Features

Laptops: Power and performance

1 Dec 2021 by BusinessTraveller
Apple MacBook-Pro 14-inch

The latest laptops combine impressive work capabilities with portability and style, plus all the features you need both at home and on the move.

A laptop is the business user’s essential gadget, especially for the traveller. The latest crop of portable computers are powerful, light and stylish, offering battery life that’s good enough to leave the charger in the hotel room (though not, please, at home), and match strong work performance with good relaxation possibilities, thanks to high-resolution displays and great audio. The days when you had to choose between decent power and good design are long gone.

But there are decisions to be made. Do you rate portability over power, or the other way around? Do you want a touchscreen? And what about connectivity? All these laptops have wifi, of course, but some can handle a 4G or 5G sim, as well. A fingerprint reader offers extra security on most of the models reviewed here, including the Apple, Samsung, HP, Acer, Asus and Huawei laptops.

Most laptops use Windows as the operating system, and that platform still has the widest range of programs available, not to mention more compatible hardware manufacturers. Windows 11 is built in to some of the latest laptops, though this will follow later for others.

Then there’s Apple, with its own Mac OS: it’s unbeatably easy to use and powerful, but not the cheapest. Alternatively, there’s Google Chrome, an operating system that offers great value for money, but works best when it’s connected to the internet.

ASUS VIVOBOOK S15

The Vivobook has a big screen (15.6 inches) with bright, crisp resolution, and a decent helping of style, including a version sporting a spicy red finish. The extra screen size means there’s room for a comfy and spacious keyboard, with a separate number keypad which is highly useful when you’re working with spreadsheets, for instance. The Enter key has a neat colour-surround to make it easier to find. Unusually, the fingerprint sensor is built into the corner of the trackpad.

There are more sockets than smaller laptops squeeze in, including an HDMI and several USB ports, a headphone jack plus a micro SD card reader. Despite all that, it’s still manageable in size and weight. It’s a solid rather than outstanding performer that runs on Windows 10, but the combination of unusual looks and excellent usability make it a strong choice.

MICROSOFT SURFACE PRO 8

Of course, Microsoft makes Windows software, but it has a handful of its own hardware products, too, with the purest version of software installed, in this case Windows 11. The Surface Pro 8 is sleek and attractive; designed as a tablet with an optional keyboard accessory. The Type Cover, as it’s called, is very good, sitting at an angle that’s great for typing and with more key travel than the thin cover suggests. It’s usually paired with the (also optional) Slim Pen to write or draw on screen.

Microsoft includes a kickstand so you can angle the tablet perfectly, whether you’re watching videos, using it in conventional laptop mode or almost flat for creative apps. The touchscreen is great and the display is super-sharp. It has an adjustable refresh rate so everything flows smoothly. Microsoft claims battery life as 16 hours; the reality is less but it’s enough to get you through a working day.

SAMSUNG GALAXY BOOK PRO 360 5G

As the name indicates, this laptop has 5G connectivity built in. It was the first 5G laptop with the latest Windows 11 software already installed. Samsung’s laptop is amazingly thin at 11.5mm and weighs a fraction over 1kg. The display is Super AMOLED – a technology Samsung has refined in its smartphones over the years – and is pin-sharp and detailed.

It’s a versatile machine: the display folds back on itself as though it were a tablet or into a tent position, ideal for watching movies, for instance. The speakers are good but this laptop is also compatible with Dolby Atmos speakers, which you may wish to purchase separately for listening to music. The display is a touchscreen and a stylus, called the S Pen, is supplied – great for painting apps or scribbling a note. Battery life is decent: in our tests it ran for pretty much a full day. If you have a Samsung smartphone, it’s easy to sync the two together.

Acer Swift 3 SF314-59

ACER SWIFT 3 SF314-59

Another super-thin and very lightweight laptop, Acer’s Swift 3 is more affordable than some and is a solid, powerful choice. Though its speakers aren’t great (you’ll want to use headphones for watching a movie or, you know, just get on with some work), that’s about its biggest flaw. It looks good – the aluminium chassis owes a thing or two to the Apple Macbook Air – and it has an understated, elegant design.

The display can’t match the resolution of some rivals but it’s highly usable and the extra real estate – it has a 14-inch screen – is welcome. The camera is good enough for Zoom calls and performance across the board is strong. Battery life is good at around eight hours in our tests. Running Windows 10, this is a good-value, good-performance machine.

APPLE MACBOOK PRO 14IN

Apple’s Mac range now features its own processors. The latest models come with the Apple M1 chip in two flavours: M1 Pro (amazingly fast) and M1 Max (even faster). Here, Apple has increased the screen size from 13 inches to 14 inches by reducing the size of the bezels around the display. As a result, the front-facing camera peeps out of a cut-out in the screen (similar to the iPhone). Because the menu bar surrounds it, it’s not that noticeable.

