Notebookcheck's Best of January 2013
Head-to-head. Being more expensive is not always better, and successors are sometimes worse. HP and Asus confirm this truism with the EliteBook Folio 9470m and the Touch-Zenbook UX31A. Who offers the best laptop for the lowest price? This question arose in the Office and Multimedia category.
For the original German article, see here.
The laptops we have reviewed in the month of January 2013 were placed in four separate categories and we picked one device that stood out in our opinion. Tablets and Smartphones are elected separately. Please look at Notebookcheck's Best of Januar 2013 – Smartphones and Tablets.
Even if the convertible windows notebooks were the most popular category, the subnotebooks category was the over-crowded section. The best ones were the Acer Aspire S7-191 and the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A-C4027H, both with touchscreens. The HP EliteBook Folio 9470m and the Dell Latitude 6430u are business laptops. We expected premium displays for the quoted price of over 2500 Euros (~$3350), but the business ultrabooks disappointed us.
The five office laptops reviewed in January had one thing in common. In being priced between 330 and 660 Euros (~$440 to $880), they were cheap offerings. We found out how big the difference between cheap laptops and affordable ones can be. Apart from technical components, build quality, display and input devices are quite different. In the price category barely above 500 Euros (~$670), the HP ProBook 4545s surprisingly features excellent input devices and a great build quality.
The offerings in the Multimedia device category were slim with no laptop really standing out. Most of the review units were identical in the hardware configuration. Of the four in this section, three of them had the Core i5-3317Uwith the GeForce GT 630M and two came with 14-inch displays. The Acer Aspire V5-471G with the GeForce GT 620M is of much interest for bargain hunters and mobile gamers. The 14-incher only weighs 2.1 kilograms, is nearly as slim as a genuine ultrabook, features an optical drive and costs less than 600 Euros (~$800).
The Lenovo IdeaPad Y500 was the only gaming laptop reviewed in January. We could not even compare this 15-inch bolide to a workstation. Nevertheless, the combination of GeForce GT 650M SLI and Core i7-3630QM easily deserves a price-to-performance recommendation. Currently, you won't get more performance for 1000 Euros (~$1340), and the best part being the full HD display with really good viewing angles.
Thick and bulky? With a weight of 2.02 kg and a thickness of 35 mm, the Fujitsu Lifebook T902 is definitely not a mobile companion for vogue editors. They would probably prefer the smart sliding mechanism of the Satellite U920t (1.46 kg) or the handy HP Envy x2 11-g000eg tablet with docking station (1.4 kg with dock). But, because of its excellent build quality and premium touch display, the Lifebook T902 will still find its fans. It's a pleasure to make inputs with the Wacom Digitizer Pen on the 1600 x 900 pixel screen and we appreciate the bright colors of the IPS panels.
The competitors are quite different in terms of the display behavior. While the Envy x2 11 is equipped with a bright IPS panel (11.6-inch, HD), Toshiba mess around with brightness control and reduce brightness to 126 cd/m² on the battery. Too bad, the only convertible with slider mechanism loses points here. Furthermore, its input devices (keyboard and touchpad) are also not appropriate for prolific writers.
While the T902 and the Satellite U920t use standard notebook processors (i5-3320M and the 3317U), HP wanted to create a slim and light tablet and installs an Intel Atom Z2760 and a PowerVR SGX545 iGPU. The netbook-level performance (from 2012) suffices for smooth handling of HD videos, but computational heavy tasks (CPU and GPU) take ages. But, Intel's tablet hardware is very frugal and the laptop achieves a battery life of 12 hours in our WLAN test. There is a battery in the keyboard dock too.
Convertible of January 2013: Fujitsu Lifebook T902
The quality of the IPS panels is outstanding and the mobility factor is adequate for a standard voltage processor. If you prefer a smaller and more-portable laptop, you should wait for the Fujitsu Stylistic Q702 review (which is in progress), a 11.6 inch Intel Core Slate PC, which can be docked onto a docking keyboard.
What we like
Fujitsu created a successful concept device with the Lifebook T902. The display, the performance, the mobility capabilities and the extensive hardware are top notch.
What we'd like to see
A backlit keyboard and a brighter display for outdoor use could be on some wish lists.
What surprises us
That Fujitsu got almost everything right with the Lifebook T902.
The Dell Latitude XT3, HP Elitebook 2760p and the Lenovo ThinkPad X230T. But the older models are still available and are a cheaper alternative: Fujitsu Lifebook T901, Dell Latitude XT2, HP EliteBook 2740p and Lenovo ThinkPad X220T.
Amazing ultrabook, version 2? If an already excellent ultrabook like the Zenbook Prime UX31A is equipped with a multi touch screen, it can only be an improvement, right? Wrong! Although our UX31A-C4027H (1500 Euros/ $2000) also comes with an IPS panel, it has lower contrast, slightly lower color space coverage and a highly reflective surface (edge-to-edge panel). This knocks on the desirability of the device. To make things even worse, the brightness is reduced on battery. The TFT screen is simply too dim.
