Six Recommended Laptops for Work and Play

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Purchasing a laptop for yourself or a loved one this holiday season? It’s not an easy decision. You have to ask yourself what you need the laptop for—some heavy writing, with a little entertainment thrown in? How about some heavy graphic design with an emphasis on gaming? Or, how about you go all grown up and get a laptop that can handle a heavy workload, no frills included?

The buzzword this season is hybrids. These are laptops that do double duty as tablets, and afford the ease of a tablet with the work ethic of a laptop. It doesn’t always work as smoothly as it sounds—many hybrids are much better as one half of the equation than the other—but if you balance out your work-versus-fun quotient, you should be able to find a laptop that suits your needs.

Hot Holiday Hybrid

One of the most popular hybrids of last season was the ASUS T100 series. The new ASUS 32GB T100 Transformer Book adds a new twist—a much larger hard drive—to its already awesome spec sheet. This includes the Intel® Baytrail quad-core processor running at 1.33 GHz and 2GB of DDR3 memory. The hard drive includes a 500GB spindle drive, plus a 32GB SSD. This hybrid is a detachable tablet and keyboard combo, so for a true tablet experience you should disconnect the tablet from the dock. Is this a problem? It might be for users who want the tablet and keyboard to function as one convertible unit, but it’s mostly for convenience sake. Some people just don’t like having two pieces of equipment to maintain.

ASUS 32GB SSD & 500GB HDD T100 Series Transformer Book

Why does this hybrid stand out from the crowd? Its low price is certainly one big factor. For less than $400, you get a tablet that makes a functional working laptop. It also comes bundled with a free (not a trial) version of Microsoft Office, making this a great gift for a student. The 11-hour battery life is also a big plus, as is the microSDXC card slot and 10.1" IPS HD display.

Hot Holiday Laptop

Why do Apple enthusiasts return year after year to Apple products? Everyone knows that Apple brand loyalty is some of the fiercest in the tech industry—and the MacBook Air is one of the reasons why. With a 4th-generation Haswell 1.4GHz Intel® Core™ i5 processor and 4GB of RAM, the MacBook Air has the power to web surf, process documents, tackle spreadsheets, and more. Arguably, it can’t handle high-end graphics or intense gaming as well as notebooks with dedicated graphic cards, but the integrated Intel® HD Iris Graphics does a great job of getting very close.

Apple 13.3" MacBook Air

It’s slightly larger than the T100 Transformer Book, at 13.3", and sports a different-resolution screen, along with a faster flash-based 256GB PCie storage solution. It also comes equipped with a Thunderbolt port for faster transfers (10Gbps as opposed to the 5Gbps of USB 3.0 on the T100), and the newer 802.11ac Wi-Fi protocol.

But if you have a little extra on hand, you can upgrade all of that goodness with the newer Apple 13.3" MacBook Pro Retina model, which gives you a much better screen (2560 x 1600 resolution), a faster processor with a 4th-generation Haswell 2.6GHz Intel® Core™ i5, double the RAM and double the transfer speeds with a Thunderbolt 2 port, delivering 20Gbps bi-directional transfer speeds. If you’re already invested in the Apple ecosystem, this laptop is the one for you. If you’re looking for a new laptop with all the bells and whistles, and you’re not sold on a Windows OS, then consider this laptop. It is the gold standard, as far as laptops go.

Apple 13.3" MacBook Pro Notebook Computer with Retina Display

Hot Holiday Business Laptop

Not every shopper is looking to give a laptop to someone else this season—some are looking to purchase a serious laptop that can get a variety of work done. HP makes a series called the ZBook line, and these are not gaming or casual-use devices. Take, for instance, the HP ZBook 17 F1J74UT 17.3" Mobile Workstation. It is what it says it is in the product name, a high-end workstation capable of chewing through production workflows with ease. Video post-production, serious digital photography editing, high-end graphics—don’t try this on any other laptop on this page, it simply won’t work. These are designed for creative professionals, and include higher-level processors, like a 4th-generation Haswell 2.4GHz Intel® Core™ i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 750GB hard drive with a 32GB SSD cache to speed up the accessing of often-used programs and applications. It also includes a very different display—a Full HD 1080p 17.3" monster of a display, fueled by another anomaly in laptops, a dedicated NVIDIA Quadro K3100M graphics unit with 4GB of dedicated GDDR5 RAM. Another class? This is the laptop to have when you need serious muscle for your projects. This is not a laptop to play Flappy Bird on. It even includes an integrated Blu-ray RW drive and Thunderbolt/USB 3.0 connectivity.

 HP ZBook 17 F1J74UT 17.3" Mobile Workstation

Hot Holiday Convertible

If you’re still straddling the fence about a laptop with tablet-like features, but need something with a little more power under the hood (in other words, more laptop than tablet), then one that might catch your eye is the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 20CD00CHUS 12.5" Multi-Touch Ultrabook™. This laptop can change into tablet form, thanks to its 360-degree multi-mode design, which allows it to rest on the keyboard, but the rest of this laptop is pure Ultrabook™—a 1.6 GHz 4th-generation Haswell Intel® Core™ i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive with a 16GB cache. It features a smudgeless 12.5" IPS touchscreen display, but only reaches an HD 1366 x 768 resolution. A media card reader will make up for the loss of an optical drive, and the Intel® HD Graphics 4400 will suffice for some games, but nothing too complicated. A plus for this laptop is the 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter, and a price tag that’s under $1,000. If you’re looking to pick up a laptop for yourself, but want the flexibility of a tablet (without having to fiddle around with connecting and disconnecting a dock), this should be one of the top on your list.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 20CD00CHUS 12.5" Multi-Touch Ultrabook Computer

Hot Holiday All-Around Laptop

Finally, we’re going to leave you with what we consider one of the better all-around laptops we’ve seen this year. The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus NP940X3G-K04US 13.3" Multi-Touch Ultrabook Computer has the chops—a speedy and powerful 4th-generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor, a hefty 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive, and it adds to that with a beautiful screen. The 13.3" Led backlit touchscreen features QHD+ 3200 x 1800 resolution, which is slightly better than the MacBook Air Retina, and it’s touch enabled. Add to those stats integrated Intel® HD Graphics 4400 (again, good, not great for high-level graphics and gaming) and a 3-in-1 media card reader for additional storage, and you are possibly looking at the definition of the quintessential laptop: powerful, compact, feature-rich, and not priced out of range.

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus NP940X3G-K04US 13.3" Multi-Touch Ultrabook Computer

So, that’s it for our holiday wrapup of hot laptops. There should be something for everyone here, and if not, you can always stop by the B&H Store or go online at www.bhphotovideo.com and look through our large selection of laptops. We’ve listed the most popular by category, but if your needs lie between categories, please browse our selection. And check back soon for our article on the best gaming laptops of the year.