Deciding which new laptop to buy is no easy task and finding the balance between the right features for you and a fair price can make for a daunting search.
Whether you are like me and ask friends and read hundreds of customer reviews…due to the range of models, operating systems and constant updates it can be hard to choose the right system that is going to last.
With so much choice just a few clicks away, the below should answer some of the main points you need to be aware off when making a purchase and selected some of the best laptops, notebooks and Chromebooks you can buy, from the top performers to those which won’t break the bank.
What kind of laptop do I need?
Even before you get down to the details it helps to know what sort of device you are looking for.
Do you need your device for the home or on the move? Will you only use it for email and web browsing? Will you want to stream videos or play video games?
For something cheap and portable a smaller Chromebook or laptop with low weight and a screen of around 11 inches would work, such as the Acer Chromebook R11 or the HP Steam 11. Both of these will set you back under £250, although sacrifice power and storage capacity.
If you are using your laptop for email, typing documents or using the internet you may only need to spend a few hundred pounds, while you may need to spend a little more to stream videos to a higher quality.
For gaming you will need a more powerful device with a quality graphics card. The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming is at the cheaper end of the scale for this, more expensive brands can cost thousands of pounds.
And if you demand the highest specifications for video or photo editing you may want to look to a powerful MacBook.
A number of laptops are now also ‘two-in-one’ devices, that can act as a tablet by detaching from the keyboard. Other laptops also feature touchscreens with stylus pens, such as the Lenovo Yoga Book.
Do I want a Windows laptop, MacBook or Chromebook?
Current devices broadly run on three different operating systems that run on the three main varieties of laptop:
These are some of the most common devices and run Microsoft’s Windows operating system. They are able to perform some of the widest ranging tasks and also have the greatest variety in models, brands and pricing.
Pros: Commonly used, greatest access to programs and apps, best for gaming
Cons: Considered more vulnerable to viruses
The MacBook Pro, MacBook and MacBook Air are all Apple laptops running on macOS. They are generally seen as powerful, smooth and highly reliable.
Pros: Best for high performance use of creative software, connectivity to other Apple products and services
Cons: Limited access to some programs, expensive
Google’s ChromeOS used on Chromebooks is largely limited to online use, essentially operating like a web browser. Rather than installing programs users access them through Google’s Chome Web Store. They have limited storage capacity, but are fast and inexpensive.
Pros: Cheap, fast, user friendly
Cons: Largely limited to online use and Google applications
Macbook Pro 2016 v Surface Book i7
How much do I want to spend?
The most important consideration to many buyers is cost; a low price doesn’t always have to mean sacrificing performance if your laptop can still run the tasks you need.
Nowadays you can pick up a cheap laptop or Chromebook for less than £250. You will be quite limited in terms of performance on a laptop, although you could get a decent Chromebook for around that price.
For between £500 and £750 you should be expecting at least an Intel Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM or better, which will perform more complicated tasks faster.
Spending £1,000 and up you would be looking at a premium product sporting the latest generation of Intel Core i5 or i7 processors. You would want this for high intensity work such as video editing or gaming. A recent price surge from some Apple products and others has pushed more top laptops into this bracket.
What else to consider
- Screen size: Obviously a smaller screen means a smaller laptop, increasing its portability. Larger screen models will also need high resolution to create the perfect picture, but can be better if you want a more accessible screen or want to open lots of tabs.
- Weight: If you plan to lug your laptop to classes or work, you may want something that weighs 1.5kg or less. If it is going to sit on your desk most of the day you can always go for a bulkier model, which may be cheaper than a sleek ultrabook.
- Battery life: If you’re going to be using your laptop at your desk for most of the time, battery life will be less of an issue, but if you work on the go or in a coffee shop, you don’t want to get caught without power at a crucial moment. Some dedicated gaming laptops may only last four hours when under strain, while ultraportables can manage 12 hours or better.
Best for Windows on a budget: Acer Swift 3
Screen: 14 inches
Battery life: 10 hours
For a Windows-running performer, the Acer Swift 3 has the feel of a pricier laptop for under £500, with its smooth aluminium case reminiscent of more up-market devices.
The most basic model has an Intel i3 processor with an 128GB SSD and 8GB of RAM, enough for most daily tasks. Other features include a backlit keyboard and fingerprint scanner, and the Swift 3 is fairly connection-friendly with HDMI, USB and USB-C.
The drawbacks are largely limited to screen brightness. Improved processors will set you back another £250, although that is still great value for a solid device.
Pros: Solid Windows Ultrabook at an excellent price
Cons: Screen brightness a little low
Also consider: Lenovo Yoga 510 2-in-1 (£379)
Best for practicality: HP Chromebook 14
Screen: 14 inches
Weight: 1.7 kg
Battery life: 9.25 hours
For a bigger screen Chromebook this HP is a useable device at a reasonable price. The HP Chromebook 14 lacks some of the flashy touch screens of the latest generation, but comes with plenty of practical features including three USB ports, an SD card slot and HDMI connection.
In addition, the 1920×1080 screen resolution will provide a crisp, quality picture. This larger Chromebook will easily see you through most routine tasks.
Pros: Large screen and practical features
Cons: Not the cheapest for a Chromebook
Also consider: Acer Chromebook 15 (£239.99)
Best for simple stuff: Acer Chromebook R11
Screen: 11.6 inches
Weight: 1.25 kg
Battery life: 12 hours
At the cheaper end of the market, the Acer ChromeBook R11 comes in at around £250 and looks good with a crisp white finish and aluminium top panel.
