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Best laptop 2021: top picks for every user and every budget

Image of some of the best laptops you can buy
(Image credit: Future)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

If you're looking for the best laptop you can buy in 2021, then you've come to the right place. On this page you'll find top notebooks that have been hand-picked by us, after some rigorous testing.

Our current pick for the best laptop of 2021 is the excellent MacBook Air (M1, 2020). While it launched last year, it's yet to be beaten when it comes to design, performance, value and battery life.

If you're looking for something more affordable, then the Acer Swift 3 is our choice for the best budget laptop you can buy right now, offering a perfect balance of affordability and performance.

We've also got a selection of brilliant gaming laptops, cheap Chromebooks and high-end Ultrabooks from the best laptop brands, including Dell, HP and Apple on this page, which means no matter what your budget is, we have the perfect choice for you.

Buying a new laptop can be confusing, so we've also included advice on buying the best laptop for your needs and budget.

How to pick the best laptop for you

So, what makes a laptop worth buying? First, it needs to offer excellent value for money. That means budget laptops below the $400/£400 price point need to still offer good performance and build quality.

Meanwhile, ultra-expensive devices need to justify their high price tags with best-in-class performance, premium build quality and lengthy battery lives.

If you want something to work on, a laptop with a modern processor, at least 8GB of RAM and a large screen (and comfortable keyboard) are worth considering.

For gaming, you'll want a gaming laptop with a dedicated graphics card and fast and responsive screen.

Check out our guide on what you should look for when buying a new laptop at the end of this page for more in-depth advice on buying a laptop.

Best laptops 2021

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MacBook Air on white background with screen open

(Image credit: Apple)
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MacBook Air (M1, 2020) shot from above

(Image credit: Apple)
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A side view of the MacBook Air partially open on a white background

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Apple MacBook Air (M1 2020)

The best laptop of 2021

Specifications
CPU: Apple M1
Graphics: Integrated 7-core /8-core GPU
RAM: 8GB – 16GB
Screen: 13.3-inch (diagonal) 2,560 x 1,600 LED-backlit display with IPS technology
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Dimensions: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.63 inches (30.41 x 21.24 x 1.61cm; W x D x H)
Reasons to buy
+Silent to use+Amazing battery life
Reasons to avoid
-No new design-Fanless design could impact performance

The new Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020) isn't just the best laptop Apple has ever made, it's the best laptop money can buy right now. This is the first time a MacBook has topped our list, but the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is worthy of this spot. Thanks to the revolutionary ARM-based Apple M1 chip that powers the new MacBook Air (Apple has ditched Intel for these new laptops), this is a stunning achievement: a thin and light laptop that offers great performance, even with 4K video editing, while also offering incredible battery life. 

Easily managing over 11 hours on a single charge, this is a laptop you can easily carry around with you at work or school, and its price is incredibly competitive compared to Windows 10 rivals like the Dell XPS 15 (below). Running both new and old Mac apps, the new MacBook Air can now also run iOS apps for iPhone and iPads, giving it access to hundreds of brilliant mobile applications and games as well.

Even if you've only ever used Windows laptops before, the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is well worth getting and making the jump to macOS. Yes, it really is that good. Make sure you check out all the best MacBook Air deals and sales available now before you buy.

Read the full review: MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

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Surface Laptop 4 on white background with the Windows 10 desktop showing on the screen

(Image credit: Microsoft)
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Front shot of the Surface Laptop 4 on white background

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side image of the Surface Laptop 4

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The rear shot of the Surface Laptop 4

(Image credit: Microsoft)

2. Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

The best Windows laptop

Specifications
CPU: 11th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7 /AMD Ryzen 5 - 7
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe / AMD Radeon
RAM: 8GB – 32GB
Screen: 13.5-inch PixelSense (2,256 x 1,504) touch
Storage: 256GB – 1TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Comfortable keyboard+Beautiful screen
Reasons to avoid
-Not enough ports-Alcantara fabric might get gross over time

While Apple blew us away with the new MacBook Air (above), arch rival Microsoft has also impressed us with its new Surface Laptop 4, landing straight in at number 2. As with previous Surface devices, build quality and design is absolutely top-notch here, and its gorgeous PixelSense touchscreen really sets it apart from the competition (a touchscreen is something we've yet to see on an Apple laptop, as Microsoft likes to remind us).

