Read the full review: MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
THE BEST WINDOWS LAPTOP
It’s hard to come up with a single complaint about the Spectre x360 14. It’s a drop-dead gorgeous machine with a sturdy build and a premium look and feel.
But the Spectre x360 14 isn’t just pretty to look at: it’s also a pleasure to use as a daily work driver. Intel’s latest 11th Gen processors and Iris Xe integrated graphics deliver snappy performance with no slowdown or freezes that we observed. And we got an average of 10 hours of battery life out of the device — one of the best results we’ve ever seen.
On the outside, the Spectre includes a roomy 3:2 display, and if FHD resolution doesn’t suit your fancy, there are OLED and 1,000-nit options available. There’s even a packaged stylus, which attaches magnetically to the side of the Spectre — handy if you’re using the device as a tablet. Pretty much every other aspect of this laptop, from its comfortable keyboard and smooth touchpad to its bass-heavy audio and practical port selection, rivals or exceeds the best convertibles on the market.
Such an exceptional package of features doesn’t come cheap, and many customers will find everything they need in a less expensive product. But the Spectre x360 14 is the new gold standard of Windows convertibles. Overall, it’s the best Windows laptop you can buy.
THE BEST LAPTOP IN 2021 FOR BIG-SCREEN FANS
Even if you’ve used a light laptop before, it’s difficult to explain how light the LG Gram 17 is. It has a massive 17-inch display, but it’s somehow only three pounds. Picking it up messes with your mind; you feel like you’re not holding anything.
But the Gram 17’s weight isn’t the only standout feature. It also has some of the best battery life you can get, lasting over 12 hours in our testing. Add a great keyboard, a solid port selection, quiet fans, and a fast processor, and there’s very little not to like about this device.
Not everyone needs a 17-inch display, and many folks who do are looking for a heavier-duty workstation that probably doesn’t get moved very often. But if you’d just really like a large screen for your daily office work and Netflixing, you’re the target demographic for this machine. It’s a niche, but truly impressive device without much real competition in today’s market.
THE BEST BUDGET LAPTOP IN 2021
You don’t need to spend $1,000 to get a laptop that looks and feels premium. The HP Envy x360 2020 is the best budget laptop you can buy, thanks to its sturdy and compact build, chic convertible design, and excellent performance.
Part of what makes the Envy so great is that HP has ported over a number of elements from its excellent 2019 flagship, the Spectre x360, including the thin-and-light chassis and nearly bezel-free display with an 88 percent screen-to-body ratio. The touchscreen (which supports HP’s MPP2.0 pen) is bright and looks great. (You can choose a 300-nit, 400-nit, or 1,000-nit panel). And HP has added a row of convenient hotkeys to the keyboard, including kill switches for the microphone and webcam.
But the most exciting feature is inside: the new Envy x360 is powered by AMD’s Ryzen 4000 series. The Ryzen 5-4500U in my model did an outstanding job with a fairly heavy load of multitasking. And AMD’s integrated Radeon graphics delivered good gaming performance comparable to what you’d expect from a lower-powered discrete GPU.
THE BEST MACBOOK PRO FOR EVERYDAY USERS
If you’re looking to buy an M1 MacBook for heavier workloads, you’ll want to look at the late-2020 MacBook Pro. It starts at $1,299, which is $300 more than the late-2020 MacBook Air.
The MacBook Pro has a slightly different design and look than the Air, as well as a few additional features like the Touch Bar. But the two have the same processor. The main difference is that the Pro includes a fan (the Air is fanless), which means it can sustain heavy workloads for a longer period of time without needing to throttle its performance. But you won’t notice much of a performance difference between the two MacBooks unless you’re routinely pushing heavy tasks for long periods of time.
If that’s you, though, go for the Pro. We were able to run a number of hefty Premiere Pro exports and didn’t see a dip in times. The Pro also achieved a significantly higher score than the Air in a 30-minute loop of Cinebench R23; the scores were closer together after a single run.
A GREAT 2-IN-1 LAPTOP
If you’re looking for a convertible laptop that does just about everything right, we recommend Dell’s latest XPS 13 2-in-1. It features a sturdy and well-made chassis, a nearly bezel-free 16:10 touch display, and Intel’s newest 11th Gen processors.
