If you’re looking to grab yourself a new laptop, or just fancy doing a bit of virtual window shopping, you’ve come to the right place. To help you along the way, we’ve sifted through all of the laptops we feel are worthy of your hard-earned cash in 2021 and selected the very best.
Wondering why you should listen to us? Simple. Every year, dozens of the latest and greatest laptops pass through the Expert Reviews labs – along with plenty of not-so-great laptops, too. Each device is subjected to our rigorous in-house testing, so when we recommend a laptop you can be sure of one thing: it’s a laptop we’d be happy to buy ourselves.
Read on and you’ll discover everything from the best business-class laptops to super-sleek ultraportables, gaming laptops and 2-in-1 hybrids. In short, there’s something for everyone. And if you’re really not sure what to go for, our editor’s picks and laptop buying guide sections will point you in the right direction.
How to choose the best laptop for you
Buying a brand-new laptop is no easy task. There are so many brilliant devices to choose from each year, with prices ranging from a little under $1000 to $3000 or more. Cost can also vary massively between different configurations of the same laptop, which only adds to the confusion. In this brief buying guide, we’ll help you make the right choice by outlining the most important factors to consider before you bust out the bank card.
What do you need your laptop for?
Your personal requirements should dictate what sort of laptop you go for. A typical university student will have different tech needs than a professional video editor. Some may need a laptop that can process large files at rapid speeds, while others may just want to use Google Docs or browse the web. Ultimately, it all comes down to what you want your laptop to do.
What about performance and battery life?
The most powerful laptops are those with the most powerful CPUs and the highest amount of RAM. A laptop’s CPU power is measured in GHz and each processor has a baseline frequency as well as a maximum frequency. Other factors can impact overall performance, including poor temperature control, which can lead to thermal throttling. Ideally, any laptop you buy should have at least 4GB of RAM as a minimum. Processors aren’t as easy to pin down – they might be dual-core, quad-core or hexa-core and can range greatly in power.
A MacBook Pro (or Windows equivalent like the Dell XPS 15) has a much more powerful CPU and more RAM than a cheap Chromebook because people expect them to run multiple demanding applications.
Battery size is measured in milliamp hours (mAH) or watt hours (Wh) – the biggest battery will (in theory) last the longest, but it all depends on how much power the various components inside the device use (the display, CPU and GPU have the biggest impact). An ultra-budget laptop with a small battery size may last longer than a premium notebook with a huge battery because its internal hardware isn’t as demanding. We run a standardised video rundown test on every single laptop we review, with the longest-lasting performers tending to be a mix between efficient high-end ultraportable laptops and low-powered Chromebooks.
What operating system should you go for?
Whether it’s Windows, macOS or Chrome OS, each operating system has its own strengths and weaknesses. macOS is only found in Apple’s own laptops, while Windows powers all sorts of laptops from manufacturers such as Acer, Asus and Lenovo. Google’s low-powered Chrome OS is also rising in popularity and can be found on a wide range of devices.
What’s the best display resolution?
When it comes to laptop displays, the resolution isn’t everything. If the same laptop has the option of a Full HD (1920 x 1080) display and a 4K (3840 x 2160) display, the latter is usually more expensive but not necessarily sharper. How sharp a display look depends on two factors: the size of the screen and how far away you sit from it.
In our experience, you don’t really need more than 1920 x 1080 on a screen 14in or smaller. In fact, if you have 20/20 vision, you’d have to be sitting viewing the display at a distance closer than 56cm. Given that laptops with higher resolution panel typically suffer a bit in the battery life department, it’s often worth opting for the lower resolution, and cheaper, option if you can.
The quality of a laptop’s display has little to do with the resolution of the screen, however. There’s never a guarantee of a laptop’s maximum brightness, colour accuracy or contrast ratio no matter how sharp it is. We measure all of these when testing each laptop, because a dim, muddy or washed-out display can ruin a great product.
How many ports should a laptop have?
In addition to a power socket and headphone jack, most new laptops will come with at least a couple of USB A and one USB C port. When it comes to connections, the general rule of thumb is the more the merrier.
It is worth paying attention to the type of USB C ports you’re getting, however; although they might look the same, they often have different capabilities from machine to machine. For the fastest transfer speeds, look for Thunderbolt 3 USB C ports; USB C isn’t as quick.
And don’t assume every USB C port on a laptop can carry video, power and data. Although the standard allows for this, manufacturers sometimes limit what each port can do.
