Both analyst firms suggest that rising component prices have led to rising PC prices which has led to falling enthusiasm from buyers, especially consumers. DRAM, LCD panels and solid state disks prices all share some of the blame for the rise, as all are in short supply.
This is nonsense: not Sharwood’s reporting, what the analysts say. They are clutching at straws. Rising PC prices are not the issue, prices have only ticked up a smidgeon. That is not enough to affect sales if there is an underlying demand.
The demand is not there. Customers have little appetite or need to start buying PCs again in large numbers. Not today.
Two points stand out from the lastest PC sales figures.
First, HP moved ahead of Lenovo. Sharwood quotes a Gartner analyst talking about Lenovo pulling back to focus on margins.
That’s a plausible explanation, but I think there’s more to it.
HP has been on a roll since the business split from HP Enterprise. Hardware quality is better than in the past and the designs are more interesting. While it would overdoing it to use a word like excitement, HP has momentum.Some good products too.
Second, Apple has moved to fourth place. Apple’s year-on-year sales are flat, in a falling market that means the company’s market share has climbed. It’s not much of a climb, about 0.3 percent, but that’s enough to move Apple past slumping Asus.
You can slide a wafer-thin device between Apple and Microsoft’s New Zealand slate market share.
IDC New Zealand reports Apple shipped less than 1000 more detachable or slate devices than Microsoft in 2016.
The total market for the year was 80,000 units. Apple had a 32 percent market share, which is around 25,600 units. Microsoft was at 31 percent, a shade under 25,000 units.
Detachable is a curious market to measure. IDC defines it:
“A slate tablet is a portable, battery-powered computing device with a screen size 7-inches to 16-inches.
In addition to the attributes of a slate tablet, a detachable tablet is designed to function as a stand-alone slate tablet as well as a clamshell device through the addition of a detachable keyboard designed specifically for the device.”
IDC New Zealand mobile device market analyst Chayse Gorton says this includes Apple’s 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch iPad Pros. Yet both sell without detachable keyboards and not every buyer uses them with one1.
The category includes Microsoft Surface Pro, Surface Book, HP Envy and others.
Slate-tablet distinction blurry
It is distinct from traditional laptops. The distinction between slates and tablets like non-Pro iPads is blurry.
Either way, Apple topped the market in 2016. Microsoft is second. It had been number one for the years 2013, 2014 and 2015. Microsoft’s shipments climbed three percent from 2015 to 2016.
It was a bonza year for detachable sales. Shipments2 increased from 55,000 in 2015 to 80,000 — a year-on-year increase of 45 percent.
The runners-up are, in order: HP on nine percent; Samsung on seven percent and Acer also with seven percent. Other brands were less than 15 percent.
Gorton says Microsoft faces competition from a range of models running Windows. Its share of the Windows detachable market fell from 58 percent in 2015 to 50 percent in 2016.
“Competing windows detachables often have similar specifications to Microsoft detachables, but are frequently sold at a lower price. Given New Zealand is a price conscious nation, a lower price, even by small a margin can be enough to entice a consumer to purchase from a competing vendor”, he says.
Gorton says Microsoft sharpened its premium market position introducing high-end models and halting low-end models. It introduced the Surface Book early in the year and dropped the Surface 3 from its line-up.
IDC expects detachable shipments to grow between 25 and 30 percent in 2017. From the market will start to flatten off.
You could argue the iPad Pro and Windows devices are not direct head-to-head rivals. It’s possible there are buyers who would weigh up an iPad Pro against these Windows devices. Yet for the most part the two groups inhabit parallel universes. ↩︎
Shipments is a normal term for this kind of survey. Most of the time it means how many devices vendors sent from warehouses to retailers. It gets tricky with detachables because Apple and Microsoft sell direct. ↩︎
There has never been a better time to buy an ultraportable computer. PC makers may face falling sales, but they haven’t stopped building great laptops.
For years the laptop market was stagnant, with lacklustre me-too designs and unappetising performance. That’s changed.
The challenge from phones and tablets has spurred a new wave of innovation. In some cases, laptop makers pulled technologies from phones and used them to build better laptops.
We’re seeing a laptop renaissance. Here are six of 2016’s best choices. Four are traditional laptops, albeit slimmed down and stripped back for mobile productivity. One is a hybrid, the other is a tablet moonlighting as a hybrid.
