Best Laptops of 2018

Sherri L. Smith ·
Editor
Updated

Whether you're shopping for a sub-$200 laptop, a lightweight laptop for work or a powerful gaming rig, the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming. To help you choose, here are the best laptops in every major category, based on our extensive testing, research and comparisons.

Latest News and Updates (November 2018)

  • Tons of great Black Friday Laptop Deals are already going live. Right now, you can get Apple's new MacBook Air for $100 off, as well as Microsoft's Surface Go for an extra-affordable $350.
  • Check out our review of the new MacBook Air, which finally features a Retina display and Touch ID, but is a bit pricey and could use some more speed.
  • Alienware has entered the thin-and-light gaming arena with a bang! Check out our exclusive review of the new Alienware m15.

Best Laptops

Best Laptop Overall
1. Dell XPS 13
The Dell XPS 13 packs excellent 8th-gen Core performance into one of the sleekest laptop designs you can buy.
View on Dell.com
$783.99@Dell.com
Best Laptop Overall
1. Dell XPS 13
Best Sub-$500 Laptop
2. Acer Aspire E 15 (E5-575-33BM)
The Aspire E15 is a superb value, offering a vibrant screen and long battery life for less than $500.
View on Amazon
Best Chromebook
3. Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA
The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA is the best Chromebook we've tested, thanks to its speedy performance, impressive keyboard and sleek convertible design.
View on Amazon

