Unlike some facets of life, the market for consumer laptops is always improving. Top-tier manufactures are constantly in competition with one another, consistently outfitting their machines with more RAM, quicker processors, and additional storage while streamlining the design of each system.
Display resolution has also become a major selling point, as some companies begin to equip their flagship models with displays that exceed mere 1080p. Fortunately for consumers, the price of each revision goes down as the capabilities go up.
Even in 2015, though, the age-old expression “you get what you pay for” remains valid. But you can rest assured, the laptops on this list are built to last, with an eye on the future.
Dell XPS 13 ($800+)
Dell surprised us with the XPS 13. The device’s shoestring price, barely-there-bezel, and ultrabook size and weight make it worthy for anyone in the market for a 13-inch laptop. The connectivity is a bit pedestrian and it’s missing HDMI ports, but attractive features like the 1080p display, which can be upgraded to 3,200 x 1,800, more than make up for that slight. There’s a good deal to love, especially when referencing the phenomenal touchpad and long battery life. Simply put, the Dell XPS 13 can go toe-to-toe with Apple’s MacBook Pro for the title of best traveler’s notebook.
15-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina ($2,000+)
Apple’s flagship laptop, once our top recommendation, still isn’t far from being crowned the king. Although it lacks the feather-weight build and sleek design of the recently-launched Macbook, it still offers far more power and performance for the price, while touting a best-in-class Force Touch trackpad and a brilliant Retina display with 2,880 by 1,800-pixel resolution. Moreover, Apple recently stepped up its game, delivering an entry-level model equipped with 8GB of RAM, a 2.2GHz Core i7 processor, and 256GB of solid state storage. The laptop’s robust connectivity and marathon battery life — i.e. 9 hours when surfing the Web or watching video — even relieve any qualms we have regarding its weight or hot running temperature.
13-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina ($1,300+)
The more portable 13-inch Pro isn’t as powerful as its big brother, but it’s much more affordable. Apple has outfitted the Pro’s latest model with the same Retina technology adorning the previous model, and though it’s no longer class-leading, it still produces a phenomenal image given the 2,560 by 1,600-pixel resolution. It also features the aforementioned Force Touch trackpad, which delivers better tactile response and interface options, along with a new Core i5 processor and Intel’s HD 6100 graphics for quick performance across the board. Moreover, it outshines the 15-inch Pro model with 10 hours of battery life, while still providing a host of connectivity options (USB, HDMI, etc.) for connecting extra peripherals.
Asus Zenbook UX305 ($700+)
The Asus Zenbook UX305 may not be the best value in the entire laptop market, but it certainly is the best when talking ultrabooks. The featherweight laptop revels in an ultra-thin design adorned with an obsidian finish — the color, not the volcanic glass — stylistically straddling a line somewhere between a ThinkPad and MacBook Air. The affordable laptop packs in an Intel Core M 6Y10 processor and eight gigabytes of RAM, not to mention a 256GB solid state drive and a high contrast, glare-free 1080p or 3,200 x 1,800 display that manages to retain admirable contrast despite its lack of gloss. Other welcome hallmarks rest in the terrific keyboard, which ditches the backlight for a spacious layout and a level of key travel previously unheard of on a notebook.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 ($900+)
The Surface Pro 4 may technically be a tablet, but it sneaks onto the bottom of our list anyway by providing a top-notch display, powerful performance, and an excellent typing experience with the new Type Cover. Every generation of the Surface Pro improves performance and user experience, but the fourth generation has impressed us in new and exciting ways. It’s actually a bit heavier than a standard tablet, which makes it an excellent laptop replacement, with a slick design and new Skylake CPU, plus an improved touch display with 1024 pressure levels for the new Microsoft Pen. The Surface Pro is finally becoming what Microsoft promised long ago – a tablet that can replace your laptop.