The best laptops of 2017: Ultrabooks, budget PCs, 2-in-1s, and more

 

Choosing the best laptop can be difficult these days. With companies like Dell, HP, Acer, and Asus continually launching updates of popular notebooks and expansions of product lines, we’re all but swimming in options right now.

Summer has pushed even more convertibles, 2-in-1s, and traditional notebooks onto store shelves. The most interesting ones poke holes in existing assumptions about certain categories. Microsoft’s Surface Laptop, for example, is an attempt to revive the company’s battle with Chromebooks, while Dell’s Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming—our “Best budget gaming laptop” pick—offers 1080p gaming for just $850. Vendors also are serious about squeezing AMD’s new CPUs into their lineups, with Asus recently debuting the first Ryzen laptop at Computex.laptops

Given the number of choices out there, we’re hard at work evaluating more laptops. For our latest update, we’ve added “Best MacBook” as a category, in order to better help you compare the full range of laptops available.

Dell might be sticking to the adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when it comes to the XPS 13, but that strategy keeps producing the best ultrabook of the bunch. The Kaby Lake XPS 13 shares the same design as its predecessors: a quality aluminium exterior and carbon-fiber top, and that wonderfully compact, bezel-free 13-inch screen.

Dell actually released two updates to the XPS 13 in 2016: The one at the start of the year swapped in a Skylake CPU, added a USB Type-C port that served as an alternative charging port, and offered upgraded storage options. The most recent refresh—and our new pick for Best Ultrabook—keeps the same chassis changes as the Skylake XPS 13, features a jump to Intel’s new Kaby Lake processor, and sports a slightly larger battery. You get improved performance across the board, with a nice bump of an extra half-hour of battery life during video playback.

Kaby Lake Dell XPS 13Gordon Mah Ung
The Kaby Lake version of the Dell XPS 13 maintains that balance between portability, compact size, and performance that we like so much.

Our only lingering complaint is the small keyboard, but overall, you can’t lose with the newest XPS 13. It’s a truly compact ultrabook that punches out of its class.

 

Nokia 8, Nokia 9 Processors Leaked; Nokia 2 Budget Phone Seemingly in the Works

 

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Nokia 2 tipped to either pack Snapdragon 202 or MediaTek SoC
  • Nokia 9 has been tipped to come with Snapdragon 835 SoC
  • The leak reportedly comes from a trusted source

While we are still waiting for the announcement of HMD Global’s often-leaked flagship Nokia 9, a new leak has reportedly revealed the processors on the entire range of Nokia smartphones that will come out in 2017, such as the long-rumoured Nokia 8 and Nokia 9. While some of the processors fall in line with earlier leaks, the new information suggests that the company will also be launching a budget smartphone, named Nokia 2, later this year as well.

As per the leaked information, provided by a tipster on Chinese website Baidu, Nokia 7, Nokia 8, and Nokia 9 will be powered by Snapdragon 630, Snapdragon 660, and Snapdragon 835 SoCs respectively, points out NokiaPowerUser.Nokia 8, Nokia 9 Processors Leaked; Nokia 2 Budget Phone Seemingly in the Works

While we already know about the processors on the already released Nokia 3, Nokia 5, and Nokia 6, the new leak suggests the presence of a budget segment Nokia 2 smartphone that will either feature a Snapdragon 202 SoC or a MediaTek processor.

As you might recall, the Nokia 9 has already been tipped to pack the Snapdragon 835 SoC in previous leaks. Notably, the recently leaked cases for the smartphone also reaffirmed the presence of a dual camera setup and indicated that it will come with a curved design.

In other specifications, the Nokia 9 flagship is expected to run Android 7.1.1 Nougat out-of-the-box and sport a 5.3-inch QHD (1440×2560 pixels) display. The smartphone has been tipped to be powered by Snapdragon 835 SoC coupled with a maximum of up to 8GB of RAM. The Nokia 9 has been tipped to come with 64GB of built-in storage.

 

Samsung Galaxy On Max first impression: Effective low-light capabilities on a budget

 

Last week, Samsung launched its new mid-range smartphone, the Galaxy On Max, which is priced at Rs 16,900. While the design and specifications are similar to the recently launched Galaxy J7 Prime, the Galaxy On Max doesn’t come with a glowing LED ring around the rear camera. It’s also powered by a slightly different chipset. It is also an online exclusive smartphone that can be purchased only from Flipkart.

One of the key highlights of the Galaxy On Max is the ‘flagship’ 13-megapixel rear camera with aperture f/1.7 to click good photos – whether there’s daylight, sunset or low-light conditions. Besides the sensor capturing more light, Samsung’s image processing algorithms also work in tandem to keep the graininess levels to minimum, especially in low-light. The camera app also includes live stickers and instant sharing mode, allowing you to quickly share your photos on social media. I got to spend some time with the Galaxy On Max at Samsung’s special event, and here are my first impressions.

The Samsung Galaxy On Max features an all-metal unibody design, with only the top and bottom ends having plastic material for the antenna bands. Up front, you have the display with 2.5D curved glass. Above the display, you have the front-facing camera with LED flash and a proximity sensor, whereas the capacitive Android navigation buttons and the physical home button is placed below the display. The home button also doubles as a fingerprint sensor for biometric authentication.

samsung galaxy on max hands on back

Turn to the back and you have the camera module, the LED flash, and the Samsung logo sitting on the top half, whereas the rest is completely clean. The right edge houses the speaker on the top, followed by the power / sleep button. On the right edge, you have the volume buttons, a dedicated microSD card tray and a dual SIM card tray. It’s good to see Samsung giving users to insert two SIM cards as well as a microSD card.

samsung galaxy on max hands on sim slots

In terms of specifications, the Galaxy On Max comes with a 5.7-inch full HD display along with 2.5D curved glass on top. It is powered by MediaTek octa-core SoC with 4GB of RAM and 32GB storage. And besides the 13-megapixel rear camera, the smartphone also houses a 13-megapixel front camera with aperture f/1.9. The smartphone is armed with a 3,300mAh battery, and connectivity options such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, and 4G LTE with VoLTE HD voice calling support.