The base model, for $1,099, includes a Core i3-1154G4, 8GB of RAM, a 1920 x 1200 display, and a 256GB SSD. You can spec that up to a 3840 x 2400 display, a Core i7-1165G7, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. There are various add-ons as well: you can pay $50 extra for a white model and $60 to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. Basically, there’s something for everyone.
Dell has made a few minor tweaks to the 2-in-1 since last year’s model. The webcam now supports Windows Hello, and the RAM and microSD reader have been upgraded. But the exciting news is the new chip and, in particular, Intel’s new integrated graphics. The XPS 13 2-in-1 did a better job than any 10th Gen laptop with an iGPU on our Adobe Premiere Pro export test. And you can even play some games on this thing: it broke 60fps on Rocket League, League of Legends, and Overwatch, and even managed 36fps on Shadow of the Tomb Raider at its lowest settings. That’s an improvement over the results we saw from 10th Gen systems, and it also beats some 11th Gen systems (including the clamshell Dell XPS 13).
Of course, it’s not perfect. The port selection is limited (as is customary for modern XPS models) and the keyboard is a bit flat for my taste. But overall, the 2-in-1 excels on the fundamentals: build quality, display, performance, and battery life. What more could you want?
THE BEST LAPTOP FOR COLLEGE
The Dell XPS 13 is a compact and reliable laptop. Its beautiful chassis, excellent 16:10 display, and great performance make it an excellent choice for general-purpose users.
This late-2020 model comes with Intel’s new Tiger Lake processors, from a Core i3-1154G4 up to a Core i7-1165G7. It starts at $999, so it’s a bit cheaper than the 2-in-1.
My review unit (an i7 model) blew through the work tasks I needed it to do without any slowdown or heat. It did quite well, and handily beat its 10th Gen predecessor in both gaming and media work. It didn’t do as well as the XPS 13 2-in-1, which is why that model is ranked higher on this list. But if you like the look and feel of the XPS 13 and would prefer a clamshell model (or need a bouncier keyboard), this XPS is still a great option.
THE BEST GAMING LAPTOP IN 2021
At just over four pounds, the Zephyrus G15 is one of the lightest 15-inch gaming laptops you can buy. But you’re not compromising performance for that portability. The G15 is powered by the top mobile chips AMD and Nvidia have to offer, and pairs thim with a fast 165Hz QHD display. In our testing, the system was able to handle even the toughest AAA titles at QHD resolution.
Almost everything else about the G15 is great too: the audio sounds good, the keyboard and touchpad are some of the best on the market, the port selection has just about everything you’d need, and the battery can last over eight and a half hours to a charge. If you’re looking for a high-powered gaming machine that also works great as a daily driver, the Zephyrus G15 should be at the top of your list.
THE BEST LAPTOP FOR BUSINESS TRAVEL
In many ways, the ThinkPad X1 Nano is a run-of-the-mill ThinkPad. It’s got a solid sturdy chassis, discrete clickers, a physical privacy shutter, a red TrackPoint in the middle of the keyboard, and all kinds of business-specific security and management features.
But the Nano is special because it’s the lightest ThinkPad Lenovo has ever made. It’s also one of the lightest laptops you can buy, at just 1.99 pounds. You’re not sacrificing performance to get that mindblowing weight: The Nano kept up with our heavy testing workloads without any fan noise or noticeable heat. If you’re looking for a reliable business laptop that will feel like nothing in your briefcase, this is the one for you.
THE BEST 14-INCH GAMING LAPTOP
The Zephyrus G14 is an astonishingly powerful gaming laptop for a low price (relative to other notebooks with comparable hardware). It pairs AMD’s new Ryzen 9 4900HS with an Nvidia RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU and a 120HZ display, and it can run demanding games at their highest settings without a problem. It’s also quite light for such a powerful laptop, weighing just over 3.5 pounds. Its battery life is also impressive for a gaming rig; we got almost nine hours of multitasking.
But you don’t need to be a gamer to appreciate the Zephyrus G14. It’s also a great notebook for business and everyday multitasking with a unique retro design. Plus, the keyboard and touchpad are exceptional and quiet enough not to bother officemates. On the flip side, if you need to use your laptop for videoconferences, the G14 would not be a great choice, as it lacks a webcam.
