Notebookcheck's Best of September 2012
Opposites. Is a 1500 Euros (~$1956) Ultrabook too pricy? So a Vaio for 2400 Euros (~$3131) would be even further out of your range? What about an AMD netbook for 250 Euros (~$326)? Too cheap? Do you feel the same way about a ThinkPad for 350 Euros (~$456)? Find out why more expensive is not always better, and why cheap does not have to mean poor quality.
August was a month of opposites: expensive models, like the EliteBook 8570p (1500 Euros (~$1956)), the high-end Acer Aspire S5-391 Ultrabook with a Low Voltage Core i7 (1500 Euros (~$1956)), or the Sony Vaio SV-Z1311Z9EX, which covers the AdobeRGB color space (2400 Euros (~$3131)), made up the higher price category. Again and again, we noticed that even the most expensive models have weaknesses. This is bad news for the manufacturers, as anyone willing to pay such a high price for a laptop will weigh the flaws just as heavily.
On the other side, we have the low cost models. We tested a range of cheap laptops which cost between 250 to 450 Euros (~$326 to $587). We found laptops we would not recommend, like the Lenovo IdeaPad S206, and models which positively surprised us, like the ThinkPad Edge E135/E130. These 11.6-inch ThinkPad notebooks scored 86 points (out of a 100) in our test, which is surprising as the mini business laptop, HP Elitebook 2570p, scored the same, yet costs nearly 2000 Euros (~$2608).
Most of our August reviews revolved around mainstream devices (400-800 Euros (~$521-$1043)). This includes high-class smartphones (Apple's iPhone 5 - 90%), and tablets like the Acer Iconia Tab A700 (449 Euros (~$585)). This tablet sports a Full-HD resolution, but does not have a true IPS panel. The Apple iPhone 5 stands alone in the smartphone category in September as no other devices were tested in this period.
The Dell Precision M4700 workstation (90%) was also unopposed in our test. This professional laptop houses a 256 GB SSD and a 1 TB hard disk. The processor is a quad-core i7, which can hit 3.6 GHz with Turbo Boost. The previous Precision workstation had the same case and was introduced at the end of 2011. At that time, the Quadro 4000M and an i7-2920XM ruled the hardware world.
Gaming laptops were scarce in September. We only tested the Deviltech Fragbook 17 with a GeForce GTX 675M and an i7-3610QM. The MSI case is a little outdated but the laptop has a matte Full-HD screen, with great viewing angles and a good contrast. Gamers, with a low price limit, should take a look at the Fragbook (1350 Euros (~$1761)), as similarly-performing laptops include the Samsung Series 7 Gamer (1800 Euros (~$2348)) and the Schenker XMG P702 Pro.
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Asus UX32A-R3001V - 86 %
HP Elitebook 2570p-B6Q10EA - 86 %
Sony Vaio SV-Z1311Z9EX - 84 %
Sony Vaio SV-S1311G4E - 82 %
HP Envy Spectre XT 13-2000eg - 79 %
The 8 subnotebooks of August ranged from the 300 Euros (~$391) Edge E130 to the HP Elitebook 2570p, and thus covered the entire breadth of small, handy notebooks. The UX32A-R3001V is an Asus Ultrabook for buyers with small purses. This 13.3-inch model costs 800 Euros (~$1043) and does not have an aluminum unibody, an SSD or strong viewing angles. This would be fine for the price, but the slow Core i3 will surely dampen the spirits of performance enthusiasts.
The HP Elitebook 2570p takes an entirely different direction. The business 12.5-inch laptop is equipped with a Core i7-3520M and a Micron RealSSD C400. The notebook offers great performance, which negatively affects the emissions. However, the run time is unaffected at 6 hours. The laptop has a matte display which is too dark for outdoors use.
HP wants 2000 Euros (~$2609) for its mini business model, whereas Lenovo is satisfied with a mere 375 Euros (~$489) for its ThinkPad Edge E130 (running Free-DOS). Lenovo targets the masses, who require good everyday performance, with this low-cost ThinkPad. This laptop offers exceptionally good input devices, workmanship, emissions and mobility for this price class. The previously-mentioned Edge E135 is the identical AMD sibling.
