Notebookcheck's Best of May 2011

Sebastian Jentsch (translated by Martina Osztovits), 06/18/2011

30 pieces. That many reviews we published in May. You can look at our favorites while our editors are already writing the next test reports. The best devices of each category are summarized here.

What a month! We actually reviewed 30 devices during the 31 days of May. While not a single Netbook was amongst them, we indeed scrutinized ten Office and nine Multimedia laptops.

In the following, we compare the reviewed laptops of the same category to each other and elect the best laptop of May 2011 of each of the five categories. Because we did not have any Netbook under review in May, the best Netbook is missing. But, in June they'll be present again.

Category Tablet/MID

Contenders:

Dell Streak 7"
Acer Iconia Tab A500 
Samsung Google Nexus S I9020/I9023 
Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 
Acer Iconia Tab W500 Keydock 

The category with the smallest devices included the 4-inch big Samsung Google Nexus S I9020/I9023 in May. Chief editor Simon Leitner reviewed the Android 2.3 Smartphone during his short travel to Rome and praised the very good display (Amoled and SuperClear). But, he'd liked to see a dual-core CPU and a better case. The tablet category started with the Dell Streak 7", which convinced us with a good workmanship, high Tegra II performance, very low weight and navigation option (GPS). 

The 10-inch Iconia Tab A500 runs under Android 3.0 and features a good battery life of 5:30 to 10 hours and a contrast-rich and bright display. Because of its good workmanship, a docking port and, the good quality of the case it belongs to the best test devices in May. The sister model, the Acer Iconia Tab W500 Keydock is a Windows Tablet based on AMD Fusion. We liked the contrast-rich, rather viewing angle-independent and bright display. The enhanced functionality of the pre-installed Windows OS could be a decisive factor for some customers.

The Eee Pad Transformer TF101 under Android 3.0 turns into a Netbook with its „keyboard docking station“, which allows comfortable typing. We like the attractive aluminium design and the big number of interfaces. The reflective display is a disadvantage.

Tablet/MID of May 2011: Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101

Both, the Asus Transformer and Iconia Tab W500 Keydock use the Keyboard-Docking concept and achieve rather good 86 % in our rating. The tester particularly liked the keyboard option under Android, which enhances the usability of the free OS. The cheaper price of 499 euro and the IPS display finally let the TF101 win.

Shortcut:

What we like

Above all, the docking option.  Those who spend hours upon hours typing will find themselves satisfied with this Android-based tablet.

What we'd like to see

A more competitive price. Even with the keyboard dock included, the TF101 should be considerably less expensive than the Apple iPad—then some real competition might flare up.

What surprises us

That this concept is only now taking off.

The competition

Most similar devices can only be found with a Windows OS: Asus Slate or Acer Iconia W500.  The Apples iPad 2 works with a Bluetooth keyboard as do other Android tablets.

Category Subnotebook

Contenders:

Acer Aspire TimelineX 3830TG 
Dell Vostro 3350
Asus U30SD-XA1 
Acer Aspire 3750-2314G50MNkk 

In terms of performance the TimelineX 3830TG with Core i5 and gaming-capable graphics dominates the scuffle of the four 13.3-inchers. The Vostro 3350 and the U30SD-XA1 have to live with small dedicated graphics cards (Radeon HD 6470 or GT 520M). Featuring the Intel HD, the Aspire 3750 is a pure Office-Subnotebook. The TimelineX has the best input devices and convinces with a battery life of 7:30 hours. The other laptops cannot keep up with the TimelineX in terms of battery life, too. However, none of them has a shorter battery life than 5:30 hours in the WLAN-test. We did not like that the TimelineX 3830TG quickly throttles the CPU even in typical use (gaming). The three competitors don't have to struggle with this problem.

Subnotebook of May 2011: Dell Vostro 3350

The Dell Vostro 3350 got the highest total score and convinced us in terms of battery life, performance, and low temperature. Designed for mobile use, it comes with an AR-coated, but not very bright display. The mouse replacement is comfortable and the rather balanced connectivity includes USB 3.0 and eSATA.

Shortcut:

What we like

The actually fairly balanced overall impression with small shortcomings and the successful mobile alignment.

What we'd like to see

Mainly, a higher quality display, but also a more attractive speaker system for multimedia applications.