If you like smaller and lighter laptops, you would appreciate the Acer Aspire S7-191 ultrabook. The 11.6-incher delivers superlative results for a 1500 Euros device: a thickness of 12.2 mm, the Core i7-3517U and weighing just 1.1 kg. The extremely fast Raid-0 array of two SSDs (2x128) improves the performance and the touchscreen can sometimes increase productivity. But, we were disappointed by the backlight of the display. It is too dim on battery, which is especially annoying as the screen is a glare-type. The battery life of 4:27 hours is alright, but can only be achieved with the fiddly supplement battery (2:30 hours without).
If you do not want to spend that much money on a subnotebook, you could consider the VivoBook U38DT with the Radeon HD 8550M and the AMD A-Series A8-4555M made by Asus. The slim 13.3-incher is as thin as an ultrabook, weighs only 1.55 kg and costs an affordable 749 Euros (~$1000). Although it is not equipped with an IPS panel, its matte HD TN display delivers decent viewing angles and contrast. If you do not require much performance, but appreciate a high-quality case with a back-lit keyboard, the U38DT might be the notebook for you.
Dell's first business ultrabook, the Latitude 6430u failed to fascinate our US editor. The 14-incher with a TN panel only has an average display (poor viewing angles, contrast) and the input devices with short key travel cannot keep up with the professional experience of a genuine Latitude. Furthermore, it lacks a docking port. But, Dell made the ultrabook a little bit thicker and builds in eSATA, HDMI, VGA, and RJ45 ports. The robust construction, the replaceable battery and the easy serviceability are known advantages of the Latitude family. Unlike in the US, it is at least possible to choose a display with higher resolution in Germany. HD+ displays are available here as an option.
HP is asking a steep price of nearly 1700 Euros (~$2275) for its Folio 9470m business ultrabook. But the offering is average fare from a business standpoint. The HD TN panel could stem from a 300 Euro consumer device having low contrast, narrow viewing angles and low brightness. Furthermore, HP does not offer any alternatives. This is too bad as the Folio 9470m is perfect in all other aspects. The notebook is nice to grip, featuring high-quality materials of construction high quality input devices, the best SSD for an OEM version, long battery runtimes and low system noise. It even delivers a genuine docking port, which we miss in many business ultrabooks (see Latitude 6430u above).
The Asus X201E is completely different. The 11.6-inch subnotebook costs as much as a netbook, but uses a low voltage Celeron 847 instead of an Intel Atom. Solid build quality, good design, decent connectivity and input devices help it garner a good rating. But, we were very disappointed with the glossy display and the short battery life (3:11 hours).
The Toshiba Portégé R930-13F is a member of a popular line of business subnotebooks. Due to its magnesium construction it is light, but does not lack many interfaces typically found in business oriented devices. Apart from a docking port, it also houses VGA, eSATA, ExpressCard54, USB 3.0 ports and a DVD multi burner. The display has low contrast, but at least, it is bright and comes with a matte surface. Unfortunately, it also inherited the weaknesses typically found in Portégés: a poor touchpad, and a mediocre keyboard for business demands. By the way, the battery life of 7:21 hours in the WLAN test is excellent.
Subnotebook of January 2013: Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A-C4027H Touch
Although the rating of the Zenbook Prime fell due to its weaknesses, it remains a high score when you compare it to the rest of the devices. Its high-quality and robust aluminum unibody is still outstanding. It's a pleasure to use the input devices and the battery life of just over four hours is alright in view of the performance being offered. But, the reduced brightness of the display on battery and the reflective touch TFT panel are very disappointing. We recommend a UX31A without touch features (Standard FHD IPS), which starts at 1050 Euros (~$1400) in its lowest configuration.
What we like
The flawless workmanship of the full aluminum chassis which makes the laptop a stunner. This is the one of the laptops that sets the standard for good build quality in a notebook.
What we'd like to see
A docking interface on the bottom would not distort the look and would be useful to many business users. Without one, the user has to carry dongles around or purchase a USB 3.0 dock. External displays are sometimes troublesome to use due to the USB connections.
What surprises us
The reduction of brightness of the display on battery is unacceptable. The lower contrast and reduced brightness are aspects the user will have to come to terms with.
Asus F55A-SX099D 79%
MSI CR41-i587 79%
The HP ProBook 4545s is the AMD version of the 4540s. The price of 440 Euros (~$600) seems surprisingly low, especially as the potential customer considers the significant advantages of business devices over other cheap consumer laptops. High build quality (aluminum finish), top-quality input devices with very good feedback (perfect for prolific writers) and ergonomics (waste heat displacement, system noise) that could not be better. Finally, it also delivers decent battery life (4:41 hours in our WAN test) and the contrast of the HD display is sufficient. However, if you demand performance, you should not go for the 4545s. The Radeon HD 7420G is too weak for modern games, and the CPU performance of the AMD A Series APU A4-4300M is disappointing (barely at the level of the Intel Pentium/Celeron).
