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Laptops

The Asus ZenBook Pro and five other great laptop innovations

Asus has announced the ZenBook Pro – its most unusual looking laptop in years. Featuring ‘ScreenPad’ (more on this below), this 5.5-inch full colour touchscreen could be the evolution of the touchpad as we know it. The recently-revealed ZenBook Pro 15 580GD left some mouths agape when it first appeared.

This sleek multimedia laptop is going toe to toe with the ever-popular Dell XPS 15[1] and 15-inch MacBook Pro, but up against such strong competition Asus has pulled out all the stops to make its laptop stand out from the premium notebook crowd. We run through its key features to see if it ticks the most important boxes elsewhere, and are also taking a trip back through history to look at some other unusual laptop innovations that eventually made it to market. Best Buy laptop reviews[2] – innovations or no, take a look at the models that impressed us the most.

Asus ZenBook Pro debuts ScreenPad – a 5.5-inch touchscreen

First, the headline grabber: The touchpad, normally a blank patch of smooth metal or plastic, is a fully-fledged 5.5-inch touchscreen that Asus is calling the ScreenPad.

This isn’t just some gimmick; this panel can be used both as a way to control apps such as music players, the calculator, Microsoft Word and more, or it can be used as a second monitor for any app you fancy. This means you can drag any window you’re currently using on the main screen, and move it onto the ScreenPad. This makes particular sense if you like watching videos while doing other things; you can now have a tiny video player on the ScreenPad while getting on with other work.

[embedded content] How well it works in the long term remains to be seen, but given this laptop will shortly be on sale, we won’t have long to find out. Elsewhere, though, the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD packs impressive specifications, including a choice of quad- or six-core Intel Core i5, i7 or i9 processors, up to 16GB of Ram and a dedicated graphics card in the form of Nvidia’s GTX 1050.

There’s a choice of either a Full-HD or Ultra-HD screen, the latter is tuned for professional colour accuracy before being shipped. There will also be a choice of storage, topping out at a 1TB SSD. The laptop is expected to go on sale in the Autumn and is expected to cost from around GBP1,500.

Laptop history: Five other innovative notebooks that made it to store shelves

Asus is far from the first to surprise people with a clever laptop design.

History is littered with notebooks that broke from the norm, with mixed levels of success.

1995: IBM ThinkPad 701c ‘Butterfly’

Image: Mikebabb/Wikipedia, Creative Commons

The so-called ‘Butterfly’ keyboard on the IBM 701c was a technical necessity, but a beautiful one at that. With the desire for ultra-compact laptops, IBM wanted to overcome the issue of such small keyboards being hard to type on. The solution was the almost impossibly elegant butterfly, mechanism, which saw the two separate halves of the keyboard sliding away from one another and locking into place to create a wider, more comfortable keyboard layout.

This allowed for a full-size keyboard on a laptop with just a 10.4-inch screen. The laptop reportedly sold extremely well, but ultimately the mechanism proved to be unnecessary in future laptops because manufacturers went with larger screen sizes, meaning the keyboard was usually large enough to be comfortable without being expanded. [embedded content]

2011 onwards: Phones as laptops

In 2011, Motorola found itself at the leading edge of laptop/smartphone hybrid designs, with its ‘Lapdock’ (pictured) product that actually went on sale.

You’d connect a phone to an otherwise ‘dumb’ keyboard and screen, and get a cutdown laptop experience.

More recent efforts from Microsoft have even gone as far as creating a fully-fledged Windows 10 computer from a Windows smartphone connected via USB. Microsoft has since dropped Windows Phone altogether. Most recently, Razer’s Project Linda[3] puts the smartphone front and centre, allowing you to drop its Razer Phone straight into the touchpad portion of its concept laptop.

2012: Razer Blade – Touchpad screen with customisable buttons

Thought the Asus ZenBook Pro was the first of its kind? Wrong. Gaming brand Razer was doing something similar six years ago with its lightweight Blade laptop.

While Razer’s effort couldn’t act as a second monitor, it could run smartphone-style apps, such as YouTube and Gmail. Not only that, each of the eight buttons situated next to it were themselves tiny screens, allowing you to add custom icons depending on the function you had assigned to them. Razer dropped this feature from subsequent Razer Blade models.

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2016: MacBook Pro – Touch bar

Introduced in late 2016, Apple’s Touch Bar replaces the ‘F’ keys on the top row of the keyboard on some MacBook Pro[4] models. A tiny sliver of high-quality OLED screen adapts to whatever program you’re using. This means it will change depending on what you need it for – displaying colour palettes, emoji icons in iMessage and so on.