Our Test Results

Product
Price
OVERALL RATING
Display Size
Weight
Size (Thickness)
Display Brightness (Nits)
$1063.3 Lenovo
14 Inches
2.49
0.62 Inches
293 Nits
$849.99 Dell
13.3 Inches
2.65
0.46 Inches
415 Nits
$1039.99 Best Buy
13.9 Inches
3.05
0.55 Inches
284 Nits
$349.99 Amazon Warehouse
15.6 Inches
5.06
1.2 Inches
215 Nits
$469 Amazon Warehouse
12.5 Inches
2.6
0.6 Inches
291.8 Nits
$1449.99 Dell
17.3 Inches
9.6
1.2 Inches
340 Nits
$799 microsoftstore
12.3 Inches
1.73
0.33 Inches
396 Nits
$2080 Amazon Marketplace
15 Inches
4.18
0.9 Inches
417 Nits
$999.99 Dell
15.6 Inches
4.6
0.45 Inches
282 Nits
Best Laptop Overall
The Dell XPS 13 packs excellent 8th-gen Core performance into one of the sleekest laptop designs you can buy.
With the latest Intel 8th Gen Core CPUs and speedy PCIe-NVMe SSDs inside, the XPS 13 offers powerful performance in a very thin design with a new cooling system. Thunderbolt 3 ports on the outside let you connect to eGPUs and other high-speed peripherals to boost your performance. We also still recommend the slightly-older XPS 13 9360, which has the same Intel 8th Gen Core CPU options, but it's a little bit thicker and doesn't have the new cooling system. However, it does offer a full suite of ports, including a USB Type-A connector and over two hours of additional endurance.
Pros
  • Attractive design
  • Vibrant screen
  • Strong performance
  • Good battery life overall
  • Runs cool
Cons
  • No USB Type-A Ports
  • Improved webcam still looks up your nose
$783.99Dell.com
Read the full review
Best Sub-$500 Laptop
The Aspire E15 is a superb value, offering a vibrant screen and long battery life for less than $500.
The E 15 is one of the few laptops you can buy that still comes with a built-in DVD burner. It also packs in a plethora of ports, including USB Type-C, Type-A, VGA, Ethernet and HDMI connections. Despite the laptop's budget price, the Aspire E 15's screen can reproduce over 150 percent of the sRGB color gamut. This system also lasts over 8 hours on a charge. At 4.97 pounds, this laptop isn't particularly light, but it makes a great family or student PC that you keep within the home or the dorm.
Pros
  • Colorful, full-HD display
  • Long battery life
  • Plenty of ports and DVD drive
  • Accurate sound
Cons
  • Grainy webcam
  • Narrow viewing angles
$349Amazon
Read the full review
Best Chromebook
The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA is the best Chromebook we've tested, thanks to its speedy performance, impressive keyboard and sleek convertible design.
While unimpressive in a Windows PC, its Intel Core m processor is a big step up from the Celeron and Pentium CPUs in most Chromebooks. The 2.6-pound 2-in-1 has a generous 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. Its keys provide a deep 1.6 millimeters of travel while its touch screen provides plenty of swiping real estate. The Flip lasts over 8 hours on a charge, which means that you can use it through an entire work or school day.
Pros
  • Speedy performance
  • Sleek lightweight design
  • Bright 1080p display
  • Solid battery life
Cons
  • Pricey
  • No USB Type A ports
$485Amazon
Read the full review
Best Value
The ZenBook UX330UA offers a strong typing experience, though its touchpad is a little bit stiff. The laptop also provides powerful audio output, with clear bass, vocals and percussion. Asus's laptop also has a good selection of ports, including USB TYpe-A, USB Type-C and a memory card reader. The laptop lasts nearly 9 hours on a charge and offers strong performance. College students or anyone on a budget will find a lot to like in the Asus ZenBook UX330UA.
Pros
  • Bright, vibrant screen
  • Relatively affordable price
  • Speedy 8th Gen CPU
Cons
  • Stiff touchpad
  • Shorter battery life than prior model
$749.00Amazon
Read the full review
Best 2-in-1
The included active stylus makes drawing or taking notes a breeze. A wide selection of ports ensures that you can connect to both Thunderbolt 3 and standard USB devices. At just 3.05 pounds, this 2-in-1 is easy to carry. However, the Yoga 920's biggest selling point could be its stunning design. The watchband-style hinge adds a level of elegance you won't find on other convertibles and the optional, bronze color is truly an eye opener.
Pros
  • Long battery life
  • Bright, colorful display
  • Attractive design
  • Far-field microphones
  • Included stylus
Cons
  • Shallow keyboard
$1199Lenovo
Read the full review
Best Gaming Laptop
The latest Alienware 17 features a refreshed design optimized to stay cool and quiet, and its built-in Tobii Eye Tracking allows you to control games and apps with just your pupils. And with up to a stunning 2560 x 1440 display, your games will look as crisp and colorful as they're meant to.
Pros
  • Excellent gaming performance
  • Slimmer design
  • 13 customizable lighting zones
  • Above-average battery life
  • Impressive audio quality
Cons
  • CPU performance trails competitors
$1469.99Dell
Read the full review
Best Business Laptop
The X1 Carbon's snappy, deep keyboard is its best feature. Combined with a soft-touch deck, the responsive keys will make you a faster and more efficient typist. The accurate TrackPoint and touchpad make navigation a pleasure. No matter which of its three screen options you choose, you'll get an extremely bright and colorful panel. However, the high-end, 2K HDR screen is one of the best we've seen on any laptop, providing nearly 500 nits of brightness and covering close to 200 percent of the sRGB color gamut. When you carry the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, you don't have to worry about battery life. In our tests, the laptop lasted over 11 hours on a charge.
Pros
  • Eye-popping HDR display
  • Long battery life
  • Best-in-class keyboard
  • Lightweight
  • Attractive design
Cons
  • Tinny audio
  • Mediocre webcam
$1519Lenovo
Read the full review
Best Laptop for Kids
Because kids need more than just a device that won't break, the Chromebook Flip C213SA provides more than adequate performance and the ability to run Android apps. Its 11.6-inch screen flips back so they can run it in tablet mode. Young typists will appreciate the C213SA's snappy keyboard, which provides the kind of feedback we normally see on professional productivity laptops. Asus's convertible lasts over 11 hours on a charge which is more than enough for school and after-school activities.
Pros
  • Flexible and durable design
  • Long battery life
  • Touch-screen display
  • Good sound
Cons
  • Average performance
  • Poor cameras
$307Amazon
Read the full review
Best Detachable
The king of 2-in-1 detachables just got even better. Not only does the Surface Pro 6 last 2 hours longer than its predecessor, but it also boasts faster performance thanks to its 8th-gen quad-core processor. All of those gains are tied together in an elegant matte black design with a bright and colorful 2736 x 1824 display with smooth Surface Pen functionality for drawing and taking notes.
Pros
  • Fast quad-core performance
  • Excellent battery life
  • Bright and colorful display
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Silky-smooth pen input
Cons
  • Still no USB-C/Thunderbolt ports
  • 256GB option is pricey and a bit sluggish
$899.00Microsoft Store
Read the full review
Best Photo / Video Editing Laptop
While other laptops with similar specs also provide the performance necessary to edit 4K videos or create 3D animations, they're all clamshells. With the Surface Book 2, you can edit a high-res clip using Adobe Premiere when you're attached to its dock and then pop off the screen so you can sketch a quick drawing while you stand in line. The Surface Book 2 is also the first Microsoft device to provide a USB Type-C port so you can connect to a variety of new peripherals. When connected to its keyboard, this laptop lasts over 12 hours on a charge.
Pros
  • Modern, detachable design
  • Great stylus
  • Long battery life
  • Vivid, bright display
  • Finally has USB Type-C
Cons
  • Expensive
  • No Thunderbolt 3
$2499Best Buy
Read the full review
Best 15-inch Laptop
The laptop's optional 4K display can reproduce an awesome 188 percent of the sRGB color gamut while registering a solid 282 nits of brightness. Its 45-watt Intel H series processor provides much stronger performance than the U series CPU in its smaller sibling while its Nvidia GTX 1050 graphics make it a legitimate content creation machine.
Pros
  • Beautiful display
  • Clear audio
  • Solid battery life
  • Strong performance
Cons
  • Webcam looks up your nose
$979Dell.com
Read the full review
Best Ultraportable
The Huawei MateBook X Pro is finally available in America, and it was definitely worth the wait. The 14-inch laptop packs a gorgeous super high-resolution display, a Core i7 CPU and a discrete Nvidia MX150 GPU so you can get some light gaming in on the go. A surprisingly comfortable keyboard, great audio quality and nearly 9 hours of battery life only serve to sweeten the pot.
Pros
  • Fast performance
  • Exquisite screen
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Long battery life
  • Both USB Type-C and Type-A ports
Cons
  • Limited availability
$1499Newegg
Read the full review