Kiefer Sutherland introduced it in Acer's advertisement, and now we have it before us; the Aspire S5-391 is a premium model which will require the buyer to shell out 1500 Euros (~$1956). The model is filled to the brim with high-end tech: RAID-SSD, Core i7 and motorized rear ports (Thunderbolt!). Unfortunately, the installed 08/15 TN screen (glare) has weak colors and poor viewing angles.
So, if Acer's flagship can "only" hit 84%, what can the Sony Vaio SV-Z1311Z9EX achieve? Sadly, this 13.1-inch Vaio scored the same, due to high emissions, weak brightness and throttling of the CPU at load. For now, we have taken down the review of the Vaio and are running our tests on a second model to see if the CPU throttling was a flaw in our test model, or if it is a flaw in the entire series. The outcome of this query will not alter the final score of the laptop by much.
Is 850 Euros (~$1108) in your range? Sony shows us that it can offer reasonably-priced laptops in the form of the white Vaio SV-S1311G4E. The hardware is not extraordinary: a Sandy Bridge Core i5, HDD and a 08/15 HD panel. The input devices were comfortable to use and the keyboard is backlit. The case offers the same great features as the case of the more expensive SV-E models: good sturdiness and a slot-in optical drive.
Acer's Aspire V5-171 is a special model: this 11.6-inch model runs on a typical Ultrabook CPU, the Core i5-3317U, which accelerates the unit much more than the Pentium in the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E130. We did not expect a good display from Acer, but we did want decent battery life. Unfortunately, the 3-cell battery can only last 3:33 hours. That is very little for 600 Euros (~$782).
The HP Envy Spectre XT 13-2000eg is a true Ultrabook. It is light and measures 13.3-inches. HP offers the notebook for around 1000 Euros (~$1304) and equips it with an SSD. Sadly, the TN panel has weak contrast and poor viewing angle stability. However, the high-quality case, good-feedback keyboard (backlit) and high program performance are worth your money. The noticeable emissions and CPU throttling at full load are additional flaws, which drop the rating to 79%.
Subnotebook of September 2012: the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E130 NZU5FGE
We had a stalemate: the Asus UX32A, the HP Elitebook 2570p and the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E130 (86%). So what did we do? We picked the cheapest model of the three, the Edge E130, as it offers the best price-to-performance ratio. This model is not distracted by the current "Ultra Slim" fashion trends and aims for the core ideals of a work laptop; in fact, it does not even need an SSD or a Core i5 to successfully achieve them.
What we like
The keys and dual pointing devices are easy-to-use. No other laptops (even bigger ones) of this price category offer such a good keyboard. Great stroke distance, clear pressure point and a conical curve in each key - it does not get any better than this.
What we miss
A brighter display, which would allow us to surf outdoors in the coming summer. More performance with an SSD? Yes, but for this price, it would be outrageous to ask for one.
What surprises us
How Lenovo could keep the price so low on this great 11.6-inch model.
Dell Latitude E6430 - 86%
Dell Latitude E5430 - 84%
Lenovo B570e-N2F23GE - 81%
MSI CR643-B9404CR - 78%
Wortmann Terra 1450 II - 78%
The office laptops of August include sturdy business notebooks, such as the EliteBook 8570p, and cheap devices, like the Compaq Presario CQ58. The Wortmann Terra 1450 II and TravelMate P453-M lie in the price range spanned by the two models above.
The Dell Latitude E6430 (14-inch) is being upgraded to Ivy Bridge, but retains its massive and very high-quality case. This laptop is cheap, compared to other Latitude models, and is equipped with an HD panel, which we cannot recommend due to poor colors, brightness and viewing angles. Dell offers an upgrade to the HD+ screen found in the predecessor for a mere 34 Euros (~$44).
The HP EliteBook 8570p is a 15.6-inch business laptop. Its resolution is an adequate 1600x900 pixels, and it offers better brightness, colors and viewing angles than the Latitude E6430. However, the input devices, workmanship and ports are of the same standard as the Latitude competitor. The short battery life and the lack of switchable graphics (no HD 4000) are two flaws in the HP laptop.
