Whether it’s in anticipation of back to school season or you just need a new machine for work, a new laptop may be near the top of your shopping list right now. Given we’re still dealing with the global chip supply shortage, you might find yourself concerned about rising prices or what might be in stock. The good news is, companies are still making a ton of new laptops, and there are plenty of models for you to choose from.
What to expect
You probably have an idea of your budget here, but just so you know, most laptops with top-of-the-line specs can cost you around $1,800 to $2,000 these days. That doesn’t mean you won’t find a good system for under $1,000 — a grand is the base price for a lot of premium ultraportables in the 13-inch category, with chips like Intel’s Core i3 or i5 series. And if that’s too expensive, you’ll still have respectable options in the $600 to $800 range, but they might come with older, slower processors and dimmer screens. I’ve included our favorite budget-friendly model in this roundup but we have a list of more-affordable laptops that you can check out as well.
After working out how much money you want to spend, the laptop’s operating system is usually the first thing you have to narrow down. As always, the decision is slightly easier for people who prefer MacBooks. Now that Apple has brought its M1 chip to its whole lineup — your only real considerations are budget, screen size and how much power you need.
Over on Team Windows, however, the shift to ARM-based chips hasn’t been as smooth. Though Apple has been able to bring huge increases in battery life while maintaining (and in some cases improving) performance with its own silicon, PC makers have been limited by Windows’ shortcomings. Microsoft released Windows 11 last year, and it’s supposed to run better on ARM-powered machines. Since the first of these laptops, like Lenovo’s ThinkPad X13s or 10w tablet, haven’t been available for review yet, we can’t tell how well the system runs. Of course, you can upgrade to Windows 11 on existing ARM-based PCs, but for now, it’s still safer to stick with an Intel or AMD processor.
Let’s not forget there’s a third and fairly popular laptop operating system: Chrome. If you do most of your work in a browser (lots of online research, emails and Google Drive), then a Chromebook might be a suitable, and often more affordable option.
As for other things to look out for, it’s worth pointing out that a couple of laptops coming out this year are doing away with headphone jacks. Though this doesn’t seem to be a prevalent trend yet, it’s a good reminder to check that a machine has all the connectors you need. Most laptops in 2022 offer WiFi 6 or 6E and Bluetooth 5.0 or later, which should mean faster and more stable connections if you have compatible routers and devices. While 5G coverage is more widespread this year, whether you need support for that depends on how much you travel.
Where you plan on taking your laptop also helps in deciding what size to get. Many companies launched new 14-inch machines in the last year, straddling the line between ultraportable and bulkier 15-inch offerings. For most people, a 14-inch screen is a great middle ground. But if you’re worried about weight, a 12- or 13-inch model will be better. Those that want more powerful processors and larger displays will prefer 15- or 16-inch versions.
Best overall: MacBook Air M1
As a Windows user, I find myself reluctant to name a MacBook the best overall laptop. But I can’t deny that Apple’s transition to its own Silicon has made its machines better. The MacBook Air M1 even outperformed many PCs while maintaining a fanless design. Though the current model is two years old at this point, it’s still one of the best laptops around. You’ll get blazing fast performance, a great keyboard and excellent battery life, along with a nice Retina display.
Our main gripes with it are the low-res 720p webcam and the fact that it only has two USB-C ports. But if you’re already living a largely wireless life, that shouldn’t bother you too much. Plus, thanks to its ARM architecture, the M1 MacBook Air can also run iPhone and iPad apps.
If you can wait a little longer, the MacBook Air is overdue an update and Apple’s new model is likely to deliver even better performance. But if you need a new machine right now and want a bit more power than the M1 Air has to offer, then consider the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro chip. It’s more expensive, but will smoothly handle more intensive tasks like video editing and also packs an onboard SD card reader. The M1 Pro still lags more-powerful NVIDIA and AMD systems, though, so if you need something for 3D rendering, you may need to turn to a Windows machine.
Best Windows: Dell XPS 13 Plus
The best PC has long been Dell’s well-rounded XPS 13 series and I still recommend it to anyone that doesn’t want a Mac. Yes, the new XPS 13 Plus lacks a headphone jack, and we haven’t got one in to test yet. But the XPS 13 is a well-rounded machine and still one of the best-looking PCs out there.
