Let’s put this to bed quickly; the MacBook Air M2 is an excellent ultralight laptop that can handle all your productivity and entertainment needs. It’s even powerful enough for content creators. However, this isn’t a love letter to the MacBook Air M2.
Starting at $1,199 for the base model with an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 8GB of RAM, and just a 256GB SSD for storage, the M2 Air isn’t cheap. Most will want at least the second-tier model featuring an 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU,8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD, which will cost you $1,499. If you are a content creator or power user of any kind, you will want to jump to 16GB of RAM, bringing the total to $1,699. Want more storage? AppleCare? As you can see, it adds up quickly.
The thing is, most people are not content creators and only truly need a laptop for productivity tasks, web browsing, and entertainment with all-day battery life. There are many laptops available that tick all of those boxes for much less money.
So after consulting with my team of seasoned tech journalists, I present a list of five laptops that are more affordable than the M2 Air, while still being potent enough to handle all your daily computing needs.
Acer Swift 5 (2022)
Price: $1,374.99 at Amazon (opens in new tab)
CPU: Intel Core i7-1260P
GPU: Integrated Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Storage: 1TB SSD
Display: 14-inch, 2560 x 1600
Battery life: 11:24
Size: 12.2 x 8.4 x 0.59 inches
Weight: 2.65 pounds
Acer delivered a great combination of performance and value with the Acer Swift 5. It’s easy on the eyes, with our reviewer proclaiming the Mist Green aerospace-grade aluminum system as “the most attractive notebook I’ve seen this year.” But the Swift 5 is about more than good looks.
Powered by a 12th Gen Intel Core i7 processor with integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics, the Swift 5 held its own against its competitors during our overall performance and file transfer tests. And it easily sailed past our category average. The Swift 5 had its best showing on the Geekbench 5.4 test, scoring an impressive 9,859. We were also surprised by how well the notebook’s integrated graphics performed, notching 26 frames per second on Sid Meier's Civilization VI benchmark. While it didn’t make our longest-lasting laptop page, the Swift 5 notched more than 11 hours of battery life. Other reasons to buy include a healthy smattering of ports and a bright, vivid 14-inch display.
Our reviewer did dock the laptop points for its inordinate amount of bloatware and relatively weak speakers, however, these are minor issues for an otherwise outstanding Windows 11 laptop that we crowned laptop of the year for 2022.
See our full Acer Swift 5 review.
Dell XPS 13 Plus
Price: $1.149 (opens in new tab)
OS: Windows 11
Screen size: 13.4-inch
SpecsScreen resolution: FHD 1920 x 1080 Touch display
CPU: Intel 12th Gen Core i5-1240P
Storage: 512GB upto 2 TB
Battery life: 7:34
Size: 11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 2.7 pounds
The Dell XPS 13 Plus is one of our favorite laptops with sleek looks and a fantastic keyboard. Its minimalist styling is both futuristic and divisive, but dig deeper and you’ll be won over by its powerful performance and a stunning optional 4K display that will knock your socks off.
The Dell XPS 13 Plus displayed its power during our synthetic tests, such as Geekbench 5.4, our comprehensive performance test. With a score of 10,621, the 13 Plus crushed the 6,179 premium average. This is perfect for those who push a lot of documents or refuse to ever close a single browser tab.
When we ran the Handbrake video transcoding benchmark, the Plus transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 8 minutes and 17 seconds, roasting the 9:47 category average. The MacBook Pro saw a time of 6:51. That is not too shabby for a mainstream laptop..
The lack of a discrete GPU will cross this off your list if you are looking to play any remotely modern games or get heavily into content creation. But what the XPS 13 Plus lacks in gaming prowess, it makes up with powerful productivity performance.Also, thanks to apps like Pixlr (opens in new tab) and PhotoPea, which are free and readily available, you can easily handle most of your photo editing needs lickity split.
The Dell XPS 13 Plus is a top performer where it matters and an excellent choice for busy on-the-move workers who need to remain productive.
See our full Dell XPS 13 Plus review.
MacBook Air M1
Price: $999 (opens in new tab)
Screen size: 13.3-inch Retina
SpecsScreen resolution: 2560 x 1600
RAM: 8GB up to 16GB
Storage: 256GB to 2TB
Battery life: 16:32
Size: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.63inches
Weight: 2.8 pounds
Of course, the MacBook Air M1 is on this list, and you can pick one up for $999. But remember, this is the base model and only comes with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. However, it is light and sleek, slips into any backpack, and nearly 15 hours of battery life. The M1 is still a potent chipset in 2023, and yes, you can still edit photo or video content on it while also pushing out all your documents and spreadsheets.
However, if you require more oomph, you can take it up a notch to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage and come in at $1,399, which is still $300 cheaper than the same configuration of the M2 Air.
The Retina display is always improving thanks to additions like True Tone, and in our testing, we saw an average brightness of 435 nits while also covering 78.3% of the DCI-P3 color gamut.
At the time of testing, the MacBook Air surpassed the Geekbench 5.0 average premium laptop score of 4,215 by tallying 5,882. While that slips behind the now current premium laptop average of 7,068, it remains plenty potent. I still use an M1-powered MacBook Air for my on-the-go workday and content creation.
