Best business laptops: 10 top business laptops reviewed and rated
30th May 2013 | 10:40
Our TechRadar experts help you to get the right laptop for your business.
Choosing the right laptop for business use isn't easy. There are a bewildering array of models with varying specifications and designs to choose from, and over the last year we've seen laptops undergo a seismic change.
The introduction of Intel's Ultrabook format shifted the focus to thin, powerful machines, while the launch of Windows 8 six months ago has meant more laptops are being fitted with touchscreens to take advantage of the new interface.
In looking at the best 10 laptops on the market for business use, instead of listing either the most powerful or the most portable machine we've gone for a mixture of abilities.
So, whether you're looking for a laptop that will last a full day in the office, a machine with the graphical muscle for professional design, or just a budget model to get some typing done on the commute, you'll find something here.
For help on choosing an operating system or choosing between Macs and PCs, we've included a short guide at the bottom of this article.
Here are our top 10 laptops for business:
1/ Sony Vaio Duo 11
The only hybrid device on our list, the Sony Vaio Duo 11 is an exceptionally powerful sliding Ultrabook that doubles as a full featured Windows 8 tablet.
One of its highlights is an 11.6-inch full HD IPS touchscreen display, which also provides also the main navigation method as there's no touchpad, merely an optical nubbin stuck into the keyboard.
If you're looking for portability this is going to be of interest, although we have to point out that at 1.3kg, the Duo 11 is about the same weight as a standard laptop. However, the tapered edges and classic Vaio styling mean it's certainly a looker and won't fail to draw heads in the boardroom.
Performance and connectivity haven't been left out. At the entry level configuration at the price we've quoted above, you'll find an x86 Intel Core i5 processor with integrated graphics and 4GB of RAM.
The speed comes from the 256GB SSD storage space and Sony has fitted the Duo 11 with two USB ports (one of which is the faster 3.0 format), HDMI, VGA and Ethernet ports as well as an SD card slot.
The caveat to this machine is that battery life could be improved. Sony quotes up to six and a half hours, but in real life don't expect more than about five.
2/ MacBook Pro with Retina Display
If you're a creative designer or work in the graphics industry then the MacBook Pro is going to be near the top of your list for a work-based laptop; but the staggering graphical power and screen resolution is matched by the astronomical price.
The top specification arrives with a 2.7-inch quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of DDR3 RAM and 512GB of flash storage.
Graphics are supplied by an Nvidia GeForce GT650M with 1GB of dedicated video memory that backs up the Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated chip. Apple has included both Thunderbolt and DVI digital video output that lets you attach up to four extra monitors to the MacBook Pro for a complete professional setup.
Even without the extra monitors, the 2,880 x 1,800, 220ppi display on the 15.4-inch screen is breathtaking and ideal for filmmakers, game designers or anyone else who needs the best screen money can buy.
All that technology brings the MacBook Pro in at 2.02kg and 9.7-inches thick.
The price precludes this being a realistic purchase for all but the most demanding of professionals. But it undoubtedly deserves a spot in our list.
Read the full TechRadar review of the MacBook Pro with Retina Display.
3/ HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook
At first glance, Chromebooks might not hold much appeal, as they essentially require an internet connection to work. However, many Google apps can now be configured to work offline, and if you're simply looking for a cheap way to get some emails done on the train or check the next day's presentation at home then this is an excellent way of doing so.
The HP Pavilion 14 uses a 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Celeron 847 processor and comes with a 14-inch screen at the standard 1,366 x 768 resolution.
It weighs 1.8kg and, like other Chromebooks, is constructed from plastic to keep the costs down. However, the 2GB RAM and 16GB SSD are more than capable of running web-based Chrome and you're given three USB ports, 10/100Mbps Ethernet and 802.11n Wi-Fi.
For general usage, you'll get around four and a half hours from the Pavilion 14's removable battery, and HP has even seen fit to include Altec Lansing speakers for playing music. If you want a budget machine to keep up with work outside the office and can be reasonably sure of a constant internet connection then this is well worth a closer look.
4/ Dell Inspiron 15z
Dell's Inspiron series has served us well over the years, and the company has now updated its Inspiron 15z model with Windows 8 and a 720p touchscreen. It strikes a reasonable balance between affordability and performance and the option to customise your order gives you even more freedom when buying.
The price we've quoted gets you an Intel Core i3-3217U processor running at 1.8GHz and backed with a more than capable 6GB of RAM. There's also 500GB of storage space accompanied by a 32GB mSATA SSD that's responsible for booting Windows 8 as fast as possible.
