The latest laptops combine power and portability, with all of the features you need for work and play both at home or on the move
June 9, 2021
Choosing a laptop usually comes down to three priorities – weight, power and price. For business travelers that has often meant accepting a smaller display and a slower processor because portability is the most important factor. However, our period of working from home has changed the dynamic, with our laptop becoming our go-to gadget for domestic work and play. So if it’s a machine you’re going to be using more at home, then a bigger screen may be more important than portability.
Greater power has certainly become paramount, although the importance of a laptop you can carry easily will still be front of mind. Is it possible to find the ideal notebook computer, one that has a display big enough for easy home use and sufficient speed to keep everything motoring along, but is not too heavy to carry? While battery life is less important if the computer can be plugged in all day, that won’t always be the case, so it’s still an important factor.
Here are the best laptops around, with choices for everyone, no matter which priority is most important to you. There are three operating system choices: Microsoft Windows is on all of the laptops here except the Macbook Pro and Google Pixelbook, which have their own operating systems and range of programs. All except the Macbook Pro have touchscreen displays.
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inchFrom $1,299apple.com
The big news from Apple last year was the introduction of a new processor in its Macbook Pro and Macbook Air computers. Instead of using the Intel chips found in most laptops, Apple is now using its own silicon, with a chip called the M1 powering the Air and some 13-inch Macbook Pro models. If all of that sounds a bit boring, wait until you try it. The M1 means that the Pro is blazing-fast, offering a huge performance improvement, and it’s not at the cost of battery life. The new 13-inch Pro lasts for seven hours longer than the previous one did for wireless web browsing – up to 17 hours. Apple’s latest laptops also use what it calls a Magic Keyboard, which is dreamily comfortable to use. Although this model absolutely ticks the box for power, it is also lightweight (3 lbs.) and thin (0.61 in.). The power button includes a fingerprint sensor for extra security.
Dell XPS 15$2,499.99dell.com
This Dell laptop is a real powerhouse. Its 15.6-inch display is big enough to act as a desktop replacement but portable enough for your travels. It can handle even the most complex programs and is quick and responsive. Dell builds the computer you choose, so there’s no end to the configurations – an extra $300 bumps the 1T solid state drive to 2T. The edge-to-edge display and space-saving SSD storage means it’s smaller than it might have been (0.71 in. thin; from 4.5 lbs.). Although this is a highly capable business machine, the XPS 15 is also fast enough for video games – if this is going to be your do-everything laptop, that could be useful. The design looks nifty and the keyboard is a joy to use. Battery life is more than ten hours.
Microsoft Surface Book 3From $1,599.99microsoft.com
Microsoft’s Windows and Office software is ubiquitous but in the past few years the company has also made a select range of hardware. The Surface Book 3 is arguably its best yet: a handsome, efficient and deeply classy laptop with a clever hinge mechanism and a screen that lifts off to become a separate, 13.5-inch-screen tablet – there are batteries in both the display and keyboard sections. The Surface Book 3 is made of magnesium, which means it’s sturdy and lightweight (3.6 lbs. and 0.59 in. thin), but it has enough power to run advanced programs easily. The keyboard is more comfortable than most with a sense of spaciousness and comfortable keys (although the Macbook Pro is still hard to beat). If the 13.5-inch display isn’t to your liking, there’s also a 15-inch version. Battery life is claimed to be up to 17.5 hours.
HP Elite DragonflyFrom $1,819.00hp.com
The HP Elite Dragonfly is a stylish business laptop that is thin (0.63 in.) and light (2.2 lbs.) – ideal for when traveling is commonplace again. In its priciest configuration, it has an option for a 4G SIM card slot. It also has options for a webcam with a sliding cover and display technology that makes the screen unreadable to anyone peeking over your shoulder. These make it secure, as does the fingerprint sensor. Like the Lenovo Flex, this laptop is a convertible: you can fold the screen back so it’s like a tablet or stand it up like a trestle table to watch a video. Battery life is up to 12 hours.
LENOVO FLEX 5G$1,399.99 or $58.33 per month for 24 monthsverizon.com
This is the world’s first 5G laptop – that is, it has a SIM card slot with 5G capability. This means you can connect to the Internet from anywhere with a mobile signal and you hardly need to connect to WiFi. Since some public WiFi networks are slow and insecure, that’s a real bonus. The battery life is outstanding – Lenovo reckons it’s 24 hours – and it’s light (from 2.9 lbs.) and slim (from 0.58 in.). Of course, its Flex name has a meaning: it’s another convertible machine so you can fold the keyboard behind it like a tablet, for instance.
Acer Swift 5 $999.99acer.com
The 14-inch touchscreen display on the Swift 5 has tiny bezels, making for a pleasing all-screen effect. It feels so light in the hand that you may wonder if something has been left out (it’s about 2.3 lbs.). It’s slim, too (0.59 in.), which is appealing, even if you’re only carrying it from the living room to the home office. For all that, it still packs a punch thanks to a leading-edge Intel processor. There’s also a special antimicrobial agent on the surface of the keyboard, plus a fingerprint reader. Battery life is reasonable at more than nine hours.
Google Pixelbook GoFrom $649.00store.google.com
When Google launched its own operating system, at first it really only worked well if the laptop was online. Things have changed over the years and laptops using Chrome OS, such as this one, have much more autonomy. The Pixelbook Go is thin (0.5 in.), light (2.3 lbs.) and effective with a 13.3-inch screen. It also has a remarkably silent keyboard – handy if you’re working from home and the family is complaining about the clackety-clack as you tap. It’s great for videoconferencing thanks to a front-facing camera that is higher resolution than most. Performance is decent and it comes at a competitive price. Battery life is good, at up to 12 hours.
Apple Magic MouseFrom $79.00apple.com
A mouse is a useful way to make a laptop feel more like a desktop, and some people simply prefer one to a trackpad. Apple’s mouse is still one of the slickest around. There are no buttons – well, there are but it looks like it’s all one piece. You recharge it with the same Lightning cable used for the iPhone (note that you can’t charge it while working as the port is located underneath the mouse). Choose from silver or Space Gray.
Belkin USB-C to USB-A adapter$19.99belkin.com
Some of the latest laptops, especially ones from Apple, have ditched regular connectors like USB-A in favor of the smaller USB-C. That’s all very well until you need the older-style USB-A socket (such as to charge a phone from your laptop, say). This tiny, affordable gadget is ideal and connects any USB-A cable to your laptop. The cable is short but long enough to ensure a narrow profile, so it doesn’t block the next socket.
Moshi Symbus Q Compact USB-C Dock$164.95 moshi.com
If your laptop only has one or two USB-C sockets but your needs are more demanding, this clever dock offers lots more versatility. It plugs into the AC power so you can charge the laptop, and there are two USB-A sockets, an HDMI port to connect a display and ethernet. Oh, and the top surface is a wireless charging pad so you can simply plonk a compatible phone on top to charge it.
Knomo Knomad Thames Organiser From $71knomo.com
Even if you’re not taking the laptop far just now, it’s good to have a useful and attractive case for it. Knomad, from the brilliant British bag and luggage maker Knomo, has an organizer with mesh sections, bands, slots, holders and pockets so that everything has its place. There’s even a pocket with RFID protection to prevent your cards being accidentally scanned near a card reader. The special ID in each Knomo product helps the company to reunite you with your item if it gets lost. Available in black or gray.