As seen in:
Apple
MacBook Pro, 15.4-Inch, Retina Display
Acer
Chromebook, 11.6-Inch
HP
Stream. 13.3-Inch
Toshiba
Satellite, 15.6-Inch
Microsoft
Surface Pro 3
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Good

Extremely intuitive and easy to use. Syncs with iPhone/iPad. Brilliant retina display. Wide range of built-ins.

Lightweight and portable. Low price.

Low price. Free cloud storage during first year of ownership.

15.6-inch screen. 1TB on-board storage and 8GB RAM. Free upgrade to Windows 10.

Weighs less than two pounds. Touch screen. Great for light, personal use.

Bad

"Unibody" design necessitates professional help for upgrades and battery changes.

Offerings/features are largely limited to the scope of Google Chrome. Not for gamers.

Not for gamers. Included trial software slows the computer down.

Occasional customer complaints about "low-tech" screen and sharp outer edges.

Pre-installed features eat 27GB of RAM. (64GB total.) Can only run three apps at a time.

Bottom Line

Widely popular in spite of its high price, this is a powerhouse laptop with desktop superiority. The best available.

A "light duty" laptop with some standard laptop features. An inexpensive route to Internet access.

Suited for light personal use, this is an affordable alternative to the Acer.

A solid, mid-range workhorse that satisfies the requirements of most consumers. The best deal for the lowest price.

A device that blends the features of a tablet and a laptop into one portable package.

How we decide
BestReviews is committed to providing comprehensive and trusted reviews for products that matter to consumers. We do the research to help you save time and money.
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Products received from manufacturers
103
Models Considered
42
Hours Spent
2
Experts Interviewed
184
Consumers Consulted

Best Laptop Computers

The laptop market is a vast one. Consumers today can choose from a number of different brands and options (including RAM, hard drive, and other specifications). Our ratings take into consideration what a typical buyer might want. We present five of the best laptops on the market today, each of which provides viable solutions for consumers:

Products we Considered

Apple
MacBook Pro, 15.4-Inch, Retina Display
Acer
Chromebook, 11.6-Inch
HP
Stream. 13.3-Inch
Toshiba
Satellite, 15.6-Inch
Microsoft
Surface Pro 3

Considerations

Specification

Out-and-out speed may not be what everyone needs, but potential buyers want to know if a machine can handle the type of work they do. In this section, we look at technical details and factors that relate to portability such as weight and battery life.

OS and Interface

We tell you what type of operating system (OS) each model offers. We also explore included software packages, screen types, and the various ways consumers can interface with each computer.

Day-to-Day Use

Gigabytes, hertz, and pixels can all make a laptop seem enticing, but they only tell part of the story. In this section of our ratings, we incorporate owner feedback to show you what each machine is like in the "real world."

Price

Cost is a vital part of the decision making process. Would a cheap laptop deliver sufficient performance for your needs, or should you stretch your budget? In this section, we draw conclusions about the value each product provides.

Considerations

Specification

Acer Chromebook, 11.6-Inch, CB3-111-C670

There's no doubt the Acer Chromebook 11 is an entry-level laptop, but that doesn't necessarily mean it under-performs. While early Chromebooks received plenty of criticism regarding their capabilities, the latest models have improved considerably. The processor in this model is a dual-core Intel Celeron N2830. It runs at 2.16Ghz and includes 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. (If that last figure seems a bit meager when compared to other laptops, bear in mind what this machine is intended for. Potential buyers should also note that, as cloud computing becomes more the norm, on-board capacities are less and less important for the majority of users.) The ultra-portable, 11.6-inch Acer weighs under 2.5 pounds. Battery life is claimed by the manufacturer to be a competitive 8.5 hours.

HP Stream 13.3 Inch Laptop

The HP Stream is another budget laptop. An 11.6-inch model is available, but we're focusing on the 13-inch HP Stream because many people prefer that screen size. Like the Acer Chromebook, the processor in the HP is an Intel Celeron N2840 that runs at 2.16Ghz. Although this is a single-core (as opposed to a dual-core) Acer, actual performance is virtually indistinguishable. RAM is 2GB, and internal storage is 32GB from a solid-state drive. Interestingly, you also get 1TB of Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage for free during your first year of ownership. The HP Stream weighs a fraction under 3.5 pounds; maximum battery life is a claimed by the manufacturer to be 7.75 hours.

