Best laptop 2021: 10 best laptops we recommend in 2021

There are so many to choose from, let our editors help you choose the best laptop.

Upgrading to the best laptop for your needs doesn’t need to be an expensive struggle and it shouldn’t be as hard as it can be to find the most pertinent information amongst endless lists of identical-looking laptops. Our editors have tested dozens of different models to help you boil it down to a single choice. 

We review a lot of laptops, so obviously, not all of them are on this list. You can also read our recommendations for the best gaming laptops15-inch laptopstwo-in-ones and Chromebooks, as well as the best laptops for college students, the best laptop for creatives and the best MacBook Pro alternatives for the Windows set. And if you need to stay as low as possible on the price of a new laptop computer, check out our picks for budget laptops and budget gaming laptops. This list is updated periodically.

Best small laptop

Dell XPS 13 2020

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Dell XPS 13 is a perennial favorite for its size, weight and performance and just overall good looks. In 2020, Dell made the laptop even smaller, while making the laptop screen larger and increasing performance for both CPU and graphics-intensive tasks. It’s not a huge leap, but this Dell XPS is still the best in the category. And for those who want the latest and greatest Intel processors, the Dell XPS 13, as well as the company’s XPS 13 2-in-1 (also a great pick), are available with the chip-maker’s 11th-gen Core processors, with Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 options. This Dell also offers a selection of solid-state storage and memory options, starting with a 256GB SSD hard drive and 8GB of memory.

 

Best small 2-in-1

HP Spectre x360 14

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Co-engineered with Intel for its Evo platform, the Spectre x360 14 we tested had zippy performance and more than 14 hours of battery life. Along with an assortment of privacy features, it has a bright 1,920×1,280-pixel-resolution, 13.5-inch touchscreen with a 3:2 screen ratio that is roughly the same as a standard A4 sheet of paper and has about 20% more vertical viewing space than a 16:9 display. That means you do less scrolling when you’re working. It also makes it more comfortable to use as a tablet, especially with the included active pen.

 

Best laptop on a budget

Acer Swift 3

Josh Goldman/CNET

A remarkable deal for simple tasks like email, word processing and much more, thanks to the new AMD Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 processors. This budget laptop has a backlit keyboard, a fingerprint reader and a USB Type-C port, too. The Acer Swift 3 is also an incredibly lightweight laptop — less than 3 pounds — for a machine that can be found for less than $700.

In addition to this Acer Swift, we’re also fans of the Acer Aspire 5, which has a larger 15.6-inch display. The Acer Aspire 5 is available in a variety of configurations starting as low as $400, but can go up to $690 if you want entry-level discrete graphics for basic gaming and content creation.

Best MacBook Air

Apple MacBook Air M1 2020

Sarah Tew/CNET

This is our go-to recommendation for those in search of a MacOS laptop for everyday basic use. The MacBook Air was updated in the first half of 2020 with new Intel processors and, most importantly, a new keyboard. However, in November, Apple announced its new homegrown M1 processors would be replacing Intel’s CPUs in the Air. Using Apple’s M1, the company promises an operating system with better performance and longer battery life — up to 18 hours. The Intel-based models will still be around, though, and regardless of which chip is running the Air, you’re getting a great little Mac laptop starting at $999.

Best Chromebook

Acer Chromebook Spin 713

Josh Goldman/CNET

Tired of trying to work on documents or spreadsheets on a small widescreen display? The Acer Chromebook Spin 713 uses one of Acer’s bright VertiView displays, a 13.5-inch 2,256×1,504-pixel touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio. As the name implies, it gives you more vertical room to work, but it still has the width of a typical 13.3-inch laptop with a 16:9 ratio. Between that and its battery life, which lasted nearly 13 hours in our tests, you’ll be able to get more work done in a day — and it’s still thin and light enough for an everyday carry. 

The latest version of this Chromebook is the first to receive Intel’s Evo verification, which means you’ll be getting the best possible mobile experience with this model. It’s also the first with Thunderbolt 4 support, which lets you connect to multiple external displays as well as providing fast data speeds and networking. Read our Acer Chromebook Spin 713 review.

 

Best MacBook Pro

Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch)

Sarah Tew/CNET

The combination of the larger MacBook Pro’s hardware and MacOS extracts the maximum performance from the components while delivering class-leading battery life in a way the Windows operating system never seems to do, and the high-resolution display screen remains terrific. Plus, this powerful laptop model’s keyboard uses scissor-style switches under the keycaps, rather than the much-derided butterfly-style switch. You pay for it, though — base price for the 16-inch model of this premium laptop is $2,399.

Best laptop alternative to MacBook Pro

Razer Book 13

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Book 13 is a more office-friendly version of the company’s Razer Blade Stealth gaming laptop, with a 13.4-inch display with a taller 16:10 aspect ratio, fast mobile performance, long battery life and enough connection options to make working from home easier. Its high-quality build is up there with the best MacBooks but, like an Apple, it’s not necessarily the best laptop deal, even compared to other premium laptops.

Best Surface laptop

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Sarah Tew/CNET

Best small laptop under $1,000

Asus ZenBook 13

Josh Goldman/CNET

The Asus ZenBook 13 is a stylish but not showy 13.3-inch ultraportable with the perfect footprint for squeezing onto a tiny table. You’ll get 12-plus hours of battery life depending on your configuration — it’s available with an Intel Core i5 processor or 11th-gen Core i7 processor and 8GB RAM — and plenty of performance to make quick work of daily office or school tasks. Plus, like many of Asus’ laptops, the ZenBook adds a few gadgety extras to hopefully make your life easier while you’re out and about.

Best 14- and 15.6-inch 2-in-1

Lenovo Yoga 9i

Sarah Tew/CNET

Though HP and Dell have excellent premium two-in-one convertible laptops, they have smaller 13.5- and 13.4-inch displays. If you want a bit more room for your work or entertainment, the Yoga 9i is a great choice. It’s available in 14- and 15.6-inch sizes with a variety of configuration options and everything about them is fast. Well, except for their battery lives, which are good and long. Plus, they come with pens that charge and are stored in the body.

 

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