Pricier laptops tend to have displays that stretch further to the edges of the laptop lid, with tiny bezels so it’s almost all-screen
Why pay more for a laptop than the £200 or less you can snag one for? Well, if you want the best build quality, the most effective processors, the highest resolution display or the nicest design, a cheap model just won’t cut it – even if it’s perfectly good for emails and light web browsing. Paying more usually means you’ll have better battery life, too.
There are also other considerations to think about. You want a keyboard that responds perfectly under your fingers, with decent travel but a firmness and lack of wobble. Pricier laptops tend to have displays that stretch further to the edges of the laptop lid, with tiny bezels so it’s almost all-screen.
There are three operating systems to choose from: Windows, which is the most widespread and has the most programs, Google Chrome which used to be the budget option but is now found on more advanced laptops, too, and Apple’s macOS which is perhaps the most intuitive and elegant. Knowing which programs you need onboard may help you choose.
We’ve tested laptops with various programs, noting battery life, ease of use, resilience of build, lightness, slimness and smartness of design. All the models here apart from the Apple macbook pro and macbook air also have touch-sensitive screens.
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The macbook pro is Apple’s best-quality laptop line and the new model has a 16in display, which is barely bigger than its 15in predecessor. Like other macbook pro laptops, the top row of keys has been replaced by a slender touchscreen called the touch bar, which changes according to the program you’re using. So, if you’re in a word processor, then the strip has formatting options, and if you’re web-browsing, it’s replaced by a row of thumbnail images of the pages you have open.
Apple doesn’t put touchscreens on its laptops, putting this decision down to an ergonomic deficit caused by raising your hand from the keyboard to tap the display. But the touch bar is the answer to that. The display is high resolution and gorgeous to look at, with thin bezels on each side. The lid is perfectly weighted so you can open the laptop with one finger – some laptops would need you to hold down the base as you did so to stop it overbalancing. The all-aluminium shell is classy and beautifully crafted. It also keeps the machine light, despite its size. The power button has a fingerprint sensor in it so you can unlock it or authenticate online payments with one touch. Macbook pro laptops tend to have large, smooth and responsive trackpads, which is the case here.
The macbook air we’ve featured below has a very good keyboard, but this one is downright sumptuous with smooth, springy movements that make it amazingly comfortable to use – which is good because you’ll be using it all the time. Apple’s design is striking and unmistakable, but it’s the sheer usability of this laptop that really makes it stand out. Every aspect is carefully thought through and effectively executed.
All that quality comes at a significant price, though. While the components and configuration of this model mean it’s not bad value, it’s certainly expensive.
Operating system: Chrome OS Storage: 64GB RAM: 8GB Processor: Intel Core m3 Display size: 13.3in Price: From £629
When Google first launched its laptops powered by Chrome OS, to work well they needed continuous connection to the internet. Things have changed and although chromebooks, as Chrome OS laptops are known, still function best when online, the offline capabilities are now excellent. The metallic casing on the 13.3in-screened pixelbook go is magnesium and it looks and feels great. The base has a rippled finish which makes it easy to grip and carry. The keyboard, like the macbook pro 16in, is extremely comfortable and quiet to use. Though the performance of this model is no match for the macbook pro, and while the Chrome OS doesn’t have all the programs of a Windows machine, this is a good-value laptop that’s enjoyable to use.
Operating system: Windows 10 Storage: 128GB RAM: 8GB Processor: Intel Core i5 Display size: 13.5in Price: From £999
Microsoft makes Windows software, of course. But the company also makes a few pieces of hardware, too, including this really excellent laptop. The unimaginative name is to differentiate it from the other Microsoft surface machines which are either tablets with connectable keyboards or two in one laptop/tablet hybrids. This one looks gorgeous, with a light but sturdy aluminium casing and an optional alcantara finish on the bit your palms rest on, which feels comfortable but looks slightly unconventional. It has great build quality and very strong performance all-round, though the battery life is average rather than exceptional. Choose between 13.5in and 15in display sizes.