The Inspiron 15z also features the DVD optical drive that's becoming something of a rarity for laptops these days. If you've still got programs and data on CDs then this will no doubt be an important choice for you.
The other reason we're recommending the Inspiron 15z as a business laptop is that the build quality is first class and very reliable. The silver aluminium chassis is understated and free from unwanted flexing or rattling. You'll also find the keyboard and trackpad are very comfortable to use for extended periods of time.
The only drawback is that at 2.16kg, it's heavier than some of the other machines in this list.
Read the full TechRadar review of the Dell Inspiron 15z.
5. Samsung Series 9 NP900X3D
Designed for portability over everything else, the Samsung Series 9 NP900X3D is a stunning piece of craftsmanship that will suit you well if you're constantly travelling for work. The chassis is only 13.2mm deep at its thickest point and at 1.13kg you can almost forget you're carrying it.
Samsung has fitted the latest Series 9 with a 13.3-inch 1,600 x 900 display that uses SuperBright technology to light the screen at 400nit. An integrated light sensor regulates the brightness of the display and the backlit keyboard depending on the ambient light. If you're regularly taking the red eye flight to New York and back, this is the laptop you'll want.
But it has its downside: the price is a little steep, there's no touchscreen and the processor is only Intel Core i5 level. The latter hasn't been updated from Intel's last generation and the integrated graphics are limiting for graphics heavy work.
Unfortunately, the thinness of the chassis comes at the expense of connectivity as you'll only find two USB ports, a 3.5mm headphone jack, memory card reader and a micro HDMI port. The specifications may leave something to be desired but if you avoid bulky laptops like the plague, then this will be an attractive purchase.
Read the full TechRadar review of the Samsung Series 9 NP900X3D
6. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is Lenovo's flagship business laptop and now the Chinese company has improved the model by adding a touchscreen to run with Windows 8. This has the effect of bulking up the chassis slightly to 21mm thick and 151kg in weight, but it's as durable as ever and the carbon fibre casing can easily withstand a knock or two.
Power users won't be disappointed as Lenovo will let you choose either an i5 or i7 processor with up to 8GB RAM and a 180GB SSD. The 14-inch display is a ten finger multitouch screen with HD+ resolution and anti-glare coating that means you can work in brightly lit environments without irritating distractions.
Where the Carbon Touch really comes into its own is the array of business-friendly features that Lenovo has included. Along with a fingerprint scanner, there's RapidCharge technology to effectively charge the machine from dead in 45 minutes, and the battery itself will give you a good seven hours of usage from a full charge.
It's not perfect – the integrated graphics card isn't up to the task of heavy graphics processes like professional editing software. But Lenovo offers an excellent three-year warranty that might sway you towards this machine.
Read the TechRadar hands on review of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch.
7/ Acer Aspire S7
Acer's Ultrabooks have been steadily getting better and its most recent, the Aspire S7, stands as an excellent choice for a business machine away from the office. The Full HD 13.3-inch touchscreen is bright with exceptional clarity and the use of a middling Intel Core i5-3317U processor and 4GB RAM allows it to stay shy of the £1,000 mark.
The Aspire S7 is extremely portable at only 1.3kg and measures only 11.9mm thick. It's one of the best looking Ultrabooks here as well, with a white Gorilla Glass 2 chassis, soft backlit keyboard and large integrated trackpad.
Ports are pretty scarce due to the size, but you're still afforded two USB 3.0 slots, a Micro HDMI port and a card reader. The only shortcoming here is the lack of an Ethernet port.
Apart from the aesthetics, the Acer Aspire S7 can also boast of a strong battery performance, offering a quoted 12 hours of life that is more likely around eight hours in real time usage.
Admittedly the price is still a little high for an Acer machine and the processing power isn't as good as some of the other machines on the list, but the Aspire S7 more than makes up for that in looks and portability.
Read the full TechRadar review of the Acer Aspire S7.
8/ Toshiba Satellite U940
The Toshiba Satellite U940 is one of the few business laptops on this list that doesn't feature a touchscreen. That helps to keep the price down to sub-£600 and means that if you don't particularly want or need a touchscreen in a new laptop, it could be worth exploring.
