Just a couple of years ago, you couldn’t get past page one of a large business newspaper or website without seeing some “expert” making prognostications of the imminent death of the laptop. Well, it’s now almost 2015, and we’re happy to rub reality in their faces, and remind the naysayers that they were wrong. Dead wrong.
The familiar clamshell that’s been with us since the 1980s isn’t going away anytime soon, and it’s difficult to see it ever going away, frankly. So let’s get on with the best laptops of 2014. Agree? Disagree? Why no Macs? Let us know.
Best Workstation: HP ZBook 15
Price as reviewed: $3,158
Sometimes you have to bring work home with you. When that happens, you might as well bring the whole damn workstation. Fortunately, that’s easy with the HP Zbook 15, a workstation-class laptop with no-nonsense silicon, like a quad-core Intel Core i7-4800MQ chips and an Nvidia Quadro K610M GPU.
The Zbook 15 was one of the first PC laptops to sport a Thunderbolt connector. Some may feel Thunderbolt is heading for the dustbin, but for those who do need it on a PC laptop, this is one of the few with that has it. Add in respectable battery life for such a beefy notebook, and you have a heavy-duty, working person’s portable.
Best Professional Ultrabook: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Price as reviewed: $1,609
Lenovo’s ThinkPad line has a legendary reputation, and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon lives up to it. With the slim figure of an Ultrabook (it’s even thinner than its predecessor), you get a carbon fiber lid and magnesium alloy body. The screen is much improved over the original version, and it supports touch control (you know you use it). The keyboard is quite good for an Ultrabook keyboard, and our only serious kvetch is that Lenovo left out the caps lock key. Perhaps the engineers wanted to cut down on people SCREAMING ON THE INTERNET.
Best-sounding laptop (period): Samsung ATIV Book 9
Price as reviewed $1,500
The Samsung ATIV Book 9 gets our collective nod of approval—but with stipulations attached. It’s not the fastest, nor the thinnest. Nor does it pack the highest resolution screen. So why even mention the ATIV Book 9? Because it’s got a great audio subsystem.
Laptops generally have pretty atrocious audio. And I don’t mean the speakers smaller than dimes, as that’s a problem that can’t be overcome when you don’t have space. But pack audio circuits into something so small with the cheapest 50-cent audio CODEC, and you get the very definition of mediocre audio.
That’s not so on the ATIV Book 9. The company paid special attention to quality by adding a Wolfson WM5102 inside. And it paid off, causing reviewer and audio enthusiast Michael Brown to declare “[the ATIV Book 9] is by far the best-sounding laptop I’ve ever listened to.” And no, please don’t buy this notebook and then plug in your USB headset and declare you can’t tell the difference, because you just bypassed the internal CODEC.
Best non-Laptop that is still a laptop: Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Price as reviewed: $1,300
It’s been said that it takes Microsoft at least three iterations to get things right. That saying holds true with the Surface Pro 3, which finally got it right. Sure, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but many who have given the Surface Pro 3 a legitimate chance to win them over have been won over.
It doesn’t hurt that Microsoft sweetens the offer with an n-trig pen, a highly rated 2160×1440 panel and tablet-like weight, either.
Will Microsoft continue its Surface initiative? No one really knows, but even if it does abandon Surface as it pivots again, we can at least credit the company for kickstarting the latest wave of hybrid laptops.