Laptops: System update

31 Mar 2023 by BusinessTraveller
Apple MacBook Pro M2 Pro and M2 Max

Whether you need a laptop with some serious power or a super lightweight model to take on the road, we round up some stellar tech solutions.

What are you looking for in a laptop? An all-in-one that can replace your desktop, or something that’s so light it can be your constant on-the-road companion? The good news is that even the most powerful laptops here are light enough to be taken with you, and screens are now large enough and high-resolution enough to use for your work and serve as a portable TV alternative when you’re kicking back.

Some laptops boast touch-sensitive screens – though never if it’s a Mac laptop – and others are two-in-ones, that is, the screen folds back so you can use the device like a tablet. Many have fingerprint sensors, often mounted in the power button, so you can feel extra secure.

Most laptops use Windows, and all the models in our round-up have this, apart from the MacBook Pro, which has Apple’s own macOS software. This is arguably the most intuitive to use, but lacks a full range of programmes, so check that the applications you routinely use are covered before you buy.

All the laptops here have battery life that will get you at least through your working day, though carrying a power brick will always add peace of mind against the terror of battery anxiety. Certain models offer seamless connectivity to same-brand smartphones. The MacBook Pro links with Apple devices, the Huawei Matebook X Pro has extra integration with Huawei phones and the Samsung Galaxy Book3 Ultra plays well with Samsung Galaxy phones. Read on to discover the best laptops, whatever your needs.

Huawei MateBook X Pro Evo

Huawei’s MateBook X Pro series is known for its excellent displays. The 14.2-inch screen here is pin-sharp and has a fast refresh rate, which makes everything look smooth, whether you’re quickly scrolling through spreadsheets or watching a video. It even has a layer on top of the screen to reduce reflection. The keyboard is especially well-designed, with the keys travelling further under your fingers when you touch them, which adds to the comfort. Like the MacBook Pro, the Huawei has a fingerprint sensor built into the power button that’s responsive and reliable. It’s very lightweight at 1.26kg, about the same as the famously light-as-a-feather MacBook Air, so you’ll be happy to lug it around. Mind you, it’s worth taking the power cable with you. If there’s a downside here, it’s that battery life dwindles fast on more than a light workload: expect seven hours or so. The MateBook X Pro has huge storage as standard: 1 terabyte.

Acer Swift X

  • Best for spreadsheet users
  • £1,299; acer.com

If you need a big screen, the 16-inch display on this laptop has plenty of room. Unlike some featured here, this is not a touchscreen, though for many that won’t be an issue. At 1.75kg this is not a light machine, though it still weighs less than the MacBook Pro, but it is a sturdy laptop. Thanks to its size, it can also squeeze a numeric keypad into the keyboard, which is helpful for spreadsheets, for instance. The laptop is a strong productivity machine because of that, and the fast, sustained performance means that there’s no slowdown even when multiple programmes are running. A separate graphics chip means it can work with demanding creative apps. Battery life is no match for the MacBook Pro, but can still run for between eight and nine hours, depending on usage.

Acer Swift X

Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch

This newly updated laptop is amazingly powerful and has longer battery life than ever. But it’s big and heavy (2.2kg) thanks, not least, to its 16-inch display (though a new 14-inch version is also available). At its heart is the latest silicon from Apple, the Apple M2 processor, which comes in two versions: the M2 Pro, which is super-fast, and the M2 Max which is much faster. The truth is that this kind of speed is usually only needed for people who continually use power-hungry applications like video editing. It means you can edit multiple high-resolution video streams at the same time with no slowdown. For the rest of us, there’s just sublimely fast performance which isn’t affected even if you’re on battery rather than mains unlike many laptops. The display is not touch-sensitive but looks tremendous thanks to tiny Mini LEDs that make it punchy and high-contrast. As for battery life, this laptop has the longest-ever on a Mac: Apple claims up to 22 hours, which will keep you working through even the longest flight (sorry about that).

Asus ZenBook Pro 16X OLED

This laptop has several remarkable features. First, the 16-inch display is OLED, not LCD, which makes for spectacular contrast levels and excellent video playback. Note, however, that it isn’t as bright as some models here, so it’s not as easy to use in sunlight. The laptop is fast and powerful, so you can push it hard with demanding apps. The Asus Dial rotary controller adds functionality in certain programmes like Photoshop, enabling you to change brush size, saturation or undo actions, but it’s not compatible with a huge number of applications. The keyboard is comfortable and as you open the laptop, the keys hinge up for an ergonomically improved typing position. This is an accomplished 2.4kg laptop but battery life is not great, so it’s worth carrying the mains lead with you. Asus claims nine hours, but if you push it hard, it’ll run low sooner than that.

