Hardware

Best Laptops: Q1 2019

In our series of laptop buyers guides, here’s the latest
update to our list of recommended laptops. All numbers in the
text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of
writing.

For Q1 we’ve just seen some new product announcements at CES
which will be shipping soon. AMD’s Ryzen is getting a refresh
to
3000 series parts and models soon, and manufacturers
keep coming up with ways to one-up each other.

As always, we’ll break the guide down into several segments to
serve various markets, from low-cost, to mid-range, to high
end.

Entry Level

Entry level laptops are going to be lacking features against
their more expensive competition, but it’s where the trade-offs
are made that make or break something in this category.

Chuwi LapBook SE

Chuwi tends to offer a lot of product for the dollar, and their
latest LapBook SE is no exception. This model is slightly
different than the previous one we recommended, and although it
seems like a downgrade, it fixes one of the biggest issues with
the LapBook SE. Chuwi outfits this with the latest Intel
Celeron N4100, based on Gemini Lake, and the performance is a
nice jump up from previous models. Gemini Lake is also the
first x86 SoC to launch with LPDDR4 support, of which there is
only 4 GB in this laptop, which is definitely a drawback. Chuwi
originally sold this in North America with a 32 GB eMMC OS
drive, and a 128 GB SATA SSD, but the model they are selling
now is 64 GB of eMMC only. This is the change I mentioned above
that seems like a downgrade, but the 32 GB eMMC as the OS boot
drive was an unusable solution, since any programs and just a
few patches would quickly fill it. Having 64 GB for the OS is a
much more usable device in the end, and you can still add a M.2
drive if needed. The build quality on the LapBook SE is
reasonable, and it offers a 13.3-inch 1920×1080 IPS display
panel, which is still rare in this segment. We are kind of
between devices right now from Chuwi, with this likely being
phased out, but if you need something on the tightest budget,
it’s still worth looking at.

Microsoft Surface Go

We’ve recently reviewed the LTE model of the
Microsoft Surface Go and despite less than stellar
battery life, and middling performance from the Intel Pentium,
it’s still a well-built machine offering a good display. If
you’re after a small Windows PC, the 3:2 aspect ratio works
well, coupled with the light weight, and the removable keyboard
offers backlighting and good key travel, but is cramped for
everyday use. The base model comes with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB
of eMMC storage, and Microsoft has added extra options with a 4
GB / 128 GB model, or an 8 GB / 128 GB version, with the larger
storage options being BGA SSDs upgrading from the eMMC on the
64 GB units.. The optional LTE adds untethered mobility as an
option, although with LTE it has a MSRP of $679 without the
keyboard, and starts to encroach on the Surface Pro pricing.

Midrange AMD

We’ve had a chance to review several AMD based notebooks
offering the Ryzen Mobile APU, and despite some teething
issues, AMD offers good performance in notebooks, especially on
the GPU side where Vega 8 or Vega 10 is a massive jump in
integrated graphics performance over the current Intel lineup.
Still, Ryzen Mobile is getting
refreshed soon, so be aware.

Acer Swift 3 15.6-inch

We got a chance to review the
Acer Swift 3 with the AMD Ryzen 7 2700U, and the laptop is
a good entry for the price. The starting price of $749.99
includes 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD, along with a good
aluminum chassis and nice looking design. The Vega GPU is a
stout performer too, offering the ability to play some entry
level games on an integrated GPU with surprisingly good
framerates.

Lenovo ThinkPad A485

Lenovo is offering the
AMD Ryzen Pro CPUs in its A series ThinkPads, which adds
functionality necessary for business, wrapped up in the
familiar and trusted ThinkPad package. Featuring AMD Ryzen 7
Pro 2700U with integrated Vega graphics, this is a solid entry
for someone looking for a laptop featuring Ryzen. It offers two
USB-C ports, two USB-A ports, HDMI, and Ethernet in a 14-inch
package. The base model offers a 1366×768 TN display and should
be avoided, but the IPS 1920×1080 display offers touch as an
option if you need it. Thanks to SODIMM slots, you can even
outfit this with up to 32 GB of DDR4 RAM, and Lenovo offers up
to 512 GB of SSD storage. The 14-inch model comes in at 3.63
pounds, but if you’d prefer something smaller Lenovo offers the
similar
ThinkPad A285 with a 12.5-inch display and it weighs 2.85
pounds, which we had a chance to review.

 

Premium Ultrabooks

HP Spectre Folio

HP’s Spectre lineup offers some of the nicest looking laptops
around, and the Spectre Folio offers a new take on the PC by
building the exterior in leather. Metal is premium in the hand,
but leather is taking it up a notch. The Spectre Folio is also
a convertible, offering a display that can swing forward and
sit on top of the keyboard. Powered by Intel’s Y Series Core
processors, the device is also fanless, but offers plenty of
storage and RAM, with up to 16 GB of LPDDR3 and 2 TB of NVMe
storage. The 13.3-inch display comes as either a 1920×1080, or
an optional 3840×2160 model, both of which work with a digital
pen. HP has been driving the industry in terms of design over
the last couple of generations, and the Folio takes everything
just that little bit higher.

