As technology continues to progress in line with Moore’s Law, laptops have become more and more powerful and compact. Whereas a laptop once meant significant trade-offs in power and functionality for the convenience of portability, modern laptops are powerful, sleek machines with great displays that in some cases, weigh practically nothing. Here are the best laptops for any situation.
We called the Alienware 15 R2 the top all-around gaming laptop in our round-up of the best gaming laptops of 2015. At a base price of $1,199, with plenty of room for upgrades, the Alienware 15 R2 is the perfect all-around gaming machine for anyone who wants to carry their PC gaming with them in one easy package. Alienware also offers a graphics amplifier peripheral for an additional $299 that lets you drop in a desktop graphics card. This is great for gamers looking for desktop performance from a notebook.
Not only is it powerful and relatively inexpensive, the machine just looks cool, too. Alienware’s laptops have always stood out from the pack with their sci-fi influenced styling, and this is no exception. Made of a carbon-fiber composite, the laptop measures just 1.3-inches thick when closed. The base model comes with an i5 processor, but for $200 more you can kick it up to an i7-6700HQ and a GeForce GTX 970M with 3GB GDDR5.
Chromebooks are cheap, ultra-portable computers with a variety of configurations to choose from. The common thread running through all of them, however, is they all run ChromeOS, Google’s Linux-based operating system that performs much of its work in the cloud. That’s not to say Chromebooks always need to be connected to the internet. There’s just enough on-board storage in most cases to work off-line on things like documents or spreadsheets. Basically if you’ve ever used Google Chrome and Docs, you pretty much know what you’re in for with ChromeOS.
Essentially a terminal to the cloud, the ASUS Chromebook Flip 10.1-inch Convertible is a compact, capable, touch-screen enabled computer that’s perfect for students and kids, as well as anyone who wants an inexpensive computer that’s designed for browsing the internet. Using a mobile 1.8GHz Rockchip processor, the base Flip comes with just 2GB RAM, but can be doubled to 4GB for just $20. The multi-touch screen and convertible design changes it into a tablet, and it runs for 8-10 hours on a single charge. Let’s face it, you’re on a computer 90% of the time so you can use the internet anyway, so why not save some money?
If you want to take your laptop on the go, you’ll want a thin and light. Previously called “Ultrabooks,” these svelte machines offer enough power for web browsing, document editing, and some light photo editing. Don’t expect to cut video using one of these thin and light laptops. But if lightness and all-day battery life are what you’re after, you’ll be happy with one of these choices.
The Dell XPS 13 blew everyone away with its Infinity Display, which is just fancy marketing babble for its nearly bezel-less display. The XPS 13 can be configured with or without a touch screen and you have the choice between a Full-HD or QHD+ display. If you care more about battery life than screen resolution, get the Full-HD models since it takes a little more battery to power the pixel dense UHD+ screen. The base XPS 13 comes with an Intel Core i3 but you can choose a model with an i5 or even an i7 if you need the power.
If you’re in the Apple camp, look no further than the MacBook Air. Apple pioneered the thin and light laptop segment with its original MacBook Air, which was pretty terrible, but has massaged the Air into the beautiful package we have today. You have the choice between an 11 or 13 inch model, but I recommend stepping up to the 13 inch to give yourself a little more room to work. It’s still thin at light at 0.68 inches at its thickest point and just a hair under 3 lbs, and offers an insane 12-hour battery life. If you have the money, you’ll want to upgrade to 8GB of RAM since it’s not user replaceable. Its PC competitors may offer higher resolution screens but the MacBook Air is a compelling package.
Higher-end laptops are really a thing of beauty. If you’ve only ever experience laptops on the middle- to lower-end of the spectrum, you can’t really appreciate the level of quality involved with a high-end laptop. The difference in build, screen quality, and just the way a high-end laptop feels in your hands, has to be experienced to really appreciate. There are a lot of insane, top-of-the-line laptops out there, and all that power resting on your lap can make a big difference depending on what you want to do. Photography, video editing, and rendering applications all require the bump in power that comes with a high end laptop, but the finishing touches are what sets them apart from their powerful, but perhaps less well put-together, siblings.
If you’re going to go high-end, a fully-tricked out 15″ MacBook Pro is the way to do it. The base model MacBook Pro starts at $2500, and that includes a Retina display with a 2880 x 1800 resolution, along with a 2.5GHz quad-core Intel i7 4870HQ and a 512GB SSD. But the fully realized, highest-end MacBook Pro comes with a 2.8GHz i7 4980HQ, a full terabyte of solid-state storage, and an AMD Radeon R9 M370X graphics card built in. Apple claims the new R9 provides an 80% performance boost over the GeForce GT 750M it used in previous MacBooks. Those options also add significantly to the price, with a fully-equipped MacBook Pro 15″ with Retina Display coming in at a whopping $3200 USD.
With Windows 8, Microsoft designed an OS that was optimized for touch-interfaces, perhaps a little too far ahead of the availability of touch screen interfaces. The reception to Windows 8 wasn’t great, and that might have had to do with the fact that touchscreen laptops weren’t as common or inexpensive as they are now. With Windows 10, Microsoft has struck a good balance between the touch-future it was hoping we’d all be living in, with the classic point-and-click experience of legacy Windows. As technology has progressed, convertible laptops are more common and with the advancements of Windows 10, swapping between touch and classic interfaces is smooth and intuitive.
The HP Spectre x360 is a great choice for anyone looking for a high-quality 2-in-1. The real beauty of a good convertible is how well it takes advantage of both configurations as a laptop and tablet, allowing you to switch between modes because one or the other provides a better user experience, rather than running up against limitations that force you to switch. The Spectre has a full-HD touch screen and an Intel i5-5200U processor, but that can be bumped up to an Intel i7-5500U with 8GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD. While other convertibles come in larger sizes, the 13″ screen is perfect for most applications. Larger touch screens are great in theory but in practice, they’re often unwieldy. The Spectre is the right size and power for a pleasant experience in either configuration.
It was bound to happen eventually, but could anyone have predicted the next move up from HD would have happened so soon after 1080p became the standard? Ultra high-definition, that is, displays with resolutions greater than 1920 x 1080, has not only started to appear on consumer TVs but is starting to become the preferred resolution on monitors and laptop displays. With streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, along with YouTube, offering limited UHD content, if you have a fast internet connection, you can consume media presented in crazy-crisp ultra-high def.
The ultimate in UHD, for now at least, is 4K, but there aren’t a lot of laptops that can display 4K and even the ones that do don’t do it so well. That’s an awful lot of pixels for a laptop to pump out, but increasingly more and more of them are handling UHD seemingly effortlessly. The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M with 4GB video RAM to push all those pixels around the screen, and on top of that, its 3840 x 2160 display is touch-enabled. If you don’t mind trading framerate for higher resolution, you could easily run modern games on it, although you might see better results at 1440p rather than the laptop’s full resolution. Still, this powerful laptop is a great overall machine, and its UHD display is the icing on the cake.
Modern laptops are cheaper, thinner, and more powerful than they’ve ever been. The premium in price over a desktop is closer to a convenience charge than an over-charge, and everything from productivity to gaming to simple, everyday use can now be done on a laptop.