This article was last updated by Digital Trends computing editor Luke Larsen on 6/23/2020.
We’ve tested and reviewed well over 400 laptops over the years, searching for the best of the best. So, when it comes to picking the best laptop overall for 2020, there was a clear winner: . With fantastic performance, a display with modern-looking thin bezels, a well-built keyboard and touchpad, and great battery life, the Dell XPS 13 performs well in every important aspect of a laptop.
The best laptops at a glance:
- The best laptop: Dell XPS 13
- The best MacBook: Apple MacBook Air
- The best laptops for students: Asus ZenBook 13 UX333
- The best Chromebook: Google Pixelbook Go
- The best 2-in-1: Microsoft Surface Pro 7
- The best business laptop: HP Elite Dragonfly
- The best budget laptop: Lenovo Yoga C640
- The best gaming laptop: Razer Blade 15
- The best for video editing: Dell XPS 15
- The best for photo editing: Apple MacBook Pro 16
Why should you buy this: It’s portable, fast, attractive, and reasonably priced.
Who’s it for: Everyone except gamers.
Why we picked the Dell XPS 13:
No laptop in the past few years has been more influential than the XPS 13. It started this race to thinner bezels back in 2015, which has now spread to every gadget that has a screen.
In its latest iteration, Dell’s taken things even further. The 2020 XPS 13 has made the screen larger using a 16:10 aspect ratio, all while shrinking the bottom bezel. The result is a larger screen without needing a larger overall laptop.
This year’s XPS 13 also gets a larger keyboard and touchpad, making use of every possible surface of the device. Of course, it’s just as powerful and long-lasting as before, not sacrificing function over form. It’s no longer a cheap laptop, but as far as I’m concerned, the XPS has earned its spot as a premium brand. It all adds up to what is undoubtedly the best laptop you can buy.
Read our in-depth Dell XPS 13 (2020) review
Why should you buy this: Those who want something shiny to bring to school.
Who’s it for: Students and Apple fans.
Why we picked the MacBook Air:
The latest update to the MacBook Air isn’t a reinvention, but it does a number of things right. First off, it gets a price cut, now starting at just $999 (or $899 for students). That also includes a bump to the base storage, now at 256GB.
Most importantly, though, it swaps out the faulty butterfly-mechanism keyboard with the new Magic Keyboard. That means if you purchase the MacBook Air, you’re getting a reliable laptop you can type on for many years without concerns of the keyboard giving out.
Performance, though, should be a consideration. Even the quad-core Core i5 MacBook Air can’t compete with the new 13-inch MacBook Pro. It uses a far less powerful processor, and the screen isn’t as colorful either. Those wanting to do some content creation, whether that’s photography or music production, should stick with a MacBook Pro. But for those who have relatively light computing needs — email, web browsing, productivity apps, Netflix streaming — the Air has plenty of performance to get you by. For most people, the MacBook Air is the best Mac you can buy.
Read our in-depth MacBook Air review
Who’s it for: High school and college students who want portability, power, and long battery life — but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg.
Why we picked the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333:
Students don’t often have the budgets to accommodate premium laptops like the Dell XPS 13, and thus for them, we suggest the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333. It’s an ultrabook that comes with our highest recommendation and costs just $850. While most laptops in this price range cut important things like battery life or display quality, this ZenBook 13 has it all. It’s not as powerful as the Dell XPS 13 or a MacBook Pro, but in its most recent iteration, it almost matches the XPS 13 in terms of its tiny bezels. It’s also a great looking laptop that keeps things light and thin without sacrificing build quality.
The bang-for-your-buck value here is particularly impressive. The base model comes with an eighth-gen Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive. It hasn’t yet been updated to Intel’s latest 10th-gen processor, but it’s still a fast, capable laptop.
It’s remarkable how much laptop you can get for so little money, and that should be of particular interest to cash-strapped students. If you need to dip lower in price, we suggest, which is commonly sold for around $550.
Read our in-depth Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 review
Why should you buy this: You want an inexpensive but well-built Chromebook.
Who’s it for: Students, people who need only basic functionality, anyone who wants a cheap laptop to use as a second PC.
Why we picked the Google Pixelbook Go:
Chromebooks are best-known as cheap alternatives to Windows PCs, and there are plenty of good options for under $500. The Pixelbook Go, though, makes a serious case for a Chromebook with a bit more finesse. It’s beautifully designed, rigidly built, and a joy to use.
