MacBook Pro 15, HP Spectre, Surface Book Vie To Hit The Trifecta Of Beauty, Bang, And Buck – Forbes

Credit: Apple

Credit: Apple

The arrival of the new MacBook Pros at the end of the year reset the laptop market. With that as a backdrop, here are five of the best laptops that offer a good balance of looks, utility, and price.

Note that I will not address dedicated gaming laptops here.

Best new laptop: 15-inch MacBook Pro. The 15-inch MBP comes with 6th Generation Intel Core i7 quad-core silicon*, AMD Radeon Pro 450/455 graphics, and a surprisingly totable weight of only 4 pounds. On that last point, the chassis, much thinner than the 2015 MBP 15, has gotten a thorough and very impressive overhaul. I put my 15.6-inch Dell XPS 15 (2016 update) side by side with new MBP 15 l (see photo at bottom) and the Dell seems remarkably bulky next to the MBP (which was a surprise, since I certainly have never considered the XPS 15 to be bulky for a 15-inch class laptop).

The MBP 15 also gets the best Retina display yet (brighter with support for more colors), Apple’s new “Butterfly” keyboard, and, of course, the marquee innovation behind the “Touch of Genius” tag line, the Touch Bar.

After lots of hands-on time with the new 13.3- and 15.4 MBP, the latter, for me, was easily the most impressive. The biggest barrier to a 5-star recommendation is the price, starting at a wallet-busting $2,399. But, I would submit, it’s worth it if you can find the occasional deal when you can save typically between $100 and $200 (as Best Buy was doing on December 31 — in addition to sporadic deals elsewhere).

The Touch Bar — which, in effect, moves a touch display onto the keyboard — is still a work in progress since third-party players have yet to offer much support. For now, Apple offers helpful Touch Bar shortcuts for apps like Safari and Photos and the first Touch ID for a Mac, allowing you to unlock the MBP with a quick fingerprint scan. (Note that Consumer Reports withheld its usual “recommendation”for the new MacBook Pros.)

Best deal: HP Chromebook 13 G1. Chromebooks have, to date, been largely ignored by consumers (though increasingly favored by schools). Nevertheless, 2016 saw the debut of one of the best bang-for-the-buck laptops yet. The HP Chromebook 13 G1 is a surprisingly high-quality, all-metal design with a very-high-resolution display. And it starts at only $499. I like Chromebooks because they’re cheap, fast (because of the low overhead of the OS), stable, and avoid the constant updates that plague PCs and Macs. And they run the core apps I need, including Google Docs, Google Play Music, photo editors, social apps, and basically anything you can access online like Skype or Microsoft Office. I spent more than a month with the HP Chromebook 13 G1 and I was just as productive on it as any PC or Mac.

Best consumer laptop: HP Spectre series (13.3-inch). HP has been making laptops over the past several years that rival the build quality and drool-worthy looks of the MacBook. The Spectre (sans the x360 suffix) is impossibly thin at only 10.4mm (0.4 inches) and light for 13-inch laptop, weighing in at 2.45 pounds — thanks to the use of carbon fiber in addition to aluminum. And it offers both a good display and fast processors (razor-thin laptops like the Spectre usually require slower Intel Core M chips). A standard configuration comes with a 7th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 256GB of solid-state storage, a 13.3-inch 1,920-by-1080 (non-touch) display, USB-C ports, and 8GB of RAM. Battery life isn’t great but most users can probably get 6-7 hours. Pricing for the Spectre starts at a reasonable $1,099.99.

The 13.3-inch Spectre x360, based on the same ultra-thin design language as the Spectre, offers a touch display that can be rotated 360 degrees, a large trackpad, and lower price. Battery life is good, allowing all-day use on one charge, as long as you dim the display and don’t tax the system with processor-intensive work like video editing. The Spectre x360 with a 7th generation Intel Core i5 chip, 8 GB memory, 256 GB of solid-state storage, and a 13.3-inch 1,920-by-1,080 touch display is $1,049.99.  (See this review.)

Best business laptop: Dell XPS 13 (late 2016). With the XPS 13, Dell has mastered the art of balancing of size, weight, performance, and battery life. To keep the weight down (about 2.7 pounds), Dell, like HP, uses carbon fiber in addition to aluminum. And an almost-bezel-less display yields a 13.3-inch chassis that is closer to a 12-inch laptop. And it’s fast for an ultra-thin laptop, with configurations that come with the latest 7th-generation Core i7 processors. Battery life is good: the high-resolution display version (3,200-by-1,800 pixels) delivers between 6 and 8 hours on average, while the lower resolution display configuration can last well over 10 hours. Pricing starts at $799.99.

Best high-end laptop: Microsoft Surface Book. The Surface Book has come closer than any design to a tablet that can convert to a full-fledged laptop via the Surface Book’s “Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge.” Specs include a 3,000-by-2,000 resolution display, 6th Generation Intel Core processors, and a detachable base with a great keyboard. The most powerful Surface Books are very pricey, well above $2,000. But there are deals at retailers like Best Buy often.

*Not the latest 7th Generation Intel processor.

Dell XPS 15 (L) and new MacBook Pro 15. (Credit: Brooke Crothers)

Dell XPS 15 (L) and new MacBook Pro 15. (Credit: Brooke Crothers)


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