2021 was unlike anything we've ever seen. The COVID-19 pandemic continued to bring the world to a standstill, forcing many of us to adapt to new ways of working, learning and socializing. But what didn't change is the need for laptops. If anything, the need for laptops increased due to work from home and remote learning situations. And as the world slowly recovers and reopens, the laptop market continues to thrive.
As always, Laptop Mag reviewed over one hundred notebook throughout the course of the year. And while we reviewed many laptops this year, the following systems stood out for their power, endurance and innovation.
Dell XPS 13
As my now dead-to-me work-husband once said, gazing at the Dell XPS 13 is like opening the curtains after a snowfall and marveling at the fresh white blanket of powder on the ground. From its gorgeous OLED display and its workday-long battery life to its fast Intel Core i7-1185G7 performance and striking design, it’s hard not to fall in love with the XPS 13 especially when all of its goodies are neatly packed in a small chassis.
When it comes to the XPS 13’s 13.4-inch, 3456 x 2160-pixel (3.5K) OLED touchscreen, it’s tough to describe how pretty it is when your jaw is slack on the floor. As thou-shall-not-be-named once said, if Windows 10 is the home of PC users, then this display gives every wall a fresh coat of paint. It’s hard to disagree with that when the OLED panel is capable of covering 83.1% of the DCI-P3 color gamut and emitting a wonderful 361 nits of brightness. That’s so much pretty in such a tiny package.
— Rami Tabari
See our full Dell XPS 13 (OLED, 2021) review.
MacBook Pro 14
It seems that 14-inches is the new it-size for laptops, especially now that Apple has entered the fray with the MacBook Pro 14. But Apple’s coming with more than a new size. The MacBook Pro 14 is equipped with Apple’s latest silicone, the M1 Pro and the M1 Pro Max both of which are much more powerful than rivals Intel and AMD have on the market with endurance to match.
If that isn't enough, the MacBook Pro 14's 14.2-inch, 3024 x 1964p Mini LED display with a 120Hz refresh rate. Plus, you get six powerful speakers with spatial audio. And Apple was thoughtful enough to bring back a few legacy ports including a full HDMI port, card reader and a MagSafe charger. As always, Apple doesn't come cheap, but for many mobile professionals, students and content creators, it's a worthwhile investment.
-- Sherri L. Smith
See our full MacBook Pro 14 review.
Bright lights and big power in a slim, attractive 17-inch chassis. The Alienware X17 is the creme of the crop for mobile gamers. Where the m17 is all buff performance, the x17 is all sleekness and speed. It's a beautiful bruiser that comes with all the fixings including an Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU and dual SSDs. But Alienware didn't stop there, adding17.3-inch, 4K display, powerful speakers and a Cherry MX keyboard sound. And of course, you get plenty of customizable RGB lighting.
And despite all that power that the X17 wields, it has respectable battery life. We were also impressed with Alienware's Cyro-Tech system which kept all those high-power specs from getting hot under the collar. All in all, the Alienware X17 is the pinnacle of what a desktop replacement can be.
-- Sherri L. Smith
See our full Alienware X17 review.
Asus ROG Zephyrus M16
The Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 is a beauty. It sports a sleek black color over its aluminum hood with microdots filled with a prismatic film that make this baby sparkle. Lifting up the lid reveals the Zephyrus M16’s 16-inch, 2560 x 1600-pixel display, which is absolutely stunning. Top that off with a 165Hz refresh rate and the Zephyrus’ panel outclasses some premium gaming laptops. On the deck, you’ll find one of my favorite keyboards in a Zephyrus.The keys are clicky, punchy and offer solid travel.
Tucked underneath the deck of the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 lies an Intel Core i9-11900H processor and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU that overpowers the competition. Even with all that horsepower, the Zephyrus M16 lasted 6 hours and 34 minutes on our battery test. Overall, the Zephyrus M16 is a truly badass gaming laptop worth your time and money.
— Rami Tabari
See our full Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 review.
