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Notebook Computers—The Next Wave: Thinner, Lighter, Less Expensive

Exceptional Values in Full-Size Notebooks, Ultraportables & Hybrids

Manufacturers are racing to make more-powerful notebook computers. Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system has made touch-screen models easier to operate than ever before.

Samsung

Overall computer sales have fallen since 2012, and 2015 was no exception. However, sales of notebook computers increased in 2015 and are expected to continue to rise in 2016, according to market-research company Gartner.

The result is that manufacturers are racing to make notebook computers thinner, lighter and less expensive than ever before, says Jay Chou of market-research company International Data Corp. (IDC). Consequently, you’ll find more different designs for notebook computers than ever before.

You now can find ultraportable notebook computers, or ultraportables, that weigh as little as 1.6 pounds (compared with 2 pounds in 2014). Most notebook computers in all price ranges include a touch screen, and the least expensive touch-screen notebook computer now costs $239 (compared with $400 in 2014)

EASIER TO OPERATE. The biggest change in notebook computers in the past 2 years was the July 2015 introduction of Windows 10, which is Microsoft’s newest operating system. Windows 10 makes it easier than ever before to share mobile apps and data between multiple Windows devices, says Rhoda Alexander of IHS, which is a market-research company.

When we last evaluated notebook computers, we noted that Windows 8 and its free upgrade, Windows 8.1, flummoxed consumers who weren’t accustomed to a touch-based interface and who were attached to the “start menu” that’s in Windows 7. Windows 10 returns the start menu but combines it with Windows 8-like touch-screen tiles that you can expand or shrink. You may place your most-used apps and programs in the tiles, and we found that the tiles make it easier to run apps. Speaking of apps, the ones that you now can get in the new Windows Store are designed to be what Microsoft calls “universal apps,” which means that they’ll work on any Windows device (home computers, notebook computers, smartphones and tablet computers) as well as Microsoft’s Xbox gaming console. If you use Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, you know that most Window apps don’t work (or aren’t optimized) to work on all Windows devices. If you’ve used Windows 7 up until now, you haven’t even used a Windows operating system that has apps.

Besides improving the overall interface of Windows, Windows 10 adds a new Internet browser, Edge, to replace Internet Explorer. We’re pleased to report that Edge is faster and has an easier-to-use search bar than does Internet Explorer.

Windows 10 also adds Cortana, which is a voice-responsive digital assistant that’s similar to Apple’s Siri. You can ask Cortana to search your notebook computer and the cloud for apps and documents and to browse the Internet for information. (If you ask, Cortana even will tell you a joke, which we found to be rather amusing.)

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What’s best of all is that Windows 10 is free to download until July 29, 2016, for any Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 user. Although all Windows notebook computers that ship now have Windows 10 installed, many of the notebook computers that you’ll find on store shelves might be older models that still have Windows 8. In other words, if you buy a notebook computer, you should ask what operating system is installed. After July 29, 2016, or if you’re upgrading from a version that’s older than Windows 7, Windows 10 will cost $119.

Meanwhile, Apple still has made no indication that it will put a touch-screen-based operating system into its notebook computers. Despite the many improvements that are in Windows 10, we found that Apple’s latest Mac operating system (OS X 10.11 El Capitan) remains the fastest notebook-computer operating system that’s available. El Capitan, which was released in September 2015, can be downloaded for free through the Apple App Store by anyone who bought a Mac in the past 5 years.

We didn’t find any dramatic changes in El Capitan, but we found that the new version makes it easier than ever before to synchronize your apps, data and settings between multiple Apple devices. El Capitan also runs faster and has better security than its predecessor, Yosemite.

TOUCH AND SEE. As touch screens become common, 17-inch screens continue to disappear. In fact, we found just one 17-inch touch-screen notebook computer: Lenovo’s Y70 (starting at $1,200). We counted eight 17-inch notebook computers that were on the market at press time, which is the same number that was available 2 years ago.