It looks like big ODMs are finally coming to terms with the fact that thin-and-light laptops are the future as far as margins are concerned. Buoyed by Intel’s Ultrabook marketing push, that epiphany has allowed smaller companies to unveil new models that are a far cry from the brick that the likes of Quanta and Clevo used to bring to market.
German company Schenker sent us the S413 for a quick spin, a business class mobile workstation that funnily enough doesn't carry any sort of branding (other than the obligatory Intel sticker on the palm rest). Although there’s no mention of the word “Ultrabook” in its description, make no mistake, its 20.9mm thickness and a weight of 1.9Kg land it firmly in that territory.
(We can confirm that the laptop is actually manufactured by Clevo based on the sticker that sits on the bottom of the product and is therefore a rebadged).
But this laptop is not all about portability: what differentiates it from the competition is what’s inside and the upgradability paths it offers. There’s a fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4750HQ (four cores clocked with a base clock speed of 2GHz and a Turbo Boost one of 3.2GHz, 6MB L3 cache and a 47W TDP), up to 16GB of RAM, an Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200 GPU (far more powerful than the HD 4400 that equips other fourth gen CPU), a combination of SATA and mSSD storage solutions and a 14in display with a 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution and a matte finish.
A note to highlight this last fact. It is the first time that I have come across such a screen. Most full HD displays on laptops come either in 11.6in or 15.6in formats. The former produces text that’s simply too small to use while the latter is nearly impossible to cram into an Ultrabook-like chassis.
The base unit includes 4GB Crucial RAM, a 320GB Seagate Momentus hard disk drive, two year warranty but no operating system; quadrupling the system memory will cost just over £100 while trebling the storage capacity only costs £24 extra. Other features include a free game (Grid 2), a card reader, two speakers, mini Display port 1.2, three USB 3.0 ports (the first time we see a device devoid of USB 2.0), a HDMI connector, Gigabit Ethernet, dual-band Intel-powered Wi-Fi, a webcam and a non-removable 53Whr battery that can power the laptop for up to six hours.
Oddly enough, Schenker provides with a driver CD although the drive itself doesn’t come with an optical drive. Prices start from £807 including VAT.
The Schenker S413 adopts a central hinge that’s roughly half the width of the laptop to link the display to its base unit; the hinge is located a few centimetres away from the back edge of the laptop rather than just on it. The laptop’s chassis embraces a “boring gray” matte finish. All the ports are located on either side of the device. Looking straight at the screen, on the left, you’ve got the power supply connector, the RJ45 connector, HDMI and Display port, on the right, the USB ports and the card reader.
The keyboard comprises of island-style, fairly rounded keys with enough just spacing to make touch typing comfortable and a good amount of vertical travel (no sideways wobbles). The large touchpad doesn’t come with physical left-and-right-mouse buttons, which may disappoint purists.
I was more concerned by the depressed power button that has had to be pushed hard in order to switch on and off the laptop and the fact that the plastic bit between the lower part of the display and the top of the keyboard was loose.
Unfortunately, we couldn't benchmark the laptop because the unit was defective and we are short on time. Potential improvements could include the ability to swap the process for something a bit less powerful, the ability to add a discrete graphics card and the ability to opt for a bigger battery.
(UPDATE: Exercising its right of reply, the manufacturer would like to issue the following statement, "In light of some comments from this review we at XMG would like to assure readers that the unit tested at ITProPortal was an early pre-retail sample. We have tested the machine and can confirm it was not defective however on this occasion the UEFI Boot needed to be enabled to start up Windows. Furthermore, the loose plastic shown is a minor fault that is not the case with any retail units currently available to purchase.")
How does the competition fares? Dell's closest competitor is the Alienware 14, a massive 2.8Kg laptop that's more expensive at £1,034 and also more feature-laden (graphics card, Windows 8 OS, optical drive, twice the memory and onboard storage) but with a slower CPU. HP offers a bigger 15in laptop called the ENVY TouchSmart which costs a mere £799 but would probably appeal to a different crowd with its touch display, a slower processor and an array of consumer applications bundled.