The verdict from reviewers has been mixed.

Our review, for example, said: ‘Once the novelty wears off, the Touch Bar currently feels more like an annoyance than a genuine selling point – especially for touch typists or people who know their Apple keyboard extremely well.’ [embedded content]

2016: Lenovo Yoga Book

The Lenovo Yoga Book was another surprise innovation when it was revealed in September 2016. This remarkable machine has a virtual keyboard that can be turned off entirely, turning the empty space into a functional drawing tablet.

This model was pitched at note takers and artists alike, and was sold in both Windows 10 and Android configurations. Read our Lenovo Yoga Book Android review[5] for more.

Lenovo hasn’t announced any successors to this machine, but it’s unclear whether it was enough of a success to warrant one.

The future: Project Precog?

This month Asus also revealed its Project Precog, dual-screen laptop. The sci-fi-sounding ‘precog’ refers to the laptop’s claimed AI-enhanced ability to work out what tasks you want to be doing, and be ready before you even have to ask.

A basic example is that the virtual, onscreen keyboard and touchpad will disappear when you plug in a USB mouse and keyboard, giving you more space to get things done. Plenty of patents for similar devices have been floating around for years, including several notable designs from Apple[6]. Asus says it’s planning to launch a laptop based on Precog in 2019, so it could beat Apple to the punch on this one.

For slightly more conventional laptop buying advice, read our guide on how to buy the best laptop[7].

References

  1. ^ Dell XPS 15 (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ Best Buy laptop reviews (www.which.co.uk)
  3. ^ Razer’s Project Linda (www.razer.com)
  4. ^ MacBook Pro (www.which.co.uk)
  5. ^ Lenovo Yoga Book Android review (www.which.co.uk)
  6. ^ designs from Apple (patents.google.com)
  7. ^ how to buy the best laptop (www.which.co.uk)

Hands on with Aldi’s £200 ‘Specialbuy’ Medion Akoya notebook

Aldi is currently selling a 14-inch laptop for GBP200 with some impressive-looking specifications, but is it really all it’s cut out to be? We take a closer look to see whether it’s good value or a false economy. Aldi is becoming well-known for its so-called ‘Specialbuys’.

These are limited-run products sold very cheaply, so when they’re gone they’re truly gone. The most notable deal right now is this Medion-branded laptop that’s exclusively found at Aldi. GBP200 laptops rarely become Best Buys in our tests, but we have seen some almost-as-cheap Best Buys over the years.

So there is every chance that this machine could fit the bill. We’ve taken a look at this machine in our First Look review, so if you want to know whether it’s worth your money, read our Medion Akoya 4242 First Look review[1].

Ultra-budget laptops: pros and cons

Super-cheap laptops have a couple of advantages over more expensive models because of the cheaper parts that are used to make them. The first is that they’re smaller and lighter, down to the fact that it’s cheaper to make a small laptop than a big one, and plastic is generally lighter than the metal used in more robust models.

This makes them great as ultra-portable devices to be chucked in a bag when travelling. The second big pro is that because these laptops have less powerful (and thus less power-hungry) processors and smaller screens, they often have much better battery life than their larger siblings. Indeed, of all the laptops we’ve tested between 2016 and 2018, those that cost under GBP200 scored an average four out of five for battery life, while those tested in the same period costing between GBP200 and GBP400 scored a meagre 3.2 on average.

That’s the difference between getting through a whole work day away from the mains, and having to plug in with a few hours still to go. But there are significant cons as well, normally around performance. You don’t often get cheap laptops that are fast, no matter what the marketing blurb might say.

Laptops costing under GBP200 have scored 2.2 on average for overall performance, while machines costing between GBP200 and GBP400 score consistently close to three out of five, averaging 2.7.

Is this an Aldi bargain?

Based on the specifications, there are some definite highlights for those who favour portability. This laptop has a 14-inch screen but weighs just 1.4kg, making it convenient for carrying in a bag. The screen itself also has a Full HD (1920 x 1080-pixel) resolution, which is very rare at this price.

The Intel Atom processor, however, is not known for its speed so it’s unlikely to serve heavy users – such as those who open lots of programs and browser tabs – particularly well.

To find out whether it can at least handle the basics, read our Medion Akoya 4242 First Look review[2].

References

  1. ^ Medion Akoya 4242 First Look review (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ Medion Akoya 4242 First Look review (www.which.co.uk)

Huawei reveals MateBook X Pro laptop and MediaPad M5 tablets

Chinese computing brand Huawei has unveiled a new high-end laptop and three new tablets. The Huawei MateBook X Pro laptop is something of a MacBook competitor. It has a 13.9-inch 3K display, which you can also use as a touchscreen.

