The best laptop of 2021 can come with a variety of brands, prices, and features. Here, we’ve got the rest of the best laptops, Windows 10 business notebooks, gaming rigs, Chromebooks, laptops for school, and 2-in-1 convertibles.
Our current pick for the best laptop of 2021 is the MacBook Air. 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.
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 with our top picks to help you find the best laptop for the job.
It’s getting harder to buy a bad laptop, but what separates the best laptop of 2021 from good laptops is how they balance power, efficiency, portability, and comfort. The top 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.
In our view, the best laptop for budget shoppers is the HP Envy x360 13. For a sub-$1,000 price, it delivers performance on par with much more expensive laptops.
Our other picks for the best laptops, Chromebooks, and 2-in-1s of 2021 include the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, the MacBook Pro 16, and the HP Elite Dragonfly. Check out the full list of best laptop picks below or our roundup of the best gaming laptops, if you’re looking for a powerful machine that doesn’t sacrifice portability.
The best laptop of 2021
The late-2020 MacBook Air, powered by Apple’s M1 processor, is the best laptop you can buy. The base model, which includes 8GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage, starts at $999.
Appearance-wise, this laptop has a lot in common with the Intel-powered MacBook Air that Apple released earlier this year, including the same 2560 x 1600 screen, Touch ID, 720p webcam, fingerprint sensor, and scissor-switch keyboard.
But the new processor is the star of the show here; it’s fast. In our testing, it handled intense photo- and video-editing workloads better than almost any Intel-powered laptop we’ve tried this year. It was also able to run Shadow of the Tomb Raider at close-to-playable frame rates, which is quite a feat for integrated graphics. At launch, these apps hadn’t yet been optimized for the M1 processor and were running through Apple’s Rosetta 2 translation layer — but they still worked fine.
And the processing power didn’t even weigh down the battery life: we got between eight and 10 hours of sustained work.
Another benefit of the M1 processor is that it enables the MacBook Air to run iPhone and iPad apps natively on macOS. As of this writing, there still isn’t a huge selection of mobile apps available, and some that have been released aren’t quite optimized for the laptop screen. Still, it’s a benefit we can look forward to as time goes on.
Overall, there’s no reason that a general-use customer shouldn’t consider the MacBook Air. It’s a reliable device with excellent performance, as well as the excellence in build quality for which Apple is known. Power users who need a MacBook Pro probably know who they are; the Air should be fine for everyone else.
The best Windows laptop
It’s hard to come up with a single complaint about the Spectre x360 14. It’s a drop-dead gorgeous machine with a sturdy build and a premium look and feel.
But the Spectre x360 14 isn’t just pretty to look at: it’s also a pleasure to use as a daily work driver. Intel’s latest 11th Gen processors and Iris Xe integrated graphics deliver snappy performance with no slowdown or freezes that we observed. And we got an average of 10 hours of battery life out of the device — one of the best results we’ve ever seen.
On the outside, the Spectre includes a roomy 3:2 display, and if FHD resolution doesn’t suit your fancy, there are OLED and 1,000-nit options available. There’s even a packaged stylus, which attaches magnetically to the side of the Spectre — handy if you’re using the device as a tablet. Pretty much every other aspect of this laptop, from its comfortable keyboard and smooth touchpad to its bass-heavy audio and practical port selection, rivals or exceeds the best convertibles on the market.
Such an exceptional package of features doesn’t come cheap, and many customers will find everything they need in a less expensive product. But the Spectre x360 14 is the new gold standard of Windows convertibles. Overall, it’s the best Windows laptop you can buy.
The best laptop in 2021 for big-screen fans
Even if you’ve used a light laptop before, it’s difficult to explain how light the LG Gram 17 is. It has a massive 17-inch display, but it’s somehow only three pounds. Picking it up messes with your mind; you feel like you’re not holding anything.
But the Gram 17’s weight isn’t the only standout feature. It also has some of the best battery life you can get, lasting over 12 hours in our testing. Add a great keyboard, a solid port selection, quiet fans, and a fast processor, and there’s very little not to like about this device.
Not everyone needs a 17-inch display, and many folks who do are looking for a heavier-duty workstation that probably doesn’t get moved very often. But if you’d just really like a large screen for your daily office work and Netflixing, you’re the target demographic for this machine. It’s a niche, but truly impressive device without much real competition in today’s market.
