12 Laptops We’ve Tested and Love

12 Laptops We’ve Tested and Love

- in LAPTOPS

BUYING ANY LAPTOP is a big decision: You may end up using it for several years before getting another, and there are many makes, models, and chip configurations to choose from. Lucky for you, we’ve tried out many of the new releases in the past year. These are our top picks for the very best laptops you can buy right now.

If you don’t know exactly what you need, or what all the various hardware jargon means, be sure to read through our laptop buying guide. And check out our many other guides, including the Best MacBooks, Best Gaming Laptops, Best Cheap Laptops, and Best Laptop Backpacks.

Updated November 2021: We’ve added new picks, like the new 16-inch MacBook, latest Dell XPS models, Lenovo X1 Extreme, and Surface Laptop Studio.

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Macbook Air

Light as Air

Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

The MacBook Air remains the Mac to get. Apple upgraded this 13-incher in November 2020 (9/10, WIRED Recommends), ditching Intel chips for its own M1 processor. The results are impressive. Battery life is great, easily lasting more than a full workday. Perhaps more surprising is the excellent performance, even in apps made for Intel-powered machines.

Apple uses a tool called Rosetta to translate these apps to work with its own M1, and most of them run just as well if not better. If you’re concerned about compatibility, well, more and more developers are releasing M1 versions of their apps. For example, Adobe already has M1 versions of Lightroom and Photoshop.

The Air retains a slim and lightweight design with solid speakers, an excellent keyboard, and a good display. We also love how it now instantly wakes from sleep, just like your phone or tablet. If you want a Mac and aren’t planning to edit video or otherwise tax it too much, this is the MacBook you want. If you do need more power, see below for more M1-powered Mac laptops.

Dell laptop

A Formidable Competitor

Dell XPS 13 (2021)

Dell’s XPS 13 (9/10, WIRED Recommends) has been kicking around since 2012 and remains one of the most popular thin and light laptops out there. Dell released an update late in 2021, adding an option for an OLED screen, but the design is otherwise the same.

The XPS’ sleek design is really the selling point, giving the MacBook Air a run for its money, and the incredibly thin bezel gives the XPS 13 a 16 x 10 aspect ratio. That extra vertical real estate is surprisingly noticeable and useful, especially when browsing the web or reading Slack. Battery life is also good—we managed 12.5 hours during normal use (web browsing, watching videos, editing documents), though if you opt for the OLED model you will get a little less battery life.

I also like the 15-inch XPS, and there’s a developer edition XPS 13 that ships with Ubuntu Linux if that’s your jam.

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Windows Elegance

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

It might not be as flashy as the hybrid tablet-laptop design that made Microsoft’s Surface brand famous, but the new Surface Laptop 4 is everything a laptop should be: slim and lightweight with an excellent screen and keyboard.

Ports are one place where Surfaces skimp (like MacBooks), but you now get a USB-C port, along with a good old-fashioned USB-A port. It also has a magnetic charging port; if you’re a klutz who trips over the power cord all the time, this can be a lifesaver. It severs the connection between the wall plug and the computer before the laptop goes flying across the room like a Frisbee.

The Surface Laptop 4 comes in 13- and 15-inch sizes. There are also AMD Ryzen chip and Intel chipsets available. If you’re hoping to do some light gaming or video editing, I suggest the Ryzen. Either will be plenty powerful enough for working on documents, browsing the web, and checking email. One great change from its predecessor is the much-improved battery life. Microsoft is claiming upwards of 17 hours. My testing so far has been closer to 16, but that’s still way more than enough for a full day of work.

Specs to look for: AMD Ryzen 5 or Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD

A cheaper Surface: If you don’t need as much power and want something cheaper and lighter, I really like the Surface Laptop Go (7/10, WIRED Recommends). The small form factor is great for travel, and performance is good for the price. The downside is the low-resolution screen.

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ThinkPad Air

Lenovo X1 Nano

If you like the size and weight of the MacBook Air but prefer the keyboard and Windows-based features of a ThinkPad, the X1 Nano is for you. It’s thin and light (just shy of 2 pounds), but it has the ThinkPad pedigree—a great keyboard, the red nub, and buttons at the top of the trackpad. Unfortunately, it adopts the Air’s bad traits as well: Ports are limited to two USB-C and a headphone jack.

