If you’re in the market for a new laptop, there are a lot of choices out there — they come in all different sizes, speeds, and price points — and it can get overwhelming, fast.
There are various brands, operating systems, and features to choose from. There are different sizes, styles, and storage capacities.
The best place to start is by knowing that there are three major categories in the laptop world: Chromebooks, MacBooks, and Windows-based laptops.
The right one for you will depend on what you’ll be using it for and your budget. Here’s everything you need to know to find your perfect laptop.
The case for Chromebooks
Google’s Chromebooks are everywhere: they’re super affordable, usually lightweight, and plenty of professionals swear by them. So what’s the big deal?
Chromebooks run ChromeOS, Google’s operating system that’s based on their Chrome browser. ChromeOS is built on an “everything in the cloud” model, so they’re super secure (because Google’s web apps like Gmail and Gdocs are always up-to-date), and they come with a lot of peace of mind — because if your Chromebook is ever lost or stolen, your data is still safe and sound online.
Best of all, because Chromebooks use web-based software (and don’t have to do any heavy lifting for local software), they don’t need as much horsepower under the hood as a typical laptop, so you can find a speedy Chromebook at a fraction of the cost of a traditional laptop.
Good: The Samsung Chromebook 3 ($179.99) is our favorite entry-level Chromebook because it’s crazy affordable but doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to performance. The included 4GB of RAM means you can keep plenty of tabs open at once, and its 11.6-inch screen means it has a small footprint, so it’s plenty light at only 2.5 pounds. If you’re looking for an ultra-portable, ultra-affordable laptop that can keep up with schoolwork, this is a solid choice.
Better: The ASUS Chromebook C425 ($329.99) is a step up, bringing with it a bigger screen, more RAM, and a hinge that lets you fold the screen down completely for easy sharing with others. It’s got a backlit keyboard, both USB-C and traditional USB ports for connecting any peripherals, and its metal design makes it as sleek as it is powerful. If you need a laptop that’s big and functional enough to keep up with a moderate amount of work, this is your best option.
Best: The Google Pixelbook ($899.99) is the flagship model: a Chromebook designed by Google with hardware specs that rival the most powerful Windows and Mac competitors. It’s the most expensive Chromebook — although still more affordable than similarly powered machines with other operating systems — but what you get is a top-notch experience, from pages that load in milliseconds to the included Google Assistant. If you’re looking for a Chromebook that will last several years and never slow you down, the Pixelbook is as good as they get.
Honorable mention: Acer’s 2018 Chromebook ($186) makes some reasonable compromises if you’re looking for a bargain on a 15.6-inch laptop. It has WiFi, Bluetooth, and an HDMI port, which means it can keep you connected, and it’s even useful for presenting with an external monitor or projector. The screen resolution is slightly lower than other models and it doesn’t have any USB-C ports, but for many users, those are reasonable concessions — especially when you get a fast, capable, full-size laptop at a price like this.
Apple is famous for making some of the most powerful laptops in the world — and the most expensive. They all run macOS, the company’s operating system that’s legendary for its stability, power, and flexibility.
Apple’s laptops, dubbed MacBooks, last for years longer than other laptops, and they integrate natively with Apple’s other products like the iPhone and the Apple Watch. If you’re a fan of any of Apple’s other products, you owe it to yourself to check out their laptops. Here’s our take on MacBooks.
Good: The MacBook Air ($699.95) is Apple’s thin and light laptop, and it’s what many users consider the “Goldilocks” model: it’s just right in terms of size, power, and flexibility. It’s got 8GB of RAM, which is plenty for most users, and at 3 pounds, it’ll easily fit in any backpack or purse. Don’t be fooled by the affordable price tag: this is a beast of a laptop that’s good for just about any use case.
Better: The MacBook Pro 13-inch model ($1,549.99) brings a lot more power with it and is a great option for anyone who needs a laptop for work that requires intense processing, like working with video, large graphics files, or compiling large amounts of code. It’s more affordable than Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro, but doesn’t make huge sacrifices — it’s got the same Retina display and Touch Bar and is even a pound lighter. If you need a fantastic Mac laptop but you’re not ready to pay the absolute premium price of the high-end model, pick up this one.
Best: The MacBook Pro 16-inch ($2,199) is Apple’s biggest, fastest laptop ever. It’s about as close to perfect as laptops come: it’s got a giant Retina display, a whopping 16GB of RAM, and a battery that can last up to 11 hours. The price tag definitely matches, but if you need a laptop that can take on any task, there is no better choice.
Honorable mention: While there aren’t any runner-up MacBooks, if you’re not ready to take the plunge, you might consider getting an iPad Pro ($799.99) instead. With an iPad, you get processing power that’s as capable as a laptop in a tablet form factor. Using an iPad means using iPadOS instead of macOS, but with millions of apps available in Apple’s App Store, you’re sure to find software that can do anything you need.
Although laptops running Microsoft Windows no longer dominate the market, they’re still widely available and plenty popular. For many users, Windows-based laptops offer a balance — they run a traditional operating system and are often built with cutting-edge specs but are more affordable than MacBooks.
They often include features you won’t find anywhere else, like touchscreen displays or SD card slots. If you haven’t used a Windows laptop in a while, they’re definitely worth a fresh look; manufacturers have worked hard to keep up with Chromebooks and MacBooks, and their work is paying off. Here are our favorite Windows-based laptops.
Good: The ASUS VivoBook 2 ($409) is one of our favorite laptops because it does a lot of different things well: at under 3 pounds, it’s ultra-portable, and with a built-in touchscreen, it’s also a speedy tablet with a beautiful 14-inch screen. It’s got every port you need, including USB-C and HDMI, but it’s still super thin and includes a battery that lasts up to 9 hours. If you’re a fan of Windows — or just a fan of terrific value — the VivoBook deserves your attention.
Better: Dell’s latest Inspiron laptop ($427.93) is a business laptop through and through, and it’s one of the best options for professionals. It’s got everything: a spacious 15.6-inch screen, a seventh-generation Intel processor, 8GB of RAM, and a speedy 256GB solid-state drive. All of that adds up to one reliable laptop, and at this price, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal on a Windows laptop.
Best: Microsoft’s own flagship laptop, the Surface Pro 7 ($773.48) is one of the most versatile models available because it blurs the line between laptop and tablet and succeeds in both contexts. Everything about the Surface Pro is luxury, from the high-end finishes to the detachable, impossibly thin keyboard. It even includes a kickstand, so you can use it on any desk as a portable screening room for your favorite TV shows or movies. If you’re partial to powerful Windows machines, or your employer requires you to use them, the Surface Pro 7 is the absolute best of the best.
Honorable mention: The Acer Aspire 5 ($326.63) may look like an ordinary Windows laptop, but it’s got some secret weapons onboard — namely, the AMD Ryzen processor and Vega 3 graphics chip. That means it’s not just a speedy laptop at a bargain price; it’s also great for gaming, so you’ll always be able to jump into your favorite titles wherever you are. Add to that the extensive suite of ports, and you’ve got a laptop that’s more than the sum of its parts.