You can find fuller reviews of all the models mentioned here elsewhere on this site. They are expensive but remember this is a round-up of today’s best models.
The list is not in any particular order. Each one is worth considering. We’d be happy to live with any one of these computers, they are all worthy of your attention.
The Spectre marks a return to form for HP. It is slimmer than the 2016 Apple MacBook, with a great keyboard and three USB-C ports. HP didn’t skimp on the power either, inside is a full Intel Core i processor.
This is the best Windows laptop so far this year. It will take some beating. What you don’t get for the NZ$2500 and up asking price is a touch screen. If you think you’ll miss that, look at the Surface Pro or the Elitebook.
If you like a touch screen on a Windows laptop, Dell’s XPS 13 Touch should be on your list. Prices start at NZ$2800. For that money you get a dazzling 13.3-inch quad HD+ display along with a Core i7–5500U running at 2.5 GHz. That’s a lot of power in a small package.
The remarkable thing about the screen is despite being 13.3 inches, the computer is the same size as other 12-inch models. Dell does this by almost doing away with the bezels. Also worth noting, the XPS has great battery life. It beats everything here except the Apple models.
Not everyone wants a Windows ultraportable. Apple may be about to retire the MacBook Air that started the ultraportable trend. So if you want a non-Windows machine it’s this or the iPad Pro.
The 2016 MacBook is thin and so light you may forget you’re carrying one in your bag. It has a great keyboard and a wonderful Retina display. Apple built a new keyboard for the MacBook. It isn’t everyone’s taste, but in practice, this is a wonderful machine to work with. Prices start at $2400.
Microsoft had a few goes at getting its laptop-PC hybrid right. This fourth-generation device got there in the end after a few firmware teething troubles. The result is well worth the wait. For Windows fans it is close to a dream machine being as coupled to its software as an Apple computer. A Microsoft operating system never felt this good.
Prices start at NZ$1600 plus another $240 for the type cover. Most people would be better off skipping the underpowered Core m3 entry-level model and getting a Core i model. Prices go all the way to a nosebleed NZ$4900 for a 1TB Surface Pro 4 with a Core i7 processor and 16GB Ram.
HP’s made-for-business ultrabook is a touch more conservative looking and thicker than the Spectre. Yet it is still a powerhouse on the inside. The Elitebook has corporate features like Intel vPro support. It also folds back to a 180 degree position for laptop work.
There’s still the minimal aesthetic and only two USB-C ports. It comes in four configurations with an NZ$2600 non-touch screen model under-pinning the range. Spend $3700 and you get a the top of the line model. It has an ultra-high definition (UHD) touch screen with 3840 by 2160 pixels, an Intel Core m7 processor, 8GB of Ram and a 512GB solid state drive.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro isn’t a true 2016 model, it appeared late last year. It also differs from the rest of the pack because it isn’t a laptop. It’s less of a laptop than the Surface Pro; a tablet with an optional keyboard.
While not for everyone, it does most of the work the other devices here can do and does many of them well, some better. Fans swear it replaces traditional computers, although it’s not good at dealing with complex file system problems.
Prices start at NZ$1400 and go all the way to $2180 for a Sim card version with 256 GB of memory. You’ll need to find another $320 for the keyboard and, maybe, $190 for the Apple Pencil.
Laptop docks or docking stations were all the rage a decade or so ago. While they come in different shapes and sizes, most add standard desktop PC features to laptops.
Above all, docks add ports so you can connect large displays, network hardware, extra storage and so on while charging your computer.
As the name suggests docks connect your laptop to the hardware. In the past they would include cradles, you would literally dock your laptop into the desktop section.
Thunderbolt and USB-C
Today most docks use less elaborate connectors. The NZ$345 plus GST HP Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock connects to, say, the HP Elitebook Folio G1 via one of the computer’s two USB-C ports at one end and a combined Thunderbolt and power cable at the other.
The best docks are built for a fast connection, so you don’t need to fiddle with lots of awkward cables when you are in a hurry. In the case of the Elite Thunderbolt 3, that means unplugging a single connector.
Versatile Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock
Although HP sells the Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock with its own computers, the dock may work with other computer maker’s hardware if they support Thunderbolt 3.