It also comes with a brilliant keyboard that's a joy to type on, and some pretty great specs as well, which ensures that Windows 10, and all your favorite apps, run extremely well. Battery life is also very impressive – lasting over 13 hours in our tests – and the price is impressively competitive as well.

Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

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Image of the Dell XPS 15 from an angle with the screen open

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Image of two Dell XPS 15 laptops on a white background

(Image credit: Dell)

3. Dell XPS 15 (2020)

The best laptop in 2021 for productivity

Specifications
CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics - Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti
RAM: 8GB – 64GB
Screen: 15.6" FHD+ (1920 x 1200) IPS - UHD+ (3840 x 2400)
Storage: 256GB – 1TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Fast performance+Eye-catching design
Reasons to avoid
-GTX 1650 Ti is a little weak-15-inch screen might be too large for some

The Dell XPS 15 ticks pretty much every box when it comes to what we want from a laptop. The end result is that the Dell XPS 15 (2020) is about as close to perfect as a laptop can get and one of the best Dell laptops to date; there's really not a lot we can fault it for. It's got some of the latest, and best, mobile tech from Intel, and can even be configured with a discrete GPU, making it adept at images and as for video editing software, and even a spot of light gaming.

It also features one of the finest designs we've seen in a laptop, and is arguably the most stylish Windows 10 laptop in 2021. Battery life is also phenomenal, and the price, while high, isn't that bad considering what you get. If the 15-inch screen is a little too big, then the Dell XPS 13 (also on this list) is worth considering, as is the MacBook Air at the top of this page.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 15 (2020)

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The HP Spectre x360 with screen open on a white background

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Image of the back of the HP Spectre x360 laptop with the HP logo showing

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Image of the HP Spectre x360 folded in tent mode

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4. HP Spectre x360 (2021)

This year's model is a brilliant 13-inch laptop

Specifications
CPU: 11th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
RAM: 8GB – 16GB
Screen: 13.3" FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS BrightView micro-edge WLED-backlit multitouch – 13.3" diagonal 4K (3840 x 2160) UWVA BrightView micro-edge AMOLED multitouch
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous design+Excellent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Fans can get noisy-Pricey

Now coming with 11th-generation Intel Core processors, which offer a decent performance boost, and feature better integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics, the HP Spectre x360 (2021) is better than ever.

It still features the impeccable 2-in-1 design and pristine gem-cut chassis that these laptops are known for, meaning that the HP Spectre x360 (2021) is one of the best looking 2-in-1 laptops ever made, and when it comes to build quality, it's rivalled only by the excellent MacBook Air (M1, 2020).

While it's certainly pricey, you're getting some excellent extras, such as formidable security features and Bang & Olufsen speakers. If you care about aesthetics as much as you do performance and overall quality, this is the laptop for you.

Read the full review: HP Spectre x360 (2021)

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Image of the Dell XPS 13 (Late 2020) laptop on a white background with the screen open and showing the Windows 10 desktop

(Image credit: Dell)
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Top-down view of the Dell XPS 13 (Late 2020) laptop

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Side view of the Dell XPS 13 (Late 2020) laptop

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Front view of the Dell XPS 13 (Late 2020)

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Image of the Dell XPS 13 (Late 2020) laptop in black

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5. Dell XPS 13 (Late 2020)

