It’s a rarity to have more than one laptop at a time for a First Look, so to have four appear at once on my desk was astounding. Moreover, these models ran the gamut of laptop designs.
Apple MacBook ($1999)
For the past few years the MacBook Air was Apple’s super-slim laptop, now Apple has released a regular MacBook so thin it only barely fits a headphone plug. It looks amazing and if you want to up the “wow factor”, it comes in a gold finish.
The new MacBook is roughly the same size as two of the latest iPad Air’s placed together, but with a 12-inch retina screen. The keyboard fits the smaller form well. It goes almost edge to edge, which allows it to still be a full-sized keyboard.
The trackpad in this latest Air has been upgraded—the new “Force Touch” trackpad gives you the same click pressure no matter where you click. If you’ve used an older MacBook trackpad, you know they need to be pushed down to click. The trackpad itself doesn’t move at all, the click you feel is actually small solenoids under the trackpad tapping up against your finger. I didn’t realise this until I turned the MacBook off and there was no “click”. There’s also a “secondary” click that does different things (depending on what you’re clicking on) if you hold down after clicking.
This MacBook isn’t a powerhouse. If you want to run complicated video or photo editing software it will run slower than you’d want, but for everyday computing the MacBook works well.
Its battery is much improved. The battery has been split into four sections so it can fit inside the small frame, but in doing so Apple were able to add more battery capacity. I often found myself surprised at how much battery power was left at the end of the day.
The new MacBook is light. It was easy to carry in one hand for a long period and the small size means it can slip into a handbag as easily as a laptop bag.
Connections might be the MacBook’s biggest let-down. Due to its slim body there are only two inputs: one for headphones, which only barely fits, and one for USB-C. The USB-C port is for power and data. If you want to connect a regular USB cable then you’ll need an adapter, it’s the same if you want to connect an HDMI cable. If you want to connect something else and charge at the same time then you need yet another adapter. If you keep lots of data in the cloud then this isn’t much of a problem, but if you regularly use physical hard drives (or thumb drives) then you’ll need to fork out for an adapter or two.
The MacBook is an excellent little laptop I enjoyed using on a day-to-day basis. I use internet services more than physical media so I didn’t mind the lack of connections. The keyboard and trackpad are excellent to use and overall design looks cool.
- Processor: 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor (Turbo Boost up to 2.4GHz) with 4MB shared L3 cache or 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor (Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz) with 4MB shared L3 cache.
- Display: Retina display, 12-inch (diagonal) 2304-by-1440 resolution, 16:10 aspect ratio
- Memory: 8GB
- Storage: 256GB or 512GB PCIe-based onboard flash storage
- Graphics and Video Support: Intel HD Graphics 5300
- Dual display and video mirroring: Simultaneously supports full native resolution on the built-in display and up to 3840 by 2160 pixels on an external display.
- Connections: USB-C port with support for: charging; USB 3.1 (up to 5Gb/s); native DisplayPort 1.2 video output; VGA output using USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter (sold separately); HDMI video output using USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter (sold separately)
- Dimensions: 1.31 x 28.05 x 19.65cm (HxWxD)
- Weight: 0.92kg
- Operating System: OS X Yosemite
Lenovo Yoga Pro ($2599)
The Yoga 3 Pro is the most futuristic-looking laptop I’ve used in a long time. It has a unique hinge that allows the screen to be folded all the way back behind the keyboard. It’s a form of hybrid laptop that’s been done before but the Yoga 3 does it with style.
The Yoga 3 can be folded into four different “modes”. Laptop is self-explanatory; Tablet is with the screen folded all the way around; Tent is with the Yoga folded into an upside-down V; and, Stand is almost the opposite of Laptop mode with keyboard face down on the desk and screen folded up.
When the Yoga changes positions, a screen notification tells you which mode you’re in and changes functionality accordingly, most notably turning off the keyboard. This use of different forms works well with Windows 8 and Windows 10.
The flexibility of the Yoga makes for a comfortable device to use on any surface or position and the hinge is firm enough that the screen doesn’t move back and forth. The hinge itself is an amazing piece of design. It’s modelled after a metallic watch strap and hides electronic connections between the two main pieces perfectly.
Sadly, some of the design details let down the Yoga 3, and those relate to its everyday use as a laptop. The bezel around the screen and keyboard is too large. This means the 13-inch screen looks much smaller than it actually is and the keyboard is cramped into a smaller space. Downsizing the keyboard means shrinking some keys, unfortunately Lenovo chose the wrong keys to make smaller. For example, they cut the shift key in half, which is quite important if you type a lot. I found myself making a huge number of typing mistakes while using the Yoga 3.
Its battery life was disappointingly short. I found I was constantly recharging, even if I had left it sitting with the lid closed. Note: this is compared to laptops I have used in the same way in the past. The Yoga 3 wasn’t as heavy as I expected but still had plenty of heft. It didn’t feel too heavy carrying it all day though.
