You may want to upgrade your tech soon, but buying a new laptop computer can be confusing. There have never been more brands, features and configurations to consider, and given that we’re still dealing with inflation, you may also be concerned about rising prices. The good news is, companies are still making a ton of new laptops, and there are a wide range of models for you to choose from the budget HP Pavilion Aero 13 to the convertible Microsoft Surface Pro 9 to our best overall pick of the Apple MacBook Air M2. We’ve made it less complicated for you to pick out the best laptop for your needs.
What to expect
You probably have an idea of your budget here, but just so you know, most modern 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 high-end 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 best laptop 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 an Apple MacBook. Now that the company has brought its M-series chips 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 laptops have been able to bring huge increases in battery life while maintaining (and in some cases improving) performance with their 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 OS. 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 when shopping for the best laptop, it’s worth pointing out that some of the latest models coming out this year have done 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.
See Also: 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 M2
Best overall Photo by Devindra Hardarwar / Engadget As a Windows user, I find myself reluctant to name an Apple MacBook the best overall laptop. But I can’t deny that Apple’s transition to its own Silicon has made its machines better. The latest MacBook Air M2 is a worthy sequel to the M1 that came out in 2020, bringing a fresh design and a performance boost that all users will appreciate. That’s not to say the M1 was a sluggish machine — quite the contrary. We found it to be impressively fast, and the M2 only builds on top of that excellent performance. It’s probably overkill for a MacBook Air, but that means it will serve most people well for both work and play. Plus, its impressive 16.5-hour long battery life should be enough for anyone to get a day’s worth of work and then some. As for its design, we like that Apple took a more uniformly thin approach here and retired the wedge shape of the previous model. The M2 Air also has a lovely 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display, interrupted only by the top notch which holds its 1080p webcam. Its quad-speaker setup is an improvement as well, and all of these small hardware changes add up to a machine that looks and feels more different than you may expect from its predecessor. The 13-inch Air is certainly the way to go for anyone that prizes portability above all else. However, if slightly more screen real estate is tempting to you, don’t sleep on the 15-inch MacBook Air M2. The new laptop does everything that 13-inch model does well, while giving you a larger screen to work with in a still-svelte package. It doesn’t side-step the very Apple issue of having a little less RAM and storage than we’d prefer in its base model (8GB, 256GB SSD), but that doesn’t hold it back. It’s one of the best MacBooks we’ve used recently and it gives fans of the Air lineup a new configuration to consider. Read our Full Review of MacBook Air M2
Best Windows: Dell XPS 13 Plus
Best Windows Photo by Devindra Haradwar / Engadget Dell XPS 13 Plus The XPS 13 remains a well-rounded Windows laptop and still one of the best-looking PCs out there. The best PC has long been Dell’s well-rounded XPS 13 series and it remains the best laptop for 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 Windows laptop and still one of the best-looking PCs out there. Like its predecessors, the Dell XPS 13 Plus offers a lovely OLED display 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, versatility and battery life, albeit in an outdated design. Read our Full Review of Dell XPS 13 Plus
Best for gaming: Razer Blade 15
Best for gaming Engadget Razer Blade 15 Razer’s laptop is the most expensive item on this list, but you get a 15-inch quad HD screen that refreshes at 240Hz, 13th-gen Intel processors and NVIDIA GeForce 40-series graphics. Gamers should look for machines with solid build quality, responsive screens and ample port selection 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 pick for the best gaming laptop is the Razer Blade 15. It’s a high-end model and the most expensive item on this list, but you get a 15-inch quad HD screen with a 240Hz refresh rate, 13th-gen Intel processors and NVIDIA GeForce 40-series graphics.