Dell does it again

Specifications
CPU: Up to 11th Generation Intel Core i7-1165G7
Graphics: Up to Intel Iris Xe Graphics
RAM: Up to 32GB 4267MHz LPDDR4x
Screen: 13.4" FHD+ (1920 x 1200) InfinityEdge Non-Touch Anti-Glare 500-Nit – 13.4" UHD+ (3840 x 2400) InfinityEdge Touch Anti-Reflective 500-Nit Display
Storage: Up to 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe
Reasons to buy
+Stunning design+Gorgeous 16:10 display+Excellent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Sound quality is just OK-Pricey

At this point, we doubt that the Dell XPS line can do anything wrong. Its yearly updates have consistently made it into our best laptops list, and they’re only getting better. The Dell XPS 13 (2020) is not only a gorgeous piece of kit. It also comes, as expected, with excellent performance, a stunning display and long battery life, alongside a few others.

Much like its predecessor, it’s a pricey investment – but that is barely reason enough for us to discourage Ultrabook fans. Once again, Dell has produced an incredibly accomplished thin and light notebook that's a joy to use, and well worth investing in, if you have the budget.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 13 (2020) 

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Razer Blade 14 laptop open showing desktop wallpaper

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Razer Blade 14 laptop partially opened and shot from behind

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Razer Blade 14 laptop closed on white background

(Image credit: Razer)

6. Razer Blade 14

The top laptop for gaming in 2021

Specifications
CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 - RTX 3080
RAM: 16GB
Screen: 14-inch 144Hz Full HD – 14-inch 165Hz QHD
Storage: 1TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Beautiful chassis+Thin and light
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Not the most powerful

This luxurious thin and light gaming laptop from Razer just oozes class, and is an ideal laptop for people who want a gaming device they can take around with them. It's solidly built, so you won't worry about it getting damaged during your travels, and it's one of the nicest looking modern gaming laptops we've seen.

It's not all about looks, however, as the Razer Blade 14 comes with cutting edge components as well, including the awesome AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX processor and up to an RTX 3080 graphics card. This means you'll be able to play any AAA game you want in all its glory. It's by far the best gaming laptop you can buy in in 2021, but it does cost a lot of money.

Read the full review: Razer Blade 14

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Image of the LG Gram 16 (2021) laptop from the front with Windows 10 desktop on the screen and the Start menu showing

(Image credit: LG)
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Angled image of the LG Gram 16 (2021) laptop with the Windows 10 desktop and Start menu on the screen

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Image of the LG Gram 16 (2021) from another angle with the Windows 10 desktop and Start menu on the screen

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Image of the LG Gram 16 (2021) laptop with lid partially closed

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7. LG Gram 17 (2021)

A great new super-light laptop for 2021

Specifications
CPU: 11th-generation Intel Core i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
RAM: 16GB LPDDR4X
Screen: 17-inch WQXGA (2560 x 1600) IPS LCD
Storage: up to 2TB NVMe SSD
Reasons to buy
+Excellent battery life+Large, high-quality display+Very light
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Subject to screen glare

The new LG Gram 17 once again features an incredibly light design, and comes with some of the best mobile tech in the world.

That includes Intel's new 11th generation processors and Iris Xe graphics as well as two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, and coupled with up to 16GB of RAM and speedy SSDs, means this is a laptop that is brilliant for day-to-day tasks. Battery life is also phenomenal, easily lasting around 12 hours on a single charge.

It's a great choice for carrying around for school and work, then. However, it is expensive, and the design is a little plain.

The long battery life and stunner of a screen are back, though so too is its steep price tag. It’s worth it though if you want the power and portability of Ultrabooks yet also need a bigger screen.

