Having tested and reviewed well over 400 laptops in our time, it’s safe to say that we know our laptops. And when it comes to finding the best laptop overall, there was a clear winner: The Dell XPS 13. With fantastic performance (and portability), a visually pleasing thin bezel design, a well-built keyboard and touchpad, and great battery life, it performs well in every important aspect of a laptop.
In assembling this list, we’ve chosen the best laptops for a wide variety of use cases, to assist you in finding the best laptop for your specific needs, preferences, and budget. Below, you’ll find our picks for best MacBook for Apple enthusiasts, the best Chromebook for those who desire an affordable laptop with a super-light OS, and the best budget laptops. We’ve also chosen the best laptop for students, the best 2-in-1, the best gaming laptop, and laptop deals.
We got the chance to quickly review the Google Pixelbook Go during the Made by Google event today as well if you’re interested in the latest laptop.
The best laptops at a glance
- The best laptop: Dell XPS 13
- The best MacBook: Apple MacBook Air
- The best laptops for students: Asus ZenBook 13 UX333
- The best Chromebook: HP Chromebook x2
- The best 2-in-1: Microsoft Surface Pro 6
- The best business laptop: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme
- The budget laptop: Acer Aspire E 15
- The best gaming laptop: Razer Blade 15
- The best for video editing: Dell XPS 15
- The best for photo editing: Apple MacBook Pro 15
The best laptop: Dell XPS 13
Riley Young/Digital Trends
Why should you buy this: It’s portable, fast, attractive, and reasonably priced.
Who’s it for: Everyone except gamers.
Why we picked the Dell XPS 13:
The Dell XPS 13 has been our favorite laptop for years now, but it always came with a caveat. The webcam position. We always thought it was worth the sacrifice for most people, but for those that depend on a webcam for video conferencing, it was an issue.
In the 2019 version, Dell has fixed that. By engineering a smaller webcam, the company has managed to squeeze it in into the top bezel without growing much at all. That means the XPS 13 keeps its fantastic, thin-bezel design we’ve always loved — but now without any of the trade-offs. The thin bezel design is as functional as it is beautiful, making the overall footprint of the system smaller and lighter.
Does that make the XPS 13 too small? Nope. The touchpad is still as large as the competition and the keyboard is a breeze to use. The system is also energy efficient with a respectable battery size, and so it can last all day on a charge in most situations and handle pretty much anything you throw at it. The same goes for performance, where Dell’s thermal solution continues to push its Intel Core Whiskey Lake CPUs to new heights.
The best part? It’s a relatively affordable laptop with a cheaper entry-level option than its competitors, starting at around $900. All the same, you can still spec it up to 2TB of solid-state storage and a beautiful 4K touchscreen if your heart so desires. In mid-2019, Dell was one of the first to announce that its flagship would get the 10th-gen update with Comet Lake processors up to six cores. That could dramatically increase the amount of power this little laptop has, though that option won’t be available until October.
Read our full Dell XPS 13 (2019) review
The best MacBook: MacBook Air
Why should you buy this: You need MacOS, and Windows just won’t cut it.
Who’s it for: Students and Apple fans.
Why we picked the MacBook Air:
No, the new MacBook Air isn’t the most powerful Mac laptop — that’s the 15-inch MacBook Pro with a discrete graphics card and up to an eight-core processor. For video editors, that’s the best MacBook. But for everyone else, the MacBook Air is the new starting point. Apple has cleaned up its lineup and discontinued the ultra-portable MacBook and non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro, leaving the Air as the default option for most people. That’s a good thing because it’s an incredibly well-rounded laptop.
The MacBook Air is a compromise of the new and the old, which makes it a balanced option for today. It has Touch ID but not the Touch Bar and comes with USB-C but doesn’t limit you to just one like the old MacBook. It’s relatively thin and light, has a higher-resolution Retina screen, and enjoys the best battery life of your Mac options. It also shares the same excellent trackpad of the MacBook Pro.