Like its predecessors, the XPS 13 Plus offers a lovely OLED screen with impressively thin bezels and packs a roomy, comfortable keyboard. It also features a new minimalist design that looks more modern. I’m not sure about the row of capacitive keys at the top in lieu of traditional function keys, but I’m confident that the laptop’s 12th-gen Intel Core processors will provide a healthy performance boost from the last model.
If you’re not sure about the changes Dell has made to the XPS 13, or if you definitely need a headphone jack, the older generations are still solid options. There’s also the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 Pro series, which feature beautiful OLED screens and sharper webcams in thin and light frames. I also like Microsoft’s Surface Laptops, and the most recent edition offers great performance and battery life, albeit in an outdated design.
Best for gaming: Razer Blade 15 Advanced
Gamers should look for machines with responsive screens and ample ports for their favorite accessories that can best help them defeat their virtual enemies. My colleague Devindra Hardawar goes into more detail about what to consider in his guide to buying a gaming laptop, which you should read to learn about different CPUs and GPUs, minimum specs and more. Our favorite gaming laptop is the Razer Blade 15 Advanced, which has an Intel Core i7 processor, and an NVIDIA RTX 3070 graphics for $2,500.
It’s the most expensive item on this list, but you also get a 15-inch quad HD screen that refreshes at 240Hz. Different configurations are available, depending on your preference, including a Full HD 360Hz and a 4K 144Hz version. The Blade series is also one of the most polished gaming laptops around.
Those looking for something cheaper and more portable should consider the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14, which was our favorite model last year. The main reason it got bumped down a notch is because the 2022 refresh is almost $600 more expensive. It’s still a solid gaming laptop though, with an excellent display, roomy trackpad and plenty of ports in spite of its thin profile.
Best Chromebook: Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook
Our favorite Chromebook is Lenovo’s Flex 5 Chromebook, which Engadget’s resident Chrome OS aficionado Nathan Ingraham described as “a tremendous value.” This laptop nails the basics, with a 13-inch Full HD touchscreen, a fantastic keyboard and a 10th-generation Intel Core i3 processor. The 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage may sound meager, but in our testing the Flex 5 held up in spite of this constraint. It’s also nice to see one USB-A and two USB-C ports, eight-hour battery life and a 360-degree hinge that makes it easy to use the Flex 5 as a tablet. That’s a bonus, especially now that Chrome OS supports Android apps.
Though the Flex 5 is almost two years old by now, it’s a solid deal at around $400. In fact, you can sometimes find it on sale for as little as $300, making it a great option for someone looking for a basic browser-based machine on a tight budget.
Best budget: HP Pavilion Aero 13
If you’re looking for something under $800, your best bet is the HP Pavilion Aero 13. For around $750, you’ll get a Full HD screen with a 16:10 aspect ratio and surprisingly thin bezels, as well as a comfortable keyboard and spacious trackpad. Importantly, the Aero 13 provides relatively powerful components compared to others in this price range, with an AMD Ryzen 5000 series processor and Radeon graphics. Plus, it has a generous array of ports and enough juice to last you the entire work day and then some.
Best convertible: Microsoft Surface Pro 8
For those who need their laptops to occasionally double as tablets, the Surface Pro series is a no-brainer. Compared to notebooks with rotating hinges, tablets with kickstands are often much slimmer and lighter. The Surface Pro 8 is the most recent model and it features Microsoft’s sleek new design with a thinner profile and minimal bezels. The Pro 8 also has a 120Hz display that makes scrolling long documents or spreadsheets feel much faster, and you can drop the refresh rate down to 60Hz if you want to conserve battery life.
We also like Microsoft’s Type Covers for its Surface Pros, though it’s worth noting that they’ll cost you an additional $100 to $180. Those who want to doodle or sketch on the display may appreciate the Surface Slim Pen 2’s haptic feedback.
Unless you’re bent on sticking to Apple’s ecosystem, in which case an iPad Pro would suit you best, the Surface Pro 8 is arguably the best convertible laptop around.