The screen is an unusual 2,160 x 1,350 pixels, making it sharper than the base Dell XPS 13, but not as sharp as the 4K option. I found it to be plenty sharp and bright enough to stare at all day without eye strain. Battery life is great too; I managed 17.5 hours in a battery drain test, which is five hours more than the XPS 13 delivered.

Specs to look for: Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD

A bigger ThinkPad: If you want more screen real estate, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme (8/10 WIRED Recommends) has a 15-inch screen, a discrete graphics card, and quite a bit more power.

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Total Lightweight

Acer Swift 5 (2020)

What if you want a thin, light laptop with great performance, long battery life, and the ability to play Fortnite and other games you won’t find on Apple’s macOS? Acer’s top-end model, the Swift 5, is here to say you can have your cake and play Fortnite too.

With 16 gigabytes of RAM, a 1-terabyte drive, and an Intel Core i7 processor, this machine has held up to everything I’ve thrown at it. And somehow, despite being an incredibly thin laptop, the Swift 5 manages to pack in more ports than any of the previous picks, which means fewer dongles and adapters in your bag. You get an HDMI, two USB-A ports, and a USB-C (Thunderbolt 4-capable, and can double as a charging port). There’s also a headphone jack.

Battery life is excellent, lasting a solid 15 hours in our looped-video battery drain test. And the 1080p screen is bright and sharp with particularly nice, deep blacks. The one thing I don’t like is the trackpad, which I find a bit mushy. It’s not a deal-breaker, and it doesn’t stop me from recommending it.

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Solid Performer

Lenovo X1 Carbon (2020)

Lenovo’s ThinkPad line has a curiously loyal following, of which I am a member. ThinkPads won’t draw admiring remarks at the coffee shop, but they’re reliable laptops. Also, the keyboards are (usually) amazing.

The X1 Carbon (8/10 WIRED Recommends) is the thinnest and lightest ThinkPad, with a solid build. Like the Acer above, it doesn’t lack ports, so you can leave the dongles at home. But there’s a confusing array of configurations available. The one I’d suggest features an 11th-generation Intel Core i5 chip with 16 gigabytes of RAM and a 512-gigabyte SSD. This model technically has a list price of $2,800, but it is more or less permanently on sale, and you should not pay more than $1,600 for it. As with the Dell XPS line, there is also a Linux edition available (you can choose either Ubuntu or Fedora Linux).

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Cutting-Edge Convertible

HP Spectre x360 (2020)

The 2019 13-inch Spectre x360 (9/10, WIRED Recommends) was one of our favorites. The latest model brings a 4K OLED screen option, updated 10th-generation Intel chips, and an option for 16 gigabytes of RAM. The fact that you can get all this in a 13-inch, sub-3-pound package for under $1,500 makes this one of the best deals in this guide. The battery life isn’t bad either; HP claims nearly 23 hours. I haven’t had a chance to test this model, but based on the previous one I’d say real-world battery use will likely sit closer to 18 hours, which is still great.

HP’s Tilt pen ($90) is included, which is helpful if you plan on using this laptop’s tablet mode. I seldom use Windows in tablet mode—it just isn’t something I need—but I love 2-in-1 designs for “tent mode,” which is great for watching movies.

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Flex Spending

Lenovo Yoga C930

Like several lighter options on the market, Lenovo’s Yoga line can be used in different modes: as a laptop, a tablet, or a propped-up touch display. What’s different about the Yoga C930 is that Lenovo has put a speaker inside the signature hinge, ensuring the audio experience is good no matter which way you use the thing. It also ships with a stylus pen and has a physical privacy shutter that covers the webcam.

Overall, this bendy laptop comes with all the things we’ve come to expect from laptops—updated internals, excellent battery life—making this a solid Windows machine.

pinkish pixel go laptop

Going Chrome

Google Pixelbook Go

The Pixelbook Go is Google’s latest vision of what a Chromebook should be. Unlike previous efforts, the Go doesn’t shoot for the stars. Its price reflects that, and it starts at a full $350 less than its predecessor. If, however, you like the original Pixelbook’s high-end specs, you can order a high-end Go with a Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, 256 GB storage, and a 4K display.

The Go’s design is very much function over form, and an interesting ridged underside is the only thing that sets it apart from standard laptops. The base model uses the Intel Core M3 chip, but we recommend going for the Core i5. You’ll get 8 GB of RAM either way, which is plenty for average Chromebook use.