Toshiba Satellite C55-C5241 15.6 Inch Laptop

Although very much a mid-range laptop in terms of specifications, the Toshiba Satellite is a big step up from the Acer and HP. The processor is an Intel Core i5, and it runs at 2.2Ghz. Direct comparison of that figure with the 2.16GHz of the Acer or HP might suggest similar performance, but comparing chip clock-speeds isn't really an accurate reflection of the Toshiba's capabilities. The Toshiba is, in reality, much more powerful. Its power is underlined by 8GB of RAM and 1TB of on-board storage. Perhaps surprisingly, the laptop's battery life is still quite reasonable at up to seven hours. The Toshiba Satellite weighs 4.8 pounds. That makes it heavier than some, but it's not excessive for a laptop with a 15.6-inch screen.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (64 GB, Intel Core i3)

Some might question whether the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is more of a tablet than a laptop. However, its specifications and capabilities are such that it definitely has a place in these ratings. For this review, we focus on the lowest-priced Surface Pro. Processing power for this version comes from an Intel Core i3. (Spend a little more, and you could have an i5 or even an i7.) RAM is 4GB, and there are also numerous options for storage. In this case, storage is 64GB, but you do lose 27GB of that for all the things that come pre-installed. (If you want to keep lots of movies or music on your device, you might want to consider the alternatives.) One reason you might describe this as a "crossover computer" is its screen size. At 12 inches, it's on a par with the Acer Chromebook 11. A battery life of up to nine hours is claimed, and carrying the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 around isn't going to pose a problem for owners, as it weighs well under two pounds!

Apple MacBook Pro MJLT2LL/A 15.4-Inch Laptop with Retina Display

As is common with most laptops, the Apple MacBook Pro offers a number of performance options. At the time of this writing, the Pro is the top-of-the-range model. This Macbook Pro has 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 Flash storage. At 4.5 pounds, it's in the same range as the Toshiba Satellite in terms of weight. However, it's not overly heavy. Battery life is claimed by the manufacturer to be nine hours. This is somewhat surprising when you consider the Apple MacBook's "power-hungry" retina display, which we'll discuss in greater detail later on in this review.

In spite of the MacBook's brilliant retina display and other powerhouse features, battery life is still an extraordinary nine hours.
Considerations

OS and Interface

Acer Chromebook, 11.6-Inch, CB3-111-C670

Initially, many people viewed the Chromebook as a cheap vehicle for accessing Google's range of online services. This fact was underlined by the device's Google Chrome operating system and browser. If you spend a lot of time browsing online or using Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Docs, there is probably no cheaper way to do it than with a machine like the Acer. As other cloud-based services are offered and other programs become available, the old complaint that you can't do much with a Chromebook grows weaker by the day.

The HP Stream 13 currently runs Windows 8.1. Technically, it's capable of running Windows 10, but there are complications. (Details are beyond the scope of this review, but in a nutshell, you can't simply "upgrade;" you would have to perform a "clean install.") However, Microsoft does include a year-long trial of Office 365 Personal. This package gives you access to relevant versions of Microsoft Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Access. In truth, we suspect that the HP Stream is targeted at those who want a cheap laptop but don't want a Chromebook because of its tie-in with Google and the Chrome OS.

Like the HP, the Toshiba Satellite comes with Windows 8.1 installed. However, the Toshiba will also run Windows 10; its suitability for the new OS is underlined by the fact that, at the time of writing, it's being offered as a free upgrade. This also includes the voice-activated Cortana help system. A common complaint about new computers in general is that they are packed with software trials that just take up space. Toshiba is keen to point out that anything included on their machine must first meet the company's quality standards. Whether that means any of the included trials are actually valuable will depend on the owner!

There's still some confusion as to whether the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a tablet or a laptop. The answer is both, but with provisos. The operating system, at the moment, is Windows 8.1 Pro, which will let you run up to three apps at the same time. If you're used to leaving half a dozen or more programs open on a "full-blown" Windows laptop, you'll have to modify your working habits a bit. The screen is touch-sensitive like a tablet, and a useful "pen" is included, but the clever keyboard -- or "type cover," as it's called - is an extra. Microsoft boasts that the Surface Pro can run Office and Photoshop, but potential buyers should note that no free software trials are included.

