The definitive breakdown of all the best laptops from the biggest brands
Choosing a new laptop and buying a car are similar experiences: two of the most important decisions you’ll make in your lifetime. Laptops might cost a bit less – though they’re not cheap by any stretch of the imagination – but your job and other life essentials (like Netflix) are vastly improved by the purchase of a slick, reliable laptop.
The point is that laptops are not a one-size-fits-all device. It’s not a choice that can be made based on simply price or looks. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Beginners need something user-friendly and straightforward. Frequent travellers need something light with a long battery life. Designers and gamers need top-notch 4K graphics and quick central processors. And everybody needs something that’s not just going to break after a year.
What are the best laptop brands?
Apple reigns supreme as the most popular laptop manufacturer and its flagship models – such as the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air – regularly top lists of the very best laptops that money can buy. But despite what Apple diehards might think, it’s far from the only option out there.
The Microsoft Surface has been seriously impressing since its launch in 2012, peaking with the Microsoft Surface 4. HP offers a range of laptops that span price options and capabilities, from the budget Chromebook to the more premium Spectre and workhorse Zbook. Dell is another trusty and versatile manufacturer, with a laptop range including 2-in-1 models and dedicated gaming options.
Huawei and Lenovo are also worth your attention though they haven’t made the cut right here.
What are the best gaming laptops?
If you’re a hardcore gamer, you need a laptop that’s built for gaming. Manufacturers such as Asus, Gigabyte, Razer, and Acer produce laptops that are dedicated to gaming and handling the latest software.
Household name brands such as HP and Dell also have machines built for top-flight gaming, such as the HP Omen and Dell Alienware ranges. Gaming laptops combine powerful CPU, GPU, and RAM specs for smooth, uninterrupted gameplay.
What are the laptop features you need to know about?
Not every laptop will suit everyone’s needs. But there are important inner components that every laptop has and it’s important to know what they are:
CPU — This is the central processing unit, sometimes called – quite simply – the processor. This is like the brain of the laptop. It controls and communicates with all of your laptop’s functions – including how fast it operates. The power and smarts of your CPU will depend on the kinds of tasks you perform on your laptop. If it’s general web-surfing, emails, and essay-writing, you won’t need an all-singing, all-dancing CPU. But if you’re a serious gamer, video editor, or graphic designer – or do anything that means installing and running big-time software – look for a machine with a solid, up-to-the-minute CPU processor to keep things ticking over quickly and smoothly.
GPU — The graphics processing unit, otherwise known as the graphics card. This is responsible for your laptop’s visuals. Once again, the GPU will depend on your laptop activity. You might not need eye-popping graphics for answering emails or writing coursework, but for design work or – perhaps most importantly – rendering visuals in the latest games, choose a machine with the latest, supremely powerful GPU.
RAM — This stands for random-access memory. It gives your computer short-term memory for running various applications at the same time and using them as and when you need to access. (How many apps are open in your dock right now? That’s all thanks to your RAM.) This basically controls the speed and dexterity of your laptop. We recommend 8GB of RAM as a good starting point if you’re a multi-tasker or use the laptop for heavy-duty gaming or creative work.
Storage — You’ll notice that laptops usually come with one of two types of storage space – hard-disc drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD) storage. HDD is essentially a hunk of metal inside the machine that holds onto all your info. SSD stores the info on little flash-memory chips. A HDD typically holds far more than SSD (HDD usually starts at 500GB – far higher than the standard SSD capacity of 128-256GB) but HDD is much slower than SSD. In modern laptops, you’ll most commonly find HDD in budget models. Premium and higher-ticket laptops usually come with SSD as standard. You can try a dual-storage option that combines high-level storage and high-quality performance. There are also cloud and external storage options, depending on your storage needs.
Display — First impressions count, and the first thing that catches your eye on any computer is its display. If you’re a gamer or designer – and especially if you’re looking for a laptop with a powerful GPU – a stunning, high-resolution display is absolutely essential. We recommend a 1080p resolution as a base level. Some laptops also have touchscreen capabilities – doubling up as a laptop-tablet combo – though Apple is yet to take the plunge with touchscreen laptops. This is also one area where size really does matter. Laptops built for gaming and creative work tend to have displays of 15-inches (or, at least, have the option of a 15-inch display or bigger) but more portable laptops may be 13 or even 11 inches.
Other features to look out for are size and weight – gaming laptops aren’t always the most portable, for instance, so not best suited for on-the-go working. Also, research battery life and ports, depending on how many add-ons and tech devices you use in collaboration with your laptop.
