As a freelance graphic designer, I’ve been researching what is the best laptop computer to purchase in 2017. I was looking for something that can handle programs like Photoshop and the Creative Suite in general, as well as photo and short video editing. In my case, I also needed something durable and portable enough for my onsite client work and travel assignments. Although there are plenty of technical reviews all over the web, I wanted to focus on the more practical qualities a freelance designer might find helpful in their day to day use. Here are a few options that stood out for me as good choices to consider this year.
15.6″/Intel® Core™ i7-7700HQ Quad Core Processor (up to 3.8 GHz)/512GB SSD/16GB RAM/Touch Screen
For several reasons too lengthy to go into here, I actually choose to have two separate machines – a Mac and a PC. Since this year it was time to update my PC, the Dell XPS 15 really stood out as a top choice in terms of performance. I appreciate that in addition to its superb specs, it has an amazing 4K touch display. This point felt important since I aim to use a computer for at least 5 years, and would hate to be stuck in a “previous era” for the next half decade by purchasing something without a touch screen at this point.
Next came the issue of the ports, the XPS 15 has all the ports I might need, including the now somewhat elusive SD card slot. It’s been interesting to see how many machines don’t have the SD card ports built in this year. I personally am a fan of simplicity and find myself annoyed at unnecessary cables dangling off my computer, so surprisingly enough, the availability of the slot became a major criteria in my search in the middle of this year.
As far as build, the machine is really well constructed and beautifully designed. The keyboard felt comfortable and I loved the texture of the typing surface. The weight starts at 4lbs, which is really good for a 15 inch computer.
One major con that I had a hard time with is the placement of the video camera. As a freelance graphic designer I spend much of my time on video meetings, so this is actually a huge factor for me in considering the machine I will use for the next 5 years. The XPS 15 has positioned the camera at the bottom of the screen, earning it the nickname “nose cam” as it shoots video from a very unflattering angle up your nose. Unless I wanted to do some major acrobatics with moving my computer higher or stacking it on a pile of books for my conversations, I could not imagine having to constantly rely on a separate web cam in 2017, or for the years to come. Again, the annoyance of having to rely on extra cables to dangle off the computer was a factor in this decision.
15.4″/2.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 Processor(up to 3.9GHz)/512GB SSD/16GB RAM/Retina Display (Not a Touch Screen)/4.02lbs.
So as mentioned before, I actually wasn’t looking for a Mac this year, and feel a bit relieved. From what I was hearing in many tech reviews, people are recommending on holding off with a purchase of a 15″ Mac Book pro this year because the current model is just not quite there. I won’t go into all the reasons, since I’m not a techie, but the major point I noticed is the lack of the touch screen. Again, I could not imagine committing to a machine for 5 years without this obvious advancement at this point in history. It would make my equipment feel outdated within such a short span of time, especially that I already have a fairly recent MacBook pro that I find myself trying to touch the screen of (ha!). But for those of you who do need to purchase a computer this year and are considering a mac, then of course I do want to include it on this list, since the machine has incredible specs. Just do your research to figure out if you want to make this investment at this particular time.
I should also mention that as far as build goes, it weighs 4.02 pounds (more than the XPS and ThinkPad) and does not come with an SD card slot, which are both minuses in my book.
14″/Intel® Core™ i7-6600 Processor (dual core, up to 3.40GHz)/512GB SSD/16GB RAM/TouchScreen with Pen/3.9lbs.
The ThinkPad line has been a part of my computer set up for over a decade now, and in that span of time, I’ve only needed 2 machines. They are remarkably durable and have stood the test of time and of my, not so gentle, handling. I carried it in a wheeled briefcase for a while which took a lot of bumps on stairs, etc. but the machine never showed any dents or issues, whereas my other computer showed wear marks in just 2 short months. As I recently heard Lisa at MobileTech Reviews say, “if you dropped it on the floor, I’d be more concerned about the floor being damaged, rather than the computer.” I have to say, I’ve found this to be true over the many years I’ve used these machines. And that happens to be a really practical point for me to consider since I do find myself traveling so much with my equipment.
What impressed me about this machine is that it has solid specs with the ability to switch between laptop and tablet mode and everything in between. Additionally, it comes with a Wacom Pen, capable of 2048 levels of sensitivity for sketching, painting and logo work. Although the performance might be slightly lesser than that of the XPS 15, since I already have a traditional work station Mac laptop, I felt comfortable in sacrificing a bit of those performance bells and whistles, for these very innovative tools, which I can actually see really coming in handy for my design work. Case in point, I’m really loving the idea of a hand written logo and love how I could accomplish that with this machine. But going back to those specs, although the XPS and Mac have slightly faster stats, neither of those would have a huge impact on my use of the Adobe Creative Suite programs. I could see that becoming more of a factor for gaming or major video editing, which are not the cases for me. So the fact that I can get a machine with the versatility of becoming a real practical creative tool with a touch screen and Wacom-grade sensitive pen, is really important to me as I consider the next 5 years of my graphic design career.
As far as the build goes, again, because I already have a 15″ machine at home, I felt more comfortable trying this 14″ model, which weighs 3.9lbs. The web cam is positioned in the proper location, which is a must. And, of course, it has the SD card slot built in, along with a pen dock to charge the pen right in the machine (one less separate thing to keep track of on trips).
There were many great options for computers this year, but I wanted to keep my list focused so I don’t overwhelm myself. There are three more machines that I do feel deserve honorable mentions. I heard wonderful reviews of the Microsoft Surface, HP Spectre and the Asus ZenBook. I think they would be fine options to consider, but I personally wanted to stick with the trusted durability of the ThinkPad line.
So, the bottom line is that no matter how good the specs look on paper, you really have to consider your own usability factors when choosing your equipment. For me, something that seems less powerful might actually be more useful in my day to day, especially when I consider my overall equipment set up. I’m looking forward to creating new hand drawn logos with the ThinkPad Yoga P40.