The best laptops to buy in 2021 come with a variety of brands, prices, and features. Our current pick for the best laptop of 2021 is the MacBook Air. Here, we’ve got the rest of the top laptops, business notebooks, gaming rigs, Chromebooks, and 2-in-1 convertibles.
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 laptops 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.
That’s why the MacBook Air is the best laptop in 2021. 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.
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.
BEST LAPTOPS 2021
MACBOOK AIR (LATE 2020)
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.
ASUS ROG ZEPHYRUS G14
The Zephyrus G14 is an astonishingly powerful gaming laptop for a low price (relative to other notebooks with comparable hardware). It pairs AMD’s new Ryzen 9 4900HS with an Nvidia RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU and a 120HZ display, and it can run demanding games at their highest settings without a problem. It’s also quite light for such a powerful laptop, weighing just over 3.5 pounds. Its battery life is also impressive for a gaming rig; we got almost nine hours of multitasking.
But you don’t need to be a gamer to appreciate the Zephyrus G14. It’s also a great notebook for business and everyday multitasking with a unique retro design. Plus, the keyboard and touchpad are exceptional and quiet enough not to bother officemates. On the flip side, if you need to use your laptop for videoconferences, the G14 would not be a great choice, as it lacks a webcam.
HP ENVY X360 (2020)
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.
MACBOOK PRO 13 (LATE 2020)
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.
MACBOOK PRO (16-INCH, 2019)
The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the best Apple laptop for power users. Apple dealt with the biggest complaints that people have historically had about MacBook Pros, and if you can stomach the price, there’s not a lot else to complain about.
Most importantly, the keyboard is good again. The keys have a full millimeter of travel, and while the typing experience isn’t exceptional, it’s a world away from the maligned butterfly keyboard of MacBooks past. It’s fairly quiet, too.
This MacBook also features the best sound you’ll find on a laptop. Apple has crammed three speakers into each side, including two woofers. The result is balanced audio with audible bass and great stereo separation. For those who need a laptop that can crank through editing video, working with multiple audio tracks, or processing large batches of photos, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is the king of the hill.
DELL XPS 13 2-IN-1
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?
RAZER BLADE PRO 17
Usually, if you want a 17-inch laptop that can pull playable frame rates out of today’s most demanding games, you’d expect some compromises on portability and design. Notebooks of this size often weigh north of seven pounds and require multiple power bricks to charge.
But while the Blade Pro 17 doesn’t have quite the gaming chops of some bulky desktop replacements, it makes up for that by sporting the compact and attractive design that’s a trademark of the Razer Blade line. At just over six pounds, it’s not too difficult to move around (as 17-inch workstations go). You get an RTX GPU (up to Nvidia’s 2080 Super Max-Q) an eight-core CPU (Intel’s Core i7-10875H) and either a 300Hz screen or a 120Hz touchscreen. There’s even an RGB keyboard with color effects tailored to the game you’re playing.
DELL XPS 13 (LATE 2020)
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.
HP ELITE DRAGONFLY
If you’re a business professional and money is no object for you or your company, you can’t do better than the HP Elite Dragonfly. The 2020 model is the first Dragonfly that features HP’s super-secure SureView Reflect technology, which tints the screen so that snoops can’t see what you’re doing while you’re working in public. When it’s not tinted, the display gets quite bright (over 700 nits) and has great viewing angles.
The new Dragonfly is also the first laptop to include a built-in Tile tracker. That means if you lose the device, you can use the Tile smartphone app to set off an alarm (if it’s in Bluetooth range) or locate it anywhere in the world using Tile’s crowd-finding network. The tracker can work for a limited time even when the laptop is off.
Almost everything else about the Dragonfly is good; it has some of the best battery life of any laptop on the market (we got over 11 hours), a sleek and stunning 2-in-1 design, and an exceptional keyboard. Plus, it incorporates sustainable material, including ocean-bound plastics and recycled DVDs.
The Dragonfly is pricey, and there are cheaper business laptops that will suit the needs of most professionals just fine. But if you’re looking for the best of the best, it’s the unambiguous winner.
HP SPECTRE X360 13 (LATE 2019)
The x360 weighs less than three pounds and is about two-thirds of an inch thick when closed, which makes it very easy to travel with. The latest model has a smaller footprint than before, thanks to shrunken bezels above and below the screen, but it still maintains a full-size keyboard and spacious trackpad. In addition, it provides both facial and fingerprint biometric authentication, so you can choose which way you prefer to log in.
HP updated the trackpad drivers it uses in the latest model to Microsoft’s Precision set and the experience is improved over the older versions to the point where it’s no longer an issue. The x360’s trackpad is now right up there with the best Windows trackpad options (which are still a tick behind what you get on a MacBook) in terms of scrolling, multifinger gestures, and palm rejection.
