Fogey 5 Laptops

Feb 13, 2012 No Comments by

The Fogey 5 are the best five products in their class by virtue of expert and consumer review from at least 10 respected and authoritative websites.
There are so many factors to consider when buying a laptop that reviews sites often divide their opinion along ‘Best for…’ lines such as ‘Best for travel…’  ‘Best under £1,000…’ ‘Best for gaming…’ ‘Best for students…’  Just as often, though, they don’t.  So what Tech Fogey has done is distill opinion to discover what are generally recognised to be the top five laptops and then say in the accompanying copy whether that laptop has any particular strengths or applications.  Otherwise we’ll be here ‘til doomsday and go all grey and wrinkled.

People who review tech products all day, every day get very fussy; they mark products up or down on the basis of the tiniest differences in spec or performance and often pass judgement with little regard for price.

If TF were in the market for a new laptop we’d probably have a look at this Fogey 5 and realise we couldn’t afford any of them.  Apple make lovely machines but they are always more expensive than a non-Apple equivalent.  Many of their competitors now seem to believe that really high-powered business thruster-types will pay through the nose for a laptop that mirrors their inflated opinions of themselves, so they’re all ploughing the high end furrow as well.  Instead we’d consult the Buying Guide note the various specifications to look out for and then go on to Amazonand get the highest spec for the lowest price.  Inevitably there will be some compromises – battery life, weight, screen size, for example – but we’d save a ton of money and be none the wiser as to the supposed advantages of higher-priced models.  And such is the damage the iPad has done to the laptop market (mainly to the netbook market), there are always bargains to be had.

To properly differentiate this Fogey 5 from its predecessor we’ve tried to exclude any machines made before 2011.

Of 74 machines that featured in the Top 10 lists from the tech reviews sites consulted, 18 featured on more than one list.

Reviewers loved the Apple MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.  Each comes in a variety of screen size/processor type/GB of RAM/GB of storage combinations and each model is treated separately; so a MacBook Pro with i5 processor, 13.3” screen, 4GB of RAM and 500GB hard drive is reviewed as distinct from a MacBook Pro that is the same in every respect except for a 750GB hard drive instead of 500GB.  You might think this makes no sense but tech websites need to post – a lot and often, it’s one of the ways to be highly ranked by Google’s search engine – so saving on editorial is not on their agenda.

Is there any difference between the Sony Vaio S Series, SE Series and SB Series?  Yes –even though the SA, SB and SE are all S-Series.  There are base models in each and, like adding spec to a new car, features can be added for more money.  So if we take all S-Series as one, it featured four times as opposed to four laptops once each.

Rather like…

…the Dell XPS Series, which featured no less than 11 times.  As with the Sony Vaio S-Series, there are many variations in spec and screen size.  Extend the car analogy and the fact that adding higher spec items bumps up the price and it becomes more problematic to see them all as one.  For example, there are 31 models of the BMW 3-Series ranging in price from £22,695 for the 318i ES up to £38,950 for the 335d M Sport.  The latter is a very different beast from the former.  Having said that, the only discernible variation among the Dell XPS models reviewed was the screen size – 13”, 14”, 15” and 17”.

So, the chosen ones:


Dell XPS 15z and 14z

Dell XPS 15z

The number refers to the screen size, measured diagonally, in inches, corner to corner.  But you knew that.  The XPS 15z was far and away the most popular laptop among the computer reviews crowd over the past eight months and Dell gave them a huge heave on TV in the run up to Christmas.  But here’s the thing; go on to the Dell website, start with the basic 15z and then try to ignore all the non-essential extras Dell tries to flog you as you crawl, like a dying man being pestered by insects, to the check-out.  It can’t be done.  Dell has a desperate need to give you a ‘free’ printer.  But ink for the printer isn’t free; it adds £50 to your total.  They call your refusal to accept their printer offer a ‘compatibility issue’ (when it’s nothing of the sort) and won’t let you check out and buy until you’ve committed to taking the printer.  None of the reviewers will have endured this online ordering bollocks because it’s a limited-time promotion and because their review laptops arrive by courier. TF already has four printers and doesn’t need another one. We wanted to write nice things about Dell (even though the screen on our Inspiron laptop cracked right across simply by virtue of the machine being picked up while closed) but now we sort-of hate them.  The solution, if you’re still determined to have an XPS of any size, is to buy from Micro Anvika via Amazon.  You will pay a few bob more than on the Dell website but they won’t try to load you down with unnecessary crap.  Normally we tell you what a couple of the reviews sites said about the product but on this occasion we can’t be bothered; Dell already has plenty of eulogistic guff on its website.

