Wednesday 25 April 2018

Take five: Laptops that could do the business for you

Lenovo Thinkpad
Lenovo Thinkpad
Surface pro 3
Dell Latitude
HP Elite
Macbook Pro

With August nearly over and business shifting up a gear, it might be time to look again at your work tools. Is your laptop fit for purpose? Is it light enough to carry around? Does it zip through things without stuttering? Does it give you more than five hours' battery life, allowing you to leave the charger at home? If not, it may be time for a replacement. Adrian Weckler picks five of the best laptops for those who need to put their machines to work

Lenovo Thinkpad T450S

Price: €1,500 for solid-state drive version

Best feature: durability

Bottom line: If you're not pinching pennies and need a really solid, reliable laptop that's up to date on everything, it's hard to see past the Thinkpad T450S. Individually, none of this 14-inch Thinkpad's specifications are class-leading: it's not the lightest, fastest or slimmest. But the laptop's superb ergonomics and its business-first mentality (it comes with a 'pro' version of Windows and as more security conscious by default than most rivals) combine to make it a niche player particularly suited to work users. Its keyboard, in particular, is still the best you can get in the Windows world. Being a Thinkpad, it also keeps the tracking navigation button that most rivals abandoned long ago.

The machine comes with an Intel i5 chip, 4GB of Ram and a 2K screen, while a backlit screen is optional. It uses the newest type of Intel Core i5 processor. This adds to battery life. But if you do run into battery woes, this machine provides a hot-swap mechanism to seamlessly keep going instead of searching for a recharging point.

Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13

Price: €1,500 for 128GB version

Best feature: high resolution screen

Bottom line: I recently bought one of these as my 'anchor' laptop. (I also use a Surface Pro 3 and, occasionally, an iPad with portable keyboard.) For anyone who's ever used a MacBook, there's no hard sell here: its mix of looks, power and sophisticated simplicity makes the MacBook range the only mainstream laptops in the world seeing sales growth. While the Pro Retina isn't as slim or as light as either the MacBook Air or the MacBook, it has more ports, slightly better battery life and that gorgeous high resolution screen that reveals its true glory once you use it. The Pro Retina comes in 13-inch and 15-inch versions. For me, the 13-inch proved to be the more attractive option as it's just about slim (1.8cm) and light (1.58kg) enough to work as a travel machine. It comes with an Intel i5 processor and 8GB by default. It's a toss-up whether or not to spend the extra €200 for an additional 128GB of solid-state storage.

Unless you really can't be bothered archiving files to secure external disks, the 128GB model is absolutely fine. It has a pair of Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3 ports, rounded off by an HDMI port and a memory card slot.

Dell Latitude E7450

Price: €1,700 for 256GB, i7 version

Best feature: robustness

Bottom line: I'm a big fan of Dell's XPS range of laptops, in particular its XPS 13 which squeezes a superbly high resolution 13-inch screen into a frame more reminiscent of a 12-inch device. It's probably the best overall Windows laptop around right now. But it's a high-tech generalist's machine with things like high resolution screens and backlit keyboards. Its stablemate, the 14-inch Latitude E7450 is probably a better business user's bet.

It may be a lot duller-looking than the XPS 13, but it is the closest thing to a bullet-proof laptop you can get in the sub-€2,000 enterprise category. As well as loads of connection ports and a decent screen, it has a 'mil-spec' (military specification) build quality, meaning it will take a bit of punishment or spills.

While this laptop isn't stunningly svelte, it's not bulky either. Despite the rugged qualifications, it weighs no more (1.56kg than Apple's smaller MacBook Pro Retina (see review panel, adjacent). That makes it okay to carry around in a case or bag without putting your shoulder out.

There's €400 in the difference between the cheapest and priciest versions of the E7450.

I'd opt for the higher priced model, which gives you an extra 128GB of storage and a much more powerful engine with an i7 chip and 8GB of Ram.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Price: €1,035 for i3 version

Best feature: flexibility

Bottom line: If you need a workhorse which needs to be able to take punishment, this is not your primary machine. But if you prize a lightweight device with a superb touchscreen and real power under the hood when you need to turn switch into work mode, the 12-inch hybrid Surface Pro 3 is well worth a look.

The Surface Pro series was originally pitched as a business tablet that turns into a laptop until everyone realised that it was actually the other way around. Its operating system is indistinguishable from a regular laptop (Windows 10), other than the fact that it also has a fully functional touchscreen. The keyboard snaps on and off and acts as a cover for the screen. It matches the power and battery life of almost any other laptop, being configurable up to an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of Ram and 512GB of solid state hard drive storage. But the top version is very expensive, at over €2,000.

I'd advise going for the cheaper i3/4GB/64GB model as this is enough to handle almost anything you need within this form factor: any work process that requires more power is probably not going to suit this type of hybrid device. Bear in mind that this doesn't have quite as many ports and connections as some similarly-priced laptops, too.

And it's doubtful whether anyone really wants to use its stylus pen. But it has the distinct bonus of doubling as a best-in-breed movie-streaming screen.

HP Elitebook Folio 1040 G2

Price: €2,300 (i5 model)

Best feature: power and design

Bottom line: If you asked HP to come up with its best attempt of replicating a MacBook Air in a full-power PC format, this is what you would get. This is basically a MacBook Air in a powerful Windows PC format. The 14-inch aluminium-cased Elitebook Folio 1040 is very slim, quite light (1.5kg) and packs considerable power (Intel i5, 8GB Ram) under its256GB solid-state hood.

It doesn't mess around with touchscreens (a dubious enterprise feature) and it's one of the few laptop ranges you can still order with Windows 7 Pro on there's a free upgrade to Windows 10). Its 'Forcepad' touchpad gives you more finger control (such as the ability to pinch and zoom) and there's also a sim-card slot for mobile broadband connectivity.

Other features include a decent anti-glare screen and HP's own encryption technology. The battery life is good, at between six and seven hours. Its main downside is that it's very pricey compared to rivals.

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