A GREAT CHOICE FOR MAC POWER USERS
The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the best Apple laptop for power users. Apple dealt with the biggest complaints that people have historically had about MacBook Pros, and if you can stomach the price, there’s not a lot else to complain about.
Most importantly, the keyboard is good again. The keys have a full millimeter of travel, and while the typing experience isn’t exceptional, it’s a world away from the maligned butterfly keyboard of MacBooks past. It’s fairly quiet, too.
This MacBook also features the best sound you’ll find on a laptop. Apple has crammed three speakers into each side, including two woofers. The result is balanced audio with audible bass and great stereo separation. For those who need a laptop that can crank through editing video, working with multiple audio tracks, or processing large batches of photos, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is the king of the hill.
THE BEST BUSINESS LAPTOP
If you’re a business professional and money is no object for you or your company, you can’t do better than the HP Elite Dragonfly. The 2020 model is the first Dragonfly that features HP’s super-secure SureView Reflect technology, which tints the screen so that snoops can’t see what you’re doing while you’re working in public. When it’s not tinted, the display gets quite bright (over 700 nits) and has great viewing angles.
The new Dragonfly is also the first laptop to include a built-in Tile tracker. That means if you lose the device, you can use the Tile smartphone app to set off an alarm (if it’s in Bluetooth range) or locate it anywhere in the world using Tile’s crowd-finding network. The tracker can work for a limited time even when the laptop is off.
Almost everything else about the Dragonfly is good; it has some of the best battery life of any laptop on the market (we got over 11 hours), a sleek and stunning 2-in-1 design, and an exceptional keyboard. Plus, it incorporates sustainable material, including ocean-bound plastics and recycled DVDs.
The Dragonfly is pricey, and there are cheaper business laptops that will suit the needs of most professionals just fine. But if you’re looking for the best of the best, it’s the unambiguous winner.
THE BEST LAPTOP FOR STUDENTS
Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet is a great convertible laptop for kids, or anyone who wants a reliable secondary driver for browsing and games. It’s a nice-looking, well-made 10-inch device that comes with a detachable keyboard and kickstand.
The Duet is tailor-made to be used around the house and on the go, weighing just 2.03 pounds and delivering over 11 hours of battery life. Its MediaTek processor isn’t designed to shoulder heavy loads, but it’s just fine for browsing in a couple tabs, watching Netflix, or playing Android games — it even handles photo editing pretty well. The Duet also features a new “tablet mode” for Chrome OS, which supports an Android-inspired gesture navigation system and a unique Chrome layout optimized for tablet use.
The Chromebook Duet is an absolute steal for its low price, and is the Chromebook to buy if you’re on a tight budget.
A STYLISH, POWERFUL PRODUCTIVITY LAPTOP
Razer is best known for its gaming laptops, but the company is making a big splash in the business and productivity space with its new Razer Book 13. At 0.6 inches thick and 3.09 pounds, the Book 13 is a portable workstation with a gorgeous and sturdy aluminum build. It features a good port selection including Thunderbolt 4, USB-A, HDMI 2.0 and a microSD slot, and it’s one of very few non-gaming laptops out there to come with a per-key RGB keyboard.
On the inside, this laptop is even more impressive. Its powerful chip did better than any other Windows laptop of its size on our Premiere Pro media export test. And while the Book 13 isn’t a gaming laptop, it delivers some of the best gaming performance I’ve ever seen from integrated graphics — it can even run Shadow of the Tomb Raider over 30fps. While the Razer Book 13’s high price means it won’t be ideal for everyone, it’s still an outstanding laptop all around, combining a high-quality chassis with powerful productivity performance.
THE BEST 17-INCH GAMING LAPTOP
Usually, if you want a 17-inch laptop that can pull playable frame rates out of today’s most demanding games, you’d expect some compromises on portability and design. Notebooks of this size often weigh north of seven pounds and require multiple power bricks to charge.
But while the Blade Pro 17 doesn’t have quite the gaming chops of some bulky desktop replacements, it makes up for that by sporting the compact and attractive design that’s a trademark of the Razer Blade line. At just over six pounds, it’s not too difficult to move around (as 17-inch workstations go). You get an RTX GPU (up to Nvidia’s 2080 Super Max-Q) an eight-core CPU (Intel’s Core i7-10875H) and either a 300Hz screen or a 120Hz touchscreen. There’s even an RGB keyboard with color effects tailored to the game you’re playing.
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