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Rise of the Machines

Published: 03/12/2013 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2013 » December 2013-January 2014 » Lifestyle » Home » Features »

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With all the talk of the tablet revolution, you could be forgiven for thinking laptops were yesterday’s news; the embarrassing uncle of the tech world – everyone’s got one but they’re nothing to brag about.

Yet laptop aficionados know this isn’t the case. The fact is, laptops and tablets are evolving hand in hand, becoming faster, lighter and thinner together.

Rather than supersede the laptop, tablets are performing different functions. They are for lounging on the sofa, lying in bed or sitting on a plane. On the other hand, laptops are for serious web browsing, working and for those times when you need your hardware to kick like a mule.

The holy grail is to create a device that can do both. Laptop-tablet hybrids have tended to be poorly conceived devices that try to be all things to all people and end up doing nothing particularly well. But now there is a new crop of machines that work both as distinct tablets and full-keyboard laptops. Intel has pinned its colors to this mast, with executive vice-president Tom Kilroy recently saying he believes the two-in-one will eventually usurp the stand-alone tablet.

He has a vested interest: Apple’s iPads – the most successful tablet – use ARM chips, whereas almost all two-in-ones use Intel. But Intel has shown why it is still the world’s biggest chipmaker. Its new line of 4th-generation Core processors have allowed manufacturers to improve battery life drastically without adding weight or size.

Laptops have also begun to borrow the concept of “touch” from their flatscreen cousins. Microsoft’s latest version of Windows (which, admittedly, hasn’t had the best of receptions) has touch at its heart, and a host of new laptops are making interesting use of the technology.

The other big movement in laptops is pixels. Lots of them. Triggered by the incredible retina display in Apple’s Pro range, the big manufacturers are competing to pack the highest resolution; great news for movie fans.


All Things Considered

So what should you consider before splashing out? First, think about what you’re going to use it for. Spending $400 on an extra 4GB of RAM might seem like a great idea, but not if you only use your laptop for replying to e-mails.

Where are you going to use it? If it is your main household machine, you might want to spend a bit extra on a 17-inch screen – alternatively, go for one that can mirror its display on your TV.

If you’re as likely to use your computer on an airline tray table as in the living room, think seriously about an ultrabook. You will sacrifice that nice big screen and a bit of power, but you’ll save yourself getting a backache lugging a gigantic box around with you.

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13

From $1,099 

The 13-inch IdeaPad is one of the best machines bridging the gap between tablet and laptop. It is one of the larger devices in the segment and takes full advantage of the Windows 8 touchscreen interface.

When in its default position, it is a sleek ultrabook with a full, comfortable keyboard. But flip the display 180 degrees and you have a touch-only interface controlled by the distinctive boxes that make up Microsoft’s new operating system.

It is solidly built and the hinge that transforms its functionality never feels under any real strain. It is also powerful, with an available Intel Core i7 chip, and a maximum of 8GB of RAM.

PROS Flexible, light and quick

CONS Keyboard still exposed in tablet mode

Apple MacBook Air 13 inch

From $1,099

Apple’s jaw-droppingly attractive ultra-portable device has changed the way people think about laptops. It isn’t just something to order your shopping from – it’s a thing of beauty.

The new version’s biggest selling point is that it now has what Apple calls “all-day battery life,” meaning you can watch, browse and play for a full 12 hours before it needs filling up. It maintains the same solid aluminum build as the previous generation, with a thickness of just 1.7cm.

As if that weren’t enough, you can also get it with Apple’s new Mavericks operating system, which includes the ability to wirelessly beam your desktop to an HD TV, as well as improvements to the document filing system, full-screen mode and speed. OS X Mavericks is available for a free download at the Mac App Store.

PROS Sleek, powerful and thin

CONS Not easy to customize

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch Retina

From $1,999

This is the creative industry’s machine of choice. It has all the good looks of the Mac range with top-of-the-range specs to boot.

The retina display boasts a staggering five million pixels and looks incredible. It is surprisingly thin for a machine of this power, especially when you consider it can cram in the 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 processor and up to 16GB of RAM (8GB default).

