Good Laptop Recommendations – Buying a laptop can be quite confusing if you just want a regular or garden machine rather than the specialized equipment coveted by graphic designers or hardcore gamers. For a start, prices for the best laptops range from a few hundred pounds to the price of a family car, and the machines look almost identical.
There’s also a fair amount of jargon to understand, especially when it comes to the best laptop processors (Celeron isn’t something you’d find in a salad bowl, for example, and Ryzen isn’t something you expect to happen when you bake bread). I explain the differences between them in my FAQ section at the bottom of this feature, following my in-depth reviews of this year’s best laptops. But if you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick look at my top five:
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“The options presented to you can seem overwhelming, but how much to spend is very simple,” says Jason Stevenson, head of IT for the UK market, OnBuy.com. “If you’re going to use your laptop every day, spend as much money as possible. This will generally give you a laptop that will remain usable for longer. However, if you use the laptop less often, a budget model is likely to be the best choice.’
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Broadly speaking, there are three different types of laptops, Stevenson says — based on operating system (or operating system for short): Chromebooks, Macs, and Windows devices.
Stevenson says, “Windows has the widest range of laptop options available. Prices can start around £350. MacOS comes bundled with MacBooks. These are good quality builds and very popular with graphic designers, but they have a high starting price for their range, starting at £999. ChromeOS is a simpler operating system and is a good starting point if you are new to computing or looking for the best laptops on a budget. Prices start around £200. Note that if you’re traveling with a laptop, you’ll probably want a screen no larger than 15 inches.’
Below, we’ve sorted through the latest and greatest of all, from all the top brands. Laptop prices depend on specifications, including screen size, processor, memory and storage, so in each case we choose a model that we think offers the best balance for everyday use.
We asked Stevenson for advice on how to properly compare laptops: “A good way to test laptop performance,” he says, “is to first make sure all system updates have been applied and a hard reset has been completed before Testing”. Then try three things to get a measure of each laptop’s performance: boot time from shutdown, time to wake from sleep, and time to load Word or other office solutions installed on the laptop.
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“Then test a video call – what’s the picture quality and the audio quality? Test an online streaming service like Netflix: How does it look and sound?’
Chinese PC maker Lenovo is always a good first stop for practical and good value Windows machines. You can buy Lenovo laptops with the latest version of Windows for under £300 or less.
This model is far superior. While it lacks extras like a touchscreen and a fingerprint scanner, what you get is an extremely thin and capable Windows machine with an excellent balance of portability and power, with fast processors (we tested one with an AMD Ryzen 7) and an extraordinarily clear OLED screen. .
Refreshingly, there’s still a full-size USB port for connecting accessories, and the built-in trackpad is massive, allowing for precise control on the go.
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It’s incredibly fast, as you’d expect: it took nine seconds to start shutdown, was almost instantaneous on waking from sleep mode, and delivered excellent image quality in video playback, and the camera works well even in low light conditions. Word took just two seconds to load.
Google’s ChromeBook OS is light and easy to use (no different than just running a browser window and allows access to email, YouTube and other services in a very simple way to use, even if you don’t know very much the computer).
The downside of ChromeOS is that it’s a bit more difficult to use for work tasks, but the upside is that it’s lightning fast and you can do most tasks, from entertainment to video calling, without installing apps.
ASUS has a good reputation for making cheap and practical Chromebooks (shop around and you can find some for as little as £150). The one we tested has premium features, including a large Full HD screen and built-in Harman Kardon speakers, so it’s perfect for entertainment (you can also tuck the keyboard under the screen to use it in tablet mode).
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It’s also blazing fast, launching the Microsoft Word web app almost instantly and booting in less than two seconds. From sleep mode, it instantly sprung to life and delivers excellent picture and sound quality in video calls and video streaming.
Image quality is excellent on the large 15.6-inch screen, and the supplied pen for writing on the screen means it’s just as good for creative tasks as it is for relaxing with a video in tablet mode.
Slim and sleek, Samsung’s Galaxy Book2 Pro 360 is a great Windows machine if you’re looking for something foldable for work and play.
It’s a two-in-one machine, so it folds up to work in tablet mode for entertainment, but also packs enough power for work. There’s an S Pen for drawing on the screen, which is fast and responsive.
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The only thing missing for a working context are ports: there are only three USB-C ports, which can make connecting older peripherals like mice difficult. (Ports are dying out in the age of wireless printers and Bluetooth speakers.)
In use, it’s as snappy and lively as you’d expect from its slim exterior, springing to life by turning off in just four seconds and loading Word in just two seconds.
Image quality when playing videos is excellent: the built-in camera and microphone are good, but not the clearest in our test.
Extras like a fingerprint reader speed up authentication and highlight the fact that this machine is perfect for work and play.
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This machine is a cross-hardware piece, offering a price similar to most general-purpose laptops, but also a graphics card that can run games, so it could be a good compromise choice for some families.
The Nvidia graphics card is powerful enough to run the latest titles (although at this price you won’t get the kind of performance you’d expect from a high-end gaming rig). But there’s no getting around the fact that this is an ugly beast with a big ass and clumsy plastic arms.
Where it shines are the connections, so if (for example) you want to play videos from a laptop through your TV, it has an HDMI-out cable, as well as three old-style USB ports for connecting peripherals.
It’s fast, too, with a sharp camera on video calls, launching Word almost instantly, and booting from “Off” in about 12 seconds.
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There’s also an Ethernet port for a wired connection, and given the car’s bulk, you won’t want to carry it around too much.
Apple laptops are slim, glamorous and desirable, and (despite running a non-Windows operating system) easy to use.
The top-of-the-range MacBook Pro offers more computing power for graphic designers and video editors, and is priced to match (well over £3,000 for some models). This MacBook Air is the model to go for if you’re looking for a general-purpose machine.
It’s nice to handle, with a cool metallic finish, a huge trackpad (good for detailed control if you’re doing something artistic), and a fanless build. It also has much more computing power than previous Apple models, and you can easily use it even for quite demanding tasks, thanks to Apple’s powerful new M1 chip.
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Battery life is also impressive, with up to 18 hours of use before needing to visit an outlet.
If you’ve never dipped your toes into Macs before, it’ll run “normal” apps like Word (which launched in an almost imperceptible moment). It’s a little short on ports for connecting things, with just two USB-C ports, but people who work with Macs (everyone from podcasters to designers) have come to live with this shortcoming. A really nice car at a price.
This two-in-one is a Windows tablet that you can add a magnetic keyboard to (more or less) turn it into a fully functional laptop.
With a 12.5-inch screen, it won’t please everyone, but it’s incredibly light and portable, and surprisingly powerful: the model we tested had a fast Core i5 processor and a built-in 128Gb SSD for storage.
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Crucially, the battery lasts up to 13 hours on a charge, making it a great choice for people who will be out and about all day. The optional plastic keyboard won’t please everyone: the one we tested had a matte finish