Chrome OS has progressed significantly in recent years and feels very mature. Support for Linux makes the Chromebook decent for light development work too. Using Android apps can still be an exercise in frustration, but things have improved in recent releases.

Specs to look for: Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD

Another great Chromebook: Want something newer? Consider Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook 2 (7/10, WIRED Recommends) for $700. It has a premium, all-aluminum build that’s lightweight, with a beautifully minimalist design. It also has a sharp, bright screen. The model I recommend has an Intel Core i3 and 8 gigabytes of RAM inside.

Apple Macbook Pro

Big Mac

MacBook Pro (16-inch M1 Max, 2021)

Need all the power the Mac world has to offer? The 16-inch Macbook with the M1 Max chip delivers. This is a video-editing, game-playing powerhouse of a laptop.

The screen is actually larger than 16 inches, clocking in at 16.2 inches, thanks to the notch (the 1080p webcam sits at the top center of the display). And what a screen it is. The Mini LED technology gives much better contrast, deeper blacks, and punchier colors. It also has a 120-Hz refresh rate. This Mac has a ton of ports—hard to believe, I know, but it’s true—an HDMI port, three USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4, an SD card slot, and a headphone jack. What you won’t get is a touchbar—thank goodness that mess is gone.

If you’re on the fence about which size to get or which chip to choose, have a look at our guide to choosing the best MacBook to help you pick the right one.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio

More Than a Laptop

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio (7/10, WIRED Recommends) is a laptop, tablet, and media center all rolled into one. It’s aimed at creative professionals who want a traditional laptop, but also a powerful tablet running Windows 11. It mostly delivers on this hybrid idea.

It’s too heavy to use as you would an iPad or Surface Go, but that’s a small trade-off considering that you have significantly more processing power at your disposal. Fully flattened in Studio Mode and complete with Surface Pen, the Surface Laptop Studio is one of the nicest pen-based image-editing devices I’ve tested. If you want power, and the possibility of a tablet form factor, this is the device for you.

Specs to look for: Intel Core i7, Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics, 16 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD

Alternative: If you just want raw power and don’t need the convertible aspect, consider the Dell XPS 17, which is ridiculously powerful.

Microsoft Surface Go 3

Not Quite a Laptop

Microsoft Surface Go 3

Microsoft’s Surface Go 3 (6/10, WIRED Review) has a design that stands out on this list for its diminutive size and unique form factor. It’s a Surface tablet with a detachable keyboard and stylus pen (both sold separately)—not your standard laptop. It has the same premium build as its more expensive Surface brethren, a colorful, sharp display, and even Windows Hello facial recognition.

The third iteration brings 10th-generation Intel chips and Windows 11, which offers a vastly improved touchscreen experience. Unfortunately, battery life took a step backward. If you’re planning to be out of the house working all day, you’ll need to throw the charger into your bag. The use case here is less intense computing; if you just need to browse the web, edit documents, and the like, the Surface Go might be the only “laptop” you’ll need. The excellent keyboard and trackpad cover are unfortunately sold separately, but I consider them essential, so be sure to grab ’em.

Intel Chip

Laptop Buying Tips

How to Choose the Right Laptop for You

If none of these laptops quite rings your bell, that’s OK! There are far more laptops out there than we have time to test.

To help you make smart choices, we put together a complete laptop buying guide. To make sure you buy something that will serve you well for years to come, we recommend sticking to these guidelines:

  • RAM: Make sure you get at least 8 GB of RAM—16 GB would be even better.
  • Ninth-generation or higher: There are dozens of chips on the market, but we prefer eighth-generation or higher Intel chips (Eleventh is the latest generation).
  • Core i5 or higher: We suggest going with at least an Intel Core i5, though an i7 will give you more power, which you’ll be glad you have if you’re doing anything taxing, like editing video or even processing large batches of photos. AMD has wisely elected to follow a similar naming convention, and we suggest a Ryzen 5 chip—though again, for more processor-intensive tasks the Ryzen 7 is the better choice.
  • Screen resolution: The display depends on the size of the laptop. A 1080p (HD) screen on a 13-inch laptop looks good enough. A 1080p screen on a 15-inch laptop does not. If you spend all day staring at your screen, a higher-resolution screen (like a 4K screen) can ease eyestrain.
  • 10 hours of battery: Finally, make sure it gets at least 10 hours of battery life.
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