The Latitude E5430 is not the 15-inch version of the E6430, but instead represents a cheaper Latitude series with a different case. The amazing build quality and long battery life of the E6xxx-series can be found in this model as well. An HD+ display offers high brightness, but the laptop lacks the good contrast and resolution of the E6430 (optional). After seeing the decent input devices and the low noise emissions, it was clear that the E5430 offered a nice balanced between luxury and economy for a fair price.
The established business laptop manufacturers felt secure, till a new threat emerged: the Acer TravelMate P453-M (15.6-inch). The laptop loses a few points due to a cheap synthetic material case, modest input devices and a poor HD panel. The extremely low emissions are impressive, but they are countered by the lack of a docking port (important for business notebooks) and such few interfaces. The 650 Euros (~848) price tag is far lower than that of the other competitors.
It can drop further, claims Lenovo. The B570e-N2F23GE (Pentium B960) is a 15.6-inch laptop which focuses successfully on a few core properties which make the office life easier: good keyboard (touchpad is not so good), low emissions and decent battery life. Nothing more and nothing less for 400 Euros (~$521).
HP's Compaq Presario CQ58 and MSI's CR643 belong to the same league. These 15.6-inch laptops deliver simple Pentium performance for the price of 350 Euros (~$456). Each model has its own strengths, even if they are few in number. The Presario CQ58 is especially cool and quiet, whereas the CR643 is noticeably loud. However, the MSI has the brighter display and better contrast. Both models offer simple input devices. The big advantage of the CR643: almost all ports are placed on the rear. This placement is hard to find in such simple notebooks, but it can help keep the desk clear of cables.
Acer's low-cost Ultrabook proceeds to the second round with an Ivy Bridge CPU (Core i5-3317U). The 13.3-inch Aspire S3-391 (about 800 Euros (~$1043)) has a slow cache SSD on-board, instead of an SSD. However, it still delivers high program performance. We are disappointed by the battery life: less than 4 hours. The HD display is not very bright and has weak contrast, which is to be expected in this price class.
The Terra 1450 II is a surprisingly cheap Ultrabook. Wortmann's specialty is the combination of a Core i3 and a 128 GB SSD. This is offered for the price of 700 Euros (~$913). Currently, only HDD and cache SSD Ultrabooks, like the Aspire S3-391, are sold at this price. At first, everything is good: sturdy case, good battery life (6 hours), decent input devices and good program performance. However, the matte display is extremely dark and the use in sunlight is practically impossible.
Office laptop of September 2012: HP EliteBook 8570p
Elite or Latitude? We picked the EliteBook as it had the higher brightness and better contrast. Note: Dell also offers a good HD+ panel for its laptop. The rest is good: nice interface variety (docking), good upgrade possibilities, a cool case and good CPU performance.
What we like
The overall packet is impressive and can score thanks to a first-class case, great display, extensive connectivity and good performance.
What we miss
Switchable graphics should have been installed in the EliteBook as they could have increased the battery life and widened the functionality (Intel Quick Sync). In many cases, the performance gap between the Intel HD 4000 and the AMD HD 7570M is slight.
What surprises us
HP installs a great display which can even beat the nice display of the predecessor. We are also surprised by the price, which is quite close to the HP 8570w workstation, as this means that the laptop will be in a fierce competition with a model from its own house.
Fujitsu Lifebook AH532 - 80%
HP Pavilion dv7-7000sg - 79%
Sony Vaio SV-E1511V1EW - 79%
Samsung NP355V5C-S05DE - 78%
There were no excellent all-rounders in September. Instead, the focus was on cheap all-round laptops, which did not even have good enough hardware to hit the high digits in our test. We start with the Acer Aspire V3-551G with an AMD quad-core CPU and dual-graphics. This laptop costs less than 600 Euros (~$782). Sadly, it is not as powerful in gaming as its Intel counterpart, the Aspire V3 (GeForce GT 640M), but it offers good enough performance to deliver medium details and HD resolution.
Samsung is offering an AMD Trinity platform in the Series 3 355V5C. This laptop sports a dual-core processor, but has the same dual-graphics and Radeon HD 7670M as the Aspire V3-551G. The AMD dual-core does not limit gameplay, but we noticed that the dual-GPUs were at a disadvantage to the HD 7670M alone at low details. In this case, switching off this feature can increase performance.