The best part? In its 2019 refresh, the MacBook Air now has a reduced starting price of $1,099 — or $999 for students. You can find more powerful, quad-core laptops in the Windows 10 space, but Apple enthusiasts finally have a decent entry-level laptop we can get behind.
Read our full MacBook Air (2018) review
The best laptop for students: Asus ZenBook 13 UX333
Why should you buy this: You want an affordable Windows PC that’s will help you keep up with your homework.
Who’s it for: High school and college students who want portability, power, and long battery life — but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg.
Why we picked the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333:
Students don’t often have the budgets to accommodate premium laptops like the Dell XPS 13 or Huawei MateBook X Pro, and thus for them, we suggest the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333. It’s an ultrabook that comes with our highest recommendation and costs just $850. While most laptops in this price range cut important things like battery life or display quality, this ZenBook 13 has it all. It’s not as powerful as the Dell XPS 13 or a MacBook Pro, but in its most recent iteration, it almost matches the XPS 13 in terms of its tiny bezels. It’s also a great looking laptop that keeps things light and thin without sacrificing build quality.
The bang-for-your-buck value here is particularly impressive. The base model comes with an 8th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive. That’s twice the memory and storage of the $900 Dell XPS 13 — and better battery life than what you’ll find in other competitors. Though you can still buy the UX331UA, the newest version has thinner bezels, a lighter chassis, and improved battery life in web browsing. It’s remarkable how much laptop you can get for so little money, and that should be of particular interest to cash-strapped students. If you need to dip lower in price, we suggest the Acer Aspire E 15, which is commonly sold for around $550.
Read our full Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 review
The best Chromebook: HP Chromebook x2
Why should you buy this: You want an inexpensive but well-built 2-in-1.
Who’s it for: Students, people who need only basic functionality, anyone who wants a cheap laptop to use as a second PC.
Why we picked the HP Chromebook x2:
The Chromebook x2 is the first of a new wave of innovative and premium Chromebook form factors, as a detachable tablet in the Microsoft Surface Book 2 mold. That is, the lovely and well-built “Ceramic White” slate portion, which holds all of the actual PC components, slots into magnetic tabs on a relatively heavy keyboard base. That creates a clamshell notebook that is stable on the lap (with just a little wobble) while serving in movie mode with the display reversed and as a stand-alone tablet for pen use and media consumption.
This Chromebook has a 12.3-inch IPS display running at 2,400 x 1,600 or 235 PPI and sports the productivity-friendly 3:2 aspect ratio. To push all those pixels, the HP Chromebook x2 incorporates a 7th-gen Intel Core m3-7Y30 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of eMMC storage. Those components are plenty fast for Chrome OS, and the Chromebook x2 takes full advantage. As icing on the top, the 48 watt-hour battery keeps the 2-in-1 going for a full workday, and then some.
Chrome OS, which is designed around Google’s Chrome web browser, is wonderfully simple and intuitive. While Chrome OS was once limited to extensions and web apps, it’s been expanded to include everything in the Google Play Store — filling in some of the holes and expanding your selection of apps and games.
Read our full HP Chromebook x2 review
The best 2-in-1 laptop: Surface Pro 6
Why should you buy this: You want a great laptop and a good tablet.
Who’s it for: Anyone who needs versatility on top of performance.
Why we picked the Surface Pro 6:
If you’re not sure about laptops-as-tablets though, the Surface Pro 6 is the one to change your mind. First and foremost, it’s a stylish, lightweight, and powerful tablet that pulls double duty as a laptop. Worried about the Surface Pro as a laptop replacement? Think of it as a laptop with a detachable keyboard. Seriously, this thing has the power to do anything you need a laptop to do and more. The newest Surface Pro 6 has the same great design, only with faster internals and better battery life.
No matter which configuration you choose, you now get an 8th-gen Kaby Lake processor under the hood — our review unit was sent over with a Core i5 inside. The Surface Pro performed well enough in our benchmarks for typical productivity tasks, and it remains excellent as an everyday workhorse. It’s quick, snappy, and versatile, everything you could want out of an ultra-portable laptop — plus it’s one of the best tablets around when you need it to be.
