When Apple launched its own silicon with the M1 series chips, it changed the mobile computing game forever. The M2 series continues this legacy by bringing more power and efficiency to consumers at a comparable price to the M1 MacBooks that first hit the scene in 2020.
The MacBook Pro 13-inch 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 Pro 13-inch 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, you will want to jump to 16GB of RAM, bringing the total to $1,699. Want more storage? AppleCare? As you can see, it's gonna cost you.
Most users are not content creators and only need a laptop for productivity tasks, web browsing, and entertainment with all-day battery life. Many laptops are available that tick all those boxes for much less money. Although I warn you that most PCs with a discrete GPU will not have the all-day battery life you may crave.
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.
HP Envy 16
Price: starting at $949.99 at HP
CPU: 12th Gen Intel Core i9
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU
Storage: 2TB SSD
Display: 16-inch, 4K OLED 3840 x 2400
Battery life: 9:21
Size: 14.07 x 9.91 x 0.78 inches
Weight: 5.1 pounds
The HP Envy 16 is a stellar premium laptop; our reviewer loved it. Inside, you’ll find powerful specs to match the sleek aluminum chassis, giving this laptop all-around premium vibes. There’s a 12th Gen Intel Core i9 CPU, an incredible 32GB of RAM, 2TB of storage, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM that can run new games with ease. Of course, beefy specs are nothing without a gorgeous display, but lucky for you, the HP Envy 16 checks that box with its stunning 16-inch, 4K OLED display.
The cheapest HP Envy 16 you can get costs $1,399 at HP.com and comes with an Intel Core i5-12500H CPU, 16GB of DDR5 RAM, 512GB of SSD storage, an Intel Arc A370M GPU with 4GB of VRAM, a 16-inch, 2650 x 1600-pixel, WQXGA display with a 120Hz refresh rate, and Windows 11 Home.
Our review unit, with a price tag of $2,799, comes with an Intel Core i9-12900H CPU, 32GB of DDR5 RAM, 2TB of SSD storage, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM, a 3840 x 2400-pixel UHD+ display with a 60Hz refresh rate, and Windows 11 Pro. However, the Intel Arc discrete GPU is solid and better than Intel’s integrated Iris Xe graphics.
See our full HP Envy G16 review.
Dell XPS 13 Plus
OS: Windows 11
Screen size: 13.4-inch
Screen resolution: FHD 1920 x 1080 Touch display
CPU: Intel 12th Gen Core i5-1240P
GPU: Intel Iris Xe graphics
Storage: 512GB up to 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, a 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 many documents or refuse to 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, which is not too shabby for a sub $2,000 laptop.
The lack of a discrete GPU will cross this off your list if you are looking to play any modern games or get 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 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 M2
Screen size: 13.6-inch Retina
SpecsScreen resolution: 2560 x 1600
RAM: 8GB up to 16GB
Storage: 256GB to 2TB
Battery life: 16:32
Size: 12 x 8.5 x 0.4 inches
Weight: 2.7 pounds
Of course, the MacBook Air M2 is on this list, and you can pick one up for $1,199. 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 has 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 $1,499, which is still $200 cheaper than the same configuration of the M2 Pro 13-inch.
The Retina display is constantly improving thanks to additions like True Tone, and in our testing, we saw an average brightness of 489 nits and coverage of 75.9% of the DCI-P3 color gamut.
During testing, the M2 Air performed great during our synthetic benchmarks. For example, when we ran Geekbench 5.4, the notebook hit 8,919, decimating the 6,054 premium laptop average. On the Handbrake test, the Air M2 transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 7 minutes and 52 seconds, just roasting the 10-minute average score.
When we ran the BlackMagic Disk Speed Test, the M2 Air’s 1TB SSD turned in a read speed of 2,800 megabytes per second. In comparison, the M1 Air reached 2,693MBps. For the write speed, the M2 Air achieved 2,211MBps to the M1 Air’s 2,898MBps.
See our full MacBook Air M2 review.
Dell Inspiron G16 Plus
CPU: Intel Core i7-12700H processor
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050Ti 4GB VRAM
Storage: 512GB SSD
Display: 16-inch WVA 3K (3072 x 1920) 16:10 Aspect Ratio 60Hz
Size: 14.05 x 9.92 x 0.75 (at the rear) 0.67 inches (at the front)
Weight: 4.5 pounds
I know the Dell Inspiron is a gaming laptop, but it's an affordable one with a discrete Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU. Content creators can edit photos and videos without worry of sputtering performance, which is more than can be said for anything with integrated graphics that isn’t a Macbook.
When I reviewed it, I became an enormous fan thanks to its gaming prowess and it being an absolute productivity powerhouse that let me edit videos in DaVinci Resolve. The Inspiron G16 is a beast to lug around, weighing in at six pounds, and you will not get the all-day battery life you find in MacBooks, but if you’re mostly stationary and working remotely with it plugged in, you’re going to get a lot done and save money.
On the Geekbench 5.4 overall performance test, the Dell 16’s multi-core score of 12,043 absolutely demolished the category average of 7,396. The Dell 16 converted a 4K video to 1080p resolution using the HandBrake app in 6 minutes and 23 seconds. This is a phenomenal time and easily outshines the mainstream average of 8:22.
So as you can see, it is potent, but with four hours of battery life, you’ll need access to an outlet. However, for under $1,300, you can handle your workflow and save some cash.
See our Dell Inspiron 16 Plus review.
Acer Swift 5 (2022)
Price: $1,374.99 at Amazon
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 great 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 is “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 excessive 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.
Most people overspend when purchasing laptops because they may not have time to research or ask tough questions like “What do I really use my laptop for?” or “Am I going to be editing videos or photos?” If you need to edit media and want something other than a MacBook, you’ll have to purchase something with a discrete GPU. That is just the reality, but if you’re mostly pushing documents and doing light photo editing in free browser-based apps like Pixlr or Photopea, something with integrated graphics should be fine.
Since the pandemic hit, many people have spent most of their work editing documents in Google Docs and 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 listed here.
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Mark has spent 20 years headlining comedy shows around the country and made appearances on ABC, MTV, Comedy Central, Howard Stern, Food Network, and Sirius XM Radio. He has written about every topic imaginable, from dating, family, politics, social issues, and tech. He wrote his first tech articles for the now-defunct Dads On Tech 10 years ago, and his passion for combining humor and tech has grown under the tutelage of the Laptop Mag team. His penchant for tearing things down and rebuilding them did not make Mark popular at home, however, when he got his hands on the legendary Commodore 64, his passion for all things tech deepened. These days, when he is not filming, editing footage, tinkering with cameras and laptops, or on stage, he can be found at his desk snacking, writing about everything tech, new jokes, or scripts he dreams of filming.