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The 9 best laptops in 2021 for work, entertainment, and gaming

Table of Contents: Masthead StickySummary List PlacementWhen it comes to studying, working, or even playing, having one of the best laptops is essential.  Although the very best laptops will cost you $1,000 or more, there are laptops to fit every budget in this guide. Whether you're a Windows, Mac, or Chromebook...

Table of Contents: Masthead StickySummary List Placement

When it comes to studying, working, or even playing, having one of the best laptops is essential. 

Although the very best laptops will cost you $1,000 or more, there are laptops to fit every budget in this guide. Whether you’re a Windows, Mac, or Chromebook fan, there’s an option for each preference. 

If you’re shopping for a specific type of laptop, check out our guides to the best college laptops, the best Chromebooks, the best budget laptops, and the best MacBooks.

Although there are plenty of excellent laptops below, it’s worth noting that several new laptops from companies like HP, Lenovo, LG and others were announced in early January. We’re still in the process of testing these new models. 

We’ve spent about a decade covering technology, including laptops, and have tested and researched hundreds of laptops and tablets running Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS, and Google Chrome OS over the years.

Here are the best 9 laptops of 2021:

SEE ALSO: The best budget laptops you can buy

The best laptop overall

The Dell XPS 13 strikes an incredible balance between the most powerful mobile hardware to date in an attractive, thin, and light chassis for a reasonable high-end price.

Pros: Attractive  design, excellent screen, long battery life, latest hardware

Cons: Webcam should be 1080p

Dell’s flagship 13-incher has been the overall best laptop for years, and in 2021 that’s no different. Why? It’s because the Dell XPS continues to be the best cross between power, portability, and looks for general users, making it the best laptop for most people.

The current generation Dell XPS 13 runs on Intel’s latest 11th-generation processors (CPUs), bringing gains when it comes to performance, graphics, and battery life. Dell estimates that the non-4K model (with a 1920 x 1200 resolution display, which we’d recommend) can last for 14 hours and 11 minutes on a single charge, although in my testing I found that it lasted for about six hours in real-world usage. While that may not live up to Dell’s claims, it’s certainly enough to get through most of a work day without plugging in. 

Unfortunately, the webcam still only has a 720p resolution like that of most laptops, which in my testing resulted in photos that were a bit blurry and dim.  

The base configuration Dell XPS 13 starts with an 11th generation Intel Core i3 CPU, a 13-inch, non-touch 1,920 x 1,200-pixel  display, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD — starting at $979.99. . The top-of-the-line model maxes out at an Intel Core i7 processor with 16GB of RAM, a 2TB hard drive, the frost white exterior design, and a 3,840 x 2,400 touchscreen display for $1,665.99 when you buy through Dell.

The best 13-inch laptop

The HP Envy 13t brings flagship performance, look, feel, and features to a more affordable price point.

Pros: Lots of power for the price, nifty webcam privacy shutter, fast-charging battery

Cons: Upgrades get pricey quickly

HP’s Envy 13t is our pick for the best 13-inch laptop, bringing high-end hardware and decent looks to an approachable price point — and more so in some areas than our best overall pick, the Dell XPS 13. 

For less than $900 at its current price, you’re still getting a laptop that runs on Intel’s latest 11th-generation Core i5 CPUs, which is a great value.  It also has a built-in webcam privacy shutter and a dedicated microphone mute button, which could be especially useful for those working from home on a long-term basis. Like other HP laptops, the Envy 13t has Bang & Olufsen audio. Oh, and its battery can charge up to 50% in just 30 minutes.

The cheapest HP Envy 13t model is surprisingly powerful and probably enough for most people. It packs an 11th-generation Intel Core i5 processor with Intel Iris Xe graphics, a 13.3-inch touchscreen display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage for $889.99. You can upgrade all the way up to an Intel Core i7 processor with 16GB of RAM, graphics, a 4K touchscreen, and 1TB of storage for $1,469.99.

The best MacBook

Apple’s M1 chip brings major improvements to the MacBook Air‘s performance, battery life, and camera quality for the same price, making it the best choice for Mac fans.

