Saturday 10 December 2016

Want the best practical work laptop? It's one of these four

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

Dell XPS 13
Dell XPS 13
Macbook Air 11
Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon (3rd Gen)
Microsoft Surface Pro 3

'Could you recommend a laptop? I'm looking for something reliable, not too heavy - and not too expensive." It's a common query.

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I review quite a few laptops each year and have come to some conclusions as to which are the best for working Irish executives. The following, so, represents a basic summary of what I have found.

I should say that these recommendations are based on some assumptions about you as user. I'm assuming that you use your laptop for 'ordinary' working purposes (office programs, presentations, lots of online access). I'm also assuming that you need it to be reasonably light and portable, to have a better-than-average battery life and to be have enough future-proof features that won't leave you feeling out-of-date this time next year.

And I'm guessing that you might want to use it outside strict work hours (perhaps for the odd Netflix movie when travelling). Finally, I'm estimating that it has to be sufficiently well-designed so as not to look like a dull work device.

If this sounds like you, read on: here are the laptops I'd advise you to buy.

1. Dell XPS 13 (from €1,100 at dell.ie)

Reason: It's the best overall work-friendly PC laptop you can buy. The 13-inch laptop is a great size, is really light (1.2kg) and has loads of battery life (over 10 hours). It also has oodles of power under the hood (Intel i5 chip and higher) meaning this will still be chugging along admirably in three or four years. And it has a pretty amazing high resolution screen that will serve you well for graphical work stuff or movies.

Also to admire is the way that Dell squeezed this 13-inch screen into a body frame more reminiscent of a 12-inch (or even 11-inch) device by shaving the screen's borders to a hair's breadth. So it fits into bags that other 13-inch laptops won't. The best configuration is the €1,200 model, which has 8GB of Ram and a 256GB storage drive.

2. Apple MacBook Air 11 (from €1,030 at apple.ie)

Reason: It's still the best-designed portable laptop ever made. While Apple has brought out a deluxe, ultra-light (0.9kg) new laptop simply called 'MacBook', it costs €470 more than this base model and compromises a little on engine power (although for the purpose of offering extra battery life).

There are two sizes: 11- and 13-inch. But I've used the 11-inch model for close to four years for the following reasons: It fits into all sorts of bags due to its ultra-slim, compact size; It's very light (1.1kg); It has a good (but not category-best) battery life of about seven hours; It is beautifully designed: the finest laptop frame ever made; It has good power options (an extra €300 gets you an Intel i7 chip and 8GB of Ram).

3. Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon. 3rd Gen (from €1,360 at shop.lenovo.com/ie)

Reason: As well as being slim and fast, it keeps lots of ports, has extra security features and is the best laptop for typing. If you can persuade your office to spring for it, this 14-inch machine is definitely your all-in enterprise class laptop of choice.

In an age of cloud computing and the dropping of connection ports, the X1 Carbon arrogantly sports five, including two USB ports and - for whose who regularly experience wifi woes - an ethernet port. Of all Windows laptops, this is also the best designed in terms of its keyboard, which is easy and robust to type on. And though it's not as slim or light as some smaller rivals, it still scores this well on front, weighing in at 1.3kg. A good high resolution screen and a decent (seven hour) battery life round off its appeal.

4. Microsoft Surface 3 (from €750 with keyboard at Harvey Norman)

Reason: It has a superb 11-inch screen, is really light (0.9kg) and very flexible in what you can do with it. This recommendation comes with a big asterisk: it is really just for light users as its engine specs are skimpy (an Intel Atom chip, 64GB of storage, 2GB of Ram and a single USB port).

The Surface range are hybrid laptop-tablets that work as ordinary laptops or standalone touchscreen tablets. That means that you can use them as ordinary laptops but also switch over to touch-enabled devices. They're very nicely designed. On the other hand, they're niche devices. So if you like the form factor but need future-proof power, an extra €250 would get you the higher-spec Surface 3 Pro.

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