Thanks to its ultra-light 2.3-pound weight and fantastic battery life, it’s a great option for students and people taking their work on the go.
With a starting price of $649, it’s not a significant cut from the $999 original Pixelbook. You do, of course, face the usual limitations with Chrome OS. It’s designed around Google’s Chrome web browser, meaning you can’t download your normal Windows applications. It’s wonderfully simple and intuitive to use, however, and with the inclusion of the Google Play Store, you can fill some of the gaps in software with Android apps.
Read our in-depth Google Pixelbook Go review
Why should you buy this: You want a great laptop and a good tablet.
Who’s it for: Anyone who needs versatility on top of performance.
Why we picked the Surface Pro 7:
The Surface Pro line has earned its dedicated following over the years with its excellent detachable keyboard and full Windows 10 performance. It’s the familiar PC experience you’re used to, with the added interest of 2-in-1 capability, Surface Pen stylus compatibility, and a tablet mode. It’s a supremely well-built device, complete with a beautiful, high-resolution display and rock-solid kickstand.
The latest model, the Surface Pro 7, doesn’t make any substantial changes to the formula, but it does offer a couple of key upgrades. You now get a USB-C port rather than a mini-DisplayPort, as well as upgrade performance with 10th-generation Ice Lake processors from Intel. That means snappier performance and improved integrated graphics.
Do we wish the Surface Pro 7 had the slimmer chassis and smaller bezels of the new Surface Pro X? Of course. But the Surface Pro 7 is cheaper, faster, and more universal in terms of app support.
Read our in-depth Surface Pro 7 review
Why you should buy this: This is a business laptop unlike any other.
Who’s it for: Business pros who want a laptop that won’t embarrass them.
Why we picked the HP Elite Dragonfly:
Business laptops have a certain stigma around them. It’s often assumed that they need to be clunky, ugly, and full of bloatware. Not so.
The Elite Dragonfly has everything your IT department will need (and you’ll appreciate), without getting in the way of a supremely beautiful and modern laptop. The ideal person for the Dragonfly is someone who takes their work on the go with them, whether that’s in long flights or subways. That’s where the Dragonfly really comes alive as a highly portable laptop that might actually fit on your pull-down tray.
On top of all that, the Dragonfly is one of the first 5G-enabled laptops, which could come in handy as the faster connectivity standard rolls out.
Read our in-depth HP Elite Dragonfly review
Why you should buy this: Good performance for so little money, and a complete complement of hardware features.
Who’s it for: Those who want a do-everything Windows laptop without breaking the bank.
Why we picked the Lenovo Yoga C640:
Spending under $1,000 on a laptop is dangerous. I say that not because there aren’t good options, but because there’s a lot to dig through to find the gems. The Yoga C640 is the brightest of them. It offers a beautiful 1080p screen, a large keyboard and touchpad, and fantastic battery life. For a laptop that starts at $600, it’s hard to ask for more.
The dual-core, 10th-gen Intel Core i3 isn’t the fastest processor, though it’ll handle basic computing tasks just fine. If your daily routine consists of no more than Chrome, Slack, YouTube, and Spotify, you’ll find plenty of performance here under the hood.
For those that rely on intense multitasking or need to do some occasional heavy lifting, moving up to the $690 model will get you four cores and twice the storage as well. Even at that price, you’re getting an incredible value laptop that should last you for many years.
Read our in-depth Lenovo Yoga C640 review
Why should you buy this: It provides a fantastic gaming experience on the go.
Who’s it for: People who want a fantastic laptop that can also game.
Why we picked the Razer Blade 15:
From the exterior, you might not even know the Razer Blade is a gaming laptop. It’s as light and thin as a MacBook Pro, with thin bezels, a world-class keyboard and touchpad, as well as a bright, vivid, 15-inch display. Even if it weren’t a gaming laptop, the Razer Blade would probably still be a contender for one of the best 15-inch laptops. The fact that it can play games at respectable framerates makes it a bit of a miracle.