Overall, the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is a well-performing hybrid laptop. I had no issues with the processing power and the various modes were useful but its battery life is lacking and the keyboard’s too small.
- Processor: Intel Core M-5Y71 Processor (4M Cache, up to 2.90 GHz)
- Operating system: Windows 10 Home 64
- Display: 13.3-inch QHD+ (3200x1800), IPS
- System Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5300
- Memory: 8GB
- Storage: 256GB SSD
- Connections: 2 x USB 3.0; DC-in with USB 2.0 function; headphone jack; 4-in-1 card reader (SD, MMC, SDXC, SDHC), Micro-HDMI.
- Dimensions (W x D x H): 330 x 228 x 12.8mm
- Weight: 1.19kg
Asus Zenbook UX303L ($1876)
This Asus Zenbook is what I would call a “baseline” laptop. It’s a great model to compare others against. It’s fast but not over-specced. It’s not too heavy or amazingly light. There’s very little I could find wrong with it but I’m not blown away by it either.
The worst thing about the Zenbook is that it runs Windows 8.1, which isn’t the most intuitive operating system (note if you have Windows 8 or 8.1, you’ll get a free upgrade to Windows 10). But this laptop did have a touchscreen, which made it much easier to use. These days, I am so used to touchscreens that I get confused when I use a computer without one.
That said, its touchpad worked well. The buttons are always the issue when it comes to touchpads and the Asus was no exception. I would sometimes get false clicks or it would assume I had swiped in from the side and open a system menu (an annoying function that’s been present since Windows 8).
Its keyboard is laid out well and offered no issues when typing. There are plugs for almost anything you want to connect including 3 USB ports and an HDMI port, not to mention a memory card reader. So it’s more function than form.
This Zenbook isn’t ultra-light, but it’s comfortable to carry for a while. However, it’s heavy enough that you’ll probably need a laptop bag for longer periods (it comes with a fabric sleeve, but this doesn’t make it easier to carry).
One small issue I had was that when browsing the web or doing other internet-based tasks, the Zenbook would work much slower when running on battery than on mains power. As far as I could tell there were no power conservation options selected, so I’m not sure what was going on, but it was annoying.
Overall, this is a perfectly OK laptop. There was nothing that made me hate this computer but nothing that made me jump up and praise it either. It’s a solid laptop with no real downside.
- Processor: Intel Core i5 4210U 1.7 GHz or 2.7 GHz Processor
- Operating System: Windows 8.1
- Memory: DDR3L 1600 MHz SDRAM, 8 GB
- Display: 13.3" 16:9 IPS FHD (1920x1080)
- System Graphics: Integrated Intel GMA HD
- Storage: 128GB SATA III SSD
- Connections: audio jack; 3 x USB 3.0; HDMI; mini Display Port; card reader (SD/ SDHC)
- Dimensions: 32.3 x 22.4 x 2.0cm (WxDxH)
- Weight: 1.45kg
Asus Transformer Book Chi ($1289)
The Chi is a powerful tablet computer that can attach to a physical keyboard, turning it (or transforming, if you will) into a small laptop. The Chi is no slouch in processing speed with all tasks working as fast as I expected. That said, this is not the type of device you’d use for heavy-duty video, audio or photo editing. But for writing, surfing the web, and other basic tasks it works well.
However, while the Chi’s internal specs are good, its design sorely lets it down. The tablet section is bulky and heavy; heavier than the keyboard. This is fine when using it on a desk or any other flat surface, but if you put it somewhere less stable, like your knees, you have to carefully balance the Chi to stop it toppling backwards. I found the Chi’s weight surprising for its size. I wouldn’t want to carry it all day, even without the keyboard. The keyboard is OK to use but has some issues. There is no physical connection between the keyboard and the tablet. While they’re held together by magnetic slots, you need to connect the keyboard via Bluetooth for them to work together.
This causes all sorts of problems. It means you can’t turn on the Chi and start typing immediately because you need to wait for the two to connect. It also means you need to keep the keyboard charged. To charge the keyboard you either plug it into the wall separately or daisy-chain USB cables from the tablet. It’s a pretty clunky system.
The Chi was far from the best hybrid laptop I’ve tried. Its adequate performance didn’t make up for its awkward design.
- Processor: Intel Core M 5Y10/5Y71 Processor
- Chipset: Integrated Intel CPU
- Memory: LPDDR3 1600 MHz SDRAM, 4 GB, up to 8 G
- Display: 12.5-inch Auto WQHD (2560x1440)/Full HD 3D (1920x1080)/Wide View Angle
- Graphic: Integrated Intel HD Graphics 5300
- Storage: 128GB ISSD SSD (M.2 2280) or 256GB SSD (M.2 2280)
- Connections: audio jack; micro USB; micro HDMI; SD card reader.
- Dimensions: 317.8 x 191.6 x 8.05 ~16.95mm (WxDxH)
- Weight: Tablet - 0.76kg; Dock - 0.7kg
- Operating System: Windows 8.1 Pro
First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons. The laptops were loaned to us for this trial.
By Hadyn Green.