Three Apple laptops won high marks from the tough critics at Consumer Reports in the magazine's June issue. The MacBook, MacBook Pro, and ultrathin MacBook Air scored high in portability, ergonomics and display as well as overall performance against comparable models by Sony, ASUS, Lenovo, Toshiba, Dell and Samsung.
Air Soars High
The MacBook Air 11-inch model, priced at $1,000, scored an overall rating of 62, beating comparable models from Gateway and Hewlett-Packard priced at $500 and $450. And in the 13-inch range, the top five models were MacBook Pros and a top-ranking MacBook Air, with a 76 rating.
The 11-inch MacBook Air, however, gave testers 5.25 hours of battery life while running applications, compared with seven hours for Gateway's model and 6.25 hours for the comparable HP Pavilion.
On the reliability scale, Apple scored in the midrange, with 17 percent of 43,000 Consumer Reports readers reporting repairs or serious problems. The best rating, 15 percent, was a tie between Acer and Toshiba, while the worst record, 21 percent, went to Dell.
In a blog post on ConsumerReports.org, Carol Mangis wrote that the numbers don't reflect the company's latest testing. "We have a new batch of laptop ratings coming very soon, though -- within the next few days ... Stay tuned."
A company spokesperson told us the laptop ratings are constantly being updated. In fact, late Wednesday, a Samsung model, 900X-3A, was added to the top of the 13-inch list on the magazine's website, with a 78 rating.
Consumer Reports hasn't hesitated to bite Apple in the past. The magazine, run by the nonprofit Consumer's Union, doesn't recommend the iPhone 4 due to reception problems related to hand contact with its unique wraparound antenna.
The strong laptop ratings suggest the computer giant hasn't let quality slip on its signature products as it switched focus and branched out to personal media players, smartphones and tablets in recent years.
"Actually, where you are seeing the most innovation is on the tablets and phones," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group. "Look how much those devices have changed in 12 months, then look at how little their PCs, particularly desktops, have changed in 10 years."
Enderle said much of the advances in Mac performance have been driven by upgrades in chips made by its partner, Intel, which also partnered with Apple on the Thunderbolt input/output technology.
"They are wisely maintaining quality, but clearly aren't putting their greatest emphasis on the PC, and even the iPod is drafting the iPhone," said Enderle. "They are managing the PCs as a cash cow and doing it very well, but clearly they are no longer the major focus for the company."
Consumer Reports readers gave high marks to Apple for phone and online customer support, with AppleCare scoring 86, compared to 61 percent for Lenovo/IBM. Readers also said 80 percent of their tech-support issues were resolved, compared to 57 percent for IBM and Dell, MacWorld reported.