Now with new RTX Super graphics, maxing out at the RTX 2080 Super, and a high refresh rate display, the Razer Blade is a killer gaming machine. The Razer Blade made short work of just about everything we threw at it — as long as you stay away from 4K, of course. Razer redesigned its thermal system to ensure that despite some throttling, the Blade can play nearly any game with settings maxed. That includes heavy loads like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Battlefield V.
Simply put, this is the most elegant, beautiful gaming laptop you’ve ever seen. The recent update to options for an OLED 4K panel or a 300Hz refresh rate sweetens the deal even more. If you need something a bit more affordable, the new AMD-powered Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is an excellent choice.
Read our in-depth Razer Blade 15 review
Why should you buy this: You want a portable PC that can churn through your video editing projects.
Who’s it for: Video editors who want powerful components and a big, beautiful display.
Why we picked the Dell XPS 15:
When you’re editing video, you want plenty of space to view both the results and your favorite application’s interface. But, if you’re using a laptop rather than a desktop PC, then you want to be able to do your editing on the go. That’s where 15-inch laptops come in — they’re both powerful and, thanks to today’s thin-bezel movement, highly portable.
The best 15-inch laptop around is the Dell XPS 15 — and in 2020, Dell has relaunched the line with a whole new design. It’s gorgeous. It has an even thinner bezel, now surrounding a 16:10 aspect ratio screen. The 4K screen is slightly taller, and it feels far more immersive thanks to the thin borders. There’s also some improved speakers, a larger touchpad, and a four Thunderbolt 3 ports. Dell even throws in the full-size SD card slot — a huge convenience for video editors.
Internally, you still have an option for an eight-core, Core i9 processor and the latest GTX 1650 Ti graphics. For multi-threaded applications like Adobe Premiere, you can expect some impressive rendering times.
There are two caveats. First, the Core i9 configuration isn’t yet available. Second, the XPS 17 is expected to drop soon as well. It’s a larger and more powerful version of this same laptop.
Read our in-depth Dell XPS 15 (2020) review
Why should you buy this: You want the most extensive software support in a laptop and a picture-perfect display.
Who’s it for: Photo editors who want a display that will give them real-world results.
Why we picked the Apple MacBook Pro:
Apple’s MacBook line has been a favorite among photo editors forever. The company has built up such a huge following by ensuring that the best software runs on MacOS, and by offering some of the best and most accurate displays you can buy.
The MacBook Pro maintains that focus on creative professionals, especially if you opt for the new 16-inch model. It offers plenty of power in a very thin and light form factor, up to eighth-gen Intel Core i7 CPUs, 16GB of RAM, and 2TB of fast storage. And, its display is great for editing photos thanks to a 16:10 aspect ratio providing more vertical space and wide color gamut (100% of sRGB and 91% of AdobeRBG) with the most accurate colors you can get.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro has a similarly-great display with new Intel ninth-gen CPUs, and provides the larger screen that some photographers will appreciate. It also features an improved keyboard and powerhouse performance.
Windows laptops are catching up, but the MacBook Pro retains its place at the top of the photo editing laptop market. It’s not the least expensive photo editing platform around, but it’s still the best.
Read our in-depth Apple MacBook Pro 16 review
How we test
You’ve read our laptop reviews. You’ve read our conclusions. And now you’re wondering how we came to them.
Good question. Reviews often lack context, which is evident in the wildly different scores some laptops receive from different publications. Conflicting opinions can actually make buying a laptop more difficult if the review’s criteria aren’t made clear.
Allow us to lift the veil. Here we’ll explain the benchmarks we use for objective testing and the perspective from which we approach subjective topics. We don’t expect everyone to agree with our opinions, but we hope that sharing our process will leave you better equipped to decide what laptop best fits your needs.
Research and buying tips
- What’s the best laptop brand?
- What’s a 2-in-1 laptop?
- What processor should I buy?
- How much RAM do I need?
- Should I buy a laptop or a tablet?
- Should my laptop have USB-C?
Picking just one laptop brand as the best is a bit of a challenge lately. There are so many great laptops available today, and they come from several manufacturers. Hold our feet to the fire, though, and we’ll have to pick Dell as the overall best. Dell seems invested in applying the latest materials to improve the performance of its laptops, and it’s constantly coming up with new innovative designs.
HP is no slouch either. It, too, utilizes some unique materials and makes some customer-friendly design decisions, such as resisting the thin-and-light trend to pack in more battery capacity.