During Sid Meier’s Civilization VI: Gathering Storm test, the MacBook Pro notched 29 fps, beating the 28-fps category average. So for $999, you can snag the MacBook Air M1 and push documents, and if you have to edit video, you totally can, and keep blazing through your workflow.
See our full MacBook Air M1 review.
Asus Zenbook 14 (Q409ZA) OLED
Price: $749.99 at Best Buy (opens in new tab)
CPU: Intel Core i5-1240P CPU
GPU: Intel Iris Xe
Storage: 256GB SSD
Display: 14-inch, 2880 x 1800 pixels, 16:10, 90Hz
Size: 12.35 x 8.69 x 0.67 inches
Weight: 3.06 pounds
The sleek all-aluminum Asus Zenbook 14 comes with a stunning 90Hz OLED 2.8K display that feels larger thanks to its 16:10 aspect ratio. During our testing, the display covered a fantastic 96% of the DCI-P3 color gamut while averaging 377 nits of brightness, which edges out the category average of 375 nits of brightness.
Looking for something a little more unique, it also offers the Asus NumberPad 2.0, a touchpad that doubles as a numeric keypad. It can quickly launch the Calculator app, allowing you to use the touchpad for input, making it an ideal feature for on-the-go number crunchers. Most will think, “way to go, that only excites numbers nerds,” but in fact, it's a fantastic addition to this sleek, lightweight go-getter you didn’t realize you needed and may fall in love with.
During our performance testing, the Zenbook 14 easily surpassed the mainstream laptop average Geekbench 5.4 score of 6.611, soaring all the way to a multi-core score of 8,590. During the Handbrake video transcoding benchmark, it averaged 8 minutes and 40 seconds while converting 4k video to 1080p, which was faster than the category average of 11 minutes and 19 seconds.
Again, we’re dealing with integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics, which are not ideal for gaming or heavy video editing, but are more than adequate for watching content, web browsing, or productivity work.
During our 3DMark Night Raid benchmark, the ZenBook scored 14,618 which fell just slightly below the category average of 14,967. Overall, most document pushers and those who fall within your average workflow won’t even notice this because they’re not running GPU heavy apps.
When you take into consideration its gorgeous display, solid performance, amazing 16-hour plus battery life, and sub-$800 cost, the Zenbook 14 is a great affordable option.
See our full Asus Zenbook 14 OLED review.
Acer Chromebook Spin 714
Price: $729 at Best Buy (opens in new tab)
CPU: 12th Gen Intel Core i5-1235U
GPU: Integrated Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Storage: 256GB PCIe SSD
Display: 14-inch 1920 x 1200 (WUXGA) touchscreen
Size: 12.3 x 8.8 x 0.7 inches
Weight: 3.2 pounds
This will drive our EIC crazy, but I am including a Chromebook on this list. Google’s lightweight Chrome OS keeps improving, Google WorkSpace keeps getting better, and apps like the aforementioned Photopea and Pixlr make editing photos a breeze. There are even a few browser based video editors like Power Director and even Adobe Rush that you can download and use on a Chromebook to edit video.
So when you pair a smooth running, lightweight OS like Chrome, to a 12th Gen Intel Core-i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, you’ve actually got something super lightweight, and pretty potent that you can tote around to handle all your document pushing, photo editing and even some short video editing.
The Acer Chromebook Spin 714 covers all of the above and features a lovely, 14-inch, 1920 x 1200 WUXGA touchscreen display with a 16:10 aspect ratio that makes it feel more immersive while working or watching content. Also, the sleek slate blue all-aluminum design is eye-catching with its 360-degree, 2-in-1 display supported by its sturdy chromed-out hinges.
During our testing, the Spin’s display covered 78.9% of the DCI-P3 color gamut while averaging 358 nits of brightness, which surpassed the 294-nit Chromebook average. During Geekbench 5.0, a synthetic overall performance test, the Spin 714 registered 4,415, obliterating the Chromebook average of 2,666. The Acer Chromebook Spin 714 tested well during our Jetstream 2.0 benchmark, hitting 220.84, which is above the Chromebook average of 110.78.
During our testing, the Spin 714’s battery life surpassed the Chromebook average of 9 hours and 34 minutes by averaging 10 hours and 45 minutes, granting it the all-day battery life you crave.
Overall, the average user will get a lot of use from the Acer Spin 714 Chromebook as it will burn through your Google Workspace document pushing, light photo editing, and content watching without breaking a sweat. It will also save you a few dollars with its sub-$800 price tag, making it a solid option for those that do not require a workstation during their travels or when working from home.
You can see our full review of the Acer Chromebook Spin 714.
I have found that most people overspend when purchasing laptops because they don’t do the research or take the time to ask themselves the tough questions like “what do I really use my laptop for?” or “Am I going to be editing videos or photos?”
Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, many people have spent most of their work-life editing documents in Google Docs and then sharing them from the Google Workspace environment. If you aren’t a power user and don’t require a beast of a machine, you can save yourself a lot of money with any one of the laptops in this list.