Acer Predator Triton 300 SE
When I heard I was getting the Acer Predator Triton 300 SE, I imagined a bulky chunk of plastic. I was pleasantly surprised to find a stylish, silver color diagonally brushed over the hood of a 0.7-inch thin machine.
Acer is known for making quality laptops at affordable prices, but its gaming laptops can get a little pricey and don’t offer all of the bells and whistles that other brands do. However, the Acer Predator Triton 300 SE sits in that cozy spot where the company offers its best quality components packed into a relatively affordable package.
With the Acer Predator Triton 300 SE, you get a powerful Intel Core i7-11375H CPU and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU as well as a decent battery life and vibrant display packed into a slim 0.7-inch chassis. It’s tough to beat something like the Acer Predator Triton 300 SE when it is priced at just $1,399.
— Rami Tabari
See our full Acer Predator Triton 300 SE review.
HP ZBook Studio G8
With the all-aluminum turbo silver chassis, the HP ZBook Studio G8’s lean, razor-sharp styling is the same as last year and just as sexy. Nobody tires of owning a Lamborghini; that’s what the ZBook Studio G8 is, a powerful, elite content creators portable workstation that begs you to push it to its content-creating limits.
When opened, you’re met by the HP ZBook Studio's 15.6-inch, Gorilla Glass 6, multi-touch OLED 4K display, which renders gorgeous, color-accurate images and video. The low profile helps you easily slip it into any backpack with room to spare when closed.
This salacious attention grabber comes with an 11th Gen Intel Core i9 processor, 32GB of RAM, 2TB of SSD storage, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 GPU that will more than handle all your Adobe Creative Suite power-hungry needs and then some. It’s also a more than capable gaming rig for when you’re not editing photos and video. The Studio G8 kicks major ass and is Mil-Spec tested tough, making it worth every dollar you will spend on it.
— Mark Anthony Ramirez
See our full HP ZBook Studio G8 review.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet
I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Chromebooks, but I have no choice but to give Lenovo its props for launching a 2-in-1 tablet that gives the Microsoft Surface Go 3 a run for its money. As much as I wanted to dislike the Chrome OS convertible, how could I?
It has one of the best runtimes on the Chromebook market. It lasted nearly 13 hours on the Laptop Mag battery test. It has the charm of the Surface Go 3 with its detachable keyboard and fabric-coated kickstand cover. With the kickstand cover attached, the Chromebook Duet looks like an innocuous journal — passers-by would be shocked to find out that your twill-covered book is a Chrome OS system. As such, the Chromebook Duet would make an excellent travel companion to manage lightweight tasks on the go.
As a cherry on top, the Chromebook Duet also showed off its impressive performance on your benchmarks. Despite its affordable price point, the 10.6-inch, 1920 x 1200 display is colorful and bright compared to other Chromebooks of its ilk. Packed The Chromebook Duet is one of the best-selling Chromebooks on the market, and we can see why.
— Kimberly Gedeon
See our full Lenovo Chromebook Duet review
Asus ZenBook 13 OLED (UX325)
The Asus ZenBook 13 is my highest-rated review this year, earning 4.5 out of 5 stars. The ZenBook 13 (UX325) comes equipped with a touchpad that doubles as a calculator app. At first, I thought it was a little gimmicky. I thought, “What would I need to use that for?” As it turns out, I perform many calculations on a daily basis — and I didn’t even realize it. If I need to figure out a laptop’s file-transfer rate, I pull up the calculator. When I need to figure out how much Bitcoin I can purchase with my disposable income, you guessed it, I launch the calculator app.
Fortunately, the ZenBook 13’s touchpad features a calculator that lets you perform quick calculators on it without needing to search for the app on your desktop or phone. It’s an incredibly useful perk that would benefit anyone who needs to make many calculations throughout the day. Even if you’re not a mathematician or engineer, you’d be surprised at how useful it is to have a calculator companion.