It's also worth pointing out that at 1,366 x 768, the 14-inch screen will only manage 720p HD playback. However, what you do get is some pretty reasonable performance considering the price. The Satellite U940 comes with an Intel Core i5 processor (which can be scaled down to an i3 if you want to keep costs down further) with 6GB RAM. There's a 750GB hard drive and a 32GB SSD which means this has the benefit of both fast boot-up and plenty of storage.
There are plenty of ports and connections on the 1.79kg frame including two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, HDMI and Ethernet connections and an SD card reader.
The Satellite picks up points for having a comfortable, well-sized keyboard and trackpad, making it good for prolonged typing. Unfortunately, it loses some of those points because, although the plasticky, industrial blue chassis feels solid enough, it hardly looks attractive.
9/ Asus VivoBook S400C
It was a difficult choice to include the VivoBook S400Cover Asus' more powerful Zenbook U500 but ultimately the former's balance of performance and price won out. The 14.1-inch S400C features a full capacitive touchscreen, albeit with only a 1,366 x 7.68 resolution.
The dual-core Intel Core i3 processor and 4GB RAM don't offer much in performance terms and other machines on this list will easily outstrip the S400C when it comes to raw power. However, you get a generous 500GB of hard drive storage and all the requisite ports including USB, VGA, Ethernet, HDMI and an SD Card reader.
What's more, the VivoBook S400C is actually a very well made and attractive laptop. The chassis is just 20mm thick and has a black, brushed aluminium lid that compliments the silver elsewhere on the laptop. There's a chiclit keyboard that's comfortable for typing and the three and a half hour battery life is pretty reasonable as well.
At this price, you can't expect much but extra features in the form of Asus' SonicMaster audio technology and, of course, the touchscreen help to make this a good choice. If you're after an all-rounder that looks nice and won't break the bank, the VivoBook S400C could be worth a look.
Read the full TechRadar review of the Asus VivoBook S400C.
10/ Panasonic Toughbook CF-19
The Panasonic ToughBook is a bit of an anomaly on this list. It's not sleek or light, doesn't boast an HD display and still runs Windows 7, albeit the professional version. But it's tough as the proverbial coffin nail and if your work involves spending any considerable amount of time outside, it's the only logical choice.
The 10.1-inch display will rotate and fold down creating, effectively, a tablet that measures 51mm thick and weighs 2.3kg.
Panasonic hasn't changed the ToughBook's chassis since it revealed the machine back in 2007 and it remains water and dust proof as well as shock resistant. Rubber flaps cover all the vital ports to keep the dust and debris of the outside world away from the internals.
Specs-wise, Panasonic has included an Intel Core i5-3320 processor and 4GB RAM and a battery capable, it says, of 10 hours of usage. Certain new features have been added, such as a USB 3.0 port and the CF-19 also has the option of 3G broadband if you don't have Wi-Fi or a hard wired internet connection.
Admittedly, this is a niche product with an exceptionally high price point and won't be suitable for the majority of scenarios. But if you're looking for a rugged work laptop to survive overseas fieldwork or life on a building site, then this is the machine.
Read the full TechRadar review of the Panasonic Toughbook CF-19
Macs v PCs
The Microsoft vs. Apple argument is one of the biggest in the technology world and shows no signs of abating.
Our advice: if price and familiarity are your key requirements – opt for a Windows PC. Windows 8, the current iteration, is fast, reliable and easy to use, and it will have no issues handling pretty much any software that you throw at it. But mind that you will have to take caution to fend off viruses, malware and other cyber nasties.
However, if you're after style and a slick ecosystem (perhaps you're already using an iPhone or an iPad), and money's not really a factor then take a walk down the Mac path. You don't need to worry too much about security with a Mac and, if anything does go wrong, there's no company finer than the Apple for getting things up and running again.
Operating systems explained
Mac OS X or Windows are the main PC operating systems at present, although there are open source options such as Linux that could help to keep overheads down.
Mac OS X appears exclusively on Apple's machines, Windows is the most popular operating system in the world (with around a 90% share) and appears across multiple vendors.
Windows 8 is the current iteration of Microsoft's OS and supports a touch-based tile user interface above the traditional Windows desktop. This allows you to interact quickly with a wide variety of apps on the Windows Store in the same way as you would on a tablet or a smartphone.
Mac OS X is up to version 10.8 and is dubbed 'Mountain Lion' – although at nearly a year old, this could be updated by Apple soon.
Google's OS – Chrome – runs on the Chromebook range and keeps things simple by storing and running everything from the cloud. In comparison to Windows and Mac OS X, it is incredibly limited.