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Whether it’s in anticipation of the holiday season or you just need a new machine for work, a new laptop might be near the top of your shopping list right now. Given that we’re still dealing with a global chip supply shortage, you may find yourself concerned about rising prices or what might be in stock. The good news is that companies are still producing plenty of new laptops, and there are plenty of models to choose from, from the budget HP Pavilion Aero 13 to the convertible Microsoft Surface Pro 9 to our best overall pick, the Apple MacBook Air M2. We’ve made it easy for you to choose the best laptop for your needs.
What should I expect?
You probably have an idea of your budget here, but just so you know, most top-spec laptops can cost you around $1,800 to $2,000 these days. That’s not to say you won’t find a good system for under $1,000—a thousand is the base price for many 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 may come with older, slower processors and weaker screens. I’ve included our favorite budget model in this review of the best laptops, but we have a list of more affordable laptops for you to check out.
Once you’ve determined how much money you want to spend, the laptop’s operating system is usually the first thing to narrow down. As always, the decision is a little easier for people who prefer MacBooks. Now that Apple has rolled out its M-series chips across its range – your only real considerations are budget, screen size and how much power you need.
In Team Windows, however, the transition to ARM-based chips was not so smooth. Although Apple was able to significantly increase battery life while maintaining (and in some cases improving) performance with its proprietary silicon, PC makers were limited by Windows’ shortcomings. Microsoft released Windows 11 last year and it is expected to run better on ARM-powered machines. Since the first of these laptops, like the ThinkPad X13s or Lenovo’s 10w tablet, aren’t yet available for review, we can’t say how well the system performs. 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 that there is a third and quite popular laptop operating system: Chrome. If you do most of your work in a browser (lots of online research, email and Google Drive), then a Chromebook may be a suitable and often more affordable option.
As for other things to watch out for, it’s worth noting that several laptops coming out this year are ditching headphone jacks. While this doesn’t seem to be a prevalent trend yet, it’s a good reminder to check that your 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 it depends on how much you travel.
Where you plan to take your laptop also helps in deciding what size to get. Many companies have released new 14-inch machines over the past year, straddling the line between ultraportables 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 who want more powerful processors and larger displays will prefer the 15- or 16-inch versions.
Best Overall: MacBook Air M2
As a Windows user, I’m reluctant to single out the Apple MacBook as the best laptop overall. But I can’t deny that Apple’s move to proprietary silicon has made their machines better. The last one MacBook Air M2 is a worthy sequel to M1 which came out in 2020, bringing a fresh design and improved performance that all users will appreciate.
This is not to say that the M1 was a sluggish machine – quite the opposite. We found it to be impressively fast, and the M2 only builds on that stellar performance. It’s probably too much for a MacBook Air, but that means it will serve most people well for both work and play. Plus, the 16.5 hours of battery life should be enough for anyone to get through a full day and then some.
As for its design, we like that Apple took a more uniformly thin approach here and ditched the wedge shape of the previous model. The M2 Air also has a gorgeous 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display, interrupted only by the top notch that holds its 1080p webcam. Its quad-speaker setup is also an improvement, and all these small hardware changes add up to a machine that looks and feels different than you might expect from its predecessor. However, the M1 and M2 MacBook Air laptops remain solid machines. Given that the M2 starts at $1,199, those on a budget might be willing to forgo the new design improvements to save a little money and still get a fast laptop.
Buy MacBook Air M2 from Amazon – $1199
Buy MacBook Air M1 from Amazon – $999
Best Windows: Dell XPS 13 Plus
The best PC has long been the well-rounded Dell XPS 13 series and I still recommend it to anyone who doesn’t want a Mac. Yes, on new XPS 13 Plus it’s missing a headphone jack, and we don’t have one to test yet. But the XPS 13 is a well-rounded Windows laptop and still one of the best-looking PCs on the market.
Like its predecessors, the XPS 13 Plus offers a beautiful OLED screen with impressively thin bezels and features a spacious and comfortable keyboard. It also features a new minimalistic design that looks more modern. I’m not sure about the row of capacitive keys at the top instead of traditional function keys, but I’m confident that the laptop’s 12th Gen Intel Core processors will provide a healthy performance boost over the last model.
If you’re not sure about the changes Dell 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 includes beautiful OLED screens and sharper webcams in thin and light frames. I also like Microsoft’s Surface laptops, and the latest 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 enough 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 must-read guide to buying a gaming laptop to learn about different CPUs and GPUs, minimum specs, and more. Our pick for the best gaming laptop is Razer Blade 15 Advancedwhich has an Intel Core i7 processor and NVIDIA RTX 3070 graphics for $2500.
It’s the most expensive item on this list, but you also get a 15-inch quad HD screen that refreshes at 240Hz. Various 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 refined gaming laptops.
Those looking for something cheaper and more portable should consider ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14, which was our favorite model last year. The main reason it was down a notch is that the 2022 refresh is almost $600 more expensive. It’s still a solid gaming laptop, with an excellent display, roomy trackpad and plenty of ports, despite its thin profile.
Buy Blade 15 Advanced from Razer – $2500
Best Chromebook: Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook
Our favorite Chromebook is Lenovo’s Flex 5 Chromebook, which Engadget’s Chrome OS aficionado Nathan Ingraham described as “tremendous value.” This laptop nails the basics with a 13-inch Full HD touchscreen, a fantastic keyboard, and a 10th Gen Intel Core i3 processor. 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage might sound meager, but in our testing the Flex 5 held up despite this limitation. It’s also nice to see one USB-A and two USB-C ports, eight hours of 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.
Even though the Flex 5 is now almost two years old, 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 budget.
Buy the Flex 5 Chromebook from Amazon – $430
Best budget: HP Pavilion Aero 13
If you’re looking for something under $800, it’s your best bet HP Pavilion Aero 13. For about $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 roomy trackpad. Importantly, the Aero 13 delivers relatively powerful components compared to others in this price range, with an AMD Ryzen 5000 series processor and Radeon graphics. It also has a generous array of ports and enough juice to get you through the workday and then some.
Buy the Pavilion Aero 13 from HP starting at $739
Best convertible: Microsoft Surface Pro 9
For those who need their laptops to occasionally double as tablets, the Surface Pro series is a good option. Compared to hinged laptops, tablets with stands are often much thinner and lighter. The Surface Pro 9 is Microsoft’s latest model, and if you’ve had your eye on the Surface for a while, just know that you should get the Intel version of this machine, not the ARM model. In our tests, we found the 5G ARM version of the Pro 9 to be much slower than a flagship convertible should be, and that’s mostly because many of the Windows apps readily available on Intel’s x86 hardware have to be emulated to run Microsoft’s Custom ARM SoC. Given that you’ll be paying at least $1,000 for each Surface Pro 9 model, you might as well get a configuration that has as few limitations as possible.
While we have reservations about the Pro 9’s overall ergonomics, it’s undoubtedly one of the thinnest and lightest laptop alternatives you can get. It’s attractive and has a lovely 13-inch display, and we still think Microsoft’s Type Cover is one of the best you can get, period. They will cost you extra, though, so be prepared to pay another $100 to $180 for one. Microsoft’s Slim Pen 2 is another highlight and will be a must-have accessory for anyone who likes to draw or prefers to take handwritten notes. Overall, if you want a machine that can switch seamlessly from laptop to tablet, the Intel Surface Pro 9 is one of your best bets. Of course, if you’re wedded to the Apple ecosystem, you should consider the iPad Pro.