The Asus P55VA is the professional line of devices which can be recognized by the P before the model number. In terms of technology the 15.6-incher is mid-range laptop with the latest Core i5, no dedicated graphics, a simple, matte TN panel with HD resolution and a conventional hard drive. The input devices, build quality, and appearance the P55VA are of poorer quality than the ProBook 4545s, but it is similarly perfect when it comes to ergonomics.
Fujitsu's LifeBook A512 has a similar focus, but is not explicitly positioned as a business device. For 460 Euros (~$620), you'll get a solid laptop with a Core i3-2328M inside a simple plastic chassis. The touchpad is of poor quality. While the laptop does not fail in any other aspects, it can also not top the 4545s' build quality and input devices (keyboard is a little bit too stiff).
The Asus F55A is a very cheap notebook, which is often sold without Windows OS. The price of 329 Euros (~$440) is a challenge. Accordingly, the 15.6-inch notebook is equipped with an Intel Pentium B980 and its screen is reflective. The latter is not the only difference to the P55VA mentioned above. Asus uses a completely different case, which does not appear to be of the same quality. Furthermore, the input devices are poor to work with. Both devices have decent connectivity options and similar ergonomics.
The MSI CR41-i587 (599 Euro/$800) is a genuine consumer laptop without business pretensions. The input devices offer weak feedback, a cheap-looking chassis and high system noise give this laptop a low score. Its strength is its satisfactory performance (8 GB RAM). The Core i5-3210M and Intel HD Graphics 4000 deliver astonishing results. Furthermore, the HD display has decent contrast and maintenance of the 14-incher is very easy. But, in our opinion the price is too high as MSI does not incorporate a dedicated graphics card.
Office Notebook of January 2013: HP ProBook 4545s
Admittedly, the competition was weak. But, the ProBook 4545s proves that AMD hardware can win if they are inside an appropriate device. If you are not interested in performance and games, but rather in completion of papers, you'll like the 4545s.
What we like
The solid manufacturing quality and good performances of the hard drive and battery.
What we'd like to see
More thoughtfully placed connections and a port for a docking station.
What surprises us
That an office laptop can offer such great speakers.
Dell's Inspiron 15z (5523) is a very big ultrabook (2.17 kg), which is very well equipped with the GeForce GT 630M, a 128 GB SSD, and a Core i5-3317U for about 700 Euros (~$950). The simple, glossy TN display with poor contrast and narrow viewing angles did not impress us, but the high build quality and the keyboard did. Unfortunately the feedback of the latter is not first class, not to mention the poor touchpad. The performance is noteworthy (the fast SSD) and most games run smoothly in medium details. At the same time, the system remains cool and the system noise is low. Despite powerful components, the battery life is about 5:34 hours (WLAN test).
Acer claim that the Aspire V5-471G is light, cheap and gaming-capable. The slim 14-incher for 650 Euros (~$870) looks good. The GeForce GT 620M and Core i5-3317U deliver some decent gaming power and the manufacturer did not omit the optical drive. Its connectivity options is typical for a laptop in this category and Acer includes a special dongle for the RJ45 and VGA ports. The disadvantages are the short battery life (2:26 hours), the constant system noise and the poor contrast display with narrow viewing angles. Furthermore, prolific writers won't like the keyboard (short key travel, low key resistance).
The Packard Bell EasyNote LV44HC costs about the same as its rival from Acer, but comes with a GeForce GT 630M GPU and a Core i5-3210M. So, games run slightly smoother. But the input devices of the 17.3-incher are as poor as the Aspire V5-471G's. The connectivity options include three USB ports, HDMI and VGA, which is sparse for its size. The 1600 x 900 pixel TN panel has good contrast (656:1), but below average brightness on battery. Anyway, mobility does not prove to be a strength of the heavy laptop with a battery life of 3:06 hours in our WLAN test and a glare-type panel.
The 14-inch Toshiba Satellite P845-106 (2.02 kg) for 800 Euros (~$1100) is quite different. With a GeForce GT 630M and Core i5-3317U, it is a little bit slower than the EasyNote LV44HC. The glare-type HD display with weak viewing angles does not go well with the decent battery life of 5 hours (WLAN test). Decent speakers and a Blu-ray drive are not usually found in a 14-inch chassis. Furthermore, we like the high-quality aluminum case, which is not perfect (small flaws distributed over the case). The disadvantages are the temperature dissipation and system noise, which are particularly high (system noise high in idle mode).
Multimedia Notebook of January 2013: Dell Inspiron 15z (5523)
Despite notable weaknesses, the Inspiron 15z wins. Performance (thanks to the SSD), build quality, ergonomics, battery life – nothing to complain about here for 700 Euros. But throttled performance when the hardware is pushed, below average brightness of the glossy display and weak input devices are some critical disadvantages. Note: Freely available shop configurations only feature a hybrid drive consisting of a 500 GB HDD + 32 GB SSD.
What we like
The good case quality and the price-to-performance ratio.
What we'd like to see
A better display despite the low price.
What surprises us
Only the system memory can be replaced. The rest of the hardware components are hard to reach.