What Your Next Work Laptop Should Really Look Like

Man working at home office with laptop
Photograph by Ozgur Donmaz — Getty Images

Mike Feibus is principal analyst at FeibusTech, a Scottsdale, Ariz., market strategy and analysis firm focusing on mobile ecosystems and client technologies. Neither he nor FeibusTech are investors of the companies or products listed in this article.
We know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, as the old adage goes. But we do it anyway.

It’s why we tend to replace the things others can see and associate with us – like cars and smartphones – while they’re still serving their purpose. And it’s why we wait for things like water heaters and air conditioners to die before we buy new ones.

Corporate IT organizations historically bought laptops as if they belong tucked away in the utility closet, opting for dull, nondescript machines rather than those with any hint of fun or fashion. But they can no longer afford to do that.

With the transformation in laptop design that’s occurred over the past several years, the computer your employees carry increasingly factors into others’ impression of them – and of the organization. As well, study after study shows the latest devices play a big role in attracting and keeping employees.

A survey published last month by Peak Sales Recruiting, for example, found that technology ranked seventh of 21 variables influencing job attractiveness for recent college grads.

Now’s a great time for enterprise buyers to begin weaving style into purchasing plans. For one thing, they’ll start adding Windows 10 laptops to their fleets next week, when the Anniversary Update begins shipping. (Commercial buyers typically wait for the first service release before committing to a new Microsoft OS.)

As well, there are more attractive business-class laptops to choose from. For the first time, PC makers actually are lifting styling from their consumer lines to shape their business-class laptops – something that would have been unheard of even five years ago.

Over the past several months, I’ve been testing three of this year’s sleekest business-class models. All three are built around Intel’s sixth-generation Core processor, code-named Skylake. Which means that none of them stilt your coolness with the whir of a fan cooling the processor. And all three claim to be the thinnest in their respective categories:

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S

This is a tablet-first 2-in-1 laptop that comes with a detachable keyboard. The TabPro S runs on an Intel Core M3. It has a 12-inch display and is only 6.3mm thick (the iPad Pro is 6.9mm). It’s the first Windows 10 tablet I’ve used that’s thin and light enough that it actually looks and feels like a tablet.

Dell Latitude 7370

According to Dell, this is the smallest 13-inch business-class Ultrabook available. The system, which is powered by a Core M5 processor, weighs just 2.48 pounds and is 14.32mm thick. Despite its comparatively diminutive style, the Latitude 7370 is solid and rugged.

HP Spectre 13

This is the thinnest 13-inch laptop available. It’s only 10.4mm thick, and weighs 2.45 pounds. The display, which doesn’t have touch capability, is just 0.2mm thick. The Spectre 13 has a unique hyperbaric cooling system that enables HP to pack a full Core i7 processor inside. It actually has two small fans to pull cool air in. If they whir audibly, I haven’t heard them yet.

Just to make sure we’re all looking at this the same way, these systems aren’t about to reverse the PC market decline. I’d consider them only for executives, salespeople and other highly mobile, outward-facing workers. One day, though, once style becomes more pervasive in business-class lineups, it might help shorten refresh cycles, which in turn would help calm the industry’s woes.

All three are great systems. They snap to attention when you wake them up. The screens are all bright and easy to read. And battery life is impressive for such small laptops. And they’re distinctive to boot.

To help gauge how millenni-ready these laptops are, I spent hours out and about with them. I’ve taken them with me into coffee shops, cafes, bars and airport lounges – anywhere mobile workers might update a presentation or answer some emails. In fact, I’ve written pieces of this column on all three laptops.

I’ve had the HP Spectre 13 for the shortest time, but it’s already clear it’s the champion attention-getter. The shiny, plated-aluminum trim draws attention. And it’s so thin and light, many people have a hard time believing it’s actually a working computer.

People have to look more closely at the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S before it grabs their attention. Because, at first, they mistake it for an iPad. But when I detach the keyboard, they appreciate how thin it is. And then they do a double-take when they see the bright Windows display.

Though it’s impressively compact, the protective rubberized exterior makes the Latitude 7370 the least flashy of the three. In a sense, it’s more of a Lexus than a Lamborghini. And it tends to earn appreciation more from people who’ve been seated near me for a while, like on a plane.

Deciding between the three systems is more about taste and computing style than anything. I tend to favor the Latitude 7370 because I’m a touch typist, and because I make use of the touch screen. But the TabPro S is the first Windows laptop that I’ve ever really wanted to use as a tablet. And the Spectre 13 is fast, the keyboard is roomy and it’s such a visual marvel that it’s hard to leave behind.

So maybe it’s not alright to judge a book by its cover. But feel free to judge these new notebooks by their appearance. If you’re an enterprise buyer, in fact, you probably should.

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