The Apple MacBook Pro comes with the latest version of the Apple OS, which is OSX Yosemite. However, OSX El Capitan has recently been announced, so if it's not already installed on your machine when you buy, it's Apple's policy to let you upgrade for free as soon as it becomes 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 MacBook Pro is like a powerful desktop computer in a laptop case.
Matthew
Expert Consultant
Matthew
IT Professional, Product Manager

Matthew has led IT departments and tech teams in a variety of industries. Currently, he works in the sports gaming industry. He has written reviews and been involved with electronics procurement decisions for a number of players at the business and individual level for over a decade. In his spare time, you may find Matthew playing frisbee, golf, or reading a good novel.

Considerations

Day-to-Day Use

Acer Chromebook, 11.6-Inch, CB3-111-C670

We've already alluded to the fact that the Acer Chromebook 11 is much more than just a vehicle for accessing Google services. Some owners consider it to be little more than a tablet with a keyboard -- and without a touch screen -- but we find this appraisal unfair. The Acer Chromebook may not be a full-blown PC, but you can use it to run Android apps, a Google version of Photoshop, and Microsoft's online version of Office. Unless you're a heavy-duty user, that could well be all you need. The Acer Chromebook 11 is not a serious consideration for gamers, and it's not in the same league as a machine like the Toshiba. Nevertheless, its capabilities are expanding all the time, and if you're looking for a light-duty laptop, it could be the perfect solution. At this point, it is still very reliant on what Google Chrome offers. Its physical size gives some people concern about keyboard usability, but most owners don't find the smaller keyboard to be a problem.

HP Stream 13.3 Inch Laptop

If you spend your time browsing the web, using social media, or using cloud-based services, the HP Stream is a competitive alternative to the Acer Chromebook -- particularly for someone who wants to run Windows and full versions of programs like Office. Again, it's not a serious gaming machine, nor is it likely to satisfy the demands of business users. The HP Stream's target audience includes students and at-home users who perhaps already have a substantial desktop. If you want something light and relatively straightforward for tasks like homework, research, and leisure, this could be the machine for you. In general use, owners have been critical of the amount of trial software installed, complaining that it slows down the machine considerably. With the trial software stripped out, however, the majority find it to be a perfectly good laptop for the money.

Toshiba Satellite C55-C5241 15.6 Inch Laptop

Consumers expect a certain level of capability from Toshiba, and indeed, the Satellite delivers just about everything a person could want from a mid-range machine. It's not the most glamorous machine on the market, but it is a solid workhorse with adequate speed and generous storage. Processor-intensive operations like multi-tasking and videoconferencing receive much praise from owners, though not everyone likes the feel of the keyboard or the "low-tech" screen. One or two owners also felt that the edges of the case were a bit sharp. Overall, the Toshiba Satellite is a terrific mid-range laptop that satisfies the requirements of most consumers.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (64 GB, Intel Core i3)

The big question about the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is whether it's a tablet or a PC. In many ways, it does work like a regular PC. It runs Windows and compatible programs, it's got a full-size USB port (though only one), the HD screen is considered excellent by most, and the touch sensitivity is easy to manipulate once you get used to it. However, the Surface Pro 3 loses out to the "ordinary" laptop in areas like storage and unrestricted multi-tasking. Few owners consider this machine to be a viable replacement for a business laptop, but the gap is narrowing. There aren't many common complaints (apart from frustration that the keyboard costs extra), but some think the Surface Pro 3 gets too hot when left on for a long time, and a few experienced problems with the included pen.