As you can see from the photo the dock is an elegant two-tone grey oblong measuring 229 by 57 mm. It is 18 mm deep. That means it is small enough to sit under a monitor or in a draw when not in use.
A textured rubber base stops the dock from sliding across your desk. The front has a power button which lights when the dock is working. There are two USB 3.0 ports and an audio jack.
On the back you’ll find the combined Thunderbolt – power sockets. There’s also a gigabit Ethernet port, a VGA port and a cable lock socket so you can secure the dock. There are two USB 3.0 ports and two DisplayPort along with a USB Type-C port that supports Thunderbolt.
Instead of including the transformer in the dock, HP uses a separate power brick which has its own power cable.
The cables are long enough to reach a power point a couple of metres away. HP has also included a long enough lead for the brick to stay on the floor, there’s no need for it to sit next to the dock on your desk.
If you use the dock at a single desk, this arrangement is fine. If you hot desk, or move often between desks and have to move everything with you, it could be cumbersome to carry a laptop, dock, brick and power cable. There’s also more to forget.
The good news is the entire ensemble only weighs 650g. The bad news is you going to need more of a laptop bag or briefcase if you need to carry everything around town or even between cities.
HP has left off some of the possible options, there’s no HDMI or DVI. If you need these, you’ll have to find an adaptor.
According to HP the Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock can support two 4K monitors. We’ve only got one, so tested that working in tandem with the laptop’s built-in UHD display. There were no performance issues to report although the dock gets warm after a while.
Thanks to the arrival of minimalist ultraportable laptops like the HP models, Microsoft Surface Pro and MacBooks desktop docks look set for a comeback.
While Wi-fi and Bluetooth can carry a lot of the connectivity load, cables are still needed for high-definition video. Today’s lighted laptops have the bare minimum number of ports, that’s fine for some users, but many prefer more physical network or storage connections.
HP’s Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock is an elegant and straightforward way of delivering the extra ports. It looks good and doesn’t get in the way.
If your heart says MacBook, but your head says Windows, HP’s Elitebook Folio G1 fits the bill.
At a glance
Thin, light, attractive. Great keyboard for such a small laptop. 4K touch screen display in the review model.
Battery can drain fast at times.
Only two USB-C ports.
A minimal, business-class Windows laptop.
From around NZ$2600.
For years Windows laptops have been all about features. Size, weight and battery life matter, but for the most part computer makers sell on processor, memory, storage and display. Laptop marketing often amounts to a list of specifications.
Meanwhile, Apple won a lucrative slice of premium computer sales by selling the user experience. MacBook buyers are often unaware of the processor or disc speed. They think of screens in terms of words like Retina, not pixels-per-inch. All they know is their laptop works and does, or doesn’t, deliver.
It took time, but now HP appears to have learned how marketing the laptop experience works.
While the Elitebook Folio G1 boasts an impressive feature list, the user experience it offers is more notable.
Here is a fast, powerful Windows laptop with a stunning display all packed in a thin, light case. It looks good and feels right. The Elitebook Folio is sophisticated and robust. That is the pitch.
Contrast the HP webpage (a clipping shown below) for the Elitebook Folio G1 with other laptop sales material. This looks more like a business suit version of an Apple promotion than the usual Windows laptop marketing.
Made for business
Above all else, the Elitebook Folio G1 is a business computer.
HP has made Elitebooks since 2008. It is HP’s high-end business brand. The company says it builds Elitebooks to military standards so they can deliver performance in tough conditions and take more punishment than usual.
In New Zealand HP underpins this promise with a three-year warranty. Computers sold here for business purposes are not covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act, so this gives companies added confidence.
Both use Apple’s Macbook template. All three are thin and light. They have a minimal number of USB-C ports. The MacBook has one, the Elitebook has two. There are three on the HP Spectre.They are roughly the same size. Both the Elitebook and the MacBook have an aluminium unibody construction.
HP’s laptop has a dark grey, metal exterior similar, but in a different colour, to the MacBook’s anodised finish.
At 17mm, the Elitebook Folio G1 is much thicker than the 10.4mm Spectre. It weighs much the same: between 1000 and 1100 grams, depending on the configuration. HP targets consumers with the Spectre, the Elitebook Folio G1 is for business users, but some consumers may pick it.