Pros: Fast performance, super-long battery life, much-improved camera

Cons: Lacks some features of similarly priced Windows devices like facial recognition and a borderless screen, iPhone apps don’t add much to the experience yet without touch screens

Apple is finally bringing its own chip to the Mac. Called the M1, Apple’s homemade processor introduces serious benefits to the latest MacBook Air compared to its Intel-powered predecessor, such as longer battery life, faster performance, and a super-silent fanless design.

The new MacBook Air’s battery life may be its biggest upgrade. I was able to get about 12 hours of use out of the M1-powered MacBook Air, a noticeable jump from the roughly seven hours of battery life I have experienced on the Intel version. In addition to speedier performance and longer battery life, the webcam in the M1-equipped MacBook Air takes advantage of Apple’s image signal processor, resulting in clearer and sharper images.

Apple’s M1 chip can also be found in the 13-inch MacBook Pro, but the Air is a better deal since it’s $300 cheaper and there are barely any differences between the two.

Entry-level models of both MacBook Air and MacBook Pro come with 256GB of storage, 8GB of RAM, Apple’s 8-core M1 processor, and two Thunderbolt/USB-C ports.

But keep in mind that Apple laptops lack some features found on Windows devices, like touch screens, facial recognition for logging in, and flexible 2-in-1 designs. 

All told, Apple’s M1 chip is a leap forward for the Mac when it comes to the areas that matter most. 

The best Chromebook

The Google Pixelbook Go offers the ultimate Chromebook experience in its most affordable form to date, with an incredible keyboard and long battery life.

Pros: Incredible keyboard, long battery life, 1080p webcam, decent display

Cons: No biometric login option, pricey upgrade options

Google’s follow-up to its original 2-in-1 Chromebook, the Pixelbook, is frankly the most comfortable and premium laptop of its kind that we’ve ever used. It’s known simply as the Pixelbook Go, and it’s a more affordable distillation of Google’s previous flagship.

While the Pixelbook Go loses the 2-in-1 functionality of the straight Pixelbook that preceded it, the clamshell laptop maintains a 13.3-inch, 1080p touchscreen. However, what’s even easier to appreciate is the improvement here on Google’s “Hush” keyboard, being one of the quietest and most comfortable laptop keyboards to date. You might also appreciate the 1080p webcam here, a feature largely unheard of in a laptop of this price — Chromebook or otherwise.

Couple all of that with a battery life rated for up to 12 hours, like that of the newest MacBook Air, and you have a strong mobile companion. It also helps that the Pixelbook Go‘s magnesium build weighs just 2 pounds and measures 0.5 inches thin.

Google starts the Pixelbook Go asking price at $649.00, which includes a fanless, dual-core 8th-generation Intel Core m3 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 64GB SSD in either “Just Black” or “Not Pink” colors. That’s plenty to run Google’s lightweight Chrome OS, but can be configured with fanless Intel Core CPUs up to the i7, twice as much RAM, up to 256GB of SSD space, and even a 2160p display — all maxing out at $1,399.00, which we don’t recommend splurging for unless you’re a mega fan.

 

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The best 15-inch laptop

Simply put, the LG Gram 17 fits a 17-inch display into a 15-inch laptop with some of the smallest display bezels in the industry.

Pros: 17-inch display in 15-inch body, built-in fingerprint reader, long battery life

Cons: Expensive 

You might be wondering why a laptop with a 17-inch display is our favorite pick for 15-inch laptops. That’s because the LG Gram 17 crams that large of a display into a chassis that’s just 15 inches wide, making it a 15-inch laptop with a 17-inch display — just wild.

The laptop’s magnesium alloy body also weighs less than some 15-inch laptops at just 2.98 pounds to start, and it measures a mere 0.7 inches thin. This discrepancy between screen size and frame size is due to incredibly thin display bezels, particularly on its sides. The latest model, which was announced in January and runs on Intel’s 11th-generation processors, has even thinner borders on all four sides than its predecessor. 