Read our full Surface Pro 6 review
The best business laptop: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme
Why you should buy this: ThinkPad is the most trusted business laptop brand, and the X1 Extreme is the best of them.
Who’s it for: Business pros who want speed and a lovely display to go with durability and great support.
What we thought of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme:
Anyone who spends a lot of time in a conference room has likely run across a ThinkPad or two. Lenovo’s line is the most iconic business-oriented laptop line, and enterprise users should include at least one ThinkPad on their shortlists. The best large laptop is the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, whose 15.6-inch display offers lots of room to work to goes with the typical ThinkPad build quality, support, and aesthetic.
Before Lenovo released the X1 Extreme, the line offered mostly 14-inch laptops like ThinkPad X1 Carbon in the larger-laptop business market. The X1 Extreme shook things up, offering very fast CPUs such as the six-core Intel Core i7-8750H and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti with Max Q for faster gaming and creative work.
Lenovo didn’t cut any corners, either. The usual MIL-STD 810G certification is on hand, promising durability, there’s a lovely 4K display option with high dynamic range (HDR) support, optional dual-SSD storage, and enterprise-oriented service and support. There’s even enhanced security thanks to options like the ThinkShutter webcam screen.
Overall, the X1 Extreme is almost the perfect laptop for demanding business users. And the second generation is out now too, featuring 9th-gen CPUs and an OLED display that promises spectacular colors, brightness, and contrast.
Read our full Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review
The best budget laptop: Acer Aspire E 15
Why you should buy this: Surprisingly good performance for so little money, and a complete complement of hardware features.
Who’s it for: Those who want a do-everything Windows laptop without breaking the bank.
Why we picked the Acer Aspire E 15:
Typically, the more you dip into the budget end of the laptop pricing scale the worse your experience. The Acer Aspire E 15 bucks that trend, providing everything you need in a computer for not a lot of money. It’s big and heavy with a dull look, but then again it does pack in a DVD recorder, a discrete GPU, and modern components. Simply put, it’s an excellent budget laptop and a really good computer, period.
Its 8th-generation Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM keeps performance humming. And, if you want to do to some light gaming or speed up your creative applications, then you can opt for the version with the Nvidia MX150 discrete graphics. Yes, it has comically large bezels, but they surround a surprisingly good Full HD display that has more contrast than many premium laptops. The Aspire E 15 can also last you through most of a work or school day, it sports a comfortable keyboard, and it can be upgraded with more and faster RAM and storage — letting you spend less upfront but grow as you need to do.
We like the Acer Aspire E 15 a lot. It costs as little as many Chromebooks and is simply a great budget laptop.
Our full Acer Aspire E 15 review
The best gaming laptop: Razer Blade 15
Why should you buy this: It provides a fantastic gaming experience on the go.
Who’s it for: People who want a fantastic laptop that can also game.
Why we picked the Razer Blade 15:
From the exterior, you might not even know the Razer Blade is a gaming laptop. It’s as light and thin as a MacBook Pro, with thin bezels, a world-class keyboard, and touchpad, as well as a bright, vivid, 15-inch display. Even if it weren’t a gaming laptop, the Razer Blade would probably still be a contender for one of the best 15-inch laptops. The fact that it can play games at respectable framerates makes it a bit of a miracle.
With new RTX Max-Q graphics, maxing out at the RTX 2080, and a high refresh rate display, the Razer Blade is a killer gaming machine. The Razer Blade made short work of just about everything we threw at it — as long as you stay away from 4K, of course. Razer redesigned its thermal system to ensure that despite some throttling, the Blade can play nearly any game with settings maxed. That includes heavy loads like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Battlefield V.
Simply put, this is the most elegant, beautiful gaming laptop you’ve ever seen. The recent update to options for an OLED 4K panel or a 240Hz refresh rate sweetens the deal even more. Options like the Alienware Area-51m might perform better, but for our money, this is the gaming laptop we’d choose every time.