Read the full review: LG Gram 17 (2021) 

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Image of the Acer Swift 3 laptop front the front

(Image credit: Acer)
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Acer Swift 3 from a slight angle with lid open and screen showing Windows 10 background

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Acer Swift 3 in silver with screen open

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Image of the back of the Acer Swift 3 laptop

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8. Acer Swift 3

The best budget laptop in the world

Specifications
CPU: up to Intel Core i7-8565U
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce MX150, Intel HD Graphics 620 or AMD Radeon Vega 8
RAM: 4GB – 8GB
Screen: 14-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) ComfyView IPS – 15.6" Full HD (1920 x 1080)
Storage: 128GB – 1 TB HDD, 16 GB Intel Optane Memory
Reasons to buy
+Superb keyboard and trackpad+Excellent performance+Very reasonably priced
Reasons to avoid
-Looks a little plain

Beyond the Acer Swift 3's modest exterior, you'll find an excellent laptop that boasts plenty of power for work and study. The Swift 3 (not to be confused with the Switch 3 another laptop from Acer) is an inexpensive laptop; however, that plain chassis is all-aluminum and packed with beefy components. 

In terms of performance, it gets surprisingly close to the far more expensive Microsoft Surface Laptop. Its display is a little lower-res, but the two are otherwise strikingly similar - other than the price. 

This laptop is incredible to use as well, with its roomy trackpad as well as its backlit keyboard that offers a comfortable typing experience with decent travel. If you're going to be writing a lot – whether you’re traveling or at the office, this is one of the best budget laptops 2021 has on offer.

Read the full review: Acer Swift 3

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MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) image from above, showing the keyboard

(Image credit: Apple)
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Front-on image of the MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)

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Close up of MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) ports

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Close up image of MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) keyboard

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9. MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)

Still one of the best laptops by Apple

Specifications
CPU: 9th-generation Intel Core i7 – i9
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 5300M – Radeon Pro 5500M
RAM: 16GB – 64GB
Screen: 16-inch Retina display with True Tone
Storage: 512GB – 8TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Stunning 16-inch screen+New and improved keyboard
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Limited to four Thunderbolt 3 ports

While we're sad that the 15-inch MacBook Pro is no more, we’ve welcomed the MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) with open arms. As thin, light and sleek as ever, you wouldn’t think this was a 16-inch behemoth. 

Yet, you’re getting that extra real estate on that stunning display, as well as the latest and greatest components behind it. This is, without a doubt, the best MacBook for content creators, designers and other creative professionals. With amazing (and loud) speakers and a much, much better keyboard to boot. While Apple has a newer, MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) model, we still prefer the older 16-inch model for a few reasons. For a start, it's more powerful, with a discrete GPU that's handy for graphically-intensive tasks, and the larger 16-inch screen is much more comfortable to work on.

There's also the fact the the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), which sits at the top this list, is just so good, with pretty much the same hardware and screen as the M1 MacBook Pro 13-inch, which makes the more expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro kind of redundant. Not so with the beastly 16-inch MacBook Pro, however.

Read the full review: MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)

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Image of the Asus TUF Dash F15 laptop from the front with the screen open. The laptop is white

(Image credit: Asus)
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Image of the Asus TUF Dash F15 from above with the WASD keys on the keyboard colored in blue

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Asus TUF Dash F15 from behind

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Asus TUF Dash F15 from behind at an angle

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10. Asus TUF Dash F15

The best affordable gaming laptop

Specifications
CPU: Up to Intel Core i7-11375H
Graphics: Up to NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070
RAM: Up to 16GB DDR4-3200
Screen: Up to 15.6-inch WQHD anti-glare 165Hz IPS-level display with Adaptive Sync
Storage: Up to 1TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Long battery life+Strong gaming performance
Reasons to avoid
-No webcam-Keyboard lighting color can't be changed

The Asus TUF Dash F15 is ideal if you're looking for a machine that can play the latest games, but doesn't blow a hole in your bank balance.

Asus' TUF lineup of laptops have been earning plaudits for their excellent value for money, and the new Asus TUF Dash F15 continues that fine tradition. With excellent build quality, a brilliant battery for a gaming laptop, and an impressively thin and light design, this is a brilliant value gaming laptop.

It also features Intel Tiger Lake processors, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3000 mobile GPUs, and up to a 240Hz 1080p display.