As if that wasn’t enough, the ZenBook 13 also features a 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel display. It’s not a 4K panel, of course, but it’s visually pleasing enough to make watching Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO Max a joy. As a cherry on top, this Asus laptop lasts more than 13 hours on a charge. Packed with an Intel Core i7-1165G7 CPU and Intel Iris Xe Graphics, this ZenBook 13 certainly deserves our 2021 Laptop of the Year award.
— Kimberly Gedeon
See our full Asus Zenbook 13 review
Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 (2021)
The ROG Strix Scar 17 is my dream gaming laptop, which is why I gave it a 4.5 out of 5 stars. It features all the bells and whistles any of the best gaming laptops strive for, from its Nvidia RTX 3080 GPU and AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU to its 360Hz refresh rate display and clicky optical-mechanical keyboard. It’s the current pinnacle of gaming, so what more could you ask for? Well, a more affordable price tag, that’s for sure.
With its dream-like features, from the laptop’s dazzling RGB light show and commendable optical-mechanical keyboard switches, the Strix Scar 17 comes with a price tag that makes it a fantasy purchase for most. However, this doesn’t hold it back from being one of the best gaming laptops currently on the market. It’s a laptop specifically designed for gamers, and no matter what Triple A title I threw at it, it performed magnificently without a hitch.
Due to its size, lack of webcam and short battery life, it isn’t ideal to use for work. But this won’t stop a majority of laptop enthusiasts from eyeing it up anyway. Asus’ ROG Strix Scar 17 is my highest-rated review of 2021, as its brilliant 360Hz display, stunning RTX 3080 graphics, and speedy AMD CPU all wrapped up in a sleek chassis never fail to impress.
See our full Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 (2021) review
— Darragh Murphy
There seems to be this hunt across Windows laptop OEMS to make the perfect Windows MacBook Air. In my opinion, many have come close, but none have nailed it as well as the Realme Book. Given this is the company’s first ever laptop, that’s pretty good going!
The design is extremely reminiscent of the Air, but slightly taller to make room for the gorgeous 14-inch IPS display with a 1440p resolution and 3:2 aspect ratio — great for productivity. Continuing this trend is a massive, responsive trackpad and generously-sized chiclet keyboard with plenty of key travel, alongside 11th Gen Intel power with Iris Xe graphics, up to 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD. All-in-all, this was a pretty powerful package for getting stuff done.
You’ve just got one problem though: you can’t buy one. When I got halfway through reviewing this beauty, Realme confirmed its European launch was scrapped due to silicon shortage issues. Here’s hoping the second generation makes it to market.
See our full Realme Book review
— Jason England
HP Envy 13
The 2021 HP Envy 13 is one the brand’s best-selling notebook series and among top picks for best laptop. Portability, style and functionality make it a solid alternative to the Dell XPS alternative.
We took the HP Envy 13 for a spin and it performed just as well in the real world as it did in our lab. We were so impressed by its eye-catching design, speed and battery life that we gave it a 4.5 out of 5 star rating, backed with our hard-to-get Editor’s Choice award.
Even at regular retail price, the HP Envy 13 is the best laptop for the money. It has a vivid 13.3-inch display with a pixel resolution of 1920 x 1080–pixels which looks sharp and crisp whether you’re creating docs, surfing the web or streaming videos.
Priced at just under $1,000, the Envy 13 boasts 11th Gen Intel Core CPU and Xe graphics power. It can be customized with up to a Core i7 processor, up to 16GB of RAM and tip to 1TB of SSD storage.
Simply put, the HP Envy 13 is a solid everyday laptop that’s well-suited for the classroom, boardroom and everything in between.
See our full HP Envy 13 review
— Hilda Scott
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Sherri L. Smith has been cranking out product reviews for Laptopmag.com since 2011. In that time, she's reviewed more than her share of laptops, tablets, smartphones and everything in between. The resident gamer and audio junkie, Sherri was previously a managing editor for Black Web 2.0 and contributed to BET.Com and Popgadget.