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 a 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 budget laptop: Acer Aspire E 15
- The best gaming laptop: Razer Blade 15
- The best for video editing: Dell XPS 15
- The best for photo editing: Apple MacBook Pro
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:
The Dell XPS 13 has been our favorite laptop for years now, but it always came with a caveat. The webcam position. We always thought it was worth the sacrifice for most people, but for those that depend on a webcam for video conferencing, it was an issue.
In the 2019 version, Dell has fixed that. By engineering a smaller webcam, the company has managed to squeeze it in into the top bezel without growing much at all. That means the XPS 13 keeps its fantastic, thin-bezel design we’ve always loved — but now without any of the trade-offs. The thin bezel design is as functional as it is beautiful, making the overall footprint of the system smaller and lighter.
Does that make the XPS 13 too small? Nope. The touchpad is still as large as the competition and the keyboard is a breeze to use. The system is also energy efficient with a respectable battery size, and so it can last all day on a charge in most situations and handle pretty much anything you throw at it. The same goes for performance, where Dell’s thermal solution continues to push its 10th-gen CPUs to new heights.
In 2020, Dell has launched an update that redesigns the XPS 13 to match the XPS 13 2-in-1. It now features a smaller bottom bezel, an edge-to-edge keyboard, and a more aluminum up the sidewalls. From what we’ve seen so far, it looks like a beautiful update to what is already the best laptop you can buy.
Read our full Dell XPS 13 (2019) review
Why should you buy this: You need MacOS, and Windows just won’t cut it.
Who’s it for: Students and Apple fans.
Why we picked the MacBook Air:
No, the new MacBook Air isn’t the most powerful Mac laptop — that’s the 16-inch MacBook Pro with a discrete graphics card and up to an eight-core processor. For video editors and designers, that’ll always be the best MacBook. But for everyone else, the MacBook Air is the starting point. Apple has cleaned up its lineup and discontinued the ultra-portable MacBook and non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro, leaving the Air as the default option for most people. That’s a good thing because it’s an incredibly well-rounded laptop.
The MacBook Air is a compromise of the new and the old, which makes it a balanced option for today. It has Touch ID but not the Touch Bar, and comes with USB-C but doesn’t limit you to just one like the old MacBook. It’s relatively thin and light, has a higher-resolution Retina screen, and enjoys the best battery life of your Mac options. It also shares the same excellent trackpad of the MacBook Pro.
No, the dual-core processor isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind. But if all you need from a laptop is word processing, Chrome, and Netflix, the MacBook Air shouldn’t slow you down. Nor should the $1,099 starting price (or $999 for students). You can find more powerful, quad-core laptops in the Windows 10 space, but the MacBook Air is an entry-level laptop we can all get behind.
Read our full 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 or Huawei MateBook X Pro, 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. That’s twice the memory and storage of the $900 Dell XPS 13 — and better battery life than what you’ll find in other competitors. Though you can still buy the UX331UA, the newest version has thinner bezels, a lighter chassis, and improved battery life in web browsing. 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 full Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 review
Why should you buy this: You want an inexpensive but well-built 2-in-1.
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 full 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 the cheaper and more dependable option of the two, and it easily maintains its status as the best 2-in-1 you can buy.
Read our full 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 full HP Elite Dragonfly review
Why you should buy this: Surprisingly 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 Acer Aspire E 15:
Typically, the more you dip into the budget end of the laptop pricing scale the worse your experience. The Acer Aspire E 15 bucks that trend, providing everything you need in a computer for not a lot of money. It’s big and heavy with a dull look, but then again it does pack in a DVD recorder, a discrete GPU, and modern components. Simply put, it’s an excellent budget laptop and a really good computer, period.
Its eighth-generation Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM keeps performance humming. And, if you want to do some light gaming or speed up your creative applications, then you can opt for the version with the Nvidia MX150 discrete graphics. Yes, it has comically large bezels, but they surround a surprisingly good Full HD display that has more contrast than many premium laptops. The Aspire E 15 can also last you through most of a work or school day, it sports a comfortable keyboard, and it can be upgraded with more and faster RAM and storage — letting you spend less upfront but grow as you need to do.
We like the Acer Aspire E 15 a lot. It costs as little as many Chromebooks and is simply a great budget laptop.
Our full Acer Aspire E 15 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.
With new RTX Max-Q graphics, maxing out at the RTX 2080, 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 240Hz refresh rate sweetens the deal even more. Options like the Alienware Area-51m might perform better, but for our money, this is the gaming laptop we’d choose every time.
Read our full 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 2019, it’s even better than before. With up to an eight-core, Core i9 processor and the latest GTX 1650 graphics, you now have way more processing cores at your disposal. For multi-threaded applications like Adobe Premiere, you can expect some impressive rendering times. You even have two options for a screen at the same price: A gorgeous OLED 4K screen or a touch-capable 4K LED screen.
Overall, the XPS 15 is easily the best all-around 15-inch laptop on the market today, making it the ultimate video-editing laptop too.
Read our full Dell XPS 15 (2019) 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 8th-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 gamuts (100 percent of sRGB and 91 percent of AdobeRBG) with the most accurate colors you can get. The 16-inch MacBook Pro has a similarly-great display with new Intel 9th-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 the best.
Read our full 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 (e.g., its Spectre Folio that’s literally constructed of leather) 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 keyboard aside, MacBooks tend to be highly durable, and 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 6, 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 8th-generation or the most current 9th-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. You’re not likely to get Thunderbolt 3 support in laptops less than $1,000, but if you’re spending premium money today, then you should expect at least one USB-C with Thunderbolt 3.
- The best laptops for video editing in 2020
- The best budget laptops for 2020
- Chromebooks vs. laptops
- The best laptop deals for February 2020: Dell XPS 13, HP Spectre X360, and more
- The best laptops for photo editing