How much should a laptop cost?
As with anything in life, you get what you pay for. Just as there’s a laptop specification to suit everyone, there’s a price point too. The laptops included in this list range from £1,150 to £2,900. Remember that a laptop is an investment in not just your work but your lifestyle too – it’s worth spending a little extra to get a laptop that will perform harder, faster, and better.
What is the best laptop for you?
It’s overwhelming but this is the kind of stuff we enjoy researching. We’ve put together a definitive guide of the best laptops on the market right now. We compare top brands that you probably have in mind like Apple and Dell, as well as other players you may not have considered otherwise. You’re in good hands.
These are the best laptops in 2021.
Incredible OLED screen • Rechargeable stylus and carry sleeve • Long battery life
No HDMI port • Occasionally noisy fans
A few small quibbles short of perfection. There just isn’t a better convertible laptop available right now.
HP Spectre x360 14A stylish convertible laptop with stunning OLED screen technology.
When it comes to touchscreen technology, a dazzling display is an absolute must. The HP Spectre x360 14 has an eye-spinning 13.5-inch OLED screen with 1920 x 1280-pixel IPS, plus 3K2K OLED display options and Iris Xe integrated graphics. The 3:2 aspect ratio isn’t unheard of in laptops but it’s not exactly standard either. The colours are rich and vivid and the visuals are impressively sharp. In fact, the entire laptop has an elegant design – a more stylish offering than the sometimes-generic design that you get with non-Apple devices.
It’s not all about looks, of course. The HP Spectre x360 14 is loaded with powerful, innovative features. It has an 11th generation processor, a 256GB solid-state drive, fingerprint sensor and facial recognition, and plenty of ports, including Thunderbolt 4 ports and a USB Type-A port – a feature that’s all-too-often missing on other laptops. It also comes with a rechargeable stylus (with a bonus carrying sleeve) that clings magnetically to the side of the laptop.
The action and response is zippy – check out its instant wake-up feature – but long-lasting too thanks to a decent battery life of 12 hours-plus.
A 15.6-inch version is also available but for pure portability – which is surely the key benefit of owning a 2-in-1 laptop – this is the one.
Excellent keyboard • Impressive screen and visuals • Super long battery life
Fewer ports that we’d like • Could be lighter
For Windows users this is comfortably the best Microsoft Surface so far. For Apple users looking to defect, this is also the one for you.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4This next gen Microsoft Surface puts Windows up against Apple’s very best competing laptops.
256 GB SSD
Up to 17.5 hours
Meet the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4, a 15-inch model (13.5 inch is also available) with the brand’s PixelSense touchscreen display and plenty more top-of-the-line tech to entice you. Even at the larger 15-inch size it’s a sleek, lightweight design – though lighter options are available elsewhere if easy-to-carry mobility is one of your must-have features.
The Surface 4 continues a trend we’ve seen in previous models, with a spacious, comfortable keyboard. The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is an absolute breeze to type on, whether you’re banging out a quick email or composing a 15,000-word thesis. This is further helped by a broad 4.5-inch wide touchpad and 1.3mm of key travel.
The HD screen is as impressive as the PixelSense touchscreen sounds. It has a resolution of 2496 x 1664 pixels and crisp, jerk-free visuals courtesy of FreeSync technology.
Indeed, this is a powerful piece of kit – especially for its relatively low price. A AMD Ryzen 7 chip puts this on the level of Macbook PRO performance – fast, smooth, and responsive.
It comes equipped with a headphone jack and USB Type-A and Type-C ports. There’s also a Surface Connect port which can be used for charging up other Microsoft devices. An Intel Core i7 Processor version is also available.
Ultra fast importing and exporting • Quick handling of apps like Adobe • Street cred that goes with a Mac • Siri and touch ID
Dongle hell • Pricey • Gaming graphics
A classic from Apple with the highest specs of any MacBook ever built and ideal for photo and video editing — for those who can afford it.
Apple MacBook ProApple’s MacBook Pro is the best laptop money can buy for photo and video editing.
Up to 10 hours
With the fast Apple M1 chip – with 8‑Core CPU , 8‑Core GPU, and 16-Core Neutral Engine – the price makes sense. There’s no question that the MacBook Pro is the best laptop money can buy for photo and video editing, featuring unbeatable import and export speeds (even with those tough 4K videos), insanely fast handling of hardcore apps like Adobe and Final Cut Pro (which is only available on Macs), and a crisp 13-inch retina display to see your work just as clear as in real life.