Apple MacBook Pro MJLT2LL/A 15.4-Inch Laptop with Retina Display

It seems that there's been and ongoing battle between Windows and Apple users for as long as there have been home computers. Although its probably fair to say that each has "borrowed" the best ideas from the other, the experience of using an Apple MacBook Pro is still far different from the experience of using any other PC. New users definitely undergo a learning curve! Having said that, it seems that few who make the transition go back, so Apple appears to be doing something right. This particular Macbook Pro laptop is very fast. It's a genuine replacement for a desktop machine (particularly if you add a large screen). The renowned retina display is quite stunning, and owners who type a lot give the keyboard a high rating. Some owners aren't keen on the "unibody" design (battery changes and upgrades must be done at Apple-approved centers), and it's fair to say that a number of long-time Windows users struggle with the OS. Overall, however, there is little that Apple MacBook owners don't like about their device.

The Toshiba Satellite may not be glamorous, but it's a solid workhorse with adequate speed and generous storage.
Considerations

Price

Acer Chromebook, 11.6-Inch, CB3-111-C670

The smart little Acer Chromebook 11 is just $175 right now. At that price, you might think it's just a cheap laptop that's been quickly thrown together from the lowest-quality components. While the case may look a bit like cheap plastic, owners have praised it for its solid, well-built feel. Some don't like its lack of connectivity or the fact it has no DVD drive, but it should be remembered that the Acer Chromebook is mostly for working online, so external drives are largely redundant. Critics point to the shortage of non-Google apps. (This situation is changing, but it's still a weakness.) A few owners have experienced technical problems. Overall, however, buyers are delighted with what they get for such a low price.

HP Stream 13.3 Inch Laptop

If you want a lightweight, 13-inch laptop, but you don't want a Chromebook, the $251 HP Stream 13 is an attractive alternative. You get the same kind of internet-focused machine you'd get from Acer, but this one's a "proper" Windows model. Like the Acer, the HP Stream is aimed at cloud computing, and it does a more-than-adequate job of it. There are owners who have experienced quality issues, but these don't seem to be common. Some people say that the HP Stream isn't what they hoped it would be, but the majority of these folks also admit that they should have bought a more powerful machine. (Buying a cheap laptop with the hope that it will be better than advertised is never a wise decision.) Conversely, those who understand what the HP Stream has to offer (and decide that it suits their purposes) are consistently satisfied.

Toshiba Satellite C55-C5241 15.6 Inch Laptop

"Mid-range" doesn't just describe the performance and capacity of the Toshiba Satellite. At a cost of $739, it also describes the price. We've called it a workhorse, and that's what it is. The Toshiba Satellite runs Windows 8.1 now and, unlike the HP Stream, it has the power to run Windows 10 when it arrives. In truth, it's a laptop of "quites." It's quite fast, the connectivity options are quite competitive, and it's quite light! In short, it will do what most people want it to do most of the time. Comments like "Great for the price!" and "Heck of a deal!" are common. It has its critics; some think it runs too hot, some don't like the sharp edges, and some complain of component problems. However, the majority of owners are very satisfied.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (64 GB, Intel Core i3)

The cheapest entry-level Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is $629, and for that price, you get tablet and pen. If you want the keyboard (type cover), it will cost extra. The top-of-the-range model, with Core i7 processor and 512 GB of RAM, costs significantly more (still without the keyboard). The Surface Pro 3 is a superb and versatile machine, but it's not cheap, and for most people, it's still not a viable alternative to a traditional laptop. It does polarize owner opinion. A lot of people love it. For many day-to-day tasks and cloud computing, it's a good choice. (But then, so is the budget-priced Acer Chromebook.) Some people hate it. Some call it a "toy." Whether it's right for you or not will depend on your needs. There's no "one size fits all" answer, but the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a tremendous improvement over its previous version.

Apple MacBook Pro MJLT2LL/A 15.4-Inch Laptop with Retina Display

At $2769, you're paying something of a premium for the top-of-the-range Apple MacBook Pro. How do you justify a laptop that costs almost five times as much as the perfectly good Toshiba Satellite? In truth, you're not comparing "like" with "like." The technical specs tell only part of the story. You could look at the MacBook Pro as a powerful desktop computer in a laptop case. The clarity and brilliance of the retina display is supported by the kind of graphics cards that high-end gamers go for. Power is such that it will handle complex, processor-hungry tasks like editing full HD movies. And yet, it's a machine that's often praised for its intuitive interface. Add to that the wide range of built-in programs -- not trials and adware, but fully functioning versions -- and some owners might never need to buy another piece of software! In spite of its price, the Apple MacBook Pro is a popular choice among consumers. Comments like "Excellent at everything!" are common. Although a few owners have experienced technical difficulties, the number of complaints this product receives is much smaller than that of any other model on our elite list.

