I Want a New Laptop and I Need Your Help

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It’s only been two years since I bought my last laptop. It’s a Lenovo T460s, and I hate it. It has an Intel i7-6600u processor, 20 gb of RAM and a 1 terrabyte hard drive. But battery life is awful.

  • I’m a one machine guy. My laptop is my computer. I work from it at home, in the office, and on the road.

  • I use it to watch movies on planes, too, so it needs a decent amount of storage but I don’t really care about video and sound quality — any modern premium laptop is going to be good enough for me since i’m not demanding in these areas.

  • I’m a Windows guy, but I’m still running Windows 7 Professional. If I can’t get a new laptop to run Windows 7 I will need some sort of customization software to emulate the Windows 7 experience. I don’t want touch screen and I don’t want my computer to try to emulate the look and feel of a tablet.

  • I don’t reboot the machine for weeks at a time. I work with a dozen tabs open in Google Chrome and a couple of other applications open, too. I need memory and enough processing speed not to slow me down.

  • I hate doing TV interviews over Skype, I almost always insist on using a studio. However sometimes I just have to, so the quality of the camera matters along some margin.

  • And I travel, including on American Airlines where seat power isn’t reliable — whether it’s on legacy US Airways planes without power, or American planes where they haven’t serviced the outlets in years and plugs won’t stay in. My battery may not be at 100% when I board and I may be connecting without enough time to charge between flights. I want the machine to work all day. I don’t want to have to keep carrying my external battery which I wrote about when I bought it five years ago.

The logical machine seems to me like it would be the Thinkpad X1 Carbon but I’m worried about battery life. The people who say they’re getting 8 hours of work on it seem to suggest they’re doing that at 50% screen brightness. I like my screen bright.

I can definitely scale down to a 512 mb solid state drive. I don’t know whether the tradeoffs involved in a faster processor make the most sense for me. I don’t care what the laptop looks like, I care only about how functional it is. At some level openability in non-extra legroom coach would be nice, but I don’t find myself sitting in 30 inch pitch often and I don’t think I can work comfortably in that sort of seat regardless of what I buy. I’d rather choose a machine that meets my other needs and is usable with 34-36 inch pitch seats.

Since I use the machine every day, a dozen hours a day and plan to do that for several years I’m not overly concerned about cost savings. A $1300 laptop is going to cost me about 10 cents an hour of use. 10% more or less in either direction isn’t material, my focus is on the best possible match for my needs. But I’m not technical enough to know the direction I should go here.

I still carry it in my Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer bag which they don’t make anymore.

This is my strategy, anyway, at least until the US government brings back the silly laptop ban.

Do you have any advice for me — other than telling me to go buy a Mac? (I’m not going to do that.) Thanks in advance!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Gary,
    I’m in a similar situation and was tired of the boat anchors from IT. I got a surface. Its ultra portable, plenty powerful and docks nicely when at home or office. So I used it for a year and then broke down and bought a Macbook. All the guys at work said I’d be sorry losing compatibility, but I have had no issues with MS applications. Just try the macbook- it’s hard to beat for business travel, and I’m a Windows guy.

  2. Just to give a reason WHY you wouldn’t choose the XPS, it’s because the camera sits at the bottom rather than the top of the screen, so the angle is awful. Don’t touch. If cam wasn’t an issue, then it would be the machine to go for.

  3. Dell XPS 13 with i5 processor, manufacture refurbished from Ebay. Then buy additional warranty for 3 years from Dell website.

  4. Gary,
    Buy a razer blade stealth for 1049 usd. It’s not a gaming laptop but an ultraportable. 13.3 inch monitor touchscreen with core i7 -8550u processor with hyper threading1.8ghz/4.0 ghz(base/turbo),16gb ram, Intel uhd graphics 620, 1tb ssd drive. Weighs 2.98 lbs/1.35 kg. It comes with windows 10 . Go for the max extended warranty razer offers for this unit. Just my 2 cents worth.

  5. HI Gary ….

    There is a clear winner in this space. Both the positives and negatives have been mentioned above. I bought my XPS 13 – 3 years ago. It is still my full time go to PC.