While Apple hasn’t gone totally touchscreen yet, the OLED touch bar controls brightness, sound, touch ID, and other things that you would normally control with FN keys.
Other new changes include a Magic Keyboard (replacing the controversial Butterfly Keyboard), a large trackpad, True Tone technology, and two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. The True Tone tech automatically adjusts the yellow and blue tones in your screen to match your environment, making things easier on the eyes.
All in all, the ever-evolving MacBook Pro packs a punch with the strongest, fastest specs of any of its ancestors, making it a great choice for editing obsessives and regular folks alike.
Massive screen and thin bezels • NVIDIA GeForce 4K graphics • One of the most powerful CPUs
Battery life • An expensive option
One of the most popular Windows 10 laptops of the year brings speed and 4K graphics to a huge screen.
Dell XPS 15Features all the colour, sound, and up-to-the-second streaming that a video enthusiast could ask for.
Up to 7 hours
Dell’s traditional powerhouse laptop, the Dell XPS 15, continues to see improvements year over year, keeping it as a top choice for masses of advanced users and artists alike. Beginners or casual laptop users may not mind a 13-inch screen (for which a Dell XPS 13 will do the trick) but hardcore laptop users who have their entire lives or careers on their device will need something bigger.
The exterior is decked out with Dell’s InfinityEdge technology, which is a fancy term for extra-thin bezels and a wide-as-possible, gorgeous screen. The 15.6-inch 4K touchscreen has double the resolution of a regular HD display, and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050Ti with 4GB GDDR6 offers graphics clear enough for even the pickiest gamers or designers. It’s also equipped with Dell Cinema, featuring the best colour, sound, and up-to-the-second streaming that a video enthusiast could ask for. You’d expect all that at this hefty price too.
Inside sits an Intel Core i9 processor, memory options up to 32GB DDR4-2933MHz, and storage options up to 1TB M.2 2280 PCIe SSD. That amazing CPU helps keep battery life strong, but like any other high-end laptop, constant 4K use drains the battery. You’ll get six, maybe seven hours at best — which isn’t great, but isn’t terrible either.
Dell has finally changed its webcam placement, so it’s now above the screen – where it should be – rather than catching you from below with an unflattering up-the-nose shot.
Packed with powerful tech • More portable than other gaming laptops • Sharp visuals complemented by strong audio
Could use more ports • No webcam • Pricey for casual gamers
A top-of-the-line gaming laptop that matches power with performance. Worth the money for its gaming capabilities.
Asus ROG Zephyrus G15A powerful, expert-made machine for serious gamers.
Up to 4 hours
Asus is a brand that knows what it’s doing when it comes to gaming laptops. This model’s predecessor – the G14 – was hailed as one of the best ever. The Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 has somehow managed to give us an upgrade.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 looks the part but handles considerably lighter than your average gaming laptop. It’s just 2kg – not bad for a 15-inch model.
It’s equipped with up-to-date and powerful components – the latest AMD Ryzen 7 CPU and Nvidia RTX 3000 series graphics card. That makes this a robust game-player that’s capable of handling the complex and demanding games with relative ease.
If you’re all about appearances, then check out its IPS LCD screen with 165 Hz display and a quad HD resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels. It also comes with two USB Type-C ports, plus HDMI and audio connections.
It’s not cheap, of course – especially if you’re new to gaming – but seasoned gamers know that you’ll pay a high price for any halfway decent gaming tech.
Incredible CPU + GPU • Stunning display • Lots of ports
Runs hot • Battery life could be longer • This kind of power isn’t cheap
This is built on an awesome combo of processor and graphics for all-round creative power. There are downsides – but they come with the territory in a machine like this.
Gigabyte Aero 17A newly released laptop that packs all the power that creative professionals need.
Up to 8 hours
Its most obvious, most outwardly impressive feature is a 4K Ultra HD screen that measures 17.3 inches with a thin bezel design. It includes X-Rite Pantone calibration and supports the entire Adobe RGB colour gamut. It’s a screen that has precision perfect attention to detail. It might surprise you to know that its 3840 x 2160 pixels is an even higher resolution than the MacBook Pro.
The Gigabyte Aero 17 has a slim design but it’s not as lightweight as competing laptops. It doubles up as a hardcore kit for gamers and it’s certainly built in the image of other gaming laptops. The keyboard even has RGB lighting, which won’t be to the tastes of every graphic designer or video editor.
It’s also known to get very hot but you can tinker with settings to manage the power usage and cool things down.
Creative professionals will enjoy its multiple ports for connecting various devices and add-ons – which means no more swapping or fiddling around with cables.