Best budget ultrabook laptop
The best laptops of 2017: Ultrabooks, budget PCs, 2-in-1s, and more
(Continued from last issue)
The Asus Zenbook UX305F is simply the best deal for an ultrabook that we've ever seen.
Enter Asus' UX305, the best budget ultrabook in town. It packs in 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for the low price of $700.
You'd think Asus would skimp in build quality or sneak in a lousy screen, but it didn't. The body is aluminum, and the display is a 1920x1080 IPS screen with anti-glare finish. It's also one of the thinnest ultrabooks today, at roughly 12mm thick and weighing just 2.6 pounds.
The CPU isn't a Core i5-class, but rather than step down to Atom, Asus stepped sideways, with Intel's Core M in the original UX305 and the new Core m3 in the updated UX305. We're actually in the middle of testing the updated Core m3 UX305. The early results say it's comparable in every way except perhaps performance.
Asus gives you a ton of value for the money and arguably the best budget ultrabook.
There are some compromises. There's no backlighting on the keyboard, which is pretty standard in any Ultrabook today. The trackpad is a tad springy. Still, it's one hell of a deal in a price range that usually nets you thick, ugly, and plastic.
[$699-$999 MSRP; $699 MSRP as reviewed]
Best luxury laptop
The new Surface Book i7 sticks with the original's one-of-a-kindness, and ups the graphics power gloriously.
There's no way to describe Microsoft's Surface Book as anything but a luxury item. The configuration you want-the one with the GPU under the keyboard-isn't even available until you fork over $1,650. But what you get is glorious.
Start with the beautiful, high-resolution 13.5-inch screen, a discrete GeForce option, Skylake dual-core and exceptional battery life. That you can remove the screen to use as a tablet-err, clipboard-with the included pen is just a major bonus.
Microsoft's Surface Book is expensive but fast and unique, and a radical re-thinking of a laptop.
Performance in general is near the top of the heap, particularly in the Core i7 model that we reviewed. On graphics loads, including video-accelerated encoding, it can't be touched by anything in its class.
Those who can afford it are going to get what they want: a beautiful laptop that'll probably start conversations in the first-class cabin as you fly from Dubai to London. [$1,499-$3,199 MSRP; $3,199 MSRP as reviewed]
Best hybrid laptop
The combination of an Intel Skylake chip, a new Type Cover keyboard and faster SSD speed help push the Surface Pro 4 into a higher echelon of performance.
The reigning winner in this category shouldn't be a surprise, given that Microsoft gave legs to the concept of hybrid tablet/laptop devices. The Surface series is really an evolutionary step beyond the typical "convertible" devices that physically separate from the keyboard to run independently as tablets. Surface clones have arisen that are also light, yet still very capable: Lenovo has its Miix 700, HP has its Spectre 12 X2.
We expect the clone wars to keep marching on, but the best one today remains the Surface Pro 4. It has a top-rated display, great performance, and its keyboard and trackpad are miles ahead of competing designs (*cough* iPad Pro). We choose it over the Surface Pro 3 for its performance and better thermals (with less fan noise) compared to the older model.
The Surface Pro 4 is an evolved Surface Pro 3 and better in everyway.
The only caveat: It's expensive-and the essential keyboard adds $130 to the price. (Nope, it's not included.) That means the mid-range Surface Pro 4 with 256GB of storage, 8GB of RAM and Core i5 is a $1,430 computer. Ouch.
Still, for those who really valuable portability-it really is laptop performance in a tablet-and will actually use it as a tablet on occasion, you'd still be hard pressed to beat the Surface Pro 4 right now. [$899-$1,799 MSRP; $1,430 MSRP as reviewed with optional keyboard cover]
Best budget hybrid laptop
This 2-in-1 has touch, pen support, and the same cover-style keyboard, but for a lot less cash than a Surface.
If you're thinking that the Surface 3 is the Surface Pro 4's affordable alternative, think again. For $800, HP's Spectre x2 gives you 128GB of storage, 4GB of RAM, and Intel's Core m3 series-the company's latest Skylake CPU, tuned for low power. It's also LTE-ready, so you can easily add it to your cellular plan for untethered working (that's a $100 option for the Surface 3). Oh yeah, and you get the keyboard, too.
That's a heck of a package, especially given that a comparable Surface 3 bundled with its optional type cover costs $830-and sports an Atom processor. About the only places that the Surface 3 shines are in battery life and portability: The Spectre x2 died a little more than an hour sooner in our battery rundown test, and it's well over a half-pound heavier. The kickstand on the Spectre x2 folds back to 150 degrees and pops out with a switch.
But the Spectre x2's larger display and solid performance put it far ahead of the Surface 3 for office and home tasks. Relative to the Surface Pro 4, there are compromises it makes in the display (which has a larger bezel, skews blue, and is slightly less bright), as well as with its kickstand design, but you still get tremendous bang for your buck. [$950 MSRP; $1,150 as reviewed (discontinued model)]
To be continued…