The best laptop you can buy in 2020
Welcome to our guide to the best laptop to buy in 2020. We live in a world where smartphones are ubiquitous, tablets are commonplace, and even smartwatches are a thing that people talk about on the regular. But throughout all of these advances, the humble laptop has persevered — and for good reason. When it comes time to work, whether that’s editing photos, writing a lot of emails, composing documents, or staying in touch with colleagues and family, we’re here to help you find the best laptops for the job.
It’s getting harder to buy a bad laptop, but what separates the best laptops of 2020 from good laptops is how they balance power, efficiency, portability, and comfort. The best laptop should have a fantastic keyboard and trackpad — after all, those are the two biggest reasons you’d choose a laptop over a smartphone or tablet. Its display should be easy on the eyes, bright, and sharp enough that you aren’t distracted by jagged edges and visible pixels. It should be powerful enough for most anything short of intensive video editing and advanced gaming. It should be easy to carry around from place to place, and it should be able to last all day without needing to be plugged in.
That’s why the Dell XPS 13 is the best laptop you can buy in 2020. It’s a device that does just about everything right. While it’s certainly not a perfect device, there are no major flaws. It’s a great pick for productivity, browsing, and even light gaming.
In our view, the best laptop for Mac users is the MacBook Air (2020). Apple fixed the Air’s biggest problem — the keyboard — and upgraded to more modern processors.
Our other picks for the best laptops of 2020 include the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, the MacBook Pro 16, and the HP Elite Dragonfly. Check out the full list of best laptops below.
The best laptop you can buy
If you’re looking for a laptop that does just about everything right, we recommend Dell’s latest XPS 13. It features a sturdy build, 10th Gen Intel processors with powerful integrated graphics, and a nearly bezel-free 16:10 panel.
The display is what you’ll likely notice first. It has a 91.5 percent screen-to-body ratio with a bottom bezel of just 4.6mm. You can configure the XPS with a 1920 x 1200 pixel or 4K display, but the lower-resolution model should be adequate for anyone who’s not doing creative work. It delivers up to 500 nits of brightness (plenty for working in a bright room or even outdoors) and accurate, vivid colors. It’ll also give you significantly better battery life, in addition to the lower cost.
You can customize a number of other specs; the current base model has a Core i5–1035G1, 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 1920 x 1200 non-touch display. (There’s allegedly a model with a Core i3 and 4GB RAM floating around, but it’s not currently listed on Dell’s website. You should avoid it if you see it.) We recommend this base model to anyone who just wants to browse; if you plan on gaming or creative work, it’s worth upgrading for more storage and RAM.
The latest XPS 13 excels at productivity and even has enough power for light gaming
The Ice Lake processor features Intel’s new Iris Plus integrated graphics, which delivered exceptional performance for an integrated GPU. You’ll still want a discrete graphics card for serious gaming, but you’ll have no problem running lighter fare like Overwatch and Rocket League. On those games, it delivers comparable performance to some lower-tier graphics cards, such as Nvidia’s MX150 that came in older versions of the Razer Blade Stealth.
When it comes to the other basics, the XPS beats its competition in just about every way. We got an acceptable seven hours of battery life and even three hours of light gaming. ( League of Legends was playable for about 85 percent of that time.) The keyboard and touchpad are among the best in their categories as well. And at just 2.8 pounds and 0.58 inches thick, it’s quite portable.
The biggest knock against the XPS 13 is its limited port selection. With just two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a headphone jack, and a microSD slot, it’s getting into MacBook territory (though it does ship with a USB-C to USB-A dongle). The 720p webcam is also pretty terrible, though, in Dell’s defense, it had to squeeze the thing into a 2.25mm top bezel.
These are legitimate concerns that may drive some users to look elsewhere. But for most users, they won’t be as important as the fundamentals: build quality, keyboard, touchpad, display, and performance. The XPS excels in all of those areas, earning it our top recommendation.
The best laptop for Mac users
The 2020 MacBook Air is the best option for most people who prefer the Apple ecosystem. The Air comes with 10th Gen Intel processors (though in a lower power variation than the XPS 13), a sharp Retina display, and a new scissor-switch keyboard. The base configuration (including a Core i3, 8GB RAM, and 256GB storage) comes in under $1,000, but we recommend that you go for, at minimum, the upgraded model with a Core i5 processor.
