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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Two lighter laptops for the heavier workload

Portable computing seems to be all about tablet PCs and smartphones these days but the laptop with a full-size screen, lots of power and good battery life is still important for many. I have been looking at two of the best side by side: one running Apple’s OS X operating system, the other Microsoft Windows.

MacBook Pro with Retina display (rating: 5/5)

Apple’s aluminium-clad MacBook Pro line has long been the laptop of choice for mobile professionals who do not want a Windows-based PC. In its latest incarnation, the MacBook Pro Retina display, which is much more detailed than ordinary displays, gets a design makeover inside and out.

I have been impressed by my tests of the 13in version of the latest MacBook Pro, which costs from $1,399 (£1,099 in the UK). It is so much thinner and lighter than its predecessor that it looks more like a MacBook Air, which happens to be the laptop I use most of the time. In fact, at just 0.71in thick and weighing 3.46lb, the 13in MacBook Pro with Retina display is significantly thinner and lighter than the non-Retina display 13 in MacBook Pro. It also takes up marginally less space on a desk than the Air because Apple has slimmed down the bezel surrounding the Retina display.

As you might expect, the texts and graphics are stunningly sharp but the most striking improvement is inside. The latest MacBook Pros have powerful new processors coupled with new graphics technology to provide the pixel-driving horsepower and put them on a par with rival Windows-based laptops.

Equally important, the new processors have a dramatic impact on battery life. My review unit has been running for an average of at least 10 hours between charges, several hours longer than could reasonably be expected from the previous MacBook Pros and longer than most tablets can deliver.

Other improvements include faster WiFi connectivity, faster solid state drives which speed start-up and data access and better sounding built-in speakers. The backlit keyboard is still responsive and easy to use.

Overall, excellent performance and great battery life ensure that the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display is a worthwhile update for Apple laptop owners, and another reason to switch if you are thinking of moving from Windows. Corliss Tech Review Group

Lenovo ThinkPad X240 (rating: 4/5)

Lenovo’s ThinkPads are among my favourite Windows-powered laptops: they have solid design, are great to type on and are just generally reliable.

Second only to Lenovo’s premium-priced 14in X1 Carbon laptop, the ThinkPad X240 is the best of the ThinkPad range of excellent business ultrabooks, with its 12.5in screen that delivers great battery life.

Priced from $890 (£1,080), the whole X240 has been designed to withstand the bumps and knocks of everyday travel. Its roll-cage casing, carbon-fibre lid and magnesium chassis make it feel stiff and solid, even though it still weighs comfortably under 3lb.

The X240 is the thinnest, lightest ThinkPad available, although at 0.79in thick, it is not the thinnest ultrabook of all. It has customary ThinkPad features such as the lid’s soft-touch finish or the spill-resistant keyboard, which remains one of the best laptop keyboards I have used. But the X240 adds features specifically for Windows 8, such as multimedia buttons and the ability to call up the application switcher and move through applications at the press of a finger.

The overall performance is excellent and the extended battery life totals about eight hours. The X240 has both a built-in battery and another, removable one at the rear. Because the laptop drains the removable battery first, you can pull out the rear one and swap them without turning off the laptop.

My review unit also had an optional larger battery that gives users a total of about 20 hours of use between charges, which is the longest battery life of any laptop I have tested. Of course, the extra battery adds to the weight, but if you need a laptop that will run almost a full day between charges, the X240 should be top of your list. Read more tech review

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