Meanwhile, Huawei’s three new tablets are the 8.4-inch and 10.8-inch MediaPad M5, plus a 10.8-inch MediaPad M5 Pro. The latter is a potential rival to the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro ranges of top-end tablets. While we haven’t yet had the chance to test Huawei’s new models, we’ve run through their key specs and claims to see how they stack up against the best laptops and tablets on the market.

Be sure to watch our hands-on video of the new Huawei MateBook X Pro and MediaPad tablets:

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Laptop reviews[1] – find the best laptop for your budget.

Huawei MateBook X Pro laptop

This is a super-slim laptop designed to compete with a MacBook in the looks department. The bezel around the screen is so narrow that there’s no room for a webcam at the top of the display. Huawei has had to be a little creative to still include a webcam, tucking it underneath the keyboard.

There’s a physical button with a camera icon on it between the F6 and F7 keys – pressing this makes the webcam pop out. To make it go into hiding again, you simply press down on the button once more. You can buy the MateBook X Pro with either an i5 or i7 Intel Core processor.

UK pricing isn’t yet confirmed, but the i5 version with 256GB of storage costs EUR1,499, while the i7 one with 512GB costs EUR1,899. We expect to see the MateBook Pro available to buy sometime in March 2018.

Huawei MediaPad M5 tablet

There are two different sizes of the MediaPad M5: 8.4 inches and 10.8 inches (pictured above). Each tablet runs with a 2K resolution, which should make for a sharp screen.

You have two colours to choose from for the case: grey or champagne-gold. The M5 tablets are powered by a Kirin 960 Series processor, which Huawei says will let you speed through apps and web browsing with ease. The 10.8-inch version has a larger 7,500mAh battery to the 8.4-inch version’s 5,100mAh offering – but that doesn’t automatically mean its real-world battery life is better, as it has to power a larger screen.

The 10.8-inch MediaPad M5 also has a desktop view, giving you a taskbar and easier access to your files. This means the larger option might be a better choice if you like to use your tablet to get on with work on the go. There are a few different pricing options, although UK prices haven’t yet been confirmed.

The least you’ll be able to spend on the 8.4-inch version is EUR349, and EUR399 for the 10.8-inch one, giving you 32GB of storage. They’re wi-fi only, with no 4G option available. If you spend EUR499 on the 8.4-inch version or EUR549 on the 10.8-inch one, you get 128GB plus 4G web-browsing.

We expect the MediaPad M5 to be available to buy in spring. See more Best Buy tablets[2] reviewed by Which?.

Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro tablet

This tablet aims to compete with the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro tablets. It comes with an ‘M-Pen’, a stylus with which you can write directly on the screen.

The 10.8-inch display recognises a whopping 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity – a light touch will give you a thin line, while a heavier touch thickens it. You might appreciate this for quickly jotting a note, or for sketching if you’re artistically inclined. Like the other new M5 tablets, it’s powered by the Kirin 960 processor.

There’s a 13Mp rear camera, as well as an 8Mp lens on the front for video calls. The M5 Pro undercuts the iPad and Surface Pro models on price (although UK prices aren’t yet confirmed). The cheapest version of the MediaPad M5 Pro is EUR499 – this gives you 64GB of storage, and you’ll need to be connected to wi-fi for internet use.

Spend EUR599, and you get 128GB of space and you can browse the web on the superfast 4G network – handy if you like to use your tablet on your commute.

Does Huawei make good laptops and tablets?

Huawei’s laptops and tablets certainly have a lot of competition, including from brands such as Apple, Lenovo and Samsung. It’s a newer brand for the UK market (it’s pronounced ‘wha-way’, incidentally). While we’ve not previously tested any Huawei laptops, the Chinese manufacturer has put out some impressive tablets so far.

The devices have not been universally outstanding, but our tests have uncovered Best Buy tablets from Huawei. To earn our Best Buy recommendation, laptops and tablets have to be really simple to use, speedy, and have good battery life and clear displays. Laptops and tablets are typically not cheap.

The last thing you’ll want to do is spend a lot of money, only to feel bitterly disappointed.

To avoid making a decision you’ll regret, take a look at our Best Buy laptops[3] and Best Buy tablets[4] before spending a penny of your hard-earned cash.

References

  1. ^ Laptop reviews (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ Best Buy tablets (www.which.co.uk)
  3. ^ Best Buy laptops (www.which.co.uk)
  4. ^ Best Buy tablets (www.which.co.uk)

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