Huawei MateBook X Pro

What’s most surprising about the Huawei MateBook X Pro is how
much they got right when they are relatively new to the PC
game. The MateBook X Pro feels like Huawei looked at everything
that could be added to an Ultrabook, and decided to just add it
all. It’s got a beautiful design, featuring very thin bezels
like the XPS line from Dell. It’s got a Core i5 or Core i7
quad-core CPU, with 8 or 16 GB of RAM, and 256 or 512 GB or
storage. There’s Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C, but also a USB-A
port for compatibility. The high-end model ships with a USB-C
breakout box to provide HDMI, VGA, and another USB-C port,
along with USB-A. The 3000×2000 display is one of the most
accurate we’ve ever tested, and the power efficiency is almost
chart topping. The Core i7 model even ships with an NVIDIA
GeForce MX150 GPU, providing much more performance than the
integrated graphics can. The MateBook X Pro is a stunner
that impresses every time you use it. The fact that it costs
hundreds of dollars less than comparable models is the icing on
the cake. Check our our
review.

Convertibles

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

There’s little doubt that Microsoft has scored a big win with
the Surface Pro lineup, inspiring other companies to mimic
their design, but with the latest model, Microsoft maintains
their edge. Now featuring quad-core U series CPUs, there’s no
longer the performance gap that existed while the Surface Pro
2017 model was being offered. The price has even gone down for
this year, thanks to a smart decision to switch to Windows 10
Home on the consumer version. If you need Pro, it’s of course
an easy upgrade in the store, but for most people, Home is all
they require, so the cost savings are appreciated. The standout
feature is the new black color, which does look awfully good.
The Core i5-8250U model is also fanless, yet able to deal with
the full 15 Watts from the CPU, as we saw in
our review. Also, the battery life has been improved quite
a bit, and what initially seemed like a modest revision turned
out to be a really nice update for a device that was already
the class leader. The lack of USB-C is lamentable, but the
overall package is tough to beat.

ThinkPad X1 Yoga

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga takes their amazing 360° hinge and
pairs it with a ThinkPad design, offering a great keyboard, and
of course the latest 8th generation Intel CPUs. If you want a
convertible that is a laptop most of the time, the Yoga hinge
is the way to go. It offers a very usable tent and stand mode,
as well as a not as great tablet mode, but if you need a
keyboard in your lap, this is the right answer. The 14-inch
display can be either a 1920×1080 IPS, or a 2560×1440 IPS as
well, with the higher resolution display even offered with
Dolby Vision. At just 3.08 pounds, it’s also easy to take with
you. Lenovo offers it in their traditional black finish, or the
new gray as well.

Discrete GPU Laptops

Sometimes you just need more performance, and the integrated
GPU isn’t going to cut it. If you’re into gaming, some of the
more gaming focused devices are likely a better bet, but
if you need a strong laptop to get work done, these laptops fit
the bill.

Dell XPS 15 9570

Dell’s XPS 15 is one of the best in its class, and Dell has
refreshed it with the latest Intel CPUs, from the Core
i5-8300H, to the Core i7-8570H, all the way up to the Core
i9-8950HK. You can get it with either the GTX 1050, or GTX
1050 Ti GPU as well, with the latter being a bump over the 9560
model last year. RAM is up to 32 GB of DDR4-2666 in 2×16 GB,
and Dell still offers both a 1920×1080 FHD display, or the
3840×2160 panel with Adobe RGB coverage. 

Microsoft Surface Book 2

Likely the best laptop we’ve reviewed in several years is the
Microsoft Surface Book 2. The
15-inch model got a go on our bench, and it’s the best
laptop available right now. Microsoft has improved it
dramatically with new quad-core CPU options based on Kaby
Lake-R, and offers very powerful GPUs in the 13-inch with the
GTX 1050, and the 15-inch model whiich offers the very strong
GTX 1060. Microsoft sets the bar in terms of display quality,
and the Surface Book 2 is no exception, with its 3240×2160
resolution PixelSense display. The device is of course also a
detachable tablet, and with the tablet and laptop combined, it
has 86 Wh of capacity, and it provided almost 14 hours of run
time on our light battery test. The Surface Book 2 couples
incredible performance with an elegant design. Microsoft has
even provided a USB Type-C port for the first time on their
devices, although it’s not TB3.

Apple MacBook Pro 15

Apple has
refreshed the MacBook Pro lineup with Intel’s Hex-Core
Coffee Lake CPUs. They’ve also given the keyboard a once-over
to hopefully improve the reliability of the butterfly design.
If you’re in the market for a Mac, the MacBook Pro 15 is the
one to beat. They’ve also moved from LPDDR3 which limited them
to 16 GB of RAM, to DDR4 which doubles the maximum capacity to
32 GB. To compensate for the extra power draw from the CPU and
RAM, Apple has also bumped the battery capacity to 83.6 Wh.

Freeman Addico

Techmaker and Entrepreneur with an extensive experience in Cloud Computing and e-commerce. I build Solutions for Equity and revenue sharing basis. Think of me as an Investor who invests Technology instead of money. Want to explore a collaboration? Drop me a message or schedule a call

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