In terms of customer service and reliability, Apple carries the torch for its convenience. Its issues with its recent keyboards have been fixed, making MacBooks highly durable. Its customer service is top-notch.
A 2-in-1 laptop is one that isn’t limited to the traditional clamshell configuration. Instead, a 2-in-1 can convert from a clamshell into some form of tablet PC that allows for natural inking and media consumption.
The concept isn’t brand-new — Microsoft sold a “Tablet PC” version of Windows as far back as 2001 that supported pen input, but it never caught on. As electronics have gotten more powerful and fit into smaller chassis, and capacitive touch and active pen technology has improved, the modern 2-in-1 has emerged. Microsoft kicked off the form factor with its Surface line in 2012, and most manufacturers followed with their versions.
Today, you can pick from among a variety of different kinds of 2-in-1s. The most popular types are the tablet with a detachable keyboard, epitomized by the Microsoft Surface Pro 7, and the 360-degree convertible where the display flips around to turn into a (usually larger) slate.
The main advantage of the tablet 2-in-1 is portability — tablets are extremely thin, light, and easy to carry around — while they also work the best for drawing and taking notes on the pen-enabled display. The 360-degree convertible 2-in-1, on the other hand, isn’t quite as handy as a tablet but it tends to work better in clamshell laptop mode — especially when using it on the lap, where it’s more stable than most detachable tablets.
The most popular CPUs for laptops today are Intel’s eighth-generation Whiskey Lake processors that include low-power Y-series and fast and efficient U-series. For most productivity Windows 10 users, we recommend a minimum of the Core i5-8265U, which is a highly capable processor that can handle most productivity tasks without slowing down. It’s also efficient, meaning you’ll enjoy great battery life. If you skip back to older generations of Intel processors, you’ll find slower clocks speeds and fewer cores at your disposal, meaning you may run into bottlenecks while multitasking or running multi-threaded applications.
Chromebook running on Google’s more efficient Chrome OS can utilize slower processors and still perform well, such as an Intel Core i3 or even a Pentium processor. Not many Chromebooks bother with the fastest Core i7 CPU.
If you’re looking for a gaming or content creation laptop, we recommend either last year’s eighth-generation or the most current ninth-gen, ultra-power H-series CPUs. You’ll find these in laptops ranging from the MacBook Pro 15 to the Razer Blade.
The sweet spot for memory for both laptops and desktops is 8GB. You can check out our story “How much RAM do I need” for the details. But generally speaking, 8GB will suffice whether you’re running Windows, MacOS, or even the more lightweight Chrome OS. And, it will provide plenty of headroom for multitasking and more demanding applications. If you’re doing high-end photo or video editing, then we recommend 16GB (or more).
As we mentioned above, you can get a tablet that can morph into a laptop just by attaching a keyboard. And so if you really want the power of Windows 10 in a form factor that’s easier to carry around, then you can select a tablet 2-in-1. We don’t recommend these devices as tablets in themselves, as the Windows 10 tablet mode is still fairly limited. If you want the utmost in simplicity and an even smaller device, then a pure tablet like the iPad can be great for web browsing, triaging email, consuming media, and other tasks that don’t require the full power of a “real” PC.
So, where doesn’t a tablet work? If you’re a hardcore gamer, need a laptop that can churn through video and huge photos, or have a need for multitasking. Tablets are very thin and tend to use slower CPUs and integrated graphics that won’t accelerate creative applications or power modern games. Meanwhile, the software on these devices isn’t as full-featured as a desktop operating system like Windows 10 or MacOS.
The short answer is: Yes, you should try to pick up a laptop with at least one USB-C port. This is the latest in connectivity that ensures that you can connect to legacy devices (via adapters) while being covered for future devices as well. USB-C can provide for data transfer, power, and display connections, and USB-C hubs can greatly extend how many peripherals you can easily connect to your laptop.
The good thing is that laptops, even budget models, increasingly include USB-C. The longer answer is that not only do you want USB-C, but you want ports that support the even more powerful Thunderbolt 3 standard. Thunderbolt 3 provides up to 40 gigabits per second (Gb/s) over a single connection, and it can support multiple 4K displays and external GPU enclosures that can greatly improve graphics performance. Lately, even laptops under $1,000 sport Thunderbolt 3 ports.
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