This laptop, like many high-end laptops, has no traditional USB sockets. Instead, it has the more recent USB-C connectors which are extremely efficient and take up less space. They can also transmit power as well as data, which is handy, but it’s worth noting that you may need an adaptor to connect most accessories. Dell offers extreme customisation, where you can upgrade one component or downgrade another as you need or as your pocket allows. For instance, this 13.3in display has 4K resolution. You may feel this is overkill on a screen this small, but it certainly looks tremendous. You can opt for a lower-resolution display, which saves money. It’s a fast and effective performer, especially for something as thin and light as this.
The bezels around the edge of the bright, colourful 13in display are amazingly thin, giving an immersive, all-screen effect. One reason for the impressive look is that there’s no webcam in the display bezel. Instead, it’s buried in the top row of the keyboard: press it and it springs into view. Although it’s a slightly different angle, the view isn’t pointing as much up your nose as you might fear. If you want to be certain that the camera isn’t watching you, you just click it shut. The rest of the keyboard is great, with more travel than expected for a laptop this thin. Like the Apple laptops, there’s a fingerprint sensor in the power button which is fast and responsive. Productivity updates are on the way which will let you share content between a Huawei phone and the matebook X pro effortlessly.
If you want something top-notch but don’t need the exceptional power of the macbook pro, the air model is a great alternative. The air in its name hints at the fact that it’s lighter and thinner than the pro and most other laptops. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously unveiled the first macbook air by sliding it out of a manila envelope. In 2018, it was completely redesigned with a high-resolution 13.3in display, new keyboard (very good, but not quite as wonderful as on the 16in macbook pro above) and extra features like a fingerprint sensor in the power key. In terms of portability, this is one of the slickest laptops around. It also has extremely good battery life, despite its slim profile. As well as the silver and space grey colours found on the macbook pro, the air also comes in a gold finish to the aluminium chassis, too.
The dragonfly is a great travel laptop because it’s lightweight and thin, but it’s also powerful and highly capable. Additionally, unlike many performance machines, it has a great design that has an eye-catching gleaming finish (a little bit like a dragonfly, you see?). It has better sound quality than many rivals and a highly attractive 13.3in display. You can also upgrade from HD resolution to 4K if you wish. It’s fast at pretty much every task you throw at it and the battery is enough to keep it performing all day long.
Operating system: Windows 10 Storage: 128GB RAM: 8GB Processor: Intel Core i5 Display size: 13.5in Price: From £919
The magnesium-cased surface book, now in its second manifestation, is a real powerhouse, with excellent battery life and real portability. The display disconnects from the base to work as an accomplished tablet (and quite a big one at that, it comes in 13.5in and 15in versions). Note, though, that as some of its processors and battery are in the base, you tend to get the best performance when the two are connected. And the performance is fast and reliable, capable of running demanding programs with ease. The hinge that connects the screen and base is unique and means you can position the screen at just the right angle.
This has a unique feature: the large, 5.5in trackpad that sits below the keyboard also works as a tiny HD touchscreen display. This effectively turns the 15in laptop into a two-screen machine, so you could be watching video on one while working on the other (though your hands may be partially covering the smaller screen as you work, of course). The main display, which has full 4K resolution, has very thin bezels, so this is not as big a laptop as you might expect. A fingerprint sensor works well to unlock the screen but is not as fast as Apple’s. Like the other machines, it has excellent performance, though please note that when it’s working flat out it has fans to keep it cool, which are not silent. The Asus is not alone in this, of course.
Positing itself as a "premium fashionable-technology brand," AVITA does indeed make gorgeous and high-functioning machines like the copper beauty you see here.
A 14-inch display with bright, clear pictures and a 256GB solid-state drive are just two of the features that make this laptop a fast and reliable option, and 10 hours of battery life lets you tote it around for a full work day before needing a charge. It weighs in at just under three pounds so it won't strain your muscles while carrying it, either.
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