We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Some people prefer to use smartphones for computing tasks. But for many of us, nothing quite beats the sensation of typing on a keyboard. The tactile feedback you get as you compose an important document or email is irreplaceable. What’s more, a lot of us prefer the large screen of a laptop over the small screen of a smartphone. Yes, smartphones are handy, but to complete real work, a laptop is often the best tool.
Shopping for a great laptop requires that you understand some computing jargon. You also need to understand the key components of laptops so you can compare them wisely. If you need a little boost in your laptop search, you’ve come to the right place.
At BestReviews, we pride ourselves on the detailed research we perform on every product we review. We use this information to give readers the information they need to make wise purchases. And we never accept free samples from manufacturers, so bias never enters the equation. An impartial review is the best review. The laptop market is a large and competitive one.
Please see our product matrix above for our five favorite laptop choices. And please continue reading this laptop shopping guide for even more useful information.
Because you’ll use the operating system constantly on a laptop, it pays to understand your options. Laptops can only run one operating system out of the box, so do your homework in this area.
Windows may not dominate the computing world’s operating system market as it once did, but it remains the most popular OS. Windows 10 borrows a lot of its design and operational aspects from smartphone touch commands. But it runs well with a keyboard and mouse, too. You’ll have a lot of choices when buying a laptop that runs Windows. These laptops work great for everything from high-end gaming to simple web browsing.
The Chrome OS runs only on Chromebook laptops. A handful of manufacturers create Chromebooks, so you should have a few options to consider. These are extremely basic computers with minimal features, allowing them to sell at a low price point. Chrome OS works best for people with simple computing needs, such as web browsing and running apps.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Apple MacBook Pro 15-Inch
The Apple MacBook Pro is a top-of-the-range model. It contains Intel's quad-core Core i7 processor. It runs at a nominal 2.5Ghz, but it can go up to 3.7Ghz with "Turbo Boost." RAM is a massive 16GB, and there's 512GB of SSD storage. At 4.5 pounds, it's not overly heavy. Battery life is claimed by the manufacturer to be nine hours. The Apple MacBook Pro comes with the latest version of the Macintosh OS – macOS 10.12.x Sierra – which introduced Siri to the operating system. (The macOS brand name has replaced the OS X name.) As new operating system versions are released, it's Apple's policy to let you upgrade for free as soon as they become available. Along with Apple's own browser (Safari), you also get an enormous range of other useful software (email program, word processor, spreadsheet, movie editor, photo editor, etc.). You always have the option of switching to Word or accessing Gmail if you don't like Apple's version. Naturally, if you have an iPhone or iPad, there are numerous options for synchronization.
The macOS is the new name for the operating system previously known as OS X. This Macintosh operating system runs only on Apple-branded computers, so you may have to hunt for this system. Those who love the macOS tend to stick with it over time, though, as Apple users typically are very loyal and love the brand. It remains a great operating system for all-around computing needs, with strengths in photography and video.
Linux and other open-source operating systems are available for installation. However, you’ll rarely find such systems on laptops at the time of purchase. Those with strong computing know-how may want to install one of these open-source operating systems after purchasing the laptop.
Windows remains the most popular type of operating system to run on a laptop. But Macintosh and Chrome OS are easy to find, too.
Before purchasing a laptop, you need to speak the language of computers. (We mean jargon; you don’t have to learn binary code.) By understanding the components included inside the machine, you’ll be able to pick a laptop that truly meets your needs.
Batteries provide the power to run the laptop when you’re away from an electrical outlet. Battery life varies greatly from laptop to laptop. The best laptop battery runs for 9 to 12 hours. Lower-end batteries run for 4 to 6 hours.
The weight of the laptop should be high on your list of considerations if you plan to carry the machine all day. A heavy laptop will be uncomfortable to carry, causing fatigue.
Also called RAM (random access memory), higher amounts of memory yield much faster performance for the laptop. RAM of 2GB to 4GB provides basic performance levels for the laptop. Higher-end performance requires 16GB of memory or more.
The processor performs the computing work of the laptop. Higher-end processors cost more, but they work faster with better multitasking performance. Intel Core brand and AMD FX brand processors are the best for gaming and high-end processing. Intel Celeron and AMD F series processors are less-expensive units. Gaming machines will include a separate graphics processor from NVIDIA or AMD, which provides top-end gaming performance.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
ASUS Chromebook 11.6-Inch
The ASUS 11.6-inch Chromebook represents the value end of the laptop market. Although this model doesn’t weigh much at only 2.6 pounds, it offers a sturdy feel that will give you confidence it can stand up to rough treatment. ASUS included a rubberized ring around both the lid and the bottom compartment of the laptop for protection against falls. Because laptops are subject to the constant possibility of drops, having a rugged little machine works well.
