Not all laptops are created equal, and if you’re in the market for a new one, doing a solid bit of research beforehand is required. Even if you’re not buying one yet, it’ll make it that much easier for you to make a smart purchase once the shopping holidays roll around.
We all pretty much live our lives around our computers — from work in the morning to Netflix and Zoom calls with friends at night. While finding a new laptop can seem like a big task, that’s why we’re here (our top picks are all below — you’re welcome!). As is the case with any big tech purchase, there are a few basic things you’ll definitely want to consider before you look through our curated list. Of course, everyone’s got their own needs (gamers are going to be looking for a dazzling 4K display, for example), but it’s good for anyone to keep the following in mind:
How do I go about shopping for a new laptop?
Choosing a laptop is mostly dependent on what you’ll be using it for. Beginner laptop owners need something user-friendly and straightforward, frequent travelers need something light with a long battery life, designers and gamers need top-notch 4K graphics and quick central processors, and everyone needs something that will last. Take stock of what you need and what you’d like your new computer to accomplish. Do you want to be able to zip between browser tabs at lightning speed? Do you want to able to run video games? Do you need to be able to switch from a laptop to a tablet at a moment’s notice? Answering these questions will help you narrow down exactly what type of laptop you need, and in turn, what brands you should be directing your attention to.
What size laptop should I be looking for?
This will ultimately be decided by two factors: Personal preference and lifestyle. On the personal preference front, you really just need to figure out if you want a huge display, or something more portable that you can chuck into your backpack. Lifestyle is where practicality comes into play. If you travel often and usually have your computer on your person in some way, you’re going to want to go with something more light and compact. On the other hand, if you’re a huge movie buff or graphic designer who doesn’t normally take their laptop on the road with them, spring for a 15-inch (or bigger) screen.
Keep an eye out for battery life
The whole point of a laptop is that it’s meant to be portable, so having a battery that keeps you ticking along for several hours without needing a recharge is pretty much a must. And there’s more to it than that, too: In terms of the larger-picture battery life, you’ll want to look for a battery that’s meant to last for charge after charge and (hopefully) one that you can replace once it does give out.
Be mindful of weight
The lighter, the better should be your motto when shopping for a laptop. If you have to carry your computer with you — whether it’s to summer classes or for travel — you don’t want something that’s going to make your back hurt by the end of the day. Luckily, laptops are lighter than ever these days, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on the ounces so you don’t wind up with a machine you have to lug around.
How much should I spend on a new laptop?
It’s really going to come down to your budget.
While we’d all like an unlimited budget for tech purchases, realistically speaking you probably have a general range in mind for what you want to spend on this. If you rely on the machine day in and day out — and it’s not something you only occasionally spend time on — then getting the computer that’ll get the job done and is built to last is super-important. And while yes, the cost of the latest MacBook Pro might make some people balk, there are plenty of other players in the game these days that bring great-quality machines at less hair-raising prices, like Huawei and Lenovo.
You should think hard about what you’re going to use your laptop for. If you need a device with lots of power under the hood and ample storage space, aim for something in the $800 and beyond range. If you’re only using your laptop to edit the occasional Google Doc or Excel spreadsheet, then you can probably get away with spending below the $500 mark.
Is a cheaper laptop even worth it?
When it comes to tech in general, you really do get what you pay for. But, thanks to the bar-raising devices that have come out in the last few years, a cheap laptop can actually take you pretty far. It’s all about knowing which one to select — depending on what you use your laptop for the most, staying stingy might be your best option. (Here are our favorite budget-friendly laptop models under $500, and the best under $300, for reference.)
We’ve put together a definitive guide (based on hours of research) to the best laptops on the market. We compare top brands that you probably have in mind like Apple, Dell, and Acer, as well as other huge players you may not have even seen coming like Huawei and Lenovo. Trust us, you’re in good hands.
Now, read on for our top laptop picks for 2021.