We live in a world where smartphones are ubiquitous, tablets are commonplace, and even smartwatches are a thing that people talk about on the regular. But throughout all of these advances, the humble laptop has persevered, and for good reason. When it comes time to actually get something done, whether that’s editing photos, writing a lot of emails, composing documents, or staying in touch with colleagues and family, the laptop is often the ideal device for the job.
That isn’t to say there haven’t been advancements in the world of laptops or notebook computers. We don’t have to deal with inch-plus-thick clunkers that weighed upwards of seven pounds and lasted less than two hours away from an outlet. The modern laptop is lightweight, sleek, efficient, easily portable, and powerful enough to get most any computing task done.
It’s getting harder to buy a truly bad laptop, but what separates a good laptop from a great one is how it balances power, efficiency, portability, and comfort. It should have a fantastic keyboard and trackpad — after all, those are the two biggest reasons you’d choose a laptop over a smartphone or tablet. Its display should be easy on the eyes, bright, and sharp enough that you aren’t distracted by jagged edges and visible pixels. It should be powerful enough for almost anything short of intensive video editing and advanced gaming. It should be easy to carry around from place to place, and it should be able to last all day without needing to be plugged in.
Naming “the best laptop” is a little different than naming the best phone or tablet. People’s needs for their laptop can vary widely. Some people need to do intense video editing and should pony up for a pro machine. Others just need a reliable keyboard and a few windows, so something less powerful will do. Some might want a super light laptop that can sometimes double as a tablet. Here, we’re talking about the best all-around product: a traditional laptop that will work well at most things for most people, and even stretch to handle more intensive tasks on occasion.
There are a lot of laptops that have some of those qualities, but if you’re looking for a laptop that hits enough of those marks, the obvious choice turns out to be the right one.
Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop is the best laptop for most people because it blends power, portability, and battery life better than any other computer. It has a great keyboard and trackpad; a beautiful, high-resolution touchscreen; and comes in four different colors. It uses Intel’s latest processors and can be specced out with up to 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage.
The Surface Laptop isn’t cheap — the model most people should get runs for $1,299 — but it feels like a premium computer should, and if you spend most of your day working on a computer, you should spend a little more to get a good one.
The one big drawback to the Surface Laptop is it comes with Windows 10S, Microsoft’s limited version of Windows that only allows apps from the Windows Store to be installed. You can easily upgrade the Surface Laptop to Windows 10 Pro, however, and then you can run any Windows app you can find. That upgrade is free through at least the end of the year. Microsoft says it will charge $50 for it at some point in the future, but has not specified exactly when.
If you don’t like the Surface Laptop’s fun colors or the fact that it runs Windows, the best laptop for you is Apple’s MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro has a compact and light design, premium build quality, and the largest trackpad we’ve ever seen on a laptop.
The MacBook Pro comes in a variety of flavors, but most people should go with the 13-inch model that starts at $1,299. It has a standard keyboard and lacks the controversial Touch Bar found on the more expensive versions, but we don’t think that’s a big loss, as the Touch Bar hasn’t yet proven its worth. The one thing that the higher-end MacBook Pros offer is more USB ports. The entry-level version only comes with two USB Type-C ports, which means plugging in accessories will likely require an adapter or two, so be prepared to spend money on at least one dongle.
If you don’t like Microsoft’s Surface Laptop or the new MacBook Pro, there are a lot of other laptops to choose from. Some might be better options if you’re a gamer or an artist who wants something to draw on, while others are even more light and portable than our top picks.