HR-167GE out of the hat, which could be seen as the best in terms of price-performance at a price of EUR 690. Why? The brand new AMD Radeon HD 7670M lets gamers prick their ears. A Core i5 2450M is compulsory for this purpose. The reflective screen, with a resolution of 1600 x 900 pixels and lowest contrasts, likely just has to be accepted in this price range. Dynamic graphics switching (Intel HD 3000) works very well and contributes to an acceptable battery runtime of four hours (17 incher!). We miss USB 3.0 and a touchpad that is better to use.
Two graphics cards (crossfire) and a quad core for EUR 600? The Acer Aspire 7560G (Fusion) make it possible. But the 17.3 incher won't be suitable for every PC gamer. The Fusion processor, A8-3520M, is a bit slower than Intel's Core i3 on total. The midrange GPU, Radeon HD 6650M, extracts a remarkable amount of 3D performance in view of the price. The frames also occasionally drop unexpectedly depending on the game and enabled/disabled crossfire option (both GPUs are processing), though. If you aren't keen on tinkering and fiddling with drivers, you should steer clear of the 7560G to start with. The low-end glare screen and the poor keyboard also spoil the fun with the device to an extent. The poor connectivity also decreases the rating.
Samsung's Series 7 700Z3A-S03DE, priced at EUR 1200, won't appeal to bargain hunters. Everyone who puts value on high-end looks, great input devices and an outdoor suitable screen might take a liking to the 14 incher. A Core i5 2430M and Radeon HD 6490M don't offer the highest performance, but the SanDisk iSSD P4 (8 GB) installed in addition to the HDD (1000 GB!) speeds up booting noticeably. We dislike the contrast weak TN screen, which doesn't fit into the concept of over EUR 1000.
The EasyNote TS13HR-197GE arrives as a second Packard Bell in our editorial office. The 15.6 incher comes with a new GeForce GT 630M and a Core i5 at a price of EUR 590. The red all-in-one package bids solid up to good features in all issues and the screen is its only weak point, corresponding to the price range (poor contrast, narrow viewing angles). We aren't only delighted about the good battery runtime of 4:35 hours, but also about the good midfield gaming performance. A big drawback: The few interfaces lacking USB 3.0, eSATA and ExpressCard.
The IdeaPad Y570-086225U from Lenovo proves to be suitable for gaming with a GeForce GT 555M, but stays down-to-earth with a Core i5, 1366x768 pixels and a 500 GB hard disk. We had the U.S. model in for review, but the i5, 8 GB, 750 GB and GT555M alternative is available in Germany at a price of EUR 750. Games can be played with medium to high details in the native HD resolution. In line with that, the sound is emitted from the balanced JBL speakers at a high volume. The TFT screen's good contrast of 578:1 is remarkable. That might be comforting to those who would have wished at least WXGA++ for a multimedia book.
Multimedia Notebook of January 2012: Lenovo IdeaPad Y570
Looking solely at the score, the IdeaPad Y570 would only have to compete against the Packard Bell EasyNote TS13HR with the same score. It achieves this through more gaming power, higher contrasts, wide viewing angles and more ports. The temperature and noise remain quite low despite all the power. Prolific writers won't find the perfect keyboard; the pressure point is a bit stiff among other things.
What we like
NVIDIA's Optimus technology and the overall fit and finish of the Y570 were impressive, to say the least.
What we'd like to see
To be honest? A higher-resolution screen, and the speed of a fast hard drive/SSD.
What surprises us
How loud the speakers could go!