It’s extremely useful to have a full-size HDMI connector for hooking up the laptop to additional monitors, too, although these aren’t particularly common on slimmer laptops. And an SD card reader doesn’t hurt either – an addition that’s sorely lacking on Apple’s laptops these days.
Best laptops you can buy in 2021
Dell XPS 13: Best Windows laptop
Price: From $2399 l Buy now from Dell
The 2020 Dell XPS has had a price hike this year but it’s the best ultraportable laptop money can buy. This is a laptop that gets everything right, from the brilliant build quality and colour accurate display to the fabulous keyboard and a generous specification for the money.
New features for the 2020 refresh include a Windows Hello-compatible webcam and a taller more work-friendly aspect ratio of 16:10.
As ever, there’s an XPS 13 for every budget. You can choose from various combinations of specifications, including an Intel Core i5-1135G1 or a Core i7-1165G7, 8GB to 32GB of RAM and a 512GB or 1TB PCIe SSD.
With great battery life to go with nippy performance across the board, the Dell XPS 13 remains the Windows 10 ultraportable to beat. It’s better value for money than the MacBook Pro 13, that’s for sure.
Key Specs: Processor: Quad-core 1.3GHz Intel Core i7-1065G7 or 1GHz Core i5-1035G1; Screen resolution: 3840 x 2160; RAM: 8GB or 16GB; Weight: 1.2kg; Total storage: 512GB or 1TB
Huawei MateBook D 15: Budget machine
Price: $949 | Buy now from Amazon
Like the Honor MagicBook 14, the MateBook D 15 is built around the AMD Ryzen 5 3500U processor; and again, like the MagicBook, it’s a bit of a steal. Costing a mere $949, it delivers excellent performance in a very nicely engineered metal chassis.
The IPS display is pretty good given the price, with decent viewing angles, although it’s only 1080p and isn’t particularly colour accurate. But with a comfortable keyboard and touchpad, this makes an excellent purchase for those looking for a big-screened portable laptop for not much money.
Key Specs: Processor: Quad-core AMD Ryzen 5 3500U CPU; Screen resolution: 1920 x 1080; RAM: 8GB; Weight: 1.53kg; Total storage: 256GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3: Simple perfection
Price: From $1699 | Buy from Microsoft
We loved the previous two Surface Laptops but Microsoft’s third-generation is the best of the lot. With prices that start at a reasonable $1699 and an absolutely gorgeous design, it really is one of the best laptops you can buy at the price.
Microsoft has added USB-C at last, refined the design and the latest tenth-gen Intel Core i5 and i7 chips to ensure tip-top performance and decent battery life. The big change this year, however, is that there’s now a 15in model available for those who want a little more screen real estate.
The 13.5in remains our favourite, however, balancing portability and power with perfect poise. This is one fabulous machine.
Key Specs: Processor: Quad-core 1.2GHz Intel Core i5-1035G7/i7-1065G7; Screen resolution: 2256 x 1504; RAM: 8/16GB; Weight: 1.29kg; Total storage: 128GB-1TB SSD
LG Gram 17 (2020): Big-screen laptop
Price: From $2868 | Buy now from Amazon
The LG Gram 17 sits in a category all its own: it’s a lightweight ultrabook with a huge 17in display. What use is that, I hear you cry? Well, it gives you a lot more screen space to spread your work onto and without the enormous weight penalty that larger laptops usually inflict. In fact, at 1.35kg, this 17in machine is barely any heavier than many a 13in laptop, which is an impressive feat.
This is a stunning laptop, in our opinion. It offers something completely different from your run of the mill machine, doesn’t cost a huge amount and is an immensely usable and likeable laptop to boot.
Key Specs: Processor: Intel Core i7-1065G7 or Core i5-1035G7; Screen resolution: 2560 x 1600; RAM: 16GB; Weight: 1.35kg; Total storage: 512GB PCie SSD
Gigabyte Aorus 15G: The best gaming laptop
Price: From $2899 | Buy now from Centrecom
The Razer Blade 15 might have been the best gaming laptop we saw in 2019 but in 2020 Razer is going to have to go some to beat the Gigabyte Aorus 15G. Equipped with a full-size mechanical keyboard, the latest 10th gen Intel Comet Lake chips and Nvidia’s GeForce RTX Super series graphics, it’s an absolute beast and is capable of playing the latest, most demanding games without breaking a sweat.