    Likes:

    * Runs like a hose. Rarely needs rebooted. Very stable hardware. I am still running Windows 8.1 and Office 365.
    * Get at least 8MB of RAM. Very comfortable running this configuration – typically have 10 Chrome pages open.
    * Great Battery life. I found the bottom of this PC’s battery once, and I was broadcasting video wireless for several hours.
    * Get a touch screen – very helpful when reading or on planes.
    * This PC can be used on planes.
    * Display port for the video, – has 2 USB ports.
    * Has solid Case and keyboard.
    * SSD Drive.
    * I bought an i5 – fan rarely comes on.

    Dislike:
    * Camera is positioned low.

    Net – very happy with this PC. And it is now 3 Generations old.

    Also – I own a new Surface – Gen 7 – I5. The 7th generation I5 processor is fanless. Windows 10. Great Battery life also on this PC. The differentiation between the 2 is the surface pen. I love to write notes in meetings in One Note. Works perfect for me – I am basically paperless now. use a blue tooth mouse – saves your single USB port. MIcrosoft keyboard is good also – buy the second level one. Rest of it – Solid and good battery life also.

    If I needed a desktop/laptop again – I would buy another XPS13.

    Also – go to the Microsoft Store … you can test drive everything. they have sales all of the time and I saved $200 on both my Surface and XPS13. Also – clean Windows install – no bloatware.

  6. My biggest suggestion: if there’s a Microsoft store near where you live, check the machines there out. They have the best selection of Windows laptops I’ve seen, they’re all functional, the people there are reasonably knowledgeable.

    The Dell XPS 13 is a great machine, but as one poster said before, Gary, it’s NOT for you. The low angle of the camera, as it is mounted on the bottom of the screen will make one look unprofessional on Skype.

    I think the X1 Carbon is the way to go here. I personally wouldn’t worry about the brightness—modern screens are brighter at the same level. But, you may want to try it and use a return policy in case it doesn’t hold up battery-wise.

    A choice out of left field might be the Surface Laptop. It is not a tablet at all, has a touchscreen but you don’t have to use it.

    All of these come with Windows 10, but the tablet features stay out of the way on laptops.

    (And for the Mac suggestions, I’m a loyal Apple user, but I would not recommend the current Macbooks anyway for two reasons: 1) battery life has been reduced; 2) they have a new keyboard technology that is susceptible to stuck keys in the case of crumbs, and for a road warrior that’s likely to happen.)

  7. Gary, to answer your question about the processor: definitely get a laptop with an 8th-gen Intel Core processor – generally the best value is the i5-8250U. Intel doubled the number of cores from two to four, but lowered the clock speed, for an overall 50-70% boost in performance over 7th-gen processors. An i5-8250U is much faster than ANY previous-gen U-series processor (the kind used in ultrabooks), including the i7 you have now. There’s no penalty in battery life.

  8. Here is what The Wirecutter, a trusted and highly regarded review site, recommends for their top business lap top in 2018: “After considering 30 models and testing 11 in 2018, we think the Lenovo ThinkPad T480s is the best business laptop for people who need one. It has an outstanding keyboard and trackpad and just about every port you could want, it’s easy to upgrade and repair, it’s thinner and lighter than most other business laptops, and its battery life can get you through a workday with no trouble.” https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-business-laptops/

  9. I have, and recommend, the HP Spectre x360. It’s small, light, and battery life is excellent. I have the i7 / 16gb RAM version because like you I also use this as my home/office/mobile machine.

    I previously used a Dell XPS 13 – super compact and light, but battery life was not nearly as good and the trackpad was meh.

    The newest HP Spectre x360’s also have a built-in privacy screen you can turn on and off as needed, which I think is a pretty badass feature on top of the great specs.

    http://www8.hp.com/us/en/campaigns/spectrex360/overview.html?jumpid=in_r11260_us/en/psg/premiumfamily/spectre-x360-tab-learn-more-top#spectre-x360-13

  10. As a follow up, something to consider is laptops that use USB-C for charging (which the HP laptop I mentioned does). Then (hopefully) your phone and laptop can use the same cable. Even my Verizon hotspot is USB-C now, meaning my 3 key devices can use the same style charging cable. I always have two just in case, but that means you’ve always got a backup, instead of having to carry 3 different ones and being SOL if one breaks.

  11. X1 Carbon hands-down, for the following reasons…

    (1) Can work all day, especially if have 6th generation X1 Carbon with 8th generation Intel CPU. You won’t care about the increased speed, but will love working all day without a charge.

    (2) Larger 14″ screen trumps XPS 13″ screen

    (3) Move-able switch to open/close webcam.