Dell XPS 13 Plus

  • Best for portability
  • £1,169; dell.com

This laptop has great build quality and, as with other Dell laptops, the great benefit of easy customisation. You can upgrade the processor or choose a higher-resolution display with just a couple of clicks when you’re buying it online. The aluminium body and lid feel solid, look great, and keep the laptop light (from 1.23kg) and highly portable. The 13.4-inch display stretches right into the corners of the lid, and the keyboard has its own surprises: a touch bar above the keys offers quick access to items such as volume control. Performance is strong, fast enough for work but, thanks to the high-resolution display and powerful speakers, it’s also an excellent playback device. Expect between seven and 13 hours’ work from the battery.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5

For the purest version of Windows software, there’s a small range of hardware made by Microsoft, its Surface series. This latest version of the Surface laptop has a bright, detailed 13.5-inch display with a responsive touchscreen. Note, though, that the bezels around the screen are quite wide. The laptop comes in different colours, and some models replace the traditional metal keyboard rest with an unusual suede-like Alcantara finish, which is softer under-wrist. This is a solid, workmanlike device, great for regular use, though not quite up to the most demanding applications. Battery life is very good, lasting a full working day with ease, even if it’s not the 18 hours the manufacturer claims. The laptop is light at 1.3kg.

Samsung Galaxy Book3 Ultra

The latest laptop from Samsung is high-end, and high-priced. It has a slim, subtle design that’s slick and attractive, while still looking entirely business-like. It’s lightweight enough to be carried all day, weighing just under 1.8kg, despite its large, 16-inch display. It’s a gorgeous OLED display too, like the Asus (above left), so it looks tremendous and, because it has a fast refresh rate, looks smooth whatever you’re using it for. And you can do a lot: the fast processor means demanding programmes run at speed, while more mundane tasks don’t trouble it at all. You could even play games on it, if procrastination arises. The keyboard is luxurious, both in comfort of travel and the inclusion of a number pad. Battery life is good and the supplied fast charger restores the power quickly.

HP Spectre X360

  • Best for design
  • £1,249; hp.com

The newest version of the HP Spectre X360 is a handsome machine with thoughtful design additions and excellent, solid build quality. It has an attractive OLED 13.5-inch display that looks wonderful and really shines when it comes to video playback. It comes with a tablet pen supplied, which tells you that this is a laptop designed to appeal to creatives as well as everyone else. The 360 in the title tells you it can fold back on itself and be used like a tablet. The keyboard is highly enjoyable to use, and the large trackpad has a nice feel to it. The fast processor is great, handling everything you might throw at it without issue: the laptop is a consistent performer. It’s a light machine, clocking in at 1.36kg. Battery life is decent, with HP claiming almost 13 hours though real-life mileage will vary.

Nomad 65W USB-C Power Adapter

Travel accessories to jazz up your journey

Nomad 65W Power Adapter

If you’re regularly travelling to the United States, this tiny charger is the ideal addition. It has two USB-C sockets and plenty of power (65W) so it delivers up to 45W from the top socket and 20W from the lower one, meaning it can charge a laptop and a tablet at the same time, for instance. The fold-out US pins mean you don’t need an adaptor.

Twelve South Airfly SE

In-ear headphones can’t connect to anything by cable, so AirFly bridges the gap if you want to watch inflight entertainment. Pair your AirPods, or other wireless headphones, with the AirFly using Bluetooth, and connect the headphone socket to the seat back. And that’s it, your headphones can now relay the audio from the IFE – this works with fitness equipment in the gym, too.

Apple Airpods Pro

For listening to music in the air, you need noise-cancelling to quell the engine noise. Many in-ear headphones struggle with this, but not the recently-released second-generation AirPods Pro. They have outstanding noise-cancelling, as well as great audio generally. You can also use the AirPods Pro for calls, and the quality here is also excellent. They work with Android phones as well as iPhones but the integration with Apple devices is seamless.

Pocketalk Plus Voice Translator

No matter how hard you’ve worked at Duolingo, it’s always good to have a backup when it comes to translating accurately. Choose two languages (one being yours, obviously) on this handy little gizmo, hold down the button and speak. It quickly translates what you’ve said to the second language and speaks it, with text on screen. It works through a data connection, and the first two years are included, worldwide, from the embedded sim.

Words: David Phelan

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