Best for:  The printer-less

Around £900.  More info here.  Buy Dell XPS 15z


Asus Zenbook UX31, U46SV and Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime

Asus Zenbook UX31

Since the last Fogey 5 for laptops Asus has stormed the charts.  The Zenbook is an Ultrabook, no less. This is a ‘new’ laptop/notebook category for machines that are ever so whizzy and slick. In fact, it’s a cunning PR wheeze by Intel to flog you a laptop that’s supercar fast when what you might need is a Fiat Panda.  And like their car equivalents, ultrabooks are expensive.  The UX31 is nudging £1,000. And pity the poor copywriter who had to raid the thesaurus and, possibly, chemical stimulants, to come up with this poetic screed: “Silky smooth and amazing to touch – that describes more than just our latest ZENBOOK™ flavor! The softness of flowers and the gorgeous looks of a genuine beauty culminate in the most delectable notebook color ever seen.”  There’s more – this is but an amuse bouche to a gourmet feast of hyperbolic, fawning drivel, but we think you get the gist. It even has a ‘chiclit’ (sic) keyboard.  Anyway, the spec: Intel Core i7 or i5 processor, a version of Windows 7, 4GB of RAM, 13.3-inch 16:9 ratio widescreen, a variety of ports (but not a full size HDMI out), Bluetooth 4.0, over seven hours battery life and Bang & Olufsen speakers.  The main memory is a 128GB Solid State Drive (SSD), which is adequate and keeps the weight (just 1.4kg) and power consumption down.  “It stands toe-to-toe with Apple’s MacBook Air in the fight for the title of best luxury ultraportable,” says Tech Radar.  “Comes very close to being the ultimate Ultrabook. It sports a nice design, solid aluminium build, superb connectivity, high-resolution screen, great keyboard and touchpad and class-leading audio,” says Trusted Reviews.

Best for: “…the more subdued and considered out there…”

Around £1,000. More info here. Buy Asus UX31E Zenbook


Asus U46SV

By only slight contrast, the U46SV is cheaper (around £700), a bit heavier (2.1kg – to put this into perspective, the Dell XPS 15z weighs 2.5kg and the technorati think that’s light) and more geared to the jet-setting business nob who wants lots of speed, memory and connectivity.  Like the UX31 it has an aluminium wavy-patterned shell/casing, so ticks the ‘pretty in an Apple sort of way’ box.  It’s as though the product design team sat around and thought, ‘We can’t just do an aluminium casing – people will think we’re copying the Macbook, so let’s do aluminium with swirls.  Yes!  Stuff you Steve Jobs, even though you’ll be dead soon.’  The spec of the U46SV isn’t much different to the UX31 either, aside from significantly more storage capacity (500GB) and better battery life (up to 10 hours).   So, while it might not have the wafer-thin cachet of the UX31, the U46SV seems like a much better deal to us.  “It’s got enough power to chew through your work and will even tackle some games when you’re finished,” said Cnet.  “Despite the powerful components, you can still enjoy movies for almost six hours before the battery dies. This is one of the best results we’ve seen in a long time,” said Tech Radar.

Best for: Oligarchs who fly economy.

Around £700.  More info here. Buy Asus U46SV


Asus Eeepad Transformer

And then we have the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, which is only a laptop/notebook in that it is a touchscreen tablet with removable keyboard/charging dock.  Two for one, then.  The advantages are many: incredible battery life (up to 18 hours in use and 50 days on standby), forward and back-facing cameras, 1080p Full HD screen and Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich, for God’s sake…) operating system.  There’s more but all you really need to know is it’s not an iPad and costs around £500.  You can get a keyboard dock for the iPad but it’s very much a separate component rather than integrated accessory.  “The Prime isn’t perfect, but it does edge in front of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 on value, connectivity and all-round performance. It’s our new favourite Android tablet,” said PC Pro.  “Quite simply, the Transformer Prime is the best Android tablet available and arguably the best tablet per se,” said Trusted Reviews who bestowed 10 out of 10 of their precious points upon it.

Best for: Apple chomping ‘droids.

Around £500.  More info here.