    (3) Keyboard as good or better than your T460s, but weighs almost a pound less. I insert a lightweight shoulder bag inside my checkpoint bag so I can carry it around all day.

    (4) You don’t need all the ports offered on the T480s. X1 has HDMI, (2) USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, Ethernet (with optional adapter)

    (5) Unless you already use a touch screen, don’t bother. Keyboard is faster, and cleaner!

    (6) Lenovo selling them for under $1200 on Memorial Day sale.

    –Scott

  12. Microsoft Surface Book 15 inch screen, a true laptop, not the tablet — the screen detaches for use as a tablet. Great everything. Check for veteran’s discount with Microsoft if eligible.

  13. +++++1 for the 15″ Surface Book. I have worked in IT for 25+ years and I’ve used hundreds of laptops. It is simply the best machine I have ever used. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s my daily workhorse and the battery lasts a mind-numbingly long time. The screen is gorgeous, the keyboard fantastic, and I have never had a single issue with it. It’s damn expensive as compared to similar models, but it is worth every single penny imho. If cost is no object and you want the best of the best, this is your laptop.

  14. I have an HP Elitebook from my employer, it’s been great. I can’t comment much on battery life since I’m typically tethered to an outlet. It’s light, VERY functional (I usually reboot it once every month or so), travels well, and is customizable on HP’s site. I’ve been a Dell fan in the past but this HP laptop rocks…and it replaced a macbook pro that was pretty solid and let me run a windows VM, the HP option is MUCH better.

  15. Is go apple – I know you said your a windows guy. We are at the office. My air is dependable, long battery, plays well with everything, handles all you needs, integrated to my iPhone. Just saying. Might be time to make the move.

  16. I’m with a lot of the other people telling you to go Mac and never look back. Battery life is amazing and most importantly, it just works. Mine gets rebooted every couple of months at most. I also have an XPS 13 for work. (I work for Dell). If it were not for Windows 10, I would say it was the equal of the Mac. The hardware is great except for the camera location. That is terrible. If you decide to go Dell, reach out to me directly and I’ll get you a discount.

  17. I’m on the HP Spectre x360 bandwagon, I own the 13.3 inch model (they have a 156 model also). Someone linked to the page above. I have never had a laptop with the mix of performance, light weight and battery life of this freaking thing. I think one of their selling points is “WORLD’S LONGEST BATTERY LIFE IN A QUAD-CORE CONVERTIBLE”

    Yeah, it’s windows 10, but I’ve found the Classic Shell software (free!) fixes all the annoying Windows 10 “features” and gives you the Windows 7 start menus we all know and love.

  18. Strongly agree with recommendations for the HP Spectre line. I have a two year old model and it has been fantastic:
    1) beautiful with polished copper trim
    2) fast with upgraded 512 SSD drives
    3) thin and light
    4) I run Windows 10 pro so that I can encrypt hard drive using bit locker
    5) reasonably good driver, firmware, etc updates from
    HP
    6) good battery life, drawback; my model at least does not have capability to put in extra battery pack

  19. Suck it up, bite the bullet. Buy a Mac! I had the same resistance until I did it 2 years ago and now, I just won’t go back to a windows based computer. And, you can get Windows for a Mac. BTW, after 2 years, my battery life is spectacular with virtually no degradation since new. Go ahead, Just do it!

  20. I’m a full-time professional Windows developer, and I own a Macbook Pro with and i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD hard drive (used for both work and personal). I run Parallels, which allows me to run Mac OS and Windows at the same time. The battery life is amazing, and so are things like the HD performance, camera, sound speakers, etc.

    Regarding Windows — not rebooting Windows 7 for weeks will absolutely slow down the performance. You should consider rebooting more often.

  21. Regarding the camera: If you need to do those Skype interviews and want it to look it’s best, consider getting an external camera which mounts on the top edge. The quality will be so much better than most laptops built-in camera (in part because it’s less restricted by size requirements) and it will usually have a better mic as well. I can’t recommend a specific brand because I’m primarily on the receiving end of other’s using one but the quality difference is significant and the additional weight is very small.

  22. If you’re still using Windows 7, then you’re a prime candidate for a Mac. The Apple overlords won’t allow you to run an uber-obsolete (and therefore power-hungry) OS on their jewelry.

    If you were to keep your OS current, then a Lenovo ThinkPad would be my recommendation (better specs than Mac).