The biggest argument against the x360 is that it has a 16:9 display, as opposed to the 16:10 or 3:2 screens you’ll find on Dell or Microsoft’s computers. Those taller aspect ratios are much better for productivity work, whether that’s working in two documents side by side or researching on the web without having to scroll as much. But unless you are very particular about your screen’s aspect ratio, most people won’t find this to be a deal-breaker.
DELL XPS 15 (2020)
You can configure the XPS 15 with up to an eight-core Core i7 processor, Nvidia’s GTX 1650 Ti graphics, and a 3840 x 2400 touchscreen. Those specs are overkill for most people, but they’re ideal for anyone who needs to edit video or do other heavy creative work with Adobe Premiere. We recommend that anyone who’s just browsing and streaming go for the 1920 x 1200 screen and a Core i5, which will save you significant money. (We also experienced some heat management issues and disappointing battery life with the i7 unit.)
The XPS 15 isn’t a serious gaming rig, but the GTX 1650 Ti can help out with creative tasks. Our model was able to export a five-minute, 33-second video in Adobe Premiere Pro in just four and a half minutes — which is faster than we got with the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
If you’re looking for a large, attractive Windows laptop that packs decent power, this is the one for you.
LENOVO CHROMEBOOK DUET
Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet is a great convertible laptop for kids, or anyone who wants a reliable secondary driver for browsing and games. It’s a nice-looking, well-made 10-inch device that comes with a detachable keyboard and kickstand.
The Duet is tailor-made to be used around the house and on the go, weighing just 2.03 pounds and delivering over 11 hours of battery life. Its MediaTek processor isn’t designed to shoulder heavy loads, but it’s just fine for browsing in a couple tabs, watching Netflix, or playing Android games — it even handles photo editing pretty well. The Duet also features a new “tablet mode” for Chrome OS, which supports an Android-inspired gesture navigation system and a unique Chrome layout optimized for tablet use.
The Chromebook Duet is an absolute steal for its low price, and is the Chromebook to buy if you’re on a tight budget.
ACER CHROMEBOOK SPIN 713
For high school and college students, or anyone else who needs an affordable, portable machine, a Chromebook can be a great option. Though it’s not the cheapest model available, Acer’s Chromebook Spin 713 offers top-notch performance at a lower price than many competing Chromebooks (and other laptops). It can be equipped with a Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 — the i5 model we tested handled a heavy multitasking load without any slowdown, heat, or noise. Add all-day battery life, an excellent keyboard, and a generous port selection that includes a full-size HDMI, and there’s very little not to like.
But where the 713 really shines is its display. The 3:2 gives you extra space for comfortable multitasking, and the sharp panel delivers a really excellent picture — I actually preferred it to my MacBook Pro’s screen.
Between its standout performance, peripherals, and portability, this is really the Chromebook to beat.
DELL G5 15 SE
AMD rewrote the rules of gaming laptops with its debut in the Zephyrus G14, but it’s made a splash in the budget gaming range as well with the G5 15 SE. This laptop ran every popular title we threw at it at very playable frame rates — and the games looked great on our model’s 144Hz FreeSync screen. (You can choose a 60Hz panel as well). The Radeon RX 5600M GPU gets a boost from AMD’s SmartShift feature, which pushes power between the CPU and GPU depending on where it’s needed.
For times when you’re not gaming, the G5 also makes a good daily driver. It does a great job with graphically intensive work as well as general multitasking, and the fans stayed quiet throughout our testing. And there’s a better port selection than we’d generally expect to see at this price point, including an SD card reader, an audio jack, two USB 2.0 Type-A, a Mini DisplayPort, HDMi 2.0, a USB 3.2 Gen 1, an Ethernet, and a USB-C with DisplayPort. Ultimately, the G5 15 SE delivers outstanding performance for its price, and is the budget gaming rig to beat.
GIGABYTE AERO 15
The Gigabyte Aero 15 is a colorful, powerful laptop for creative professionals. This 15.6-inch workstation pairs a bright OLED screen with an eight-core i7-10875H processor and Nvidia’s cutting-edge GeForce RTX 2070 Super Max-Q GPU. It also comes with a laundry list of ports, including a full SD-card slot, so you’ll be able to plug in all kinds of projectors, monitors, and other equipment without a problem. We also found that it was able to run demanding games on their highest settings at acceptable frame rates, and export 4K video as fast as any other laptop we’ve tested.
This is an expensive machine, and if you just want to play games, it’s probably not worth spending so much money on an OLED screen. But if you need the combination of the high resolution and the high-powered specs, the Aero 15 is for you.