Read the full review: Asus TUF Dash F15

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Image of the HP Elite Dragonfly G2 laptop from behind

(Image credit: HP)
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Image of the HP Elite Dragonfly G2 with screen folded back

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Image of the HP Elite Dragonfly G2 laptop in tent mode

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Image of the HP Elite Dragonfly G2 in tablet mode with stylus

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HP Elite Dragonfly G2

(Image credit: HP)

11. HP Elite Dragonfly G2

The best 2-in-1 laptop 2021

Specifications
CPU: 11th-generation Intel Core i3 – i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
RAM: 8GB - 32GB
Screen: 13.3-inch diagonal BrightView LED FHD, 400 nits – 13.3-inch diagonal BrightView LED 4K UHD HDR-400 550 nits
Storage: up to 2TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Comfortable keyboard+Excellent screen
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-USB-C ports on only one side

The HP Elite Dragonfly G2 takes everything that we loved about the original HP Elite Dragonfly, and adds cutting-edge Intel technology and a gorgeous 4K screen. This means HP has once again made the best 2-in-1 laptop money can buy in 2021, and it's a worthy inclusion in this list.

You get that gorgeous 2-in-1 design, which allows you to turn this thin and light laptop into a tablet-like device, plus one of the best battery lives we've experienced on a Windows 10 laptop. It also comes with more powerful 11th-gen Intel Core chips, Intel Iris Xe graphics, and now a 4K display, upgrading from its previous Full HD models. There’s a lot to love here, and it might just be as close to being the perfect business laptop as any manufacturer can get. If you can afford it. 

Read the full review: HP Elite Dragonfly G2 

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Image of the HP Envy x360 13 (2020) laptop

(Image credit: HP)
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Image of the HP Envy x360 13 (2020) laptop with screen folded back

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Image of the HP Envy x360 13 (2020) laptop from the side

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Image of HP Envy x360 13 (2020) in tablet mode

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12. HP Envy x360 13 (2020)

The best affordable 2-in-1

Specifications
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 4500U
Graphics: Integrated Radeon Graphics
RAM: 8GB
Screen: 13.3" diagonal FHD IPS (1,920 x 1,080)
Storage: 256 GB – 1TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Excellent battery life+Quick charging
Reasons to avoid
-USB port cover hinges feel weak and awkward-No 4K display option

The excellent HP Envy x360 13 (2020) proves that you can have a premium-feeling and looking 2-in-1 laptop without having to pay an outrageous amount for it. As with all of HP's modern laptops, the HP Envy x360 13 (2020) is beautifully designed, and comes with a stunning screen and some of the best speakers we've heard in a laptop.

If you're after a laptop that can also double as a tablet-like device, then the HP Envy x360 13 (2020) is a great choice, packing modern components from AMD, and an excellent battery.

Read the full review: HP Envy x360 (2020)

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Google Pixelbook Go

(Image credit: Google)
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Google Pixelbook Go

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Google Pixelbook Go

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Google Pixelbook Go

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Google Pixelbook Go

(Image credit: Google)

13. Google Pixelbook Go

The best Chromebook

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core m3 - Intel Core i7
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 615
RAM: 8GB - 16GB
Screen: 13.3-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) or 4K LCD touchscreen
Storage: 128GB - 256GB eMMC
Reasons to buy
+Incredible battery life+Amazing ‘Hush’ keyboard
Reasons to avoid
-Iffy pricing at mid- to- high-end-No biometric login

Google's Pixelbook Go is the best Chromebook money can buy right now, with the company showing everyone else how it's done. Its previous Chromebook, the Pixelbook, was a brilliant Chromebook in its own way, but it cost a small fortune. 

The Pixelbook Go, on the other hand, is a more affordable Chromebook that retains a lot of its predecessor's premium features, while bringing some brilliant upgrades as well, including an astounding battery life and fantastic keyboard. 

It features some impressive specs for a Chromebook, which ensures that Chrome OS positively flies on this device, and puts its performance on par with many of the more expensive Windows laptops and MacBooks that grace the rest of this page. If you're looking for the ultimate Chromebook, then the Pixelbook Go is the one to get.