  23. @Peter Mac

    Absolutely correct. Win 10 runs great on bootcamp which is officially supported by Apple. Gary can stay in Win 10 100% of the time if he desires. The build quality of the Mac fars exceeds any Windows laptop. In addition there is an Apple store in every city in the world Gary visits where he can get great support if something does go wrong.

  24. Know however that Windows 7 is about to go unsupported. No new updates meaning no security updates meaning computer open to vulnerabilities. Windows XP, now long out of support, had the same issue with people not wanting to upgrade. I’ve used a MacBook Pro for two years now (after 25 years with Windows computers) and after a bit of transition am happy. Great battery life and goes everywhere I go.

  25. The Lenovo T480 (not T480S) with 14 hours battery life is my recommendation. The X1 and T480s may seem better, but the T480 battery is very compact and can be replaced while the computer is plugged in..
    Windows 10 is here to stay. So, go through the learning curve. Its much less than the Mac learning curve. The right PC guy will show you how to connect to WiFi without using Access Connections, as well as the other differences from Win7.
    Get the 4G LTE card for always on internet.
    If you need 1TB, a good reseller will upgrade the Storage before sending it to you. They may even configure it for you, but you will need to move all your data, so that wont be very useful.
    The most important criteria I hear is battery life. And end user replaceable battery is very important, a feature not common in most notebooks, except Lenovo. As the battery life deteriorates, either from running it down one to many times or just a lot of use, or if you just forget to recharge it when you could have, you will want to replace it and keep on going. So, don’t get cornered into a non-user replaceable battery if you don’t have to.
    The weight, excluding additional battery and power supply is about 3.5 lbs. Add 8 oz for a 2nd battery and 8 oz for the power supply, and you are still under 5 lbs.
    Skip the Storage upgrade, stay with 512GB or save even more and just get 256GB storage, and use the savings to buy the Lenovo 4 year worldwide warranty, next business day with accidental damage protection for $270. The specific Lenovo model is: 20L50010US but there are several cheaper variations with equivalent resolution, features, warranty, and battery life, so this is the top end model.
    Please tell me you have a backup service in case of lost computer or corrupted data. If not, keep the T460s, replace the battery, clean the fan (compressed air) and buy the online backup service.
    Contact me if you want personal service from a retailer that can provide a custom product a little better than Amazon or Costco.
    Win10, you will quickly appreciate the features, the security, the ability to tie it to your mobile devices, and its similarity to Win7.
    I am surprised Dell isn’t your first choice given your proximity to … Dell HQ..

  26. If the only thing you hate is the battery, replace the battery.

    Otherwise if you insist on not owning the best hardware for an essential part of your life (i.e. a Mac, which you can run Windows on), get an XPS13 and a small external camera. Do not get a Lenovo.

  27. Late to the party, but will put in another vote for the X1 Carbon.
    I have the 2017 model, and get fantastic battery life, even in Linux (~

    HDMI, 2x “regular” type A USB ports, and 2x USB-C ports are great. Fully compatible with current Macbook chargers, accessories, and monitors over USB-C — so there’s almost always a charger nearby, and my phone charges over USB-C too, letting me just use my laptop charger for my phone too.

    Great keyboard, trackpad and trackpoint, incredibly light and durable (including the power adapter).
    Cons: microSD card reader is idiotic placement (you need a SIM ejection tool to get to it!), maxes out at 16gb ram, can’t [easily] open with one hand (common for lightweight laptops).

    Would strongly recommend looking at this review:
    https://www.notebookcheck.net/Lenovo-ThinkPad-X1-Carbon-2018-WQHD-HDR-i7-Laptop-Review.284682.0.html
    It’s a German site (in English) that does the best laptop reviews, so I’d look at it for other laptops you’re considering. Much of it may be unnecessarily technical, but check out things like fan noise level, temperature info (including IR pictures of which part of the laptops get hot), more practical battery life estimates based on usage types, and screen performance in outside/natural light settings.. plus plenty of other info.

  28. Don’t be afraid of Win 10. 8 was lame but 10 is actually great, just a short adjustment period. Would never go back.

    you got to reboot more than that. Just have to. Win or Mac. Bad habit you have to change.

  29. How about a free fix: try upgrading to Windows 10 and see whether you still have terrible battery life after that. Windows 7 is very old and can’t take advantage of new power management features in today’s hardware.

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