The 10 Coolest Laptops Of 2013 (So Far)10:00 AM EST Mon. Jul. 29, 2013
Intel continues to drive the mobile computing agenda. For the laptop market last year, the tech on everyone's lips was Ultrabook. This year's buzzword is Haswell, Intel's power-efficient new processor that's proving to be transformational.
Being the techies that we are, Test Center editors are often asked for guidance by people about to buy a computer. And our advice has always been to buy a computer with the most powerful processor you can afford; it's the only part that can't be expanded. But, Haswell changes things a bit. Now we'd say that if long battery life is important, look for a laptop with Haswell. They're just that good. However, last year's processors are far from obsolete. In fact, without factoring in graphics performance, Haswell's computing performance is only slightly better than Intel's 3rd-gen Core processors. But, Haswell is new, and it isn't in many laptops just yet. So the 10 Coolest Laptops of 2013 (So Far) will include some Haswell-based units and some laptops built with older chips. But, we promise they're all very cool.
With claims that it's the world's lightest 13.3-inch touch Ultrabook, Sony's Vaio Pro 13 featherweight is just 0.68 inches thin and tips the scales at just 2.34 pounds. Starting at $1,249 in silver or black, this sleek unit is wrapped in carbon-fiber and offers options for Intel's 4th-gen Core i7 Haswell, a 512-GB SSD and Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro. The base price includes a 1,920-x-1,080 (full-HD) IPS display, backlit keyboard, SD card reader, two USB 3.0 ports, and full-size HDMI port. Wireless radios on board are Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and Wi-Fi with Wi-Di support. There's also the Vaio Pro 11, an 11-inch version that weighs less than 2 pounds.
Razer makes a world claim of its own. The game-system maker says that its new Razer Blade is the thinnest gaming laptop in the world. Thinner, even, than a dime (standing upright). Packed into a 0.66-inch frame is an Intel Core i7-4702HQ quad-core processor running at up to 3.2GHz, 8 GB of 1,600MHz DDR3L memory, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M graphics chip with 2 GB of dedicated DDR5 memory as well as Intel's HD4600 GPU. Also inside are a 14-inch 1,600-x-900 LED-lit display, an SSD up to 512 GB, three USB 3.0 ports, HDMI port with Dolby v4 7.1 codec support, backlit keyboard, webcam, mic array and 70Wh lithium-ion polymer battery. Starting list is $1,799 with 128-GB SSD.
One of last year's coolest is still one of this year's. Dell's Dell XPS 12 Convertible Touch Ultrabook continues to woo everyone in its path. Its Gorilla Glass flip screen is just too cool for school. A little heavy to be a good full-time tablet, this sleek unit offers a bright and crisp 12.5-inch 1,920-x-1,080 IPS display that's nearly indistinguishable from its XPS 13 non-convertible counterpart. Starting at $1,199, this super-cool Windows 8 laptop/tablet communicates while sleeping. Dell at Computex announced a fall release for the XPS 11, a smaller convertible with an impressive 2,560-x-1,140 touchscreen. This 11.6-inch IPS panel yields a "Retinesk" 242 dpi. Unfortunately, the 11's more traditional hinge won't be nearly as cool as the 12's swivel. A stylus and Windows 8 will be included. Pricing and processor were not disclosed.
Beyond its name, what's cool about the Acer W510-1422 is its keyboard, which detaches leaving the unit as a full-fledged tablet PC running Windows 8. It's powered by an Intel Atom Z2760, a dual-core 32-bit processor running at between 1.5 and 1.8GHz with 2 GB of DDR2 memory and a 64-GB SSD. The 10.1 backlit tablet screen has a viewing radius of 178 degrees and puts out 1,366 x 768. There are front and rear cameras, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and HD audio. For ports, Acer provides Micro-USB, Micro-HDMI and a micro SD card reader. At $699 list, the Acer W510-1422 also has a pretty cool price.
Taking detachability a step further is Samsung's Smart PC 500T Tablet, which shares many of the hardware specs of the Acer unit from the previous slide, and adds lots of Samsung software finesse. Like Acer's, the 500T is built around an Intel Atom Z2760 32-bit processor and comes with a 64-GB SSD, 2 GB of system memory (the processor's maximum) and Windows 8. Samsung's detachable keyboard (included) adds two USB ports. In addition to an 11.1-inch, five-finger multitouch screen and 1,366-x-786 resolution, Samsung layers on a Wacom digitizer that works with its S-Pen stylus for pressure-sensitive control over digital input. There's also Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios plus a global navigation receiver for geopositioning. Samsung also equips the Smart PC with an 8MP rear camera, 2MP front camera, one USB 2.0 port, a Micro-HDMI port, a Micro-SD card reader and dual front-facing speakers. Battery life is rated at 9 hours. List price is $749.