This is a truly exceptional gaming laptop. It has a 244Hz display that means you’ll be able to play less demanding games at incredibly high frame rates. Despite having a full-travel mechanical keyboard, it doesn’t weigh more than the average workstation laptop and its CNC aluminium chassis feels like it could survive a bomb blast. And in addition to all that, pound for pound, it’s pretty good value, too.
Key Specs: Processor: Intel Core i7-10875H, octa-core, 2.3GHz-5.1GHz; Screen resolution: 1920 x 1080; RAM: 16GB DDR4; Weight: 2.3kg; Total storage: 512GB PCIe SSD
Microsoft Surface Pro 7: The do-it-all laptop/tablet
Price: From $1199 | Buy now from Kogan
Microsoft launched two Surface Pro models in its 2019/20 round of updates: the Surface Pro 7 and Surface Pro X. Of the two devices, the Surface Pro X is the most interesting but it isn’t particularly practical due to the fact that it uses an ARM chip. The Surface Pro 7 isn’t much of an update but it remains the best 2-in-1 tablet/laptop hybrid you can buy.
Essentially, the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is the same as the Surface Pro 6. You still have to purchase the keyboard as an optional extra and the same goes for the Surface Pen Stylus. It has upgraded internal, however, with Microsoft moving from 8th-gen Intel processorts to the latest 10th-gen silicon and that means faster performance overall and better battery life.
If you can find the Surface Pro 6 at a reduced price, it’s probably best just to opt for that. However going forward, that’s going to be more and more difficult to do.
Key Specs: Processor: From 1.2GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i3-1005G1G7 to 1.3GHz quad-core Core i7-1065G7; Screen resolution: 2736 x 1824; RAM: From 4GB-16GB; Weight: 1.08kg; Total storage: From 128GB-1TB
Apple MacBook Pro 16″: The best MacBook
Price: From $3630 | Buy now from Kogan
Apple’s MacBook Pro laptops continue to improve year after year and 2019’s refresh is no different. A new, slightly larger 16-inch model has replaced the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro and the 13-inch MacBook Pro also gets improved internals.
It’s the 16″ MacBook Pro that steals all the headlines, however, with a new more comfortable keyboard, wide gamut IPS display, amazing studio-quality microphones and improved speakers. It’s the most impressive MacBook Pro we’ve ever reviewed.
Both the 13″ and 16″ models of MacBook Pro are powerful machines. The 13″ (available from $1999) comes with a base specification of a 1.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD; you can also choose up to an 8-core 2.8GHz Core i7 with 16GB of RAM and 2TB of storage.
The 16″ model starts with a 2.6GHz 6-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7 with16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. It can be specified all the way up to an eight-core 2.3GHz Core i9 processor with up to 64GB of RAM and a whopping 8TB of SSD storage.
Both machines are on the expensive side but just as beautifully built as ever. The 16″ model, however, is our favourite.
Key Specs: Processor: From 4-core 1.4GHz Intel Core i5, to 8-core 2.3GHz Intel Core i9; Screen resolution: 13″ – 2560 x 1600; 16″ – 3072 x 1920; RAM: From 8GB to 64GB; Weight: 13″ – 1.37kg; 16″ – 2kg; Total storage: From 128GB to 8TB
Lenovo Yoga C940 14-inch: The best 2-in-1
Price: From $2997 | Buy now from Kogan
Lenovo was the first manufacturer to perfect the 360-degree laptop hinge and its Yoga range of machines has continued to perfect it ever since. The Lenovo Yoga C940 is the latest and greatest example of the genre and squeezes in the latest CPUs from Intel alongside an ingenious soundbar speaker that sounds great, built right into the hinge of the laptop itself.
Make no mistake, this is a beautifully made machine. It’s built entirely from aluminium with an attractive, wedge-shaped profile. Its keyboard and touchpad work perfectly and it has either a 1080p or a 4K display, and both use IPS technology. We were sent the 1080p model for our review, which performed admirably in our technical tests. Perhaps the display’s most endearing quality, however, is that it’s stylus compatible, with the stylus included in the box and stowable in a slot at the edge of the hinge.
All of this, coupled with sterling battery life (11hrs 13mins in our tests) from the C940’s sizeable 60Wh battery, go together to produce a laptop of fine pedigree and one that just about edges in front of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 as the best portable 2-in-1 laptop money can buy.
Key Specs: Processor: Quad-core Intel i5-1035G4 or Core i7-1035G7; Screen resolution: 1920 x 1080; RAM: 8GB or 16GB; Weight: 1.35kg; Total storage: 256GB, 512GB or 1TB PCIe NVMe SSD