When choosing the right laptop it all comes down to what you are willing to spend and what you plan to use it for. If the idea of navigating the countless options out there sounds daunting we’ve got you covered. After looking at several of the best devices this year and analyzing dozens of professional reviews and user opinions, we bring you the best of the best in a handful of popular categories.
Best Ultraportable Laptop
This is a really tricky category to pick a winner in, because there are so many high quality ultraportable laptops on the market today. Every company, from Dell to Asus, Lenovo, Apple and HP and more, all have a fantastic top-end laptop option, and to be honest, for the most part you can’t go wrong with many of these flagship models.
In the past I’ve been a huge fan of the Dell XPS 13, Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Razer Blade Stealth, and all three of these options came into serious consideration for this category, however when dialing down into features and performance, the standout option in our opinion is the Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN.
The ZenBook offers something the other laptops do not: a proper discrete GPU. It may not be a powerful GPU capable of hardcore gaming, but the GeForce MX150 included in this laptop is much faster than Intel’s integrated graphics, even though it’s the ‘slower’ 1D12 variant of this GPU.
As for the CPU? We’d only recommend something with at least a quad-core in 2018, and in the case of most premium ultraportables, that’s Intel’s 8th-gen Kaby Lake Refresh line. The ZenBook 13 is equipped with either the Core i5-8250U or the Core i7-8550U depending on the price, along with RAM and storage options that start at 8GB and 256GB, respectively. Those are standard specs for a high-end laptop and we’d expect nothing less.
Other than that you get a 13.3-inch 1080p touchscreen, which we prefer over high-resolution options for the extra battery life it provides. Speaking of battery, the included 50 Wh battery isn’t the largest we’ve seen, but reputable reviews suggest it’s on par with the other laptops we considered for this category, namely the XPS 13 9370 and ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th-gen. We’d never settle for short battery life and that’s not something you’d have to worry about with the ZenBook 13.
While a really solid choice and we particularly love the discrete GPU, the ZenBook 13 isn’t perfect. It’s missing Thunderbolt 3, and the keyboard isn’t as good as what you’d get with something like a ThinkPad. With that said, it offers a highly competitive set of hardware starting at $1,000, making it more affordable than similarly-configured options from Dell and Lenovo’s high-end ultraportable lines. Factor in the attractive value proposition and the UX331UN is a great choice.
For a little more money
Configured properly and for a little more money (starts at $1,150), a solid runner up in this category is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. A more serious business laptop that is just as portable (2.5 pounds) sporting a 14" IPS screen, great connectivity including dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, a better keyboard and faster storage than the ZenBook. There is no option for a discrete GPU, but if you're lucky you can catch one of Lenovo's many deals offered throughout the year.
As of writing, I configured a top-end black X1 Carbon with a Core i7-8550U processor, 16GB RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD for a total of $2,093.00, after discounts the system went down to $1,569.75. I did not add display options which include a 4K resolution screen or multitouch which is available on the regular 1080p display or 4K.
A side note for Mac users
We acknowledge Mac users are on a minority here on TechSpot, but you should know that as of writing, we are expecting Apple to refresh the current line of MacBooks in the coming days and weeks as WWDC inches closer. We don't expect major design changes, but it remains to be seen how aggressive Apple gets with spec bumps, fixing their keyboards, and pricing.
We don't recommend to buy any Macs until the new models arrive (early June). Our Best Mac Laptop for most, the 13" MacBook Pro competes in the premium ultraportable category. Apple makes fine laptops, usually pricier, but very well built and running macOS which is unique to them.
Best Convertible Laptop
Our pick for the best convertible laptop almost made it into the list as best ultraportable overall, however with a starting price of nearly $2,000 for a suitable configuration (a less powerful version running a Core i5 with no discrete graphics starts at ~$1300), it’s not the most affordable option for everyone. However the 13-inch Microsoft Surface Book 2 does provide an extremely compelling feature set including the best hardware you can get in a 13-inch form factor, combined with a screen that detaches from the base for those times you need a portable tablet.
When you choose the Core i7 model, you get Intel’s top-end Kaby Lake Refresh CPU, the Core i7-8650U, but on top of that you also get a GeForce GTX 1050 discrete GPU, which is much more powerful than the MX150 we typically see in these sort of devices. And that extra power does help to drive the gorgeous, high-resolution 3000x2000 13.5-inch LCD, which features a 3:2 aspect ratio that’s awesome for productivity apps.
The list of features doesn’t stop there. The touchscreen display supports the best active stylus in the business, the Surface Pen, which is a $100 optional extra but is definitely worth it for those that like to annotate and draw. The magnesium chassis is one of the best you can get on any laptop, and it now includes USB-C, though there’s no Thunderbolt 3 support. The battery life is also quite good for a laptop that’s so powerful.