Like a MacBook running Windows
One big difference between the Elitebook Folio G1 and the MacBook is Microsoft Windows. Many users see that as important. Apple’s OSX has its virtues, but can struggle in inflexible Microsoft-based company set-ups. What’s more, many business people are more comfortable with Windows.
People might like the idea of a MacBook, but they don’t want to spend time learning how to use new software.
HP uses the same Intel Core M processors in the Elitebook Folio G1 that Apple uses for the MacBook. The chips are light, thin and sip battery juice, but you can say the same about most laptop chips these days.
Where Core M differ from alternatives is that they are quiet. There are no fans, so no fan noise. If you’re used to a laptop with a fan you’ll notice this. The downside is they are not as powerful as other Intel processors. While that’s a problem if you want to edit video, it’s not going to worry most people.
Four to choose from
There are four configurations to choose from starting with a NZ$2600 non-touch screen model. It has 128GB of storage and an Intel Core m5 processor.
This review looks at the top of the line model with an ultra-high definition (UHD) touch screen. That’s 3840 by 2160 pixels and comparable to a 4k TV screen. It has an Intel Core m7 processor, 8GB of Ram and a 512GB solid state drive.
Although the price is not cheap at $3700 plus GST, it is an investment for people who depend on their computers. The price includes HP’s three-year warranty.
Where the Elitebook Folio G1 trumps Apple
The Elitebook Folio G1 keyboard beats the MacBook keyboard hands down. There’s no comparison. It is a highlight. In comparison the MacBook keyboard is shallow and flat-feeling. The Elitebook has what feels like a proper keyboard with normal travel. When you hit a key it moves as expected. You can touch-type in comfort.
Apple wins by the same margin on touchpads. The MacBook touchpad is larger, more responsive and has Force Touch — which may or may not excite you. The Elitebook trackpad isn’t as good at detecting multiple touches and sometimes things seem to happen at random. This could be a matter of getting used to the trackpad or even adjusting settings. HP makes up for the poorer touchpad with a touch screen — at least on the more expensive Elitebook models.
Whether you prefer a better touchpad over a touch screen is, only in part, a matter of taste. That’s because Microsoft designed Windows 10 for touch screens; it feels a little odd without one.
All of the top three Elitebook Folio G1 models sport the UHD touch screen. It’s a little on the reflective side, but bright enough for images to cut through. It looks good even when you’re not looking straight-on.
The screen can fold all the way back, so the screen lays flat. See the photo. When used this way, the Elitebook Folio G1 has something of a tablet feel. About the only time you’d use this is when lounging like the woman in the picture, but then that’s something we might all like do once in a while.
At times the target buttons on a Windows 10 screen look too small compared to a man’s fat fingers, but in practice there are few slips. And anyway, that’s a Windows 10 shortcoming, not an HP one.
UHD is a higher resolution that Apple’s Retina display. At first sight it is hard to tell which is better. Then you view a 4K video and it becomes clear. The resolution is so high that you may have to adjust some Windows text screens to make them easier to read. In practice apps like Microsoft Office look wonderful if you play around with the zoom controls to get the best text size.
One downside is that UHD screens are power-hungry. We found we could squeeze almost eight hours out of the battery working with business apps. The battery drains faster when watching video. On balance the Elitebook Folio G1 does well enough. There’s enough for a full day’s work, but you may feel nervous when asked to do one last job before going home.
Bang & Olufsen speakers
Bang & Olufsen speakers give the Elitebook Folio G1 audio output. They sit under the case. Two rubber bars raise the body a few millimetres above desk level. You’ll get good sound when the computer is flat on a solid surface, but sit the computer on your lap or on soft furnishing and the audio is muffled. HP’s specification sheet says there are four speakers, but only two speaker grills are visible.
HP has chosen simplicity over adding lots of connectors to the Elitebook. There are just two USB-C ports along with an audio jack. While a lot of users complain, that’s enough for most people if you have Wi-Fi to connect to the net.
HP has returned to form in recent months. The HP Spectre is excellent, the Elitebook Folio G1 is as good. It is an unfussy business laptop. HP designed it for companies and corporate buyers. It has corporate features like Intel vPro support which IT professionals use to manage PCs in organisations. There is a dedicated communications button that can link to Skype for Business.