The affordable Toshiba Satellite is an excellent budget laptop. The majority of owners are highly satisfied.

Best of the Best

Each of our finalists is the top machine in its respective segment. However, the very Best of the Best is the Apple MacBook Pro. This product is highly endorsed by almost every independent review and rating available. Search for "best laptop," and the MacBook Pro frequently comes out on top. We're not surprised; there are few other high-end models that come close to competing with this product.

With five million pixels, the MacBook's stand-out feature its brilliant retina display. If you've never seen one, suffice it to say that it makes quite an impact. Because of the resolution and clarity, it actually looks much bigger than its 15 inches. However, this product is far from just a laptop with a clever screen. Our ratings evaluate the Core i7 processor version and 512GB for a reason: to show you, the consumer, just how much performance is possible from today's top option. At a cost of $2769, it's not cheap, and there are more affordable versions which include the retina screen but less memory and storage. If you're looking for the out-and-out best laptop on the market, however, let's not mince words: it's the MacBook Pro.

This machine's graphics are cutting edge. Intel Iris Pro and NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M are good enough to satisfy even the most fanatical gamer. With PCIe-based Flash Storage and quad-core processing that can run as fast as 3.7GHz, this machine is no slowpoke, either. If you've got intensive tasks to perform, no laptop gets the job done quicker. What's more, you get full versions of iMovie, iPhoto, Pages (a word processor), Numbers (a spreadsheet), Keynote (similar to Powerpoint), and numerous other apps with your purchase. All of these are updated for free, which means you might never need to buy software again!

There are those consumers who don't take to OS X, but the overwhelming majority come to grips with it quickly. Many prefer it to Windows. There are those who say Apple products are overpriced, but we say that the product's build-quality is as exceptional as its performance. While no computer is fault-free, the Apple Macbook Pro is consistently praised for its durability. Ask people what they think of the Apple MacBook Pro and you'll probably get mixed reviews. Ask real owners -- especially those who have also used Windows laptops -- and you'll get an almost unanimous verdict: it's simply the best laptop out there right now.
Best of the Best
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If you've got intensive tasks to perform, no laptop will get the job done quicker than the Apple MacBook Pro.

Best Bang for your Buck

Although the Acer Chromebook 11 and HP Stream are very good for the money, the Best Bang for Your Buck laptop is the Toshiba Satellite.

Throughout our ratings, we've referred to this model as "mid-range," and there's a danger that people will think that term is synonymous with "average" or even "dull." Neither is the case! While the Toshiba Satellite may not be extraordinary at any one thing, it's a great all-rounder at a terrific price.

For just $739, you get a Windows laptop that will pretty much do it all. Its Intel Core i5 processor, running at 2.2Ghz, isn't winning any speed challenges, but it gets the job done. RAM to the tune of 8GB will handle almost everything that you can throw at it, and while some argue that it can't be upgraded, it is actually possible to take it out to 16GB if you need to. The hard drive is a massive 1TB unit. (Not as fast as solid-state drives, perhaps, but that's an awful lot of space!) A multi-function optical drive and enough ports to connect just about anything are also included. The only thing that a few owners are a little critical of is the screen. It's not bad; it's just kind of ordinary.

Our Best of the Best product, the MacBook Pro, is a thing of beauty. The Toshiba Satellite is nicely styled and not too heavy. If you had an unlimited budget, you might not choose it. However, it's a reliable workhorse that receives very few complaints and an awful lot of compliments. Most owners think it's a very good laptop in an extremely competitive segment, and right now, it's also amazingly affordable.
Best Bang for your Buck
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The "mid-range" Toshiba Satellite is far from average. On the contrary, it's a nicely styled, solid workhorse you can really rely on.
The team that worked on this review
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    Bob
    Writer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Editor
  • Ann
    Ann
    Operations
  • Jimi
    Jimi
    Product Analyst
  • Kriti
    Kriti
    Data Scientist
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