Why Trust Us

Laptop Mag has been testing and reviewing laptops for over two decades. We test over 200 different models per year, subjecting each system to a series of rigorous benchmarks that provides a complete picture of performance, battery life and usability.

 
Our expert reviewers also use each product to see how it looks and feels in everyday situations. Because we see so many different notebooks, we can compare each to its direct competitors and give you an idea of how it stacks up to the average laptop in its price band.

How We Test Laptops

When we bring a laptop into our laboratory, our goal is to see how it would work if you brought it into your home or office. While we use a number of industry standard benchmarks such as Geekbench and 3DMark, we focus heavily on real-world tests that we have developed in-house.


To test endurance, the Laptop Mag Battery test surfs the web at 150 nits of brightness until the system runs out of juice. To judge pure processing power, we use a giant spreadsheet macro that matches 65,000 names with their addresses, a video transcoder that converts a 4K video to 1080p and the Geekbench 4 synthetic test. We measure graphics prowess with both 3DMark Ice Storm / Fire Strike and a series of actual game titles. 


We use a colorimeter to measure screen brightness and color gamut while other instruments help us determine a laptop's key travel and ambient heat.  See this page on How We Test Laptops for more details on our benchmarking procedures.

How to Find the Right Laptop

When shopping for a laptop, there's a lot to consider. To help you choose a system, we've put our up-to-date list of favorite notebooks above, along with five points to keep in mind when choosing a system.

Budget: What you get for the money.

You can find good cheap Windows laptops and high-quality Chromebooks for under $500. However, better mainstream laptops usually cost more than $700 and premium Ultrabooks can run over $1,000. The best gaming laptops can cost $2.000 and up, but you can play the latest titles at decent frame rates on gaming laptops under $1,000.

Screen Size: 12 to 14 inches for Portability

Knowing a laptop's screen size tells you a lot about its portability overall. If you want to use your computer on your lap or carry it around a lot, go for one with a 12, 13 or 14-inch display. If you want to use the computer on tables and desks and won't carry it around much, a 15-inch model may give you more value. Some gaming rigs, media machines and workstations even have 17 or 18-inch screens, but those are hardest to carry.

2-in-1 or Clamshell?

More and more of today's laptops are 2-in-1s with screens that either bend back 360 degrees or detach so you can use them as tablets. If you like the idea of using your laptop in slate mode for drawing, media consumption or just using it standing up, a 2-in-1 could be for you. However, you can often get better features or a lower price by going with a traditional clamshell-style laptop.

Battery Life: 8+ Hours for Portability

Unless you only plan to use your laptop on your desk, battery life matters. Even within the home or office, having plenty of juice enables you to work on the couch or at the conference table, without being chained to the nearest outlet. For the best portability, we recommend getting a laptop that lasted over 8 hours on the Laptop Mag Battery Test. The longest-lasting laptops endure for over 10 hours.

Specs: 1080p / Core i5 / 8GB Are Best Bets

You can spend a lot of time delving into specs, but here are the key components to think about. If you just want really good mainstream performance, go for a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 1080p screen.

  • Screen Resolution: Unfortunately, 66 percent of consumer laptops and 51 percent of business systems have low-res screens. If at all possible, get a display with a 1920 x 1080 (aka 1080p or full HD) or higher resolution.
  • CPU: An Intel Core i5 provides good mainstream performance. Some budget systems will come with Core i3, Celeron or Pentium CPUs which are good enough for basic tasks, but not heavy mutltiasking. Get a Core i7 or a quad core processor (serial number ends in HQ or HK) for gaming or high-end productivity tasks such as video editing and 3D modeling.
  • RAM: 8GB is ideal for most users. 4GB is acceptable for budget systems. Secondary laptops and Chromebooks may have less.
  • Storage: Unless you're a gamer or a power user, 256GB of internal storage is probably enough. If at all possible, get an SSD (Solid State Drive) rather than a hard drive, because it's going to make your entire computer a lot faster.
  • Graphics Chip: Gamers and creative professionals need to do some research and figure out which discrete GPU is good enough to run their favorite software. Everyone else will be happy with the built-in Intel HD Graphics that come on the CPU.

If you want to learn more about buying a laptop, check out our full Laptop Buying Guide. Gamers should read our Gaming Laptop Buying Guide and list of Best Gaming Laptops.