The R11 features a stylish touchscreen with 360 degree rotation, although the resolution is a little low at 1366 x 768 pixels it will look fine on the smaller screen. A solid battery life with its slimmer size and portability make this ideal for use on-the-go.
Pros: Value offering with flip screen
Cons: Low resolution
Also consider: Asus Chromebook Flip (£249.95)
Best for reliability: MacBook Air
Screen: 13.3 inch
Weight: 1.35 kg
Battery life: 12 hours
It has been two years since the last update to the MacBook Air, with many predicting a phase-out due to the launch of the new MacBook Pro in 2016. However, the Air remains the most affordable Apple notebook you can buy, all the more important given recent jumps in Apple prices.
Like most Apple products it is known for a battery life that lives up to expectations, in this case around 12 hours. The laptop also still retains traditional USB slots, unlike more recent Apple updates. While it remains a solid buy, it could be undercut by the upcoming Microsoft Surface Laptop (which will be released in June).
Pros: The cheapest MacBook you can buy
Cons: Aging design
Also consider: Microsoft Surface Laptop (£979 – pre order)
Best Apple alternative: Lenovo IdeaPad 710s
Screen: 13.3 inch
Weight: 1.1 kg
Battery life: 8 hours
A rival to the MacBook Air, the Lenovo IdeaPad 710s has been noted for its similarity in design to Apple’s cheapest model, matching its aluminium bodywork . As a cheaper alternative, the IdeaPad 710s now comes in at around £170 cheaper with an Intel Core i5-7200U processor. It is also thinner (at 14mm) and lighter than the Air.
With a display that can rotate to 180 degrees it is also flexible, but on battery life it is not as competitive as some other brands.
Pros: Good value for a powerful build
Cons: Battery life
Also consider: Asus Zenbook UX310 (£600)
Best for gaming for less: Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming
Screen: 15.6 inches
Battery life: Up to 10.5 hours
If you are not willing or unable to spend thousands of pounds on a gaming laptop, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming is a decent backup option. It is not going to outrun the high end machines, but for casual gaming you’ll get the performance you need.
The cheapest model comes in at under £1,000, which is a steal for a gaming ready device. The design includes Ethernet, SD, HDMI and USB ports and comes in a smart black and red finish.
Pros: The best gaming laptop on a budget
Cons: Not for hardcore gamers
Also consider: MSI GL62 (£849)
Best for standing out: Lenovo Yoga Book
Screen: 10.1 inch
Weight: 0.689 kg
Battery life: 15 hours
A stunning laptop/tablet hybrid launched last year, the Lenovo Yoga Book features an innovative keyboard and touchpad that stand out from the latest generation of devices.
The Yoga Book features no physical keyboard, instead presenting a virtual one which only switches on when you start using it. As well as a touch screen, the Yoga Book pushes itself as a device you can really write on, clipping a notepad over the virtual keyboard sees notes and drawings transmitted onto the main screen.
While it’s an exciting offering at a low price, the keyboard is considered tricky to get used to, but the overall product is light, portable, and certainly something different.
Pros: Innovative design and featherweight
Cons: Touchpad keyboard will take some getting used to.
Money no object
Best all-rounder: Dell XPS 13
Screen: 13.3 inches
Battery life: 13 hours
The highly rated Dell XPS 13 is considered the lead challenger to the MacBook Pro. The XPS 13 features a virtually borderless 13.3 inch Infinity Edge display, which is available with touch.
Dell also claims the laptop offers up to 22 hours of battery life, although in practice this is more like 12 to 13 hours when streaming video. The latest models also run on Kaby Lake processors, Intel’s newest and more powerful seventh generation processor.
Without the touch display you could currently pick up the new model for £1,149, but with it included the XPS 13 will set you back £1,279. The main drawback is an awkwardly placed webcam, sitting to the bottom left of the screen.
Pros: Top of the range display, superb battery
Cons: Awkward webcam placement
Also consider: HP Spectre 13 (£1,149.95)
Best for Apple addicts: MacBook Pro
Screen: 13.3 inches
Battery life: 10 hours
Coming four years after Apple’s last high-end laptop, the latest MacBook Pro is thinner, more powerful and features innovations not seen on other laptops, such as its ‘Touch Bar’ and a Touch ID fingerprint scanner. The Touch Bar offers shortcuts and replacing function keys, but is not supported on many apps just yet.
And the new edition has done away with some staple features, dropping support for standard USB sticks and SD cards, meaning you may have to buy new dongles or wires for its USB-C ports. Models with the Touch Bar and fingerprint scanner will also set you back £1,749 compared to £1,499 for the basic 13 inch model.
But overall, the new MacBook Pro remains the top performing device for Apple lovers, with a beautiful screen, exquisite ‘butterfly’ keyboard and easy-to-use trackpad.
Pros: High performance, Apple-style keyboard and trackpad
Cons: Touch Bar has limited uses, price
Also consider: Macbook 12-inch (£1,249)
Best for versatility: Microsoft Surface Book
Screen: 13.5 inches
Weight: 1.6 kg
Battery life: 12 hours
Microsoft’s first ever laptop launched in the UK last year and the Surface Book features a detachable 13.5 inch display and highly flexible hinge which gives Microsoft’s “ultimate laptop” the added versatility of a tablet.
The Surface Book has Microsoft calls a ‘dynamic fulcrum hinge’ connecting the keyboard and display to hold the heavier screen in place, since it holds all the parts to operate as a tablet.
The keyboard can also hold an optional discrete GPU, or graphics processor, which gives the laptop added power. This does add to the weight and top end price, and the Intel Core i5 model with the discrete GPU costs around £400 more.
Pros: Unique design and flexibility
Cons: Expensive for top graphics
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