LG’s Gram 17 also features a fingerprint reader built into its power button, making login super fast through Windows Hello. The LG Gram 17‘s light weight doesn’t necessarily mean it’s light on power: it offers a WQXGA (2,560 x 1,600) display driven by a 11th-generation Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, and a battery that can last up to 19.5 hours by LG’s measure. 

LG only offers one configuration for the LG Gram 17, and it’s a doozy at $1,799.99 , which is a lot for even this marvel of engineering.  But altogether, the LG Gram 17 is still a 15-inch laptop that’s tough to beat.

The best budget laptop

The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 offers solid specifications and a flexible design that allows it to double as a laptop and a tablet at a price that’s hundreds of dollars below the $1,000 mark.

Pros: Great price, excellent keyboard and trackpad, decent performance, long battery life

Cons: Fans can get noisy, display is a little dim and lackluster

The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex is tough to beat for those seeking an affordable yet reliable laptop. For hundreds of dollars below the $1,000 threshold, you’re getting a recent processor that has plenty of power, a spacious touchscreen, and 128GB of storage.

The 15.6-inch version of Lenovo’s IdeaPad Flex 5 is currently available for $579.99, and it comes with a 10th-generation Intel Core i3 processor — which is just one generation behind Intel’s current chips — a 1080p touchscreen, and 4GB of RAM. 

Those aren’t top-of-the-line specifications, but they’re more than enough for anyone that spends most of their time on laptops browsing the web, writing emails, streaming Netflix, taking notes, and managing spreadsheets. There’s also a physical webcam shutter to block your camera when it’s not in use and a fingerprint reader. 

The configuration I’ve been testing runs on an AMD Ryzen 5 processor and also comes with a fingerprint reader and digital stylus. However, that configuration costs a bit more at $719 and we’ve only been able to find it via third party sellers on Amazon.

But what really makes the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex stand out are its comfortable keyboard, smooth trackpad, and long battery life, which are consistent no matter what configuration you choose. However, don’t push it too hard: the fans can get a little noisy if you have too many tabs open.

The best 2-in-1 laptop

The Lenovo Yoga C940 is a fantastic iteration on its long-running series of flagship 2-in-1 laptops, making it a multimedia monster in every sense.

Pros: Recent Intel processors, improved audio hardware, stowaway stylus

Cons: Fingerprint reader placement is dated

Lenovo’s Yoga C940 2-in-1 laptop is the company’s latest iteration on the foldable laptop trend that it helped kickstart in earnest so many years ago. This model improves the innovative speaker hinge of the previous generation, allowing for bigger sound from larger audio drivers.

Better yet, this model will be a bit easier for users to open, thanks to a small lip added to its lid just above the webcam. The keyboard luckily remains unchanged, carrying on the IBM ThinkPad legacy that Lenovo acquired years ago in stylish fashion. Speaking of style, the Yoga C940 comes in the same slick “Iron Gray” and “Mica” colors as last year.

Lenovo has truly leaned into crafting its flagship Yoga laptop into a multimedia powerhouse, adding bottom-firing speakers into the laptop’s base for even more sound channels. Likewise, the stowaway stylus that charges when stored returns this year.

The configuration available at Best Buy includes plenty of ports, Amazon Alexa built-in, and a fingerprint reader as well. Even though it runs on a previous generation Intel processor, that chip is still plenty fast enough to handle heavy workloads. We’d recommend buying the 1080p version if you can find it since it’s less expensive and likely offers better battery life. But the 4K version is the only one available in new condition at Best Buy. 

Powering all of this is a battery that’s rated to last for up to 15 hours, according to Lenovo. With that, Lenovo retains its lead in 2-in-1 laptops.

The best Microsoft laptop

Microsoft’s 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 marks a long-overdue debut for AMD CPUs in flagship laptops, allowing for one of the strongest showings in integrated graphics to date.

