Mobile devices have replaced notebook PCs as the one piece of technology you must carry everywhere to get work done. And while it really is remarkable how easy it’s become to write, shoot, edit, plan, and communicate on phones and tablets â especially given the proliferation of cloud-based sync services â most of us will still require a fully capable PC in our daily lives.
Most laptops currently in the market are running Haswell processors, and if you’re buying a laptop now, make sure it has one of these inside. Haswell chips able to manage power consumption much more efficiently than previous versions of Intel processors, which means you’ll see better battery life from a Haswell-equipped PC â probably the most important spec in a notebook computer. Notebooks with earlier-generation Intel chips, known as Ivy Bridge, are currently available at a discount, and they’re tempting. Just be aware that you’ll see inferior battery performance. But if you’re going to be working mostly at a desk and connected to a power source, and you’re just buying a notebook for space considerations or so you can work from anywhere, one of these previous-generation laptops could suit you just fine. Likewise, if you own an Ivy Bridge PC right now and you’re mostly satisfied with your battery performance, you may want to wait until the next chip refresh from Intel, which will happen next year, and should show us another big leap forward in battery life. One more thing about batteries: User-replaceable battery cells are becoming more rare as machines get perpetually thinner and lighter, so be aware that you may be buying a computer that won’t let you swap batteries.
What about the screen?
Many of the newest Windows machines have touchscreens, which Windows 8.1’s tile-based interface takes great advantage of. This is really only a selling point if you’re planning on using a lot of touch-based apps. So if you’re buying a notebook for games, web browsing, and entertainment, this makes sense â though if that’s all you’re using it for, you may want to just consider a high-performance tablet with a keyboard case. For running office software and other production apps, touchscreens are often just a luxury, and they aren’t essential. But touch or non-touch, how you feel about the screen is going to determine how much you love your laptop. For this reason, we place a great deal of importance on the quality of the display when we review notebook PCs. Apple’s Retina screens in its MacBook Pros continue to set the bar pretty high, and the screens in the latest high-end ultrabooks from Lenovo, Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, Acer and Asus are all excellent as well. Ultraportable, super-light machines like the MacBook Air tend to have lesser screens, but the added portability and battery life make up for the shortcomings.
Are convertibles worth it?
This is new phenomenon â laptops that bend, twist, or somehow transform into a tablet-like configuration. We haven’t seen too many we like. Aside from the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S, which is solidly built, intelligently engineered, and well-spec’d laptop that bends back into a “tablet” mode, we wouldn’t recommend picking one up. On the whole, they just aren’t sturdy enough to withstand daily trips in a carry bag, and a dedicated tablet with a great keyboard case is almost always a more sensible and less expensive choice. But if you really want a dual-mode PC, get the Yoga.
What about Chromebooks?
We love Chromebooks. There are some great models to choose from. HP’s latest offering is a good choice, as is Samsung’s. Both are under $300. On the high end, Google’s Chromebook Pixel is an awesome piece of hardware with one of the best screens on any laptop, though the price ($1,300) is way too high for a machine that just runs web apps. And that’s why Chromebooks won’t make our Top 3 list just yet. The web app landscape is still too barren for most consumers, and few buyers will feel comfortable living on the web full-time. However, they are perfect as couch-surfing machines â as in “surfing the web while you sit on the couch.” They are also great for students, or for people who travel a lot. We here at get-gadget often carry Chromebooks when we travel.