Laptops are getting faster and more powerful, able to process high-quality video and sound, on top of everything else. Meanwhile, headphones to listen to music and videos delivered through computers, tablets, smartphones, and other devices are getting better — and less expensive. Here’s Consumer Reports’ take on the latest models.
Faster laptops make a debut
The first laptops that use Intel’s new third-generation Core i7 processors have done well in Consumer Reports’ tests. All but one of them are recommended models. (The one that didn’t make the cut was simply too heavy at 9.2 pounds.)
The new entries include HP Pavillion dv6-7014nr, $1,200, MSI GE60 0NC-006US, $1,150; the Samsung NP700Z7C-S01US, $1,400, and, $780. They have 2 gigabytes of video memory. Not only were they excellent performers, but they were also able to play demanding video games.
The Pavillion dv7-7012nr is particularly well suited for home entertainment because it has a built-in Blu-ray player and a large, excellent display. But you’ll want to add better speakers. Although the Samsung NP700Z7C-S01US is a large 17-inch desktop replacement, it’s just over an inch thick, which is thin for a computer that size.
In Consumer Reports’ tests, engineers found performance boosts of about 20 percent over earlier models with the same gigahertz rating for many tasks, including uploading photos and converting video files for TV viewing. Video quality for watching movies was also better.
You won’t notice any difference while using programs such as Excel and Word because those are already as fast as they need to be. Chip maker AMD also recently introduced its line of processors with many features similar to those in the Intel lineup In addition, Apple updated its MacBook lineup with third-generation Intel processors.
Upgrade your headphones
With tablets, Ultrabooks, and even smartphone screens providing a veritable feast for your eyes, it might be time to show your ears some love, too, with a new set of headphones. Consumer Reports’ Ratings of recommended headphones show that you can get very good or excellent sound for $100 or less — much less in a few cases.
Earbud-style earphones, such as the distinctive white ones from Apple, usually sit just outside the ear canal. The two earbuds Consumer Reports recommends, the Bose iE2, $90 and the Phiaton PS210, $66, have an unusual design that extends slightly into the ear canal. Both were judged to have very good sound, and the Phiaton is a Consumer Reports Best Buy.
In-ear models, which are inserted into the ear canal like an earplug, provide a seal that can reduce extraneous sounds. Most come with ear tips of different sizes to help ensure a comfortable fit. The JVC HA-FX300, $60; and Sennheiser CX300 II, $60; and Skullcandy Full Metal Jacket, $60 are CR Best Buys.
Some double as headsets for your cellphone: The Klipsch Image S4i, $100; Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Diddybeats, $90; Nikon Microblaster, $100; Sony DR-EX300iP, $90; and Velodyne vPulse, $90, have built-in microphones and inline controls that let you answer and disconnect calls.
Home/studio-style models are larger and bulkier than in-ear models, but many fold up. Grado SR80i, $100 is the only model in this group with excellent sound. You might find that one type of headphone is more comfortable for you, particularly if worn for any length of time, so Consumer Reports recommends trying different styles before making a purchase.