Big events require big decisions. In my case, that means I had to pick a laptop to bring with me on a six-day trip. As a professional laptop reviewer, I have many options. So which one did I choose, and why?
This year for Build 2017 I had to decide which modern laptop would get the job done best. There was no easy choice. In fact, I'm not even 100 percent sure I made the right decision. But that's part of the fun.
These are my top laptop picks for spring 2017, as well as why I chose the laptop I did to take to Build.
The top choices
Narrowing down the top three laptops was easy. In no particular order, here are my top choices:
- Surface Book with Performance Base – The tried and true Microsoft "ultimate laptop," Surface Book is everything great about Windows 10, including the tablet form factor, a modest GPU, and a 3:2 aspect ratio.
- HP EliteBook x360 G2 – HP's crown jewel business laptop, the EliteBook has everything I love: great keyboard, amazing battery life, fantastic build quality and a Wacom pen. And it's just fun to use.
- Samsung Notebook 9 15 Ext – Samsung doesn't get much attention when it comes to laptops, but I rated this PC as my favorite 15-inch notebook on the market. It has a gorgeous LED display with HDR, a fingerprint reader, and an excellent keyboard. Toss in a modest NVIDIA 940MX GPU, fast solid state drive (SSD), and battery life that pushes 10 hours while weighing 2.7 pounds, and it's awesome creation.
Other contenders included the bulky but powerful Dell XPS 15 (9560), Razer Blade, and a few other HP Spectre x360s (13 or 15). Surface Pro 4, while fun, is too tablet-focused for my needs. The Razer Blade is also great but not the right laptop for what I need at this event. The XPS 15 is an excellent machine and would certainly get the job done, but at 4.5 pounds it is not only heavier but technically overkill for what I need (a good problem to have, of course).
The Surface Book, EliteBook, and Notebook 9 are all my top choices for a few overlapping reasons:
- Battery life of at least eight hours.
- Best typing experience.
- Precision touchpads.
The Dell XPS 13 (9360) could easily be added to that list, but of the four the XPS 13's keyboard is my least favorite.
On May 10 and 11, we'll be doing a live blog of the Microsoft Build keynotes. Typing furiously for three hours is exhausting, and it's even harder if you're on a laptop with a poor typing experience.
Battery life is also very important. I prefer to use my Brenthaven Collins Vertical Messenger Bag, which works with the Samsung, Surface, and HP laptops mentioned, but I prefer to leave the charger at the hotel during Build. Having all-day battery life, which in this case means at least eight hours, is critical.
While all three options are portable, the Samsung and HP are nearly a pound lighter than the Surface Book but offer more modern seventh-generation Intel hardware.
The winner (for this week): Samsung Notebook 9 15" Ext
My top choice for covering Microsoft's Build is the 2017 Samsung Notebook 9 15".
That may surprise the diehard Microsoft fans out there who think the Surface Book is easily the best, but I decided to go with the Samsung Notebook 9 for a few reasons:
- Slightly larger display.
- Exceptionally light.
- The GPU provides a modest boost in performance.
The Notebook 9 15 features a slightly better and larger display than the HP EliteBook. The screen on the Surface Book trounces the Samsung device, but I'm quite OK with a high-quality Full HD display.
Typing on the Samsung device is also exceptional, and the large Precision touchpad is great. I find typing on the Samsung Notebook 9 to be slightly softer (some might say "mushy") compared to the Surface Book. The EliteBook has the stiffest keystroke, requiring slightly more effort. All of them are great, but each has its own distinctive typing experience.
My decision was not black and white. In fact, I snuck the Surface Book into my bag, so technically it's here with me in Seattle, too. While the Surface Book has the great inking ability and can work as a tablet, neither of those is something I'll be using this week.
In the end, the Samsung Notebook 9 15" is the fastest performer of the three, with the largest display, and yet of all three laptops, it is the lightest to carry. That's an incredible achievement.
All of that said, I already miss my HP EliteBook x360 (which I used last week in New York to cover Microsoft's Surface Laptop announcement). In many ways, I consider that laptop to be the best all-around option.
Bottom line: In 2017, there are a lot of amazing Windows 10 laptops. Whether you want or need inking, a 2-in-1 experience, or just a traditional laptop that is super light, you have options.
I know that I'm privileged to have to make this decision, but I think it highlights an interesting observation about the state of the modern PC. Choosing which is the best is almost an existential crisis – at least for me. And that's a beautiful thing to say about the health of the Windows 10 ecosystem.
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Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.