This Holiday season the MileLogr team decided it was time to upgrade our laptops. For many years we’ve been loyal to ThinkPads which are quite popular among professionals. Stefan, in particular, was hanging on to his ThinkPad T60p which is so old it still bears the IBM logo! Apparently it’s the last model where the screen has a 4:3 aspect ratio which is great for coding. Nevertheless, we pried it from his hands and went shopping.
We were impressed with the fantastic choices that are available now and faced a new reality where ThinkPads are not anymore top-of-mind for professionals who use PCs. We fell in love with ultrabooks because they are sleek and powerful especially the ones with “retina” displays which are simply stunning. Retina is a term introduced by Apple not too long ago to indicate high resolution, high DPI screens. They achieve an incredible text and graphics sharpness by packing in around 220-250 DPI (dots per inch) as opposed to the traditional 72 DPI which LCD screen have had thus far. Once you go retina you don’t want to go back . And since the PC ecosystem is cool again PC manufacturers are also using such screens now.
Here’s our shopping guide and recommendations for those of you looking to get a new laptop.
Budget Ultrabook ($800-900)
This is the ~$800 range which, frankly, is a bargain for the kind of computing power a laptop packs these days (a thousand Apollo 11s). At this price range what you usually get are the ugly ducklings in the traditional laptop category. But aside from supplying some of those traditional designs Dell, does a take on the Apple unibody design in the incarnation of the Inspiron 14″ 7000 Series Touch with 6GB RAM, 500GB traditional hard disk and a 1920×1080 resolution.
Pros: touch screen, premium feel, comfortable keyboard, upgradable (unlike most ultrabooks which are not)
Cons: doesn’t have an SSD, but since you can self-upgrade not a problem
Affordable Sleekness ($1100-1400)
This is the ~$1200 range which makes us nostalgic because in 1990 we bought our first “286” PC for this much money. A dishwasher has more computing power these days . Two ultrabooks stand out at this price range:
1) Lenovo’s Yoga 2 Pro with 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD and a gorgeous 3200×1800 resolution is on the lower end of the mid-range price spectrum. This would have been our laptop of choice had it had 8GB RAM but unfortunately you can’t upgrade the memory since it’s soldered onto the motherboard. We feel we need 8GB to code all the awesome features we have planned for you. But unless you know you need this much RAM it’s the best laptop of the bunch.
Pros: 360⁰ flip-and-fold design: what a convertible laptop should be (when they say “yoga” they mean yoga); touch screen, great value for money, great performance, modern design in two colors
Cons: keyboard is crammed with an extra row of keys that makes “return” and “backspace” too narrow and easy to miss; it’s a pity since ThinkPad/Lenovo set the standard for best keyboards for decades.
2) MacBook Pro 13″ with Retina display with 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD and a 2560×1600 resolution is on the upper end of the mid-range price spectrum. Yes, you read that right. We are recommending a MacBook for running Windows 8.1. You can install Windows 7 or 8 side-by-side with MacOS and Apple has very good driver support that conforms to Windows’ paradigms. For instance, the Command key functions as the Windows key and clicking on the right edge of the single-button track-pad acts as a right click.
Pros: hipster status in coffee shops, unbeatable battery life, great performance, can also runs Mac OS X
Cons: no touch screen, Windows users still need to keep MacOS around because there’s no other way to install firmware upgrades and that takes up 28 of the 128GB
This is the ~$1800 range which admittedly is expensive given all the sub-$500 tablets and sub-$1000 laptops out there. But you do get a lot of sexiness for the money. In particular, we liked the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD. It has a gorgeous screen with a 3200×1800 resolution.
Enjoy and do share your thoughts. May you have a productive 2014!