Despite being made for business, you can buy one for your own use. It is worth considering, although you might choose the HP Spectre instead. That model is thinner, fancier-looking and a fraction less expensive. HP optimised the Spectre for all-round use while it built the Folio G1 for work.
Reborn market leader hits prestige button to reboot the Windows laptop. HP Spectre prices start at NZ$2500.
At a glance:
Thinnest laptop on market. Fast performance. Well made, attractive. Good keyboard.
Battery life good, but not best-in-class.
Lacks touch screen. Has three USB-C ports, no others.
The best Windows laptop we’ve seen in recent times.
From around NZ$2500.
HP’s 13-inch Spectre is the thinnest laptop you can buy. At 10.4 mm, it is thinner than any Apple computer.
Despite being wafer thin, it doesn’t skimp on computing power. You can’t say the same about Apple’s MacBook.
Comparisons like this with the MacBook or MacBook Air are inevitable. HP doesn’t shy away from making similar observations in its marketing material.
Indeed, HP make no secret it aims to match, and where possible, beat Apple.
At times this competition gets surreal. You want a thin laptop? Spectre is 2.5 mm thinner than the MacBook.
On paper that number looks impressive. Put the two computers side by side and you’d be hard pressed to see any difference in thickness.
You will notice something else when you put the two computers side by side. There is no mistaking which is which. Many thin Windows laptops do their darndest to look like MacBooks or MacBook Airs.
Spectre has a distinct style.
You may or may not like it. You can’t ignore the Spectre’s look. The case is black with shiny copper trim. The backlit keys are edged with more copper trim. They have characters printed on them in the same metallic colour.
Shiny, polished copper extends to the hinges which use tiny pistons to hold the thin screen in place and keep it steady.
Taken any further the copper trim would be as garish as a Las Vegas hotel, but HP knows when to stop. The look is deliberate. It says non-Apple premium laptop louder than any marketing message.
Cosmetics aside, the Spectre is beautifully made. HP uses quality materials and components throughout. In use it feels like great engineering should. This high-class feel is perhaps Spectre’s most important connection with Apple.
With an excellent design, extreme portability and more than enough performance for most users, Spectre ticks all the important boxes.
As the new HP’s flagship laptop, Spectre sets the tone for the PC company’s ambition now it has split from the enterprise computing division. Spectre says HP doesn’t plan to cede the high-end of the laptop market to Apple without a fight.
That’s important. Laptop sales have plummeted in recent years. MacBooks still sell. Apple is a premium niche. It seems disconnected from the everyday Windows laptop market.
MacBooks make a respectable profit, the rest of the PC business is marginal. The new HP needs to on the right side of that divide. Spectre is HP’s best shot at getting there.
Away from the race to the bottom
One problem for Windows laptop makers is they have been in a race to the bottom. For the most part they churn out unexciting, undifferentiated, low-value models. The Windows laptop sector seem more concerned with offering the lowest price than the best experience.
HP — the PC and printer part of the company that split with the old Hewlett-Packard last year — still plays in the low cost Windows PC market. But with Spectre it is also trying something else. The strategy could work.
The importance of being powerful
In the laptop world thin and light usually means compromise. Until now it has been hard to pack the most powerful processors into a tiny case.
Apple uses Intel Core M processors in the MacBook. Some reviewers and customers criticise the 2015 MacBook for being slow. The 2016 model is faster, but still lacks the punch needed by the most demanding users.
Most of the time raw computing power isn’t an issue. It doesn’t matter if you just work with browsers and undemanding apps such as Microsoft Word. Load in a huge Excel spreadsheet or edit images with Photoshop and you’ll soon notice if a processor lacks punch.
Spectre uses Intel’s more powerful Core i5 and i7 chips. The review model has a Core i5–6200U running at 2.3 GHz. There’s 8 GB of ram. It adds up to a lot of computer power in a small space. And that’s the least powerful model in the range.
You may not notice the performance difference for everyday apps, but it makes a huge difference when running more demanding software. If there are Windows apps that challenge the HP Spectre, they’re not ones most of us normally use.
