With the rise of a newly-invigorated ultrabook market, it seems like interest in 15-inch laptops – traditionally the best-selling on the market – has waned. There are still plenty of them available, but enthusiasts don’t seem all that interested. And they should be: advances made in the more stylish area of the laptop world have trickled up into more conventional models. 15-inch laptops aren’t the heavy behemoths they used to be, and some of them come with bigger batteries and lower price tags than smaller alternatives.
There’s no particular criteria for the “best” here, these are just five laptops that should match a selection of applications for various users. This guide is focusing on Windows laptops, obviously – if you want a Mac laptop at the 15-inch size, the Macbook Pro 15 with Retina is your only choice.
The latest version of the XPS 15 inherits the styling and the “infinity” display from its 13-inch brother, making it both one of the thinnest laptops and one of the physically smallest. It also gets a much lower price than the 2014 model, at least for the entry models: the price now starts at $1000. Dell has an impressive selection of upgrades available, from a 3,200 x 1,800 touchscreen to extra RAM and storage space, up to 1TB. The top processor available is the latest Core-i7 paired to an NVIDIA 960M graphics card, and more expensive configurations even boost the internal battery to an impressive 84 watt-hour version.
If you need a 15-inch screen in a much more compact package than usual, the XPS 15 is easily the best choice, and a plethora of configuration options should fit a range of budgets. The only downside is the somewhat limited keyboard: while it features backlighting, it omits the 10-key area that some buyers might expect from a larger machine –but then, the omission is why this laptop is so compact.
The Zenbook Pro UX501 is Asus’ top of the line model, offering an impressive all-metal body and an available 4K screen, one of the only in the category. Pair it to the GeForce 960M mobile graphics card, and you have one of the most appealing workstation-class laptops around. Performance is aided by processor options going up to a Core-i7 and a PCIe x4 interface for the solid state drive.
The UX501 is large enough for a full 10-key number pad, and it includes an impressive 96-watt hour battery, but unfortunately the laptop is only rated for 6 hours of battery life. It’s also running a bit behind in the processor department, offering only the 4th-generation Core i7 at the moment while other machines on this list go up to 6th-gen Skylake chips. The standard model uses a 256GB SSD with a whopping 16GB of RAM for $1499.
The ThinkPad T series is the workhorse of the business world, and the latest versions have an new trick up their sleeves. The T550 features two batteries, one internal and one external, the latter of which can be swapped out without powering down the laptop. Opt for the 6-cell version (which does increase the size and weight by a fair bit) and you can get up to 15 hours out of the machine.
Like most ThinkPads, the T550 isn’t much to write home about in terms of looks, but its keyboard is second to none, includes a 10-key, and has the signature ThinkPad trackpoint. There’s an impressive selection of upgrades on the $875 base model, including 5th-gen Core-i5/i7 processors, a 2×880 x 1×620 touchscreen, and up to 512GB of SSD storage. It also features more expansion than most laptops, with user-accessible RAM and hard drive areas, 3 USB 3.0 ports, a full Ethernet port, and VGA and DisplayPort for video.
Available at: Amazon
If you prefer a convertible notebook with a touchscreen, they’re in short supply at the 15″ size – the larger screen and keyboard section tends to make things cumbersome. Even so there are a few options, notably the Lenovo Flex 3. The screen bends back on itself and allows you to use it as a (huge!) tablet. It’s also handy in “tent” or “stand” mode if you’d like to connect an external mouse and keyboard for an all-in-one experience.
Though the fit and finish is a bit more down-market than the rest of the laptops here, it’s still offered with a Core-i7 processor and a GTX 940 graphics card, which should handle the graphics pretty well, since the screen tops out at 1,920 x 1,080. Prices start at about $500 for the entry-level model, which includes a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM, but you’ll want to spring for the $649 model to get an i5 processor instead of a Pentium.
Available at: Amazon
Dell’s Inspiron series is something of a staple for affordable laptops, and they don’t come much cheaper than the 3000 model. That said, the latest version offer a surprisingly compact if utilitarian design and a decent all-black look and a 10-key pad on the keyboard. For $300 you get 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive, but you’ll have to settle for a 1,366 x 768 screen (which is definitely a bit low for the size) and a Celeron processor.
The most expensive model, which is only $379 at the time of writing, upgrades the processor to a Pentium model and swaps out the hard drive for a 128GB SSD. You still can’t get a sharper screen, however – for that you’ll have to upgrade to the Inspiron 15 7000, a two-in-one design that’s still fairly reasonable at $549.