Our favorite configuration of the Surface Book 2 would be the 13-inch model at $2,500, which provides the Core i7, GTX 1050, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD. It is a very expensive laptop – there are definitely cheaper convertible laptops going around – but you won’t find anything as powerful.
The race really isn’t that close in our opinion: the Surface Book 2 is what you buy when you want the best.
Best 15-Inch Productivity Powerhouse
It was only a few months ago that Intel released their new line-up of six-core Coffee Lake processors for laptops. So far, most of these CPUs have ended up in gaming laptops, but sometimes you might be after a more professional, portable, productivity-oriented device that’s not as expensive, but still provides high-performance hardware. Ticking all those boxes is the Dell XPS 15 9570, which is our current choice for those that need productivity power on the go.
The Dell XPS 15 has been a favorite of ours for some time now, but the new 9570 model provides such a great combination of performance, portability and price. For $1,700 or so, you get a six-core Intel Core i7-8750H CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, a 15.6-inch 1080p display with super slim bezels, and a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti discrete GPU, plus a huge 97 Wh battery and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.
Now this isn’t the cheapest laptop to include this sort of hardware; you can quite easily find a chunky gaming laptop for around $1,200 like the Asus ROG Strix Scar that will satisfy your hardware craving. But the key thing about the XPS 15 is its portability and battery life: the overall laptop footprint is smaller due to slimmer bezels, it’s more than a kilogram lighter, and we’re looking at a thickness of more like 15mm rather than 24mm. All while providing a battery that’s more than 50% larger and lasts considerably longer.
There are other slim and light gaming laptops out there like the MSI GS65 and Gigabyte Aero 15, both of which provide an equivalent CPU and faster GPU. But even though these are slim and light gaming machines, the Dell XPS 15 is still more portable and several hundred dollars cheaper while preserving key productivity oriented features.
Sure, the discrete GPU is just a GTX 1050 Ti rather than a GTX 1060 like you’ll get with a decent portable gaming laptop, but the 1050 Ti will be more than enough for tasks like video editing, code compiling, simulations, and so forth. Plus if you want to do more than just occasional gaming, a gaming laptop might be a better option for you anyway.
Best Budget Laptop
I’ve recommended this laptop before and I’ll recommend it again because it provides such great value for money. If are on a budget and simply want the best hardware you can get, look no further than the Acer Aspire E 15, which retails for around $600. A lot of the hardware this laptop provides you’ll also find in top-end devices, yet you’re saving upwards of $400 and that’s no small amount for a budget shopper.
The Aspire E 15 has everything you will want from a hardware perspective: a quad-core Core i5-8250U, GeForce MX150 discrete GPU, you also get 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, which are both great inclusions in an entry-level product. We wouldn’t recommend buying a laptop with no SSD and with less than 8GB of RAM, but this Acer machine includes both.
The display is a basic 15.6-inch 1080p LCD and the battery life is decent but not outstanding. The key thing you don’t get with this budget laptop that you do get with the more expensive ultraportables we mentioned earlier, is a fancy design. The Aspire E 15 has a basic chassis that lacks the slimness, lightness, and metal class of the best laptops. At 2.4 kg heavy it’s not the most portable 15-inch laptop going around, but what this thing lacks in design and build, it makes up for in performance.
Amazingly, though, the Aspire E 15 does include a USB-C port, though it is limited to just USB 3.1 gen 1 speeds, and there is also an 802.11ac Wi-Fi solution with MU-MIMO support. There’s even a DVD drive, something you don’t often see in laptops these days. It’s not the absolute cheapest laptop on the market – you can get Atom-powered Windows devices and, of course, Chromebooks for less – but the combination of hardware and value makes the Aspire E 15 incredibly hard to pass up.
Something Nicer, Slimmer Well Under $1,000
The Asus ZenBook UX330 may be less capable than the Aspire E 15, but it is also more portable at just 2.6 pounds on a 13-inch chassis, so it's nicer to carry around. If you're less concerned about performance for your buck, and simply want an inexpensive ultraportable that will handle day to day tasks without much fuss, this Zenbook is a great choice.
For $699, the UX330 gets you an elegant aluminum build, Kaby Lake R Core i5 internals, a decent 1080p display, 8GB RAM, a backlit keyboard, integrated fingerprint reader, and a serviceable 256GB SSD. Asus has kept refreshing this laptop's specs at the same price point for a few generations now, it's a great portable alternative that also offers good battery life.
What About a Chromebook?