Apple still has the edge over HP when it comes to battery life. In part that’s because of the Core i processor’s higher drain. In my work I can get a full day use from a 2016 MacBook. With the Spectre I can’t go a full working day on a single charge.
HP claims 10 hours, which equals Apple’s claim for the 2016 MacBook. If I spend a busy eight-hour day in a client office, the MacBook gets me there with something left in the tank for emergencies.
Spectre doesn’t do as well. Even with aggressive battery saving it fades at around seven hours. Face it, who wants to work for hours on a dimmed screen? If I use it without attempting to extend the battery life, it doesn’t even make it all the way to five hours.
In other words working away from home for extended periods means carrying the power supply. It’s not the end of the world, but it undermines the extreme portability.
Although the Spectre is thin, typing feels natural. The keys have plenty of travel unlike the MacBook. Touch typists won’t need to adjust their technique. The top row of function keys are a touch shorter than normal, but nothing to cause problems once you adjust.
In practice I found I could type as well on the Spectre as on anything except a full-size mechanical keyboard.
Windows laptop trackpads are often disappointing. At first it felt like the Spectre would be the same, the keypad seems unresponsive. Moving the cursor was jerky. This could just have been a matter of adapting as after a few minutes it was well-behaved.
The Spectre trackpad is smaller than I’m used to. It measures 95 by 55 mm compared to 105 by 77 mm on the MacBook Air. The numbers make it look as if there’s not much difference, in practice the HP trackpad feels cramped compared to the MacBook Air.
Perhaps the biggest surprise with the Spectre is that it doesn’t have a touchscreen. In that sense it is an old-fashioned, traditional laptop.
The lack of a touchscreen also means it doesn’t conform to Intel’s 2013 definition of an Ultrabook. Not that failing to comply matters to anyone in the real world.
Touchscreens are standard fare on more expensive Windows laptops. They can be useful, many swear by them.
It’s your call. If you’re a touchscreen fan, don’t buy a Spectre.
Apart from my first few confused moments with the, normally touch-enabled login screen, the lack of a touch screen didn’t bother me. The productivity benefits of touch are overrated in everyday working. Constantly reaching from keyboard to screen brings a whole new set of repetitive strain problems.
Four Bang & Olufsen speakers produce decent quality sound. They are another example of HP’s quality throughout approach and Apple-like attention to detail.
Two speakers of are next to the typewriter keys, two bass speakers sit under the case.
Thin laptops often sound tinny when playing music with the volume cranked up high. That’s not the case here. You won’t get the volume up as high as with external speakers, but it is loud enough for a laptop.
The strong bass may surprise you. It’s great for music, but I found good speakers are an even bigger benefit when listening to people speak using apps like Skype.
HP has followed Apple’s 2015 MacBook design move opting for USB-C ports. These are slimmer than conventional USB ports and make sense on such a thin computer.
Where Apple expects MacBook owners to cope with a single USB-C port to handle charging and wired data transfer, HP has packed three along the back. So you can charge the laptop while connecting a back-up drive and your phone.
Is this a wise move? Many Apple owners complain one port is not enough. It never bothered me. There aren’t many times when I need to connect and charge at the same time. Yet, I suspect HP is giving customers the connectivity they want.
HP Spectre prices start at NZ$2500 for a laptop with the Intel Core i5, 8 GB of Ram, Intel HD Graphics 520 and 256 GB of SSD storage. This is the review model.
For NZ$3100 you can get a HP Spectre with an Intel i7 processor and a 512 GB SSD. There are two intermediate models.
A comparable 2016 Apple MacBook with a Core m running at the slower 1.1 GHz, 8 GB Ram and 256 GB SSD costs $2400.
Given the pluses and minuses of the two ranges, the pricing is on a par.
HP Spectre – praise, criticism
Spectre is as good as it gets for Windows 10 laptops. It’s the first non-hybrid Windows computer I’ve seen in a while that I’d be happy to use as my main system. I like the look and feel or, if you prefer, the user experience.
Design and build are both first class. Spectre has more than enough computing power for most people’s needs. Certainly enough for a journalist.
The only weak spot I found is the Spectre’s battery life and that isn’t bad. Two years ago the seven hours maximum would have seemed remarkable.
While HP Spectre has a premium price, it’s a sound investment if you spend lots of time with your laptop.