MacBook keyboards have been almost universally maligned for the past few years. But the 2020 Air inherited the new-and-improved keyboard from the latest 16-inch MacBook Pro, which brings back the “inverted T” arrow layout and keys with 1mm of travel. There’s no Touch Bar, but that’s a controversial feature already, and most users should be fine with the standard top row and function keys. It does retain the Touch ID fingerprint scanner for easy logins and payment authentication.
The MacBook Air is the default Apple laptop for most people
You can configure the Air with three different Y-series chips, maxing out at a 1.2GHz quad-core Core i7. We had no problem with the 1.1GHz Core i5, though; it handled Chrome, Slack, Zoom, and Lightroom just fine, and had single-threaded Geekbench scores in line with those of the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Where you might run into trouble is with heavy workloads that need to run for long periods of time, such as rendering graphics or exporting video. We witnessed some thermal throttling in these cases, and clock speeds were capped at less than half of the processor’s boost. That means if you’re doing heavy creative work or other tasks that really push the CPU, you’re likely to experience slowdown and a very loud fan.
The MacBook Air does have a few other significant weaknesses. The primary one is battery life. We got about five hours using a workflow of Chrome, Slack, Zoom, and Lightroom with the screen on maximum brightness. You’ll probably get more juice if you dim the screen and stick with Apple’s apps, but we expect most people will want to keep the brightness high (it only gets up to 400 nits), and third-party programs are necessities for many.
Despite those downsides, though, the MacBook Air will serve as a competent and reliable device for most users. It has the excellent design, display, performance, and (finally) keyboard that we expect from Apple. Power users who need the Pro probably know who they are; everyone else should be just fine with the Air.
OTHER BEST LAPTOPS
Needs for laptops can vary widely. Some people need to do intense video editing and should pony up for a pro machine. Others just need a reliable keyboard and a few windows, so something less powerful will do. Some might want a super light laptop that can sometimes double as a tablet. Some will want a portable gaming machine capable of running all of the latest titles. Others want a tall aspect-ratio screen, which is much more comfortable to use than a cramped 16:9 display if you primarily do your work in Office documents or a web browser. Below, we’ve got recommendations for all of those use cases and more.
There are plenty of great options in the Windows PC world, complete with the latest processors and designs, and Apple’s MacBook lineup has been recently refreshed entirely with new keyboards and upgraded performance.
An excellent gaming laptop
The Zephyrus G14 is an astonishingly powerful gaming laptop for a low price (relative to other notebooks with comparable hardware). It pairs AMD’s new Ryzen 9 4900HS with an Nvidia RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU and a 120HZ display, and it can run demanding games at their highest settings without a problem. It’s also quite light for such a powerful laptop, weighing just over 3.5 pounds. Its battery life is also impressive for a gaming rig; we got almost nine hours of multitasking.
But you don’t need to be a gamer to appreciate the Zephyrus G14. It’s also a great notebook for business and everyday multitasking with a unique retro design. Plus, the keyboard and touchpad are exceptional and quiet enough not to bother officemates. On the flip side, if you need to use your laptop for videoconferences, the G14 would not be a great choice, as it lacks a webcam.
A great choice for Mac power users
The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the best Apple laptop for power users. Apple dealt with the biggest complaints that people have historically had about MacBook Pros, and if you can stomach the price, there’s not a lot else to complain about.
Most importantly, the keyboard is good again. The keys have a full millimeter of travel, and while the typing experience isn’t exceptional, it’s a world away from the maligned butterfly keyboard of MacBooks past. It’s fairly quiet, too.
This MacBook also features the best sound you’ll find on a laptop. Apple has crammed three speakers into each side, including two woofers. The result is balanced audio with audible bass and great stereo separation. For those who need a laptop that can crank through editing video, working with multiple audio tracks, or processing large batches of photos, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is the king of the hill.
The best mid-range ultrabook
You don’t need to spend $1,000 to get a laptop that looks and feels premium. The HP Envy x360 2020 is one of the best midrange laptops you can buy, thanks to its sturdy and compact build, chic convertible design, and excellent performance.
Part of what makes the Envy so great is that HP has ported over a number of elements from its excellent 2019 flagship, the Spectre x360, including the thin and light chassis, and nearly bezel-free display with an 88 percent screen-to-body ratio. The touchscreen (which supports HP’s MPP2.0 pen) is bright and looks great. (You can choose a 300-nit, 400-nit, or 1,000-nit panel). And HP has added a row of convenient hotkeys to the keyboard, including kill switches for the microphone and webcam.
