If you don’t know anything about RAM or processor speed, diving into the world of laptops can feel like stepping on the court against Serena Williams without ever having held a racket. Laptops — and tech for that matter — are always changing and improving. That’s great for us as consumers, but it can be a challenge to keep up. Fortunately, we’re here to lead you through the search. While we’ve already collected the best laptops for kids and the best Chromebooks, in this story, we’ve found a laptop for nearly every type of person, whether you’re looking for a budget option for a grandparent or something much more powerful for designers. (If you’re trying to hack into a “mainframe” somewhere — we see you! Although if you’re any good, we definitely don’t.) One thing to be aware of: Along with many other industries, computer manufacturers are dealing with supply-chain issues. A lack of microchips has made it difficult to make everything from laptops to cars, so you might need to be patient.
Some of the things you’ll want to consider when buying a new laptop are size, speed, and storage space. If you spend most of your time browsing the web, shuffling between Google docs and making niche memes, there’s no need to spend $2,800 on a 16-inch MacBook Pro. In that case, you don’t want to sleep on the MacBook Air or the HP Envy X360, both of which are lightweight and comfortable with enough horsepower to get you through most tasks. You’ll also want to find something with a responsive keyboard, a crisp display, and a smooth and sensitive trackpad. (A jumpy, slow-to-react cursor can ruin even the best laptop.) No laptop is perfect for everyone, but there is at least one that’s perfect for you. And we think you’ll find it in the list below.
The best laptop for most people
Four experts recommended the MacBook Air that was released in late 2020 as a top of the line laptop that fits most people’s needs. Monica Chin, our colleague at the Verge, says “the new processor is the star of the show here; it’s fast. In our testing, it handled intense photo- and video-editing workloads better than almost any Intel-powered laptop we’ve tried this year.” Miguel Melendez, a PC expert at B&H Photo Video, also recommends the latest MacBook Air. He says the 8GB of RAM in the Air is great “for people who like to have a lot of tabs open at the same time” or those who need to edit photos or videos. The 256GB of storage in the base model is plenty too. “I find that most people will use cloud services these days, since that is convenient and you get access to all your data from all of your devices.” Chin says even with all that processing power, the Air’s battery life was able to reach between eight and ten hours of sustained work. The Air also has the benefit of being one of the most lightweight options on the market: “If this is going to be the device you take with you every day, most will appreciate lighter laptops,” Melendez says. Jason Snell, host of the tech podcast Upgrade, is also a fan — so much that he bought one for his own daughter as she headed back to college last year. Alan Zilberman, PR manager of LaptopMD, recommends it, too, because of its reliable operating system and great build quality. “Overall, there’s no reason that a general-use customer shouldn’t consider the MacBook Air. It’s a reliable device with excellent performance,” Chin says. If you are willing to wait some time, Apple may announce new laptops at their September event. So you will likely get a great deal on last year’s machine’s as retailers try to move stock and make room for the latest laptops.
The best (less-expensive) laptop for most people
“The HP Envy x360 is one of the best midrange laptops you can buy, thanks to its sturdy and compact build, chic convertible design, and excellent performance,” Chin says. It’s shockingly thin, and like the XPS 13, has almost no bezel around the screen, which looks futuristic as hell. It also has a touchscreen, in case you ever want to quickly fold over the keyboard and mark up docs or PDF files while on the go. The speedy processor means it can run intensive games like Overwatch and also handle heavy multitasking.
The best 2-in1 laptop
Chin calls this one of the best laptops you can buy. It’s well built, it has a powerful processor, and a vibrant 13-inch screen with almost no bezel. Which means you’ll have a that extra bit of room on your 4K screen to move around windows, browse the web and play games. In their testing, the Verge recorded seven hours of battery life and three hours of light gaming. The keyboard and touchpad feel smooth and responsive, and it weighs only 2.8 pounds.
The best laptop for Apple fans (who need more computing power)
Although it has the same M1 processor as the Air, the MacBook Pro adds a touch bar and a built-in fan, which Chin says “means it can sustain heavy workloads for a longer period of time without needing to throttle its performance.” For many people, that won’t be an issue — streaming Ted Lasso and sending a few emails isn’t too taxing. But for video editors, designers, or people who want consistent performance in every situation, the Pro is the way to go.
The best laptop for Windows fans
“You can get the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 for as low as $1,299 for 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, which puts it neck and neck with the entry-level MacBook Pro but with a bigger screen,” says Chin. She found that the Surface 4 can export video nearly 12 times faster than its predecessor, the Surface Laptop 3, and its battery lasts nearly 11 hours. And if you spend a lot of time on Zoom calls, Chin says you will be pleased with the Surface’s speaker and webcam quality.
The best large-screen laptop
The XPS 17 weighs 4.65 pounds, almost double the weight of the average laptop, but with that weight comes extreme computing capability. It’s a desktop in a laptop’s body, basically. “That system flew through gaming benchmarks and complex video work — and didn’t burn itself up in the process,” Chin says. It has an outstanding battery, lasting about a day on a single charge.
The best gaming laptops
Alienware just sounds like the name of a company that makes great gaming computers, and it happens to be true. The brand is synonymous with powerful PCs that are capable of running games that require exceptional specs. In her story on the best gaming laptops, Strategist contributor Tobey Grumet Segal talks about the M15, which is identical to this model but with a two-inch-smaller screen. “The R3 is well balanced between performance and price, and it has a sleek design that includes a glowing LED ring on the back of the laptop and a RGB-backlit keyboard.” The R3 also has an excellent display with a fast 144 Hz refresh rate, giving you smooth performance in even the most graphics-heavy games.
The Razer Blade Pro is a higher-end gaming laptop with a large 17.3-inch screen, a 120 Hz refresh rate, a top-of-the-line graphics card, and an available 4K and touch display. “Weighing in just over six pounds, it comes with an RGB keyboard which adapts color effects to whichever game you’re playing,” Segal says. It’s heavy and a tad expensive, but you’re probably not toting it around with you that often.
The best laptop for people who really prefer tablets
This 2-in-1 device serves as both a laptop and a tablet, thanks to its detachable keyboard and kickstand. It has a 10-inch screen and a battery life of more than 11 hours, and it weighs barely 2 pounds. The processor is not designed for heavy lifting, so this laptop is better for people who are usually working on emails or documents, or streaming shows. Think of it as a tablet that’ll stand in for your regular laptop in a pinch.
The best laptop for people who are concerned about security
The 2-in-1X360 is heavier than the Duet, weighing around 3 pounds, but its screen is 3” larger — and feels even larger than that, thanks to the small bezel. What impresses Chin is it’s “full-size keyboard and spacious trackpad.” It also has impressive security features, including “both facial and fingerprint biometric authentication, so you can choose which way you prefer to log in,” she says.
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