Pros: Recent AMD CPU inside, long battery life, excellent keyboard

Cons: Too few ports, no top-firing speakers, on the pricey side

Microsoft has iterated on its Surface Laptop three times now, and the most recent third crack brings with it a new model: a 15-inch variant that runs on an AMD CPU rather than Intel. It’s one of Microsoft’s longest-lasting laptops to date in terms of battery life — longer even than Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro.

This take on the Surface Laptop 3 also brings with it an absolutely welcome new look and feel, opting for an entirely aluminum frame that comes in black or platinum colors. As for the feel, the keyboard performs excellently, being both quiet and forceful in its feedback.

The display on this model maintains the expected 3:2 aspect ratio that’s all but exclusive to Microsoft laptops, with a 2,496 x 1,664 pixel resolution and multi-touch control. The unique aspect ratio allows for more vertical space, which displays more text content than traditional 16:9 displays — allowing for a larger workable space.

The 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 starts at $899.99 at Best Buy, which features a specially-designed  AMD Ryzen 5 CPU with a custom integrated Vega 9 graphics processor that can even handle mild PC gaming. In addition, the laptop contains 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, along with two USB ports. All of this is driven by a battery rated to last for up to 11 hours and 30 minutes on a charge.

The best gaming laptop

The Razer Blade 15 strikes the ultimate balance between gaming and general performance as well as looks, feel, and design.

Pros: Excellent display, lots of power and storage, fantastic keyboard

Cons: Pricey, not the best battery life

Razer has long been the leader in gaming laptop design, and that hasn’t changed yet. Offering power combined with a design that rivals even Apple’s MacBook Pro line, the Razer Blade 15  comes at a premium but backs it up with quality hardware.

Razer recently launched a new version of the Razer Blade 15 and 15 Advanced with Nvidia’s latest GeForce RTX 30 Series GPUs, bringing a modest refresh to our favorite gaming notebook. The new 2021 Advanced version is also available in three display options for the first time: full HD at 360 Hz, quad HD at 240Hz with Nvidia G-Sync, and ultra HD OLED at 60Hz. 

We loved the older Razer Blade 15 for its excellent 1080p display that can be configured up to a 144Hz refresh rate to support frame rates of up to 144 frames per second and its alluring Chroma keyboard lighting.

All told, the Blade 15 treats you well for the steep cost. The keyboard in use is also just as effective for typing as it is for gaming, helping the Blade 15 serve as a truly catch-all device for users that would like to be able to work and learn on the same laptop on which they play games in their free time. 

The cheapest base model of the new Razer Blade 15 with Nvidia’s newest GPU began shipping on March 3 and starts at $1,699.99. It comes with a 10th generation Intel Core i7 processor, a full HD screen with a 144Hz refresh rate, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 graphics, and a 512GB SSD. 

What else we considered

Here are the laptops that were considered for this guide, but didn’t make the cut. Still, they’re worth considering if they fulfill a specific criteria within your shopping needs that hasn’t been met by the other laptops on this list.

  • MacBook Pro (13-or-15-inch) ($1,299.00 or $2,399.00 to start): We’ve used probably a dozen different MacBooks over the years, and at times the MacBook Pro was the one to beat. But, today, the latest MacBook Air model is the best version of the MacBook for most people. Also, the 2019 MacBook Pro was superseded late last year by the 16-inch model when it comes to Pro devices specifically.
  • Microsoft Surface Pro 7 ($749.99 to start): The Surface Pro line of 2-in-1 Windows tablets has always been a leader in design for the category. Unfortunately, Microsoft appears to have begun resting on its laurels, with several products eclipsing the Surface Pro 7 of 2019 in terms of hardware and features.
  • Dell XPS 15 ($1,175.99 to start): Dell’s 15-inch powerhouse could have been a shoo-in for our best 15-inch laptop, but this is another case of growing stale amid numerous developments in the 15-inch scene in terms of design. We’re going to need to see a deeper design revision before we reconsider this one for a top pick.
  • Alienware m15 ($2,106.99 to start): While we love Dell’s latest flagship 15-inch gaming laptop for its design and power profile, it’s just not the best gaming laptop for most people. Regardless of its new style, it still screams “gamer” in look and feel, which isn’t something that most people who play PC games want.