What surprises us

The hardware's good performance with a very good mobility.

The competition

Current subnotebooks with a 13.3 inch screen and the latest hardware. Among others, for example, the Acer Aspire 3750 as an affordable consumer-book, the Apple MacBook Pro 13 Early 2011 with a tried and tested unibody case or the Samsung 900X3A including an illumination-eager LED screen.

Category Office

Contenders:

Dell Vostro 3450
HP EliteBook 8560p 
Sony Vaio VPC-EE4J1E/WI 
Toshiba Tecra R850-11P
Lenovo ThinkPad L520 NWB53GE 
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420s 
Dell Vostro 3750 
Dell Vostro 3550 
Dell Latitude E6520 i7/FHD 
Dell Latitude E6520 i5/HD 

Among the ten contenders you'll find every type of Office laptop from the cheap low-cost Sony Vaio VPC-EE4J1E/WI (from 528 euro) up to the expensive Full HD Dell Latitude E6520 i7/FHD (1705 euro). The business bolides HP EliteBook 8560p and Latitude E6520 i7/FHD were running shoulder to shoulder. The Latitude won the race with an advance of just a single point (88 versus 89 points). The WUXGA resolution and the very bright display were the decisive factors.

The rest of the field consisted of cheap, but good office computers. The Dell Vostros 3750, 3550, and 3450 (17/15/14-Zoll) convinces with a stable and good workmanship. Our tester rated the keyboard suitable, but ordinary. But, the very big mouse pad was praised, while the ar-coated displays turned out to be only satisfactory because of its weak contrasts and colors. In this aspect the Latitude E6520 i5/HD did not perform better, but, it features a better keyboard and is quieter than its Vostro colleagues.

The 15-incher Toshiba Tecra R850-11P proved to be a quiet and well-tempered business colleague with first-class battery life and integrated UMTS-module. The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420s lost exactly this kind of mobility. While the battery life of the Edge of 4:30 might still keep up with the 6:30 hours of the Tecra, using a reflective and rather dark display was definitely the wrong choice.

The Lenovo ThinkPad L520 NWB53GE is alright for serious office workers with a small wallet (from 570 euro). Despite its weak display (narrow viewing angles, low contrast) it got a good overall score, because the input devices, the docking port and the ergonomics are top. The Sony Vaio VPC-EE4J1E/WI (from 528 euro) starts in the low-cost range. This consumer laptop is barely fit for office use: The keys are spongy, and the TFT is glossy. Low temperature and system noise are the only pros.

Office-Laptop of May 2011: Dell Latitude E6520 i7/FHD

The Latitude E6520 i7/FHD earns points where many other laptops fail: the display. Wide viewing anglessRGB color space, sufficiently bright for use in the sun. The input devices are perfect and, despite high performance, the system noise stays low. The battery life of 4:30 hours is still ok. The only disadvantage: is the always audible, but steady noise of the 7200 rpm hard drive.

Shortcut:

What we like

Work suitable, bright office screen and great input devices for a fatigueless office use.

What we'd like to see 

The noise created by the 7200 rpm disk can fortunately be avoided with an SSD.

What surprises us

The low system noise and maximum CPU and GPU load.

The competition

HP ProBook 6550b (15.6"), Asus P42JC (14"), Latitude E5420 Essential (14"), E6420 (14"), E6520 i5/HDHP Elitebook 8460p (14"), Lenovo ThinkPad T420 (14"), ThinkPad T520 (15.6"); Acer Travelmate 8472T (14")

Category Multimedia

Contenders:

Dell XPS 15z 
Alienware M14x 
Asus K73SV-TY032V 
Asus N73SV 
Dell Inspiron 15R (N5110) 
Schenker XMG A501 (Clevo W150HRM)
Acer Aspire 4830TG 
Acer Aspire 5830TG 
Samsung RF711-S02DE 

The test field consisted of models between 14 up to 17-inch size and so offered a wide variety of nine different laptops. The bolides among them were the Asus K73SV-TY032V, the Asus N73SV, and the Samsung RF711-S02DE (all 17.3-inch). The Samsung colleague featured a quad-core performance, two hard drives and a gaming-capable GT 540M graphics off. As usual, the ergonomics of the Samsung was first class, but, the display had a low contrast. The colleagues from Asus only offered Core i5 performance, but, contrary to the RF711, they did not need to throttle under full load. The N73SV features a first-class workmanship and low system noise and temperatures. Alike its brother, the K73SV-TY032V it misses a "very good" because of the low-contrast display and the weak keyboard.