There are currently five Chromebook models ranging in cost from $199 to $1,449. The newest, coolest and most expensive is Google's own. The Chromebook Pixel lists for $1,299 with Wi-Fi or $1,449 with LTE and a 64-GB SSD. For its relatively steep price tag, Pixel delivers a 12.9-inch display with a 0.55mm thin multitouch layer that's fused directly to its 2,560-x-1,700 pixel LCD. It also includes 4 GB of memory, a 32-GB SSD, two USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, an SD/MMC card reader and DisplayPort output. The Pixel boasts 239 pixels-per-inch (Apple's Retina delivers 227 ppi). Just 0.64 inches thin, the Pixel is 0.11 inches thinner than MacBook Pro and more than a quarter-pound lighter. Pixel is surrounded by a machined metal enclosure, a polished glass touchpad and a piano hinge that doubles as a heatsink and triples as a Wi-Fi antenna. Google's machine includes 1 TB of Google Drive storage for three years. It's built around a non-Haswell Intel Core i5 1.8GHz dual-core processor.
Sony puts a tablet riff on its latest Ultrabook with the Vaio Duo 13, which roughly mirrors the Vaio Pro 13 covered in slide 2. The 1,920-x-1,080 touchscreen display converts to a tablet with a clever sliding mechanism. The included stylus works in either mode, as do finger touches. Notice the forward-shifted keyboard, which requires a condensed version of a touchpad. The Duo is about a half-pound heavier than "the world's lightest touch Ultrabook," but it's rated to deliver three hours longer on battery. Processor options are all Haswell and Intel HD Graphics 5000 and include Core i5 and i7. List pricing starts at $1,399 with Windows 8.
Asus claimed a world first when it released the dual-mode Transformer Book. We can't vouch for their claim of being first, but that device did add more ports than most on its keyboard dock. Asus lays a more credible claim with Transformer Book Trio, which adds a third stage -- a desktop mode -- to the mix. That is definitely a first for the CRN Test Center, and clearly among the coolest solutions of the year. We still have some things to learn from Asus about the Transformer Book Trio, but what the company has disclosed is that the Atom-powered tablet portion runs Android or Windows 8 (and can toggle between the two) from a 64-GB eMMC drive. In desktop mode, the system runs Windows 8 on a 4th-gen Intel Core i5 or i7 processor from an SSD up to 1 TB in size. Pricing and availability have not been disclosed.
It's not the thinnest. It's not the lightest. But, Alienware has earned the reputation of being the "gamiest." Alienware laptops might be great for game play, but they're also perfectly suited for general use too. And parent company Dell has refreshed the entire Alienware line for Haswell. For example, the Alienware 14 like other very high-end laptops is offered with a 4th-gen Intel Core i7-4900MQ quad-core processor, up to 16 GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 memory, a 512-GB SSD, a slot-loading dual-layer Blu-ray reader and discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M GPU with 2 GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory driving a 14-inch IPS display that puts out 1,920 x 1,080 -- just right for the high-performance computing required for scientific applications, oil and gas exploration, medical imaging, CAD/CAM, and entertainment and media production ... or to play DayZ. It has ports galore, including Gigabit Ethernet, dual-band Wi-Fi with 802.11ac high-speed support and dual video output. List pricing starts at $1,199; weight starts at around 6 pounds.
Apple has a history of being first out of the gate. On June 10, the company unveiled the latest MacBook Air series built with Haswell, just one week after Intel began shipping its revolutionary new part. And the results are in. The power efficiencies of Haswell, when combined with Apple's already legendary power-saving algorithms, have allowed the MacBook Air to run for as many as 14 hours on a single charge. Ever modest, Apple rates the 13-inch unit at 12 hours. Either way, it's the most expansive stretch of battery life on the planet. But, there's much more coolness to MacBook Air than that. Apple includes Intel's latest HD Graphics 5000, supports the emerging 802.11ac high-speed Wi-Fi specification, and delivers two USB 3.0 ports and a 10 GBps Thunderbolt port, and of course its unibody design is as thin and light as ever. It weighs less than 3 pounds and is 0.11 inches thin at its tapered end.