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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.

[embedded content]

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)

Is the Motorola Moto G5S Plus a Best Buy smartphone?

If you’re on the lookout for a new smartphone, our latest mobile phone reviews include both the cheap and pricey, and other models somewhere in between. Among them is the Moto G5S Plus, a mid-range handset from popular household name Motorola. It has a large 5.5-inch screen, two 13Mp lenses on its rear for recording 4K videos, and it looks and feels premium – impressive considering the phone’s price.

But does this Motorola option reach the dizzying heights of Best Buy stardom? Find out by reading our full Motorola Moto G5S Plus review[1]. Elsewhere from our latest batch of reviews is a model that has the best battery life for call time we’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately, there’s also a Don’t Buy in the mix – for which, as we go on to explain, there are plenty of reasons to avoid. Mobile phone reviews[2] – discover the best handset for you, whatever your budget.

LG V30

The LG V30 has an enormous six-inch Quad HD+ OLED touchscreen to help make colours pop and detail look sharp. The curved glass rear and narrow bezels make the phone look the part, too – the screen fills most of the front of the device.

It’s packed with fancy features to tempt you to part with your cash, such as facial recognition and dual rear cameras. But we’ve seen pricey smartphones fail to deliver on the basics, such as battery life and camera quality – does this GBP600 handset really have what it takes to earn our seal of approval? Head to our full LG V30 review[3] for the answer.

Nokia 6

At GBP200, the Nokia 6 costs a third of the price of the LG V30, which means it has fewer features.

But could it be the perfect choice for buyers on a budget? We found its large 5.5-inch nice and clear. But can its 16Mp rear camera takes photos and videos you’ll be happy to share on social media?

And how long will it last before running out of juice? Read our full Nokia 6 review[4] to find out more.

EE Hawk

The EE Hawk has some pretty decent features for its GBP140 price. Its fingerprint sensor means you can unlock the phone in a jiffy, and it has NFC-capability, which means you can use it to make contactless payments via Android Pay.

Is the Hawk a high-flyer, or is it one you should scuttle past in the shops? Read our full EE Hawk review[5] for everything you need to know.

Alcatel U5

The Alcatel U5 costs just GBP90 to buy outright, which is a refreshing break from the raft of new smartphones that may as well cost you both your arm and your leg. It has a removable battery, a feature lacking in more expensive phones.

We like phones with removable batteries because it’s easier to both diagnose and fix any battery-related issues. As you’d expect from a phone this cheap, the U5 is understandably light on features – but we’ve found sub-GBP100 phones that aren’t too shabby at all. Looking for the best cheap mobile phone?

Find out whether this handset is everything you’ve been looking for by consulting our Alcatel U5 review[6].

What makes a Best Buy mobile phone?

A smartphone has to excel across the board to earn our Best Buy recommendation. Here are a few of our key tests to help you buy the best:

A Best Buy smartphone easily gets through a day without needing a recharge, takes nicely detailed photos and keeps everything ticking over nicely. A Don’t Buy, on the other hand, will be painfully slow to use, take photos you’ll want to immediately delete, and will seemingly take pleasure in losing charge.

Make sure you end up with a smartphone you love by checking out our Best Buy mobile phones[7].

References

  1. ^ Motorola Moto G5S Plus review (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ Mobile phone reviews (www.which.co.uk)
  3. ^ LG V30 review (www.which.co.uk)
  4. ^ Nokia 6 review (www.which.co.uk)
  5. ^ EE Hawk review (www.which.co.uk)
  6. ^ Alcatel U5 review (www.which.co.uk)
  7. ^ Best Buy mobile phones (www.which.co.uk)

Reviewed: Is the Honor 9 Lite the best budget mobile phone?

Honor, a child brand of larger company Huawei, has launched the GBP200 Honor 9 Lite. It is available right now in blue, black or grey. The headline feature is not one, not two, but four cameras – two on each side.