The Dell XPS 15z, Dell Inspiron 15R (N5110), and the Acer Aspire 5830TG can be carried around more easily. The Dell laptop offer the best workmanship of the reviewed 15-inchers, the Acer Aspire 5830TG with 8 hours the best battery life. Acer 's (surprisingly) and Dell's laptops feature the best input devices.  The Aspire 5830TG has the best gaming performance, the XPS 15z is just slightly slower. The Inspiron 15R is not designed for gaming, but costs only 500 euro. All three of them have run-of-the-mill displays, whereas the XPS 15z has the best viewing angles. 

The 14-inch big gaming laptop, the Alienware M14x, does not meet our high expectations, because it's loud. Considering the size, the gaming performance of GeForce GT 555M, Core i7 Dual Core, and SSD is notable and the workmanship is first-class. If you consider the price of the Alien of 1.800 euro too expensive, you'll find an interesting alternative in the Acer Aspire 4830TG, whose GT 540M still offers a feasible gaming performance for half the price. Disadvantages are the low-contrast TFT and the weak connectivity.

Multimedia-Laptop of May 2011: Schenker XMG A501 (Clevo W150HRM)

The winner is not an A-Brand, but comes from the  BTO-manufacturer Schenker Notebooks. The XMG A501 (Clevo W150HRM) costs 1.200 euro and achieved a "good" or "very good" in all aspects. The best is the contrast-rich, ar-coated HD+-display. A good gaming performance (GeForce GT 555M) and an SSD, which boost the performance even without Core i7, join in. A disadvantage is the moderate sound and the very simple plastic case without aluminium and bells and whistles.

Shortcut:

What we like

The matt display is a boon.

What we miss

Mainly a better sound quality.

What surprises us

The notebook does not have any major flaws.

The competition

Other 15 inch all-round laptops, based on the Sandy Bridge processors, include: Acer Aspire 5830TG, Acer Aspire 5750G, Asus N53SV, Dell XPS 15, Dell Vostro 3550 and Packard Bell EasyNote TS11.

Category Gaming / DTR

Contenders:

Update Review Apple MacBook Pro 17 Early 2011 (2.3 GHz Quad-Core, matt)
Lenovo ThinkPad W520

The two Workstation- or DTR-bolides ran with 88 or 87 points (ThinkPad vs. MacBook Pro)  shoulder to shoulder. As they use the same Core i7 processor and the same HDD, the 15.6 and the 17-incher are on par in terms of performance. Even the gaming-performances (under Windows) are on a similar level, whereas the ThinkPad W520 features a Quadro-GPU, i.e., a genuine business graphics card. Both laptops have matte, contrast-rich and sRGB-capable displays. So, nothing is missing for a professional use (both FHD).

DTR-Laptop of May 2011: Lenovo ThinkPad W520

The MacBook Pro 17 Early 2011 was already elected the Desktop Replacement of March 2011. Points win: We choose the ThinkPad W520 best DTR of May. Despite professional Quadro graphics its gaming performance is huge. Nearly all test games ran smoothly in FHD. Although the surface temperatures suffer from the high-performance, the system noise stays acceptable.

» Das Lenovo Thinkpad W520 ist derzeit ab 1469,- bei Notebooksbilliger.de erhältlich.

Shortcut:

What we like

The strong points of older ThinkPads remain: the laptop performs considerably faster compared to older models and boasts a broad set of features.  Thanks to Optimus, the battery life is long and system noise is low for this form factor.

What we'd like to see

The same level of performance when on battery power, (at least) the option of a dedicated number pad, and a starting configuration that includes a full-HD screen.

What surprises us

That despite its high level of performance, Lenovo manages to keep the system noise and heat to a minimum.

The competition

The few alternatives that exist would include the Fujitsu Workstation Celsius H710 with updated hardware and the upcoming new line of Dell Precisions (mid May) and HP EliteBooks (mid June).  A less expensive option would be the previous generation of W-series ThinkPads—whose supply is however running thin, so they might already be sold out in many places.

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Author: Sebastian Jentsch, 2011-06-18 (Update: 2013-06- 6)