5 business laptops to replace your Windows XP computer
MacBook Pro Retina 13; Sony Vaio Pro 11; Dell XPS 12 Convertible Touch; HP Envy 17 Leap Motion; Microsoft Surface Pro 2
MacBook Pro Retina 13
Price: from €1,250
Apple's MacBook Pro is arguably the Mercedes of laptops due to its superb physical design and easy-to-use software. Although it still lacks the ability to run some Windows-based business software without using clunky Windows-compatible systems (such as VMWare or Parallels), the cloud-based nature of many work applications means that switching to Apple's operating system is nowhere near as big an issue for business users as it once was. The entry-level MacBook Pro (€1,250) comes with more storage memory but is heavier and has weaker battery life. The best option is the 13-inch Retina model (€1,350) with an Intel Core i5 chip, 4GB of memory and 128GB of solid-state storage. If you're looking for more power or screen size, 15-inch, Core i7, 8GB Ram versions are available for up to €1,200 more.
Sony Vaio Pro 11
Price: from €1,000
While 15-inch laptops rule as desk PCs, lightweight 11-inch machines have a clear edge for frequent business travellers. They're far, far more portable than their 15-inch counterparts: these are computers that you can open up and use in economy class without any problem. Sony's Vaio Pro 11 weighs just 0.87kg, which is even lighter than Apple's feted 11-inch MacBook Air (at 1.06kg). While power isn't the key attribute here (a core i3 or i5 processor works fine), you can beef this machine up to a core i7 chip, 8GB of ram and a 512GB solid state drive. You won't compromise too much on ports and connectors, with three USB docks, a (full) HDMI port and a memory card slot. The laptop's battery life is decent, while a backlit keyboard rounds off the laptop's nice design. This is the kind of laptop that consigns a work-tablet to the unused cabinet.
Dell XPS 12 Convertible Touch
I'm not always a fan of touchscreen laptops. But Dell's XPS 12 Touch has an extra design tweak that makes it well worth looking at for anyone who finds decent utility from a full-sized tablet. The main difference between this and other machines is that the 12-inch screen flips and rotates to make it into a standalone (Windows 8.1) tablet – with access to Microsoft's app store – if you so wish. While this won't be of core importance to everyone, I liked it because (a) I use laptops for more than just work and (b) Dell hasn't skimped on materials. For instance, the XPS 12's screen is a genuinely high resolution, 1080p affair. And it's stuffed with high-end engine parts, such as a Core i7 processor, 8GB of Ram and 256GB of solid state storage memory. While the machine's battery life isn't as good as a tablet, you'll easily get seven hours' usage.
HP Envy 17 Leap Motion
For the many who now use their laptop as a semi-permanent desktop PC, it's nice to have a large screen. In addition to a lively 17-inch display and some very beefed up specifications (Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of Ram as standard and a whopping 1.5 terabyte hard drive), this laptop throws in a few extra features that it hopes might interest you. Foremost of these is its gesture-control technology, incorporated through its Leap Motion sensor. The idea is that you can control certain functions by waving your hand in front of the screen. Personally, I find this technology a little awkward (not to mention gimmicky), but it seems to appeal to some people. There's no discounting its excellent sound quality, though, augmented by Beats Audio. The Envy delivers a large screen with considerable power, memory, graphics and storage space.
Microsoft Surface Pro 2
Price: €900 (64GB)
Although this looks a lot like a tablet, I regard Microsoft's 11-inch Surface Pro 2 as a laptop. Okay, it has a touchscreen interface. And its keyboard is actually an accessory (purchased separately). But this machine's ability to switch from Windows 8.1 ('tiles') to a Windows 7 format makes it a surprisingly effective laptop replacement. Unlike previously limited Surface 'RT' models, you can load any software you like onto it, via its various ports. The Surface Pro 2 easily matches most laptops for power and speed, with 4GB (or 8GB) of Ram supporting an Intel i5 processor and an SSD drive configurable up to a whopping 512GB. It's also very light and, with its accessory keyboard (which should be the 'Type' model, not the awkward 'Touch' model), is far more compact than most of its rivals.