Considering its low price, and some pretty impressive specs elsewhere, this certainly raised some eyebrows. Samsung’s Galaxy S8[1], released in 2017, brought the idea of an almost-all-screen front panel to the mainstream, and the move was slated as something we’d see on more high-end models. But, less than a year later, the arrival of the 9 Lite shows that the idea can be transferred over to cheaper models.

The 9 Lite has a large, 5.65-inch screen. Honor has made it twice as long as it is wide, to aid one-handed use, something which we’d also previously only really seen on pricier options. We’ve already been hands on with the new budget-friendly phone: see what we think of it in our Honor 9 Lite review[2].

Plus below, we compare the 9 Lite’s specs with mid-range options from Motorola, Samsung and LG.

What’s this about four cameras?

We’ve seen and increasing number phones with two rear-camera lenses, but we’ve not seen a handset with two on the back and front. That is, until we laid our hands on the Honor 9 Lite. On both front and back, there are 13Mp and 2Mp lenses.

The theory goes that these will capture exceptional detail, colour and depth. Plus they let you play with depth-of-field effects. This means you can really draw focus to your desired subject by blurring out its surroundings, for an arty shot.

But dual cameras don’t guarantee great photography. Indeed, it would be better to have one fantastic camera lens than two poor ones. We’ll be sending the Honor 9 Lite to our test lab as soon as possible to dig deeper into its camera quality, to find out whether it really does give you top-quality shots.

Browse the best of the best in our guide to the top smartphones of 2018[3].

Huawei Honor 9 Lite vs Motorola Moto G5 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy J5 (2017)

The Honor 9 Lite might pique your interest if you’re looking for a smartphone without spending more than GBP600 on the latest Apple or Samsung flagship models. But it’s by no means the only budget-friendly mobile to consider. See the table below for a comparison of how the Honor 9 Lite compares with two other popular mid-range options: the Motorola Moto G5 Plus and Samsung Galaxy J5 (2017).

Huawei Honor 9 Lite[4] Motorola Moto G5 Plus[5] Samsung Galaxy J5 (2017)[6] Price GBP200 GBP200 GBP230 Screen size (inches) 5.65 5.2 5.2 Weight 149g 155g 160g Dimensions(H x W x D in mm) 151 x 72 x 8 150 x 74 x 8 146 x 71 x 8 Rear camera 13Mp + 2Mp 12Mp 13Mp Front camera 13Mp + 2Mp 5Mp 13Mp Battery size 3,000mAh 3,000mAh 3,000mAh Total storage 32GB 32GB 32GB

The Honor 9 Lite has a larger display than the Moto G5 Plus and Samsung Galaxy J5 (2017), but it’s not that much larger overall – and it’s lighter.

They all offer 32GB of total storage, plus they each have a 3,000mAh battery underneath the hood. But our full tests of the Moto G5 Plus and Galaxy J5 (2017) revealed battery life differences. How long the battery life stretches to depends on other factor than its size, such as processor efficiency.

To find out whether the Motorola and Samsung models are worth considering, head straight to our fully tested reviews of the Motorola Moto G5 Plus[7] and Samsung Galaxy J5 (2017)[8].

GBP200 sounds like a bargain for a phone with decent specs – see what it’s up against in our guide to the best cheap mobile phones[9].

References

  1. ^ Samsung’s Galaxy S8 (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ Honor 9 Lite review (www.which.co.uk)
  3. ^ top smartphones of 2018 (www.which.co.uk)
  4. ^ Huawei Honor 9 Lite (www.which.co.uk)
  5. ^ Motorola Moto G5 Plus (www.which.co.uk)
  6. ^ Samsung Galaxy J5 (2017) (www.which.co.uk)
  7. ^ Motorola Moto G5 Plus (www.which.co.uk)
  8. ^ Samsung Galaxy J5 (2017) (www.which.co.uk)
  9. ^ best cheap mobile phones (www.which.co.uk)

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