But the most exciting feature is inside: The new Envy x360 is powered by AMD’s Ryzen 4000 series. The Ryzen 5–4500U in my model did an outstanding job with a fairly heavy load of multitasking. And AMD’s integrated Raedon graphics delivered good gaming performance comparable to what you’d expect from a lower-powered discrete GPU.
A business laptop with solid security
If you’re a business professional and money is no object for you or your company, you can’t do better than the HP Elite Dragonfly. The 2020 model is the first Dragonfly that features HP’s super-secure SureView Reflect technology, which tints the screen so that snoops can’t see what you’re doing while you’re working in public. When it’s not tinted, the display gets quite bright (over 700 nits) and has great viewing angles.
The new Dragonfly is also the first laptop to include a built-in Tile tracker. That means if you lose the device, you can use the Tile smartphone app to set off an alarm (if it’s in Bluetooth range) or locate it anywhere in the world using Tile’s crowd-finding network. The tracker can work for a limited time even when the laptop is off.
Almost everything else about the Dragonfly is good; it has some of the best battery life of any laptop on the market (we got over 11 hours), a sleek and stunning 2-in-1 design, and an exceptional keyboard. Plus, it incorporates sustainable material, including ocean-bound plastics and recycled DVDs.
The Dragonfly is pricey, and there are cheaper business laptops that will suit the needs of most professionals just fine. But if you’re looking for the best of the best, it’s the unambiguous winner.
A great budget laptop for kids
Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet is a great convertible laptop for kids, or anyone who wants a reliable secondary driver for browsing and games. It’s a nice-looking, well-made 10-inch device that comes with a detachable keyboard and kickstand.
The Duet is tailor-made to be used around the house and on the go, weighing just 2.03 pounds and delivering over 11 hours of battery life. Its MediaTek processor isn’t designed to shoulder heavy loads, but it’s just fine for browsing in a couple tabs, watching Netflix, or playing Android games — it even handles photo editing pretty well. The Duet also features a new “tablet mode” for Chrome OS, which supports an Android-inspired gesture navigation system and a unique Chrome layout optimized for tablet use.
The Chromebook Duet is an absolute steal for its low price, and is the Chromebook to buy if you’re on a tight budget.
The best portable gaming laptop
Usually, if you want a 17-inch laptop that can pull playable frame rates out of today’s most demanding games, you’d expect some compromises on portability and design. Notebooks of this size often weigh north of seven pounds and require multiple power bricks to charge.
But while the Blade Pro 17 doesn’t have quite the gaming chops of some bulky desktop replacements, it makes up for that by sporting the compact and attractive design that’s a trademark of the Razer Blade line. At just over six pounds, it’s not too difficult to move around (as 17-inch workstations go). You get an RTX GPU (up to Nvidia’s 2080 Super Max-Q) an eight-core CPU (Intel’s Core i7–10875H) and either a 300Hz screen or a 120Hz touchscreen. There’s even an RGB keyboard with color effects tailored to the game you’re playing.
Our favorite 2-in-1 laptop
The Spectre x360 is a premium-level 2-in-1 Windows laptop with the latest processor options from Intel, a vibrant touchscreen, and more port options than are found on other laptops in this segment.
The x360 weighs less than three pounds and is about two-thirds of an inch thick when closed, which makes it very easy to travel with. The latest model has a smaller footprint than before, thanks to shrunken bezels above and below the screen, but it still maintains a full-size keyboard and spacious trackpad. In addition, it provides both facial and fingerprint biometric authentication, so you can choose which way you prefer to log in.
HP updated the trackpad drivers it uses in the latest model to Microsoft’s Precision set and the experience is improved over the older versions to the point where it’s no longer an issue. The x360’s trackpad is now right up there with the best Windows trackpad options (which are still a tick behind what you get on a MacBook) in terms of scrolling, multifinger gestures, and palm rejection.
The biggest argument against the x360 is that it has a 16:9 display, as opposed to the 16:10 or 3:2 screens you’ll find on Dell or Microsoft’s computers. Those taller aspect ratios are much better for productivity work, whether that’s working in two documents side by side or researching on the web without having to scroll as much. But unless you are very particular about your screen’s aspect ratio, most people won’t find this to be a deal-breaker.
The best MacBook Pro for everyday users
If you’re looking for a MacBook that’s more powerful than the Air, but isn’t as pricey as the 16-inch Pro, the MacBook Pro 13 hits the sweet spot in the middle. It has a bright 500-nit screen, excellent speakers and — finally — a keyboard that’s actually reliable.