Buy Asus EeePad Transformer Prime: £539 or Asus EeePad Transformer (lower spec, non-Prime, version: £449.99)


Apple MacBook Air

Apple MacBook Air

Specifically the models with i5 processor, 13.3-inch screen, 4GB of RAM, 128GB flash drive (around £1,100) and i5 processor, 11.6-inch screen, 2GB of RAM, 64GB flash drive (around £850).  Got all that?  The former was a close second to the Dell XPS 15z in the popularity stakes.  The 2011 Air is supposedly better than the 2010 incarnation because it has a faster processor, upgraded operating system, more RAM (except on the entry-level 11-incher) and some higher spec connectivity such as Bluetooth 4.0 (from 2.1) and Intel Thunderbolt.  This latter addition represents screamingly fast data transfer speeds – a Blu-ray movie uploaded in 30 seconds, for example and will likely become the industry standard within the next year.  Some user-reviewers complained about the Air’s fragility but most were won over by its speed and the slenderness of the aluminium casing.  It’s like looking at a distance runner and wondering how their vital organs manage to fit inside such a compact frame.  And since there is now also no optical (ie DVD/CD) drive in a Macbook Pro and the price of it and the Air are similar, why would you not buy an Air? “If you don’t need that extra oomph [of a MacBook Pro] a MacBook Air is one of the very finest laptops on the market,” said Tech Radar.  “With just the right combination of portability and power, it is hands-down the best computer I’ve ever owned,” said MG Siegler on Tech Crunch.

Best for: Technorexics

11-inch from around £750.  More info here.

Buy Apple 11 inch MacBook Air (Dual-Core i5,1.6GHz,2GB,64GB) for £750

13-inch from around £1,200.  More info here.

Buy Apple 13 inch MacBook Air (Dual-Core i5,1.7GHz,4GB,256GB) for £1,210


Apple MacBook Pro

Apple MacBook Pro 13 inch

So, the daddy.  Tick all the high-spec options on the top-of-the-range machine and you’ll be parting with £3,736.99.  Do the opposite on the entry-level model and £999 will be the damage.  Reviewers tended towards two models: i5 processor, 13.3-inch screen, 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive and i7 processor, 15.4-inch screen, 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive but there are so many upgrade options as to make such specific selections seem somewhat arbitrary.  There will be few professional graphic designers, photographers or musicians who don’t work on a MacBook Pro (there is now no ‘amateur’ MacBook).  The combination of speed, display quality, storage and Apple’s many software options has rather cornered the creative market and swept up a small army of wannabes along the way.  Mac’s general resistance to viruses and other malicious intrusion is still a powerful selling point but the seductive design is usually the clincher.  Everyone’s tried to outdo Jonathan Ive and Co but no one’s managed it yet.

Best for: Creative directors.

From £999.  More info here.

Buy Apple MacBook Pro 13 inch (Dual-Core i5 2.4GHz, RAM 4GB, HDD 500GB) for £924.94


Samsung Series 9  (900x3A)

Samsung 900X3A

The 9 Series is Samsung’s attempt to steal the Macbook Air’s wispy light thunder.  And, given the antagonism between Apple and its Korean nemesis (they’re for ever squabbling in court over patent pinching) TF can only imagine the squeals of joy from Apple HQ in Cupertino when customer review threads on and elsewhere pointed up the inadequacies of the Series 9’s wi-fi adapter; useless range, ponderously slow.  Occasionally the spec of products for the US market differs from the UK and Europe but TF hasn’t been able to discover whether the Broadcom wi-fi adapter fitted to US models also (dis)graces UK ones.  So, putting that elephant back in its corner, the 9 Series: 13.3-inch HD (1366 x 768) LED screen, weighs 1.31kg, 128GB of solid state drive storage, Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and Bluetooth 3.0, which is good, apparently.  It has more connectivity than a MacBook Air and while the Duralumin metal casing looks smart reviewers wondered how sturdy it would prove to be in long-term use.  “If you’ve lusted after a MacBook Air, but just can’t bring yourself to make the switch to OS X, Samsung hopes to have you salivating over its Series 9 laptop,” said Cnet.  “If you’re looking for one of the thinnest and lightest Windows 7 machines around it’s an excellent choice and well worth its high asking price,” said Trusted Reviews.

Best for: Windows obsessed weaklings.

Around £1,100.  More info here.
Buy Samsung 900X3A (Intel Core i5, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD) for £1,039.38


Aside from the brands already mentioned, you’re unlikely to be too disappointed if you buy a laptop made by Toshiba, MSI, Acer, Hewlett Packard, Packard Bell, Sony or Panasonic (for their Toughbook).  And you’ll be even more satisfied if your memory is long enough to recall how utterly shite laptops used to be and how crushingly expensive they were in spite of that.