Laptops will use either a hard disk drive (HDD), a solid state drive (SDD), or a hybrid drive that uses both technologies. An HDD drive works slower than an SSD drive, but it also costs quite a bit less. The cost for SSD technology continues to drop, though, so hybrid storage laptops are becoming popular.
If you want to watch movies on your laptop, you’ll want full HD or Ultra HD resolution. Such screens cost quite a bit more than below-HD resolution screens.
Screen resolutions vary greatly among laptops. If you plan to watch movies on the machine, look for a minimum HD resolution screen or even a 4K resolution screen.
Manufacturers measure screen size diagonally. A small laptop screen measures around 12 inches, while the largest laptops are 17 inches or more.
Some laptops offer a two-in-one construction, meaning they are a mix between a tablet and a laptop. You can fold the laptop down flat with the screen facing upward to make it work like a touchscreen tablet. You’ll pay quite a bit for a two-in-one laptop, but it may fit your usage patterns well.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
ASUS Chromebook 11.6-Inch
Compared to other low-priced laptops, the ASUS Chromebook has nice display screen. It’s not quite full HD at 1366x768 pixels, but its display sharpness outranks most others in its price range. ASUS gave this model a 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3060 processor and 4GB of RAM. Although those components won’t provide top-end power for serious graphics processing, it does run the Chrome OS successfully. Chrome OS doesn’t need the resources of Windows or even Macintosh operating systems. It offers excellent battery life for a value model laptop at eight hours or more.
Laptops are sold at a wide range of price points. This means you’ll have an easier time finding something that fits within your budget.
Simple laptops are available in this price range. Many times, these machines will be Chromebooks, which have minimal storage capabilities. A few Windows machines also fit in this price range. Look for small screen sizes in this price range, too. These simple machines are suitable for web surfing, email, and basic apps.
Basic Windows laptops are easier to find in this mid-point price range. Such machines will have low-end processors and a minimal amount of memory for running word processing and spreadsheets.
Solid state drives run much faster than hard disk drives, giving a laptop high-end performance. But you’ll pay quite a bit extra for SSD storage.
In the upper price range for laptops, you will receive excellent processors and large amounts of memory. These laptops usually have one outstanding feature, such as an extremely large display screen or a high-end processor.
These pricey laptops work well for gaming and high-end video processing. Touchscreen display laptops often fit in this price range. And you’ll find SSD storage capabilities here. Basically, if you want a top-of-the-line laptop, expect to spend more than $1,000.
Q. Can I effectively use a low-priced laptop?
A. The features you’ll need in a laptop depend greatly on how you expect to use the machine. This means your ability to have success with a low-priced laptop relates to your usage plans. If you want to play graphics-intensive games or watch streaming video, a low-priced machine will frustrate you. If you primarily want to answer email, visit web pages, and run word-processing software, a low-cost laptop should work well for you.
Q. Should I pay extra for a laptop with a longer battery life?
A. If you will use your laptop primarily while sitting at your desk or on your couch, you’ll have constant access to electrical power. This type of usage case makes a long battery life less important for you. However, those who will frequently use the laptop while traveling or when away from power sources will probably want a machine with longer battery life.
Q. How long should my laptop last?
A. Depending on how it’s treated and how heavily it’s used, a laptop can easily last two to four years. As long as you’re careful not to drop the machine or otherwise damage the screen with rough treatment, a laptop will work well.
For most people, repairing or upgrading a laptop is an ineffective investment; it’s easier to just replace the laptop. If you’re debating between repairing or replacing your laptop, consider both the price of a new laptop and how much it would cost to repair or upgrade your current laptop. After you run the numbers, the decision may be easier to make.
Q. Should I consider a used laptop?
A. Unless you know exactly how the laptop has been used and treated, we recommend against buying a used laptop. It just takes one drop to cause significant problems for a laptop, yet these problems may not show up for several months after the drop.
Additionally, a laptop’s battery will wear out after a few years. This means that any used laptop’s battery probably sits on borrowed time, generating an immediate extra expense for you to replace it. If you want to save money, look for an inexpensive new laptop rather than a used laptop.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.