This is a machine for people who are planning on running hardcore video-editing software or playing a lot of 3D games; most users could happily step down to the MacBook Air and never notice a difference in speed. But if you want to own one of the fastest, sexiest laptops out there, this is for you.

PROS Fast, good screen, great operating system

CONS Most users don’t need all that power


Acer Aspire R7


The Aspire is a convertible folding screen laptop, which allows you to lift the display upwards from the keyboard and angle it so you can take full advantage of the touchscreen, a bit like an easel.

It can fold into a rudimentary – if unwieldy – tablet and you can turn the screen back on itself to show someone sitting opposite you what you’re working on. The 1,080-pixel resolution, 15.6-inch monitor is good for watching movies.

It feels solidly built, but the trade-off is it is heavy (5-plus pounds) for something that is designed to perform as a tablet and, consequently, isn’t ideal for carrying around. The Aspire R7 also switches the location of the touchpad (what you control the mouse with) and the keyboard, which takes a bit of getting used to, and isn’t a great idea.

PROS Innovative design

CONS Heavy, takes a while to get accustomed to


Samsung ATIV Book 8


Finally a laptop that can challenge Apple on both looks and performance. This monstrously fast machine features a 15.6-inch, high-resolution touchscreen – taking advantage of Windows 8 – and is packed with an Intel i7 Core processor, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive.

It comes with an attractive brushed aluminum finish. At 5.5 pounds, it is also surprisingly light for a premium laptop of its size and the battery performs admirably compared with rivals in this class (it has up to 8.6 hours of battery life).

If you’re comfortable with the Windows OS and don’t want to have to learn how to use a new operating system, nor require a powerful, top-class machine, this one’s as good as it gets.

PROS Powerful, attractive, a good option for Windows users

CONS Heats up a lot, even when left idle



Google raised eyebrows with the release of this laptop. The Chromebook line has existed for years but has always targeted the entry-level market.

This device bucked the trend spectacularly – the Pixel is a proper powerhouse of a computer that packs an Intel Core i5 processor and a stunning 12.8-inch display squeezing in 4.3 million pixels (hence the name).

It is also light, at 3.35 pounds, and comes with 1TB worth of Google Drive storage for free. It runs Google’s Chrome operating system, which could attract users who are disillusioned with the latest version of Windows.

At over $1,200, it’s not cheap, but if you’re an Android phone user it will sync seamlessly, and the Pixel certainly has the good looks of a premium device.

PROS Great screen, runs Google’s Chrome OS

CONS Expensive compared with predecessors




Dell’s Alienware range of laptops are the crème de la crème of gaming PCs. The 17 shirks the vogue for svelte machines, with a brawny, angular design with red streaks and a glowing keyboard. It looks like it was designed by a teenage boy, but in a good way (it even has an alien’s head on the lid). It has a gigantic 17.3-inch screen with rich colors and dark blacks, is packed with hardware, including a 2.7GHz Intel Core i7 processor and 8GB of RAM (upgradable to 16GB), and takes full HD and 3D gaming in its stride. The trackpad is backlit and you can program the groups of keys to glow in different colors for those late nights playing in the dark. The ultimate big boy’s toy.

PROS Power – it’s the best off-the-shelf gaming laptop on the market

CONS It’s huge (1.8 in x 11.8 in x 16.3 in; 9.4 lbs)




Yet another take on the laptop-that-turns-into-a-tablet genre. The Satellite’s screen slides forward and down, coming to rest over the keyboard, allowing you to prod away at those colorful Windows 8 Live Tiles.

Visit Amazon or and you will see the U925T is available at a sub-$750 price tag (though the MSRP is $1,149.99); at 12.5 inches, it is also one of the most portable devices in the segment. But don’t be fooled – this is a fully fledged laptop.

It packs an Intel Core i5 processor, which may make you twiddle your thumbs if you’re a heavy user of advanced software such as Photoshop or need to edit videos. It also feels a bit flimsy in comparison with some of its more expensive relatives.

PROS Relatively cheap

CONS Feels a bit cheap

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