The Aspire V3-551G and Series 3 355V5C are plagued by micro-stutters as soon as the frames drop to around 30 fps. AMD has not been able to solve this issue for years. The program performance is fine for both, but users, who want high CPU performance, should look towards Intel.
For example, the Fujitsu Lifebook AH532 with a GeForce GT 640M LE. This laptop is available for the same price, and due to the LE version of the GPU, the graphics performance is slightly or not at all better than the Aspire V3-551G above. However, the driver support is good and no micro-stutters appear. We did not have to manually set the performance modes thanks to Nvidia Optimus, which automatically picked the best profile for the scenario. Unfortunately, this 15.6-inch model got quite warm and uses excessive amounts of glossy synthetic material.
Less gloss, more elegance and high-quality aluminum surfaces - this would describe the 17-inch HP Pavilion dv7-7000sg well. The notebook is equipped with a GeForce GT 630M and a Core i5. The price starts at 700 Euros (~$913). The gaming performance is not sufficient to satisfy the 1600x900 pixel resolution. Problems also appear in games running at high details at the HD resolution. The Pavilion test model misses out on a rating above 80% due to high temperature and noise emissions. The display also has weak contrast.
The 15.5-inch Vaio SV-E1511V1EW is equipped with a similarly low-quality HD screen. This time a Radeon HD 7650M and a Core i5 come into play. This combination is good, but the GT 640M LE of the LifeBook AH532 performs better with high details in games. We like the good build quality and low noise emissions. Due to the low-quality touchpad, high temperature emissions and (at best) average gaming performance, we could only give this model a rating of 79%.
We finish off with the Toshiba Satellite L850-153, which is accompanied by the HD 7670M, a Core i5 and a display with weak contrast. The graphics card is not always powerful enough to deliver fluid gameplay at high details with the HD resolution. However, the AMD GPU performs quite well in comparison to the Nvidia GT 630M. Still, glaring weaknesses affect the rating of the 15.6-inch model and prevent it from hitting the high numbers. The synthetic material case appears cheap and is very sensitive, whereas most of the competition offers high-quality aluminum.
Multimedia laptop of September 2012: Fujitsu Lifebook AH532
We were not overwhelmingly convinced by any one participant in this category. All the test models landed ratings between 76 to 80% due to serious weaknesses. We picked the Fujitsu Lifebook AH532, with a GeForce GT 640M LE and a Core i5. The graphics performance is slightly higher than a middle-class GT 630M and the laptop offers low noise emissions and a good price-to-performance ratio: 650 Euros (~$848). The Core i7 configuration is also quite interesting (700 Euros (~$913)).
What we like
Fujitsu employs the latest generation of Intel processors.
What we miss
A brighter display with better contrast.
What surprises us
That almost the entire notebook is covered by glossy synthetic material.
HP Pavilion dm1-4200sg - 79%
All three 11.6-inch netbooks run on an AMD APU: the E-Series E2-1800/E1-1200. The IdeaPad S206 is priced aggressively at 250 Euros (~$326), but lacks important features, such as a good battery life or a matte display. The HP Pavilion dm1-4200sg does not impress us more. The run time is great, but the brightness of the reflective TFT panel is modest. In addition, the build quality is poor as the base of the laptop can be pushed inwards. The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E135 is a completely different story: matte screen, strong battery life, excellent input devices, USB 3.0 and a sturdy chassis which offers a nice grip.
Netbook of September 2012: Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E135
Lenovo does everything right. The Lenovo netbook combines good work performance with good mobility. At 385 Euros (~$502, for the Free-DOS version), buyers will not be limited to students only. The smallest Edge has even delighted the testers: the competition loses to this small model mainly due to poor battery life and/or their reflective displays.
What we like
The cute, red paint on the display cover offers a nice grip and does not leave room for fingerprints. USB 3.0 is provided twice.
What we miss
A brighter display, as in the Edge E130.
What surprises us
A different platform, yet the interior life is almost identical. The input is almost identical to the professional ThinkPad E125.
The competition - less than 450 Euros (~$587)