The display also has thousands of mini LED backlights which make for an attractive, high-contrast screen. It’s also very high-resolution: this 14-inch screen has more pixels than the previous 16-inch generation. This is a performance machine, which never slows down, however demanding your work is. There’s one more benefit from the new Apple Macbook: battery life is significantly enhanced. Apple says it runs for up to 11 hours of web browsing, or 17 hours video playback (which looks pretty good on this punchy display).

DELL XPS 13 2-IN-1

Design is to the fore with this versatile laptop with an aluminium frame and carbon-fibre finish. The lid on this laptop folds back on itself to offer several usage options including tablet style and the hinge is strong enough to ensure it feels solid in any orientation. The display is bright and detailed, though if you want something even more attractive, a 4K Ultra HD+ version is also available.

There are also advanced graphics capabilities on this laptop so as well as being a decent work laptop, it is good for watching movies or playing games. The keyboard isn’t as sumptuous as the Apple or Huawei laptops here, but it’s usable and the touchpad is smooth and large. Battery life is more than adequate, though not the longest on test. An extra bonus for travellers: the charging brick is small and light.

HP SPECTRE X360 13

The HP Spectre X360 13 is very lightweight, making it an ideal travel companion. Although it’s extremely slim, the keys have plenty of travel, making it very comfortable to use, even for a long time. Just as impressively, despite the thin profile, there’s no flex in this rigid-build laptop. The design is pretty distinctive, with angular 45-degree corners, for instance, and its all-over silver colouring. The touchscreen is compatible with a stylus, though this is not supplied.

The fast processor is great for solid work, and even nippy enough for the odd videogame, while the battery life is excellent, in tests reaching a full 12 hours. Recharging uses a somewhat hefty charging plug but it does the job: from flat to half full in under half an hour. This is a flexible choice, like several laptops here it folds back on itself, and the hinge is sturdy and effective.

HP Spectre X360 13

HUAWEI MATEBOOK 14S

The 14-inch touchscreen on the Matebook 14S has a narrow bezel on each side, which looks great. As does the design of the laptop chassis – choose from grey and spruce green finishes. If you have a Huawei smartphone, it can connect wirelessly to the laptop screen. The keyboard is especially comfortable here, with more travel under your fingers than most keys. Although the camera doesn’t match the resolution of the Macbook Pro, for instance, Huawei has focused on those inevitable video conferencing calls by emphasising the sound: four microphones and noise cancellation help to pick up your voice more easily.

This laptop has Windows 10 installed but will be upgraded to Windows 11 in due course. The screen refresh rate goes as high as 90Hz, for a smoother experience when watching video, for instance, though others here, such as the Macbook Pro, go as high as 120Hz when needed.

TRAVEL GADGETS

ANKER MAGNETIC WIRELESS PORTABLE CHARGER

If you have an iPhone 12 or iPhone 13, you’ll know there’s a ring of magnets in the back to ensure the perfect fit to the MagSafe wireless charging pad. The same magnets are built into this battery pack so it snaps on to the phone to charge it. Perfect for topping up the iPhone when you’re on the move and instantly removed when not needed. You can use it for other wireless-chargeable phones too, though it won’t pop as satisfyingly into place. This is the ideal gadget for when you unexpectedly find you’re running low on juice.

BOSE QUIETCOMFORT 45 HEADPHONES

Bose has long been the king of noise-cancelling headphones, and this new pair continues its winning streak. The QC45s offer a direct upgrade to the previous version, with similar sound quality and a gently improved design that sticks with the headphones’ classic good looks. They are simple to set up – though it’s worth downloading the Bose Music app before you get airborne. Audio quality is strong with noise-cancelling off, and sublime when it’s on.

APPLE AIRTAG

Electronic tags are nothing new, but Apple’s is different. It looks sensational, for a start, with a shiny plastic and stainless-steel design. It connects wirelessly to your iPhone or iPad, and you can name it “Luggage”, “Keys” or whatever you like. If you lose the item it’s attached to, when it’s in Lost Mode, the AirTag will transmit a signal that is picked up by any passing Apple device (there are over a billion worldwide) and silently passed to your iPhone to show you its last location. Plus, the battery lasts for over a year. You can buy a four-pack for £99.

THE TECH CASE

There’s your phone charging cable, the one for your laptop, your international adaptor and more. If you chuck them into your carry-on, then you may be faced with tangled and knotted wires. The Tech Case from the excellent Away luggage company has three elastic loops to keep cables in place plus a big compartment underneath with a mesh top. This holds an adaptor, laptop charging brick and half a dozen more cables, in my experience. It zips closed and is lightweight and very neatly designed.

David Phelan

Apple Airtag
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