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Thin and light laptops review

We test 12 thin and light laptops to see which give the best mobile computing experience.
 
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01.Featherweight computers

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The convenience of an untethered, wireless lifestyle popularised by smartphones and tablets is driving changes to thin and light laptops. Even ultraportable models now pack the computing power needed for almost any task, but the challenge is to get longer life between battery charges.

Fortunately, the latest generation of thin and light laptops heralds a new era in ultraportables, with some providing all-day, go-anywhere convenience without sacrificing computing grunt. This is a huge bonus for on-the-go users who want to travel light with the minimum of extra gear – and for those who are just plain forgetful.

  • Ultraportable laptops are thin, light and powerful.
  • Ultrabooks are a specific type of ultraportable.
  • Some now have all-day battery capacity.

Models on test

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Just what is an ultrabook?

Ultrabooks are a specific sub-category of notebooks that must meet specific criteria set by Intel to earn that designation. Among their strong points is strong security protection built in at the chip level - which, for identity protection, lets you disable the laptop remotely should it be stolen. Although the MacBook Air is the inspiration for the Ultrabook class, it’s not actually an Ultrabook. All but one of the other thin-light models on test (the MSI S30) are Ultrabooks.

Thin and light laptops are all about mobility, and a couple of Ultrabooks on test also fall into the hybrid laptop category, offering the extra versatility of a touchscreen tablet format. The Dell XPS 12 features a clever acrobatic screen that swivels in the frame to flip the screen from front to back. The MSI S20 is a “slider” format. Unlike most sliders that only offer up (laptop mode) or down (tablet mode) positioning, the MSI S20 lets you use it in a flat position or tilted up, and has the advantage of variable viewing angle.

How we test

The overall score is a combination of the following:

  • Ease of use (40%)
  • Battery life (25%)
  • Performance (20%)
  • Display evaluation (15%)

Ease of use

Includes an expert assessment of connectors, design flaws/advantages, overall style, mobility and evaluation of security, manuals and recovery options. All ease of use evaluation is conducted under the laptop's native operating system.

Battery life

Assessed by conditioning each battery before testing to achieve optimum life, then testing it under both light- and heavy-usage scenarios. For the heavy usage test, the power management features are set to maximum performance and screen brightness to 100%, with Wi-Fi turned on and connected to a network. For light usage testing, the power management features are set to the most economical setting, with screen brightness at 50% and Wi-Fi turned off.

Performance

Testing includes benchmarking each laptop using a variety of software tools. These measure various aspects of CPU performance, memory performance and memory bandwidth, video performance, 3D graphics and storage speed. The benchmarking software is designed to measure performance under a variety of simulated workloads.

Display

Evaluation takes into account colour, glare, and surface reflections, plus angles of view.

Temperature

Testing involves determining the hottest point on the underside of each laptop with a thermal camera after a period of heavy usage on battery only. We think 44°C is the maximum acceptable limit for laptop comfort. All models on test passed our temperature test, with temperatures ranging from 32°C for the two Sony models to 40°C for the HP Envy TS14.

CHOICE applies the following interpretation to the scores achieved in our tests. When we describe a result as "excellent", "poor" etc, it usually relates directly to a numerical score in that range.

  • 0 - 24 Very poor
  • 25 - 45 Poor
  • 46 - 54 Borderline
  • 55 - 69 OK
  • 70 - 79 Good
  • 80 - 89 Very good
  • 90 - 100 Excellent

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