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Whether it’s in anticipation of the school season or you just need a new machine for work, a new laptop might be at the top of your shopping list right now. As we are still dealing with the global chip shortage, you may be concerned about rising prices or what may be out of stock. The good news is that companies are still making a ton of new laptops and there are plenty of models to choose from.
What to expect
You probably have an idea of your budget here, but just to be clear, most top-of-the-line laptops these days can run you around $1,800 to $2,000. That doesn’t mean you won’t find a good system for under $1,000 — a grand 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 still have respectable options in the $600 to $800 range, but they can come with older, slower processors and dimmer screens. I’ve included our favorite budget-friendly model in this roundup, but we’ve got a list of more affordable laptops for you to check out too.
After you calculate how much money you want to spend, the laptop’s operating system is usually the first thing to determine. As always, the decision is a little easier for those who prefer MacBooks. Now that Apple has brought its M1 chip to its entire lineup, your only real considerations are budget, screen size, and how much power you need.
With Team Windows, however, the shift to ARM-based chips has not been so smooth. While Apple has been able to greatly extend battery life while preserving (and in some cases improving) performance with its own silicon, PC makers were limited by Windows’ shortcomings. Microsoft released Windows 11 last year and it should run better on ARM powered machines. Since the first of these laptops, such as Lenovo’s ThinkPad X13s or 10w tablet, are not yet available for review, we can’t say how well the system works. Sure, 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.
Devindra Hardawar / Engadget
Let’s not forget that there is a third and quite popular operating system for laptops: Chrome. If you do most of your work in a browser (a lot of online research, emails, and Google Drive), a Chromebook may be a suitable and often cheaper option.
As for other things to look out for, it’s worth pointing out that a few laptops coming out this year will no longer have headphone jacks. While this doesn’t seem to be a common trend yet, it’s a good reminder to check that a machine has all the connectors you need. Most laptops in 2022 will offer WiFi 6 or 6E and Bluetooth 5.0 or higher, 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 will also help determine its size. Many companies have launched new 14-inch machines in the past year, which straddle 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 concerned about weight, a 12- or 13-inch model is better. Those who want more powerful processors and larger screens will prefer 15- or 16-inch versions.
Best Overall: MacBook Air M1
As a Windows user, I’m hesitant to call a MacBook the best overall laptop. But I can’t deny that Apple’s move to its own Silicon has made its machines better. The MacBook Air M1 even outperformed many PCs while maintaining a fanless design. Even though the current model is two years old at this point, it’s still one of the best laptops out there. You get blazing-fast performance, a great keyboard and excellent battery life, along with a beautiful Retina display.
Our main issues are the low-resolution 720p webcam and the fact that it only has two USB-C ports. But if you already lead a largely wireless life, that shouldn’t bother you too much. And thanks to the ARM architecture, the M1 MacBook Air can also run iPhone and iPad apps.
If you can wait a little longer, the MacBook Air is due for an update and Apple’s new model will likely deliver even better performance. But if you need a new machine right now and want a little more power than the M1 Air has to offer, consider the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro chip. It is more expensive but can handle more intensive tasks like video editing smoothly and also has a built-in SD card reader. However, the M1 Pro lags behind more powerful NVIDIA and AMD systems, so if you need anything for 3D rendering, you may need to use a Windows machine.
Buy MacBook Air M1 from Amazon – $999
Best Windows: Dell XPS 13 Plus
The best PC has long been Dell’s well-rounded XPS 13 series, and I still recommend it to anyone who doesn’t want a Mac. Yes, the new XPS 13 Plus doesn’t have a headphone jack, and we don’t have one to test yet. But the XPS 13 is a well-rounded machine and still one of the best looking PCs out there.
Like its predecessors, the XPS 13 Plus offers a beautiful OLED display with impressively thin bezels and a spacious, comfortable keyboard. It also has a new minimalist 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, with 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 and battery life, albeit in an outdated design.
Buy XPs 13 Plus from Dell – $1,299
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 takes a closer look at 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 favorite gaming laptop is the Razer Blade 15 Advanced, which has an Intel Core i7 processor and NVIDIA RTX 3070 graphics for $2,500.
It’s the most expensive item on this list, but you also get a 15-inch quad HD display that refreshes at 240 Hz. Several 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 polished gaming laptops out there.
Those looking for something cheaper and more portable should consider the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14, our favorite model last year. The main reason it went up a notch is because the 2022 refresh is nearly $600 more expensive. It’s still a solid gaming laptop though, with an excellent screen, roomy trackpad and plenty of ports despite the thin profile.
Buy Blade 15 Advanced from Razer – $2500
Best Chromebook: Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook
Nathan Ingraham / Engadget
Our favorite Chromebook is Lenovo’s Flex 5 Chromebook, which Engadget’s Chrome OS resident Nathan Ingraham described as “an enormous value.” This laptop nails the basics, with a 13-inch Full HD touchscreen, a fantastic keyboard and a 10th Gen Intel Core i3 processor. The 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage may sound meager, but in our testing, the Flex 5 held up despite this limitation. It’s also nice to see that one USB-A and two USB-C ports, eight hours of battery life and a 360-degree hinge make it easy to use the Flex 5 as a tablet. That’s a nice bonus, especially now that Chrome OS supports Android apps.
Although 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 simple browser-based machine on a budget.
Buy Flex 5 Chromebook at Amazon – $430
Best Budget: HP Pavilion Aero 13
Daniel Cooper / Engadget
If you’re looking for anything under $800, your best bet is the HP Pavilion Aero 13. For around $750, you get a Full HD display with a 16:10 aspect ratio and surprisingly thin bezels, as well as a comfortable keyboard. and spacious trackpad. Importantly, the Aero 13 offers relatively powerful components compared to others in this price range, with an AMD Ryzen 5000 series processor and Radeon graphics. Plus, it has a generous array of ports and enough juice to last you through the workday and then some.
Buy Pavilion Aero 13 at HP from $739
Best Convertible: Microsoft Surface Pro 8
For those who want to use their laptops as a tablet every now and then, the Surface Pro series is a no-brainer. Compared to notebooks with rotating hinges, tablets with stands tend to be much slimmer and lighter. The Surface Pro 8 is the most recent model and features Microsoft’s sleek new design with a thinner profile and minimal bezels. The Pro 8 also has a 120Hz display that makes scrolling through long documents or spreadsheets feel much faster, and you can lower the refresh rate to 60Hz if you want to save battery.
We also like Microsoft’s Type Covers for its Surface Pros, although it’s worth noting that they’ll cost you an extra $100 to $180. Those who like to scribble or sketch on the screen will appreciate the Surface Slim Pen 2’s haptic feedback.
Unless you’re determined to stick with Apple’s ecosystem, in which case an iPad Pro is best for you, the Surface Pro 8 might be the best convertible laptop out there.
Buy Surface Pro 8 from Amazon – $1,600