On the software front, the smartphone runs Android 7.0 Nougat with a layer of Samsung’s TouchWiz UI running on top. Samsung Pay Mini platform with Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and Paytm integration is also included in the smartphone. ALSO READ: Samsung Pay Mini vs Samsung Pay: What is the difference?

samsung galaxy on max hands on camera lens

Galaxy On Max 13-megapixel f/1.7 aperture camera

I got to play around with the smartphone’s camera. I clicked a few photos during sunset, and a few at night conditions.

samsung galaxy on max hands on camera

While the auto mode does a good job in clicking photos, I was using the pro-mode to capture the exact kind of shot that I wanted. The pro-mode lets you control the ISO sensitivity, exposure level and auto-white balance. Keeping the ISO at 100, exposure between -1 to -2, I was able to capture some good photos with less noise. Below are some camera samples shot on the Galaxy On Max in low-light.

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Final words    

The key highlight being low-light photography, the Galaxy On Max does live up to the expectations and lets you capture good photos in low-light scenarios. However, I am yet to try out the smartphone at length, so I would reserve my final judgment until I review the smartphone.

At this price point, its closest competitors are the Moto G5 Plus, Nokia 6, Nubia N2, Honor 8, and Asus Zenfone 3 (ZE552KL). However, looking at the specifications, features and camera capabilities, the Galaxy On Max looks like an interesting device to look forward to.

(Disclaimer – The correspondent’s travel and accommodation for the event in Khimsar was arranged by Samsung.)

 

SteelSeries Rival review: Name-brand performance on a budget

SteelSeries Rival 100

PC gaming doesn’t need to be expensive. Sure, you could throw down $70 on a Mionix Castor or $80 on Logitech’s G502 or a whopping $90 on the Razer Diamondback. But you don’t need to.

One thing I like about SteelSeries (and Logitech too) is that they have a habit of shoring up their peripherals lineup with some lower-cost alternatives. Damn good alternatives, for that matter—just missing some of the bells and whistles.

Alternatives like the $40 Rival 100.

Entry-level

Despite sharing a name with the Rival 300, the two aren’t really that much alike. This isn’t just “The standard Rival with a slightly worse sensor.” It is, as far as I can tell, a different product—slightly different shape, different thumb buttons, different feel.

I joke about the DeathAdder being a stripped-down gaming mouse, but the Rival 100 really is bare bones. It’s a six button mouse—Left, Right, and Middle, plus a DPI switch and two thumb buttons on the left edge.

SteelSeries Rival 100 

SteelSeries claims this is a right-handed mouse, but it’s really subtle. In fact, only the missing thumb buttons on the right edge clued me in, initially. It feels, for all intents and purposes, like an ambidextrous mouse. The right edge is already cut flat and textured, like an ambidextrous mouse, and I’m baffled they didn’t simply go all the way on that aspect. Even the Rival 300 has more of a “right hand shape” than this.

But whatever. Point is, it’s geared towards right-handers but, given its almost-ambidextrous shape, accommodates all grip-types with a minimum of hassle. Palm-gripping and claw-gripping are equally welcome here, though I’d say claw gripping is a bit more comfortable due to the narrow width. Palm gripping gave me hand cramps after a bit of use.

It’s a solid entry-level mouse, with a 4,000 DPI optical sensor and the usual SteelSeries soft-touch texture. And it even has SteelSeries’s usual RGB lighting on the scroll wheel and logo—surprising, for a product at this price tier.

Pressing my buttons

My biggest complaint with the Rival 100 is the thumb buttons. The Rival 300 has very nice, oversized (almost DeathAdder-esque) thumb buttons, with great ergonomics and a satisfying tactile feel.

The Rival 100 has two thin, cheap-feeling thumb buttons that are obnoxiously loud and clicky. This is the only mouse I’ve ever used where clicking the thumb buttons is louder than the main Left and Right Click functions.

SteelSeries Rival 100 

To make matters worse, they’re pointy. Instead of meeting in the middle, there’s a small gap between the two thumb buttons. The edges of the buttons in this gap form a small pyramid-point that jabs into the pad of your thumb. Adjusting your thumb back-and-forth across the two buttons ranges from unpleasant to downright uncomfortable.

It’s a shame, because it’s the one feature that I think undercuts what’s otherwise a solid gaming mouse at an amazing price point. But these thumb buttons should never have made it past testing—the edges should’ve been rounded more, or brought closer together.

Bottom line

The Rival 100 is a solid choice for people on a budget, but honestly the jump from low-tier to mid-tier to high-tier is a lot smaller in mice than in other peripherals. Most of the time you can find the Razer DeathAdder on sale for only ten to fifteen dollars more, and it’s a huge improvement. Or the Rival 300, which lists for $60 but can typically be found for less—and is, again, an improvement over the Rival 100.

But if you absolutely can’t stretch the budget further, the Rival 100 is a pretty good option. It gives you the bare necessities for a gaming mouse (an accurate sensor, moderately high DPI range) without compromising too much on comfort and style.

Just take a bit of sandpaper to those thumb buttons.