Read the full review: Google Pixelbook Go

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Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook

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Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook

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Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook

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Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook

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Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook

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Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook

(Image credit: Lenovo)

14. Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook

The best affordable Chromebook

Specifications
CPU: MediaTek Helio P60T Processor
Graphics: ARM G72 MP3 800GHz
RAM: 4 GB LPDDR4X
Screen: 10.1" FHD (1920 x 1200) IPS, glossy, touchscreen, 400 nits
Storage: 64 GB eMMC
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight and portable+Long battery life+Very affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Tiny keyboard and finicky trackpad-Charger and headphones share a single port

The brilliant Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook proves how good modern Chromebooks are these days. It can be used as a laptop or a tablet, and it's backed up by some very impressive specs.

Is it a Chromebook or is it a tablet? Well, luckily, you won’t have to decide with the brilliant Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook. True to its name, this Chromebook delivers two form factors in one, while utilizing the versatility of the Chrome OS and setting you back much less than many of the top Windows tablets out there. 

Like all the best Chromebooks, its battery packs an incredibly long life of almost 22 hours – so you could pull an all-nighter, work through the day and mid-afternoon, and you’ll still pass out before it runs out of juice. 

For this price, sacrifices have to be made, naturally – the keyboard is tiny, the trackpad isn’t as reliable, and the charger and headphones share one port. However, if budget is your top priority, those are definitely not deal-breakers.

Read the full review: Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook 

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ASUS VivoBook S15

(Image credit: Asus)
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ASUS VivoBook S15

The Asus VivoBook S15 is the best affordable laptop (Image credit: Asus)

The Asus VivoBook S15 is the best mid-range laptop

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ASUS VivoBook S15

(Image credit: Asus)
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ASUS VivoBook S15

(Image credit: Asus)

15. Asus VivoBook S15

The best cheap 15-inch laptop

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics
RAM: 8GB DDR4
Screen: 15.6-inch full HD (1920 x 1080)
Storage: 512GB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Bright, colorful 15.6-inch screen+Weighs just 1.8kg
Reasons to avoid
-Average battery life-ScreenPad is a bit weird…

The Asus VivoBook S15 combines a thin and light design with great performance and an excellent price. 

If you're looking for a mid-range laptop that doesn't cost too much, but still performs brilliantly, then this is a great choice. 

Thanks to its powerful Intel processor, 8GB of RAM and fast SSD storage, this is a laptop that can handle almost any task with ease – though gaming is out of the question. Its 15.6-inch screen is bright and vibrant, and it has loads of ports that makes it easy to hook up your favorite peripherals. 

However, it doesn't have the longest battery life for a laptop, and the ScreenPad, which replaces the traditional touchpad below the keyboard with a touchscreen, takes a bit of getting used to.

Read the full review: Asus VivoBook S15

What should you look for when buying a new laptop?

There are certain things you can look out for when buying a new laptop in 2021 that can ensure you get the best laptop for your money.

Make sure you take a look at the specifications of a laptop before buying. This is a good way of quickly seeing how powerful a laptop is, and what it is capable of – as long as you know what you’re looking for.

First of all is the processor. This is essentially the brain of the laptop, and a laptop will usually have a processor (also known as a CPU) made by either Intel or AMD. Intel is by far the most popular CPU maker for laptops, though we’re seeing an increasing number of AMD-powered laptops as well.

As a general rule of thumb, Intel processors offer better performance, but AMD processors are better value.

To make things more simple, both Intel and AMD have numbered their processors to give you a rough idea of what sort of tasks a laptop with that processor can perform.

If you’re after a budget laptop for simple tasks like browsing the web or watching Netflix, then a laptop with an Intel Pentium, Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3, processor will do that job without making the laptop too expensive.

If you’re after something with a bit more oomph – perhaps to do more complex task like editing your home videos or playing games – then go for a laptop with an Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 processor as a minimum.