Other new laptops we look forward to testing

Business laptops are all the rage in 2021 now that many people have been working from home. HP, Lenovo, and many others announced new notebooks at the CES 2021 trade show in January that come with improved video conferencing capabilities and other features. Here are some of the newly unveiled laptops we look forward to testing.

HP Elite Dragonfly Max: The business-focused laptop has features that are optimized for dialing into video conferences, like four wide-range microphones that use artificial intelligence to optimize audio, and a 5-megapixel camera, which is significant since most laptops typically offer 720p cameras.  Those are the biggest features that separate the Elite Dragonfly Max from the Elite Dragonfly G2, which the company also announced at CES. Otherwise, both laptops run on 11th-generation Intel processors, will be available in 4G/5G options, and feature 13.3-inch screens. In yet another sign that the Max is built with remote work in mind, it also has EyeSafe technology to reduce eye strain after prolonged use. HP says both Dragonfly laptops should be launching in January but has not revealed the price.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga ($1,899.99 to start): The 13.5-inch ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga, one of the many new laptops Lenovo announced at CES, is less than half an inch thick at 0.45 inches, making it thinner than even the 2020 MacBook Air at its thickest point. As its name implies, it comes in a sturdy-looking titanium finish and also runs on Intel’s 11th-generation processors. Like other laptops announced at the show, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga was also designed with remote work capabilities in mind, considering it has four far-field microphones for video calls and human presence detection to automatically lock your device when you move away. There’s also an option to buy this notebook with 4G LTE/5G support.

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 ($549.99 to start): Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook 2 is a revamped version of its Google-powered laptop that comes at a cheaper starting price of $549.99 compared to the previous model’s $999.99 price tag.To make the price more reasonable, Samsung gave its new Chromebook a QLED touch screen compared to the 2020 version’s 4K AMOLED display and axed the S Pen.Otherwise, it features a 13.3-inch screen and a convertible design with a premium build available in the same vibrant red color as the original. It’s available with an Intel Celeron or Intel Core i3 processor with either 4GB or 8GB of memory (RAM) and 64GB or 128GB of storage.

How to choose a laptop

Here are the three key aspects to consider when buying that best laptop:

Operating system

A laptop’s operating system (OS) is the interface through which you access everything in the computer, from work apps to games and more. The most popular OS worldwide is Windows 10, found in hundreds of different laptops from Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and more. It’s a widely adaptable OS and most supported by third-party app makers. Apple’s macOS is exclusive to MacBooks, and is the most compatible with Apple’s other products, like iPhones, but it is a popular and full-featured OS in itself. Finally, all Chromebooks run Chrome OS — the newest of the three — Google’s Chrome browser-focused OS that works mainly off the cloud (online), particularly through Google’s own suite of apps and services, like Google Drive and Gmail.

Specs

The internal hardware that powers a laptop is considered the “specs,” and will dictate how effective your laptop is at various tasks. The processor (CPU) and memory (RAM) impact the laptop’s raw power or speed and multitasking capacity, respectively. The storage (hard disk drive or HDD, or solid-state drive or SSD) will determine how much space for files the laptop has. The graphics processor (GPU) dictates how effective the laptop is at rendering video and 3D visuals for games; many laptops, particularly in the low-to-midrange, utilize what’s called internal graphics, which shares RAM with the CPU rather than a dedicated GPU. The laptop’s display sharpness is determined by pixel density, with 1080p (or Full HD) being the generally desirable target.

Finally, all of these factors contribute to the laptop’s battery life, with eight hours generally being the minimum acceptable number — unless it’s a gaming laptop.

Size

Another thing you’ll want to think about is how big the laptop is. A smaller laptop will ultimately be more portable, but a larger one will have a larger display, which is better for watching movies, photo editing, video production, and playing games. Common sizes for laptops are 13 inches and 15 inches, though 11 inches and 17 inches also appear every now and then.

In addition to the specs, you’ll want to think about the price.

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