The best budget laptop in 2021
You don’t need to spend $1,000 to get a laptop that looks and feels premium. The HP Envy x360 2020 is the best budget laptop 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 Radeon graphics delivered good gaming performance comparable to what you’d expect from a lower-powered discrete GPU.
The best MacBook Pro for everyday users
If you’re looking to buy an M1 MacBook for heavier workloads, you’ll want to look at the late-2020 MacBook Pro. It starts at $1,299, which is $300 more than the late-2020 MacBook Air.
The MacBook Pro has a slightly different design and look than the Air, as well as a few additional features like the Touch Bar. But the two have the same processor. The main difference is that the Pro includes a fan (the Air is fanless), which means it can sustain heavy workloads for a longer period of time without needing to throttle its performance. But you won’t notice much of a performance difference between the two MacBooks unless you’re routinely pushing heavy tasks for long periods of time.
If that’s you, though, go for the Pro. We were able to run a number of hefty Premiere Pro exports and didn’t see a dip in times. The Pro also achieved a significantly higher score than the Air in a 30-minute loop of Cinebench R23; the scores were closer together after a single run.
A great 2-in-1 laptop
If you’re looking for a convertible laptop that does just about everything right, we recommend Dell’s latest XPS 13 2-in-1. It features a sturdy and well-made chassis, a nearly bezel-free 16:10 touch display, and Intel’s newest 11th Gen processors.
The base model, for $1,099, includes a Core i3-1154G4, 8GB of RAM, a 1920 x 1200 display, and a 256GB SSD. You can spec that up to a 3840 x 2400 display, a Core i7-1165G7, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. There are various add-ons as well: you can pay $50 extra for a white model and $60 to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. Basically, there’s something for everyone.
Dell has made a few minor tweaks to the 2-in-1 since last year’s model. The webcam now supports Windows Hello, and the RAM and microSD reader have been upgraded. But the exciting news is the new chip and, in particular, Intel’s new integrated graphics. The XPS 13 2-in-1 did a better job than any 10th Gen laptop with an iGPU on our Adobe Premiere Pro export test. And you can even play some games on this thing: it broke 60fps on Rocket League, League of Legends, and Overwatch, and even managed 36fps on Shadow of the Tomb Raider at its lowest settings. That’s an improvement over the results we saw from 10th Gen systems, and it also beats some 11th Gen systems (including the clamshell Dell XPS 13).
Of course, it’s not perfect. The port selection is limited (as is customary for modern XPS models) and the keyboard is a bit flat for my taste. But overall, the 2-in-1 excels on the fundamentals: build quality, display, performance, and battery life. What more could you want?
The best laptop for college
The Dell XPS 13 is a compact and reliable laptop. Its beautiful chassis, excellent 16:10 display, and great performance make it an excellent choice for general-purpose users.
This late-2020 model comes with Intel’s new Tiger Lake processors, from a Core i3-1154G4 up to a Core i7-1165G7. It starts at $999, so it’s a bit cheaper than the 2-in-1.
My review unit (an i7 model) blew through the work tasks I needed it to do without any slowdown or heat. It did quite well, and handily beat its 10th Gen predecessor in both gaming and media work. It didn’t do as well as the XPS 13 2-in-1, which is why that model is ranked higher on this list. But if you like the look and feel of the XPS 13 and would prefer a clamshell model (or need a bouncier keyboard), this XPS is still a great option.
There’s an OLED model of the XPS 13 as well, which costs $300 more than the FHD model. This model has worse battery life, but does deliver a stunning picture.
The best gaming laptop in 2021
At just over four pounds, the Zephyrus G15 is one of the lightest 15-inch gaming laptops you can buy. But you’re not compromising performance for that portability. The G15 is powered by the top mobile chips AMD and Nvidia have to offer, and pairs thim with a fast 165Hz QHD display. In our testing, the system was able to handle even the toughest AAA titles at QHD resolution.
Almost everything else about the G15 is great too: the audio sounds good, the keyboard and touchpad are some of the best on the market, the port selection has just about everything you’d need, and the battery can last over eight and a half hours to a charge. If you’re looking for a high-powered gaming machine that also works great as a daily driver, the Zephyrus G15 should be at the top of your list.