Read our full Razer Blade 15 review
The best laptop for video editing: Dell XPS 15
Why should you buy this: You want a portable PC that can churn through your video editing projects.
Who’s it for: Video editors who want powerful components and a big, beautiful display.
Why we picked the Dell XPS 15:
When you’re editing video, you want plenty of space to view both the results and your favorite application’s interface. But, if you’re using a laptop rather than a desktop PC, then you want to be able to do your editing on the go. That’s where 15-inch laptops come in — they’re both powerful and, thanks to today’s thin-bezel movement, highly portable.
The best 15-inch laptop around is the Dell XPS 15 — and in 2019, it’s even better than before. With up to an eight-core, Core i9 processor and the latest GTX 1650 graphics, you now have way more processing cores at your disposals. For multi-threaded applications like Adobe Premiere, you can expect some impressive rendering times. You even have two options for a screen at the same price: A gorgeous OLED 4K screen or a touch-capable 4K LED screen.
Overall, the XPS 15 is easily the best all-around 15-inch laptop on the market today, making it the ultimate video-editing tool.
Read our full Dell XPS 15 (2019) review
The best laptop for photo editing: Apple MacBook Pro
Why should you buy this: You want the most extensive software support in a laptop and a picture-perfect display.
Why we picked the Apple MacBook Pro:
Apple’s MacBook line has been a favorite among photo editors forever. The company has built up such a huge following by ensuring that the best software runs on MacOS, and by offering some of the best and most accurate displays you can buy.
The MacBook Pro 13 maintains that focus on creative professionals. It offers plenty of power in a very thin and light form factor, up to 8th-gen Intel Core i7 CPUs, 16GB of RAM, and 2TB of fast storage. And, its display is great for editing photos thanks to a 16:10 aspect ratio providing more vertical space and wide color gamuts (100 percent of sRGB and 91 percent of AdobeRBG) with the most accurate colors you can get. The 15-inch MacBook Pro has a similarly-great display with new Intel 9th-gen CPUs, and provides the larger screen that some photographers will appreciate.
Windows laptops are catching up, but the MacBook Pro retains its place at the top of the photo editing market. It’s not the least expensive photo editing platform around, but it’s the best.
Read our full Apple MacBook Pro 13 review
How we test
You’ve read our laptop reviews. You’ve read our conclusions. And now you’re wondering how we came to them.
Good question. Reviews often lack context, which is evident in the wildly different scores some laptops receive from different publications. Conflicting opinions can actually make buying a laptop more difficult if the review’s criteria isn’t made clear.
Allow us to lift the veil. Here we’ll explain the benchmarks we use for objective testing and the perspective from which we approach subjective topics. We don’t expect everyone to agree with our opinions, but we hope that sharing our process will leave you better equipped to decide what laptop best fits your needs.
What’s the best laptop brand?
Picking just one laptop brand as the best is a bit of a challenge lately. There are so many great laptops available today, and they come from several manufacturers. Hold our feet to the fire, though, and we’ll have to pick Dell as the overall best. Dell seems invested in applying the latest materials to improve the performance of its laptops, and it’s constantly coming up with innovative new designs.
HP is no slouch either. It, too, utilizes some unique materials (e.g., its Spectre Folio that’s literally constructed of leather) and makes some customer-friendly design decisions, such as resisting the thin-and-light urge to pack in more battery capacity.
In terms of customer service and reliability, Apple carries the torch for its convenience. Its issues with its recent keyboard aside, MacBooks tend to be highly durable, and customer service is top-notch.
What’s a 2-in-1 laptop?
A 2-in-1 laptop is one that isn’t limited to the traditional clamshell configuration. Instead, a 2-in-1 can convert from a clamshell into some form of tablet PC that allows for natural inking and media consumption.