There are two models you can consider depending on your needs: the “base” model has 8th-Gen Intel processors and two Thunderbolt 3 processors, while the pricier version has 10th-Gen processors and four Thunderbolt 3 ports (as well as 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD). If you can afford it, we recommend stepping up to the pricier version, as the performance difference between the two generations is noticeable.
The best Chromebook of 2020
For high school and college students, or anyone else who needs an affordable, portable machine, a Chromebook can be a great option. Though it’s not the cheapest model available, Acer’s Chromebook Spin 713 offers top-notch performance at a lower price than many competing Chromebooks (and other laptops). It can be equipped with a Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 — the i5 model we tested handled a heavy multitasking load without any slowdown, heat, or noise. Add all-day battery life, an excellent keyboard, and a generous port selection that includes a full-size HDMI, and there’s very little not to like.
But where the 713 really shines is its display. The 3:2 gives you extra space for comfortable multitasking, and the sharp panel delivers a really excellent picture — I actually preferred it to my MacBook Pro’s screen.
Between its standout performance, peripherals, and portability, this is really the Chromebook to beat.
A great laptop for creative work
The Gigabyte Aero 15 is a colorful, powerful laptop for creative professionals. This 15.6-inch workstation pairs a bright OLED screen with an eight-core i7–10875H processor and Nvidia’s cutting-edge GeForce RTX 2070 Super Max-Q GPU. It also comes with a laundry list of ports, including a full SD-card slot, so you’ll be able to plug in all kinds of projectors, monitors, and other equipment without a problem. We also found that it was able to run demanding games on their highest settings at acceptable frame rates, and export 4K video as fast as any other laptop we’ve tested.
This is an expensive machine, and if you just want to play games, it’s probably not worth spending so much money on an OLED screen. But if you need the combination of the high resolution and the high-powered specs, the Aero 15 is for you.
A great laptop for video editing
You can configure the XPS 15 with up to an eight-core Core i7 processor, Nvidia’s GTX 1650 Ti graphics, and a 3840 x 2400 touchscreen. Those specs are overkill for most people, but they’re ideal for anyone who needs to edit video or do other heavy creative work with Adobe Premiere. We recommend that anyone who’s just browsing and streaming go for the 1920 x 1200 screen and a Core i5, which will save you significant money. (We also experienced some heat management issues and disappointing battery life with the i7 unit.)
The XPS 15 isn’t a serious gaming rig, but the GTX 1650 Ti can help out with creative tasks. Our model was able to export a five-minute, 33-second video in Adobe Premiere Pro in just four and a half minutes — which is faster than we got with the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
If you’re looking for a large, attractive Windows laptop that packs decent power, this is the one for you.
The best affordable gaming laptop
AMD rewrote the rules of gaming laptops with its debut in the Zephyrus G14, but it’s made a splash in the budget gaming range as well with the G5 15 SE. This laptop ran every popular title we threw at it at very playable frame rates — and the games looked great on our model’s 144Hz FreeSync screen. (You can choose a 60Hz panel as well). The Radeon RX 5600M GPU gets a boost from AMD’s SmartShift feature, which pushes power between the CPU and GPU depending on where it’s needed.
For times when you’re not gaming, the G5 also makes a good daily driver. It does a great job with graphically intensive work as well as general multitasking, and the fans stayed quiet throughout our testing. And there’s a better port selection than we’d generally expect to see at this price point, including an SD card reader, an audio jack, two USB 2.0 Type-A, a Mini DisplayPort, HDMi 2.0, a USB 3.2 Gen 1, an Ethernet, and a USB-C with DisplayPort. Ultimately, the G15 delivers outstanding performance for its price, and is the budget gaming rig to beat.
The 17-inch laptop to buy
The XPS 17 is a workstation for professionals who need a huge screen and huge power. Its 17-inch 3840 x 2400 display allows you room to comfortably work in multiple tabs and apps, and it’s also bright enough to use for outdoor work without much obtrusive glare.
It contains H-series Intel processors, and can be configured with discrete RTX GPUs — our model had an RTX 2060 Max Q. That system flew through gaming benchmarks and complex video work — and didn’t burn itself up in the process, thanks to a new cooling system from Dell that includes a chassis-wide vapor chamber. Best of all, those specs and screen manage to function without decimating the XPS’s battery life; our unit (with a 97Wh brick) was able to last a full work day.
Originally published at https://www.theverge.com on May 8, 2020.