We don’t test a lot of Chromebooks here at TechSpot, but understandably you might want to purchase one over a Windows 10 machine if all you use a laptop for is web browsing and other light tasks. At under $500, the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 is what we’d recommend, providing decent performance from its Core m3 processor and strong enough battery life. It also includes a 12.5-inch 1080p display in a respectable chassis, which is not bad for a budget system.
A recent step up model, the Samsung Chromebook Pro is receiving many recommendations as of late. It adds a QHD display and stylus support, but we wouldn't pay $600 for a Chromebook unless you've owned one before and are certain this is what you want out of a portable computing experience.
Best Gaming Laptop
Gaming laptops is such a broad subject that we could write an entire buying guide dedicated to it... so we did just that. Check out TechSpot's Best Gaming Laptops feature covering not just the most powerful and most expensive models on the market, but also practical options that provide great value for money, possess a thinner profile or how about a great ultrabook that doubles as a decent gaming machine.
This is our personal favorite category of gaming laptops: portable designs with tons of power. We’ve already reviewed a handful of these devices over the last few years, but a few stand out that come loaded with the latest Core i7-8750H from Intel. The best of the bunch so far is the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin.
We were fans of MSI’s previous thin gaming laptop in the GS63, but the GS65 is an improvement in every way. It has slimmer bezels surrounding a faster 144Hz 1080p display, and that helps shrink the entire footprint of the laptop. It’s still very thin and light for this class of device, and the new design with gold highlights looks better than ever. It’s MSI’s most refined laptop build yet.
As for gaming performance, the GS65 comes with two GPU options, a GTX 1060 or GTX 1070 Max-Q. Either option is a sound choice at their respective price points, though the GTX 1070 Max-Q model is better suited to gaming on the 1080p high-refresh display, and gives you more power in the same form factor. Other features like 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD are standard for this laptop and its competitors.
We opted for the GS65 over competing laptops from Gigabyte and Asus for a couple of reasons. The GS65 is quieter than the similar Gigabyte Aero 15X during gaming, and the build quality is superior, with both laptops coming in around the same price. It was a tough choice between the GS65 and Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501; the Zephyrus is more powerful with a full GTX 1070 inside rather than the Max-Q variant, but it’s also louder, hotter, and more expensive as a result. The GS65 has a larger battery and lasts longer, too, and that’s important for a portable gaming laptop.
Either the GS65 or the Zephyrus would be our pick depending on what you were after, but if we had to choose just one, the more well-rounded GS65 gets our vote in this category.
Best MacBook for Most
Choosing the best Mac laptop is relatively straightforward, and in fact there has been no update to Apple’s laptop line-up since the last time we updated this list. As of writing, we are expecting Apple to refresh the current line of MacBooks in the coming days and weeks as WWDC inches closer. We don't expect major design changes, but it remains to be seen how aggressive Apple gets with spec bumps, fixing their keyboards, and pricing. We don't recommend to buy any Macs until the new models arrive (early June).
As it's usually the case with Apple's laptop offerings, there are only a few options and the best for your needs largely comes down to whether you want a smaller or larger machine. The 15-inch MacBook Pro is more powerful and correspondingly more expensive, but the 13-inch model is more portable and still highly capable.
There’s also an ultra-slim but weaker 12-inch MacBook for those that want something small. It's a great little machine but we wouldn't recommend it as your primary machine unless you're a casual user -- you know, the kind that could also survive with an iPad as their primary computing device.
After examining all three options, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is best suited to most consumers. It’s the most versatile laptop of the offerings, and essentially replaces the older MacBook Air by providing the power of a dual-core Intel Kaby Lake processors in a chassis just 15mm thick and 1.4kg heavy (3 pounds). It also has a high resolution 2560 x 1600 retina display, which is a feature that never made it to the Air.
MacBooks are expensive for what you get on the spec sheet. The base 13" model is $1,299, and for that price you’re only getting a Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. This variant, which comes without Apple’s Touch Bar controls, has a very limited selection of ports as well, just two Thunderbolt 3 ports.
Touch Bar models are more expensive, we don't really like what the Touch Bar offers, however it's the only way you get better specs. For example, the $1,799 Touch Bar 13" MacBook Pro gets you a more capable Core i7 and four Thunderbolt 3 ports, plus better graphics and more storage.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro is also a decent option if you are willing to stomach the $2,399 starting price. It’s much more powerful than the 13-inch model, thanks to quad-core Kaby Lake processors and discrete AMD Radeon Pro graphics. The 15-inch Pro is built for high-performance productivity workloads like video editing, which is why 16GB of RAM is also standard. Again, we wouldn't buy a MacBook Pro until the newer models arrive. Worst case scenario, you can get a hefty discount on one of the current models.