Laptops are an essential part of life these days, with more people working, learning, and playing from home than ever before. The latest portables can speed through everything from web browsing to gaming. For this roundup, we’ve focused on everyday use: models that balance specs and performance against price. Gaming and graphics professionals have specialized needs that will drive up cost (particularly in a space-constrained laptop configuration), and maybe better suited by conventional desktop tower processors.
Specs to Consider
There’s a lot to consider when picking the perfect laptop for your needs. If you travel frequently or commute with your computer, look for thin and light designs. For example, the MacBook Air is .63 inches thick and 2.8 pounds. Gamers will need high-end processors and graphics cards as well as a great screen. Students and those who will spend most of their time logging into classes and watching the occasional movie or surfing the web might want to consider a convertible laptop that also functions as a tablet.
The fastest processors on the market now offer blistering speeds and are great for gaming or video editing. But quicker speeds can sometimes make for a pricier laptop that gets less battery life. In laptop chips, Intel’s best-known brand is Core, while AMD’s is Ryzen. The middle ground in the Core and Ryzen lineups offers the best mix of performance and value. The most expensive laptops offer Intel Core i9 H-Series processors, while mid-range models tend to have Core i5 processors that offer a good balance between price and performance. A good middle-ground for AMD is the Ryzen 5 Mobile Processors.
Screen quality is also key to a good experience. Buy the best screen you can afford; your eyes will thank you later. Higher-resolution screens allow for greater image detail and more workspace. But the fonts on high-resolution displays can be small and difficult to read. The best screen size for most people ranges from 13 to 15 inches—the sweet spot between portability and enough real estate to get things done. The most common resolutions on laptop and 2-in-1 PCs currently are 1366 x 768 (also known as HD) and 1920 x 1080 (Full HD or 1080p). The best resolution for most people is 1920 x 1080; it’s relatively inexpensive and fonts are still large enough to view comfortably.
Make sure you pick out a keyboard that has keys that are broad enough and are widely spaced if you’ll be doing a lot of typing. Quality varies widely between models, so you might want to test a keyboard out before you buy. Larger laptops tend to have better keyboards as they don’t have to downsize to fit the keys into a more petite frame.
Tablets and 2-in-1s are great for watching movies and browsing the web as they are comfortable to hold for long periods. However, the keyboards that work with these kinds of portables tend to be less useful for long typing sessions.