The best laptops for media creation, and more complex tasks, come with an Intel Core i7 or Core i9 processor, or an AMD Ryzen 7 processor. Laptops with these processors in them are top-of-the-range laptops that will provide brilliant performance no matter what you want to do – but be warned that they are often found in the most expensive laptops.

Finally, keep an eye on how new the processor is. Intel handily gives its processors generations, so the higher the generation, the newer it is. The latest generation is the 10th generation, though 9th generation Intel Core processors are also pretty recent.

A newer processor performs better and is more power efficient – so battery life will last longer. They are more expensive, though.

RAM (Random Access Memory) is another important specification to look for in a laptop. You’ll want 4GB at the very least for a Windows laptop – though we’d actually recommend for many people to go for 8GB. That will ensure that the laptop runs well for years to come.

When it comes to graphics, you don’t need to worry too much, as laptop processors come with built-in (integrated) graphics. However, if you want to play PC games on your laptop, then you’ll want a gaming laptop with a discrete GPU – either from Nvidia or AMD.

Battery life considerations

Finally there’s battery life. This is likely to be one of the most important considerations you have when choosing what laptop to buy. The best laptops need to be able to let you work - and play - for hours on end without you having to scramble for a power adapter. Modern laptops are getting ever more power-efficient, which has led to longer battery lives. For a laptop to be included in our best laptops list, it needs to offer a battery life of five hours or more.

Bear in mind that the battery life that the laptop makers claim their device has could be quite different to what you actually experience. This is because many laptop makers test their batteries in very controlled environments, with the laptop used in ways that you might not necessarily use. So, while a laptop might have a claimed battery life of 10 hours, you may find that when using it for certain tasks – like streaming high definition content – your battery life could run out faster.

That’s where our in-depth reviews come in, as we run a series of tests on each laptop in this best laptops guide to see how long the battery life lasts under certain conditions. If a laptop’s battery is ridiculously short (or impressively long) we’ll tell you.

Which type of laptop is best for you?

General laptops: Where the best cheap laptops are found, devices that focus more on practicality than style, portability or power. That’s not to say they can’t be fast, but you’ll typically find a non-Ultrabook clamshell laptop with an HD screen and spinning drive-based storage for less than $600 or £400.

Ultrabooks: Where you’ll find thin-and-light notebooks sporting SSD storage and display resolutions that exceed 1080p. Paired with powerful, albeit mobile-centric components and especially long battery life, the best Ultrabooks will cost a pretty penny – $700 or £500 to $2,000 or £1,800.

2-in-1 laptops: Where notebooks that double as tablets are located. The Surface Book 2 might be a ways off, but many of the best 2-in-1 laptops are available right now. Outfitted with both detachable and 360-degree rotating hinges, these hybrids are the most versatile way to experience Windows 10 (or Chrome OS) on a touchscreen.

Chromebooks: Where you’ll find the best Chromebooks running Chrome OS. These do much of what Windows and macOS can in the browser, focused on cloud storage over local, while recently getting Android app support for touchscreen models. They generally cost less than $300 or £200 and some can even withstand a slight tussle.

Gaming laptops: Need a laptop to play games (almost) just like a shiny desktop PC can? Then you’ll want one of the best gaming laptops. These machines generally cost from $800 or £600 to upwards of $3,000 or £2,800 and they’ll likely be the ones to take advantage of AMD’s laptop-grade Ryzen processors first. If you're really on a budget, then you can check out the best cheap gaming laptop deals.

Laptop-tablet hybrids: Designed from the tablet-first approach to laptop-tablet hybrids, the best Windows tablets pack beyond-HD touchscreens, sometimes with kickstands in their frames or provided via keyboard covers. These generally shine with a stylus, and range from the budget to the premium price ranges.

Matt Hanson

Senior Computing editor

Matt (Twitter) is TechRadar's Senior Computing editor. Having written for a number of magazines and websites, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. If you're encountering a problem or need some advice with your PC or Mac, drop him a line on Twitter.