The concept isn’t brand-new — Microsoft sold a “Tablet PC” version of Windows as far back as 2001 that supported pen input, but it never caught on. As electronics have gotten more powerful and fit into smaller chassis, and capacitive touch and active pen technology has improved, the modern 2-in-1 has emerged. Microsoft kicked off the form factor with its Surface line in 2012, and most manufacturers followed with their versions.
Today, you can pick from among a variety of different kinds of 2-in-1s. The most popular types are the tablet with a detachable keyboard, epitomized by the Microsoft Surface Pro 6, and the 360-degree convertible where the display flips around to turn into a (usually larger) slate.
The main advantage of the tablet 2-in-1 is portability — tablets are extremely thin, light, and easy to carry around — while they also work the best for drawing and taking notes on the pen-enabled display. The 360-degree convertible 2-in-1, on the other hand, isn’t quite as handy as a tablet but it tends to work better in clamshell laptop mode — especially when using it on the lap, where it’s more stable than most detachable tablets.
What processor should I buy?
The most popular CPUs for laptops today are Intel’s 8th-generation Whiskey Lake processors that include low-power Y-series and fast and efficient U-series. For most productivity Windows 10 users, we recommend a minimum of the Core i5-8265U, which is a highly capable processor that can handle most productivity tasks without slowing down. It’s also efficient, meaning you’ll enjoy great battery life. If you skip back to older generations of Intel processors, you’ll find slower clocks speeds and fewer cores at your disposal, meaning you may run into bottlenecks while multitasking or running multi-threaded applications.
Chromebook running on Google’s more efficient Chrome OS can utilize slower processors and still perform well, such as an Intel Core i3 or even a Pentium processor. Not many Chromebooks bother with the fastest Core i7 CPU.
If you’re looking for a gaming or content creation laptop, we recommend either last year’s 8th-generation or the most current 9th-gen, ultra-power H-series CPUs. You’ll find these in laptops ranging from the MacBook Pro 15 to the Razer Blade.
How much RAM do I need?
The sweet spot for memory for both laptops and desktops is 8GB. You can check out our story “How much RAM do I need” for the detail. But generally speaking, 8GB will suffice whether you’re running Windows, MacOS, or even the more lightweight Chrome OS. And, it will provide plenty of headroom for multitasking and more demanding applications. If you’re doing high-end photo or video editing, then we recommend 16GB (or more).
Should I buy a laptop or a tablet?
As we mentioned above, you can get a tablet that can morph into a laptop just by attaching a keyboard. And so if you really want the power of Windows 10 in a form factor that’s easier to carry around, then you can select a tablet 2-in-1. We don’t recommend these devices as tablets in themselves, as the Windows 10 tablet mode is still fairly limited. If you want the utmost in simplicity and an even smaller device, then a pure tablet like the iPad can be great for web browsing, triaging email, consuming media, and other tasks that don’t require the full power of a “real” PC.
So, where doesn’t a tablet work? If you’re a hardcore gamer, need a laptop that can churn through video and huge photos, or have a need for multitasking. Tablets are very thin and tend to use slower CPUs and integrated graphics that won’t accelerate creative applications or power modern games. Meanwhile, the software on these devices isn’t as full-featured as a desktop operating system like Windows 10 or MacOS.
Should my laptop have USB-C?
The short answer is: Yes, you should try to pick up a laptop with at least one USB-C port. This is the latest in connectivity that ensures that you can connect to legacy devices (via adapters) while being covered for future devices as well. USB-C can provide for data transfer, power, and display connections, and USB-C hubs can greatly extend how many peripherals you can easily connect to your laptop.
The good thing is that laptops, even budget models, increasingly include USB-C. The longer answer is that not only do you want USB-C, but you want ports that support the even more powerful Thunderbolt 3 standard. Thunderbolt 3 provides up to 40 gigabits per second (Gb/s) over a single connection, and it can support multiple 4K displays and external GPU enclosures that can greatly improve graphics performance. You’re not likely to get Thunderbolt 3 support in laptops less than $1,000, but if you’re spending premium money today, then you should expect at least one USB-C with Thunderbolt 3.
Content retrieved from: https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/best-laptops/.