The goal behind Top Reviews is to inform our readers about the overall top rated services and products in each category that we cover. We want to help you save time, by not wasting it on researching hundreds of options and instead to let you focus just on the top performers in each category.
The laptop market has undergone major changes in the past few years, and there's likely to be more confusion in the notebook aisle now than at any other time. Today's models encompass everything from featherweight, business-savvy ultraportables that barely tip the scales at less than 2 pounds, to lap-crushing gaming behemoths of 10 pounds or more.
Your standard laptop doesn't look the way it once did, either, with dozens of convertible designs that rethink the standard clamshell to take advantage of touch interfaces. Some laptops double as tablets, with hinges that bend and fold, while other touch-enabled PCs are actually slate tablets that come with hardware keyboards for notebook-style use. There's simply too much variety in the laptop space for one size or style to fit every person's needs.
That's where this buying guide comes in. We'll brief you on all the latest designs and specs, and parse the current trends, helping you figure out which features you need and how to find the laptop you really want.
Microsoft's Windows 8 was supposed to make computing more touch-centric, but general dissatisfaction with its interface meant that Microsoft made the next version of its operating system easier to use with a keyboard and touchpad. These days, Windows 10 is likely to be the OS on your new laptop. It combines elements from the Windows 8 touch-based UI with more traditional features that don't rely on a touch screen. There's more to Windows 10 than can be addressed here, but the bottom line is that it has brought the touch interface to the forefront. As a result, most new laptops feature touch screens, and those that don't will have features in place to provide similar functionality.
If you're in the market for a Windows laptop and want a touch screen, don't think you'll have to pay a lot to get one: Even entry-level models in the $150-to-$300 price range may have them these days, and the Windows touch experience now is much better than it used to be. Chances are you won't need it or want it on a gaming machine, however, as touch input could potentially interfere with the precision control schemes you need to master today's game titles.
Then there are the ultraportables. Walk down any laptop aisle and you'll notice that the selection of laptops has become dramatically thinner and sleeker. Each of these wafer-thin systems represents a new vision for ultraportable computing: a no-compromises laptop light enough that you'll forget it's in your briefcase, with a long-lasting battery that will keep you working even when no power outlet is available. Fast storage, whether by way of a full 128GB or 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) or, more affordably, 32GB to 64GB of eMMC flash, give these ultraportables the ability to resume work in seconds after being idle or asleep for days. Intel's marketing focus has migrated to the convertible-hybrid laptops and detachable-hybrid tablets that it refers to as 2-in-1 devices (see the next section for more information), but ultraportables are still a distinct category.
Most important, the entire category has thinned down in general. Whether you're looking at sliver-thin ultraportables, mainstream PCs, or even gaming machines, laptops of every flavor today are thinner, lighter, and better suited to life on the go. The best of these models will still cost you a pretty penny, particularly if you're looking for a business system that won't weigh you down when you travel for work, but they offer remarkable performance and often come with several high-end features as well. Touch screens (with 1080p resolution), full-size HDMI ports, and 8 or more hours of battery life are commonplace, and premium laptops (with premium prices) now come with high-resolution screens, up to 3,840-by-2,160 resolution (4K) at the top end.
Our Best Overall Winner - Apple Macbook
The 15-inch MacBook Pro (starts at $2,399; $2,799 as tested) is the closest you can get to toting the power of an Apple desktop like the iMac$1,388.00 at Amazon around the office or in your carry-on luggage. The 2016 redesign is slimmer and lighter, with the formidable computing power, superb build quality, and long battery life that you expect from the MacBook Pro. It's also equipped with Apple's new Touch Bar with Touch ID, which gives you adaptable function keys that help you more easily interact with apps. You will have to get used to a shallower keyboard, a lack of USB 3.0 ports, which will most likely require dongles, and the MacBook Pro$2,249.00 at Amazon isn't cheap (though most high-end machines of this caliber have similar price tags). But overall, this is the high-end desktop-replacement laptop we'd recommend for power users in the graphic arts or anyone who wants the ultimate in a fast and future-minded large-screen laptop.
Runner Up - Dell XPS 13 Touch
Dell has released the XPS 13 Touch (2016 Rose Gold Edition) (starts at $799.99, $1,649.99 as tested), the third iteration this year of its flagship ultraportable laptop. It (still) features a brilliant 13-inch 3,200-by-1,800 (QHD+) IPS screen, a compact body that's smaller than usual for a 13-inch ultraportable, carbon fiber construction, and a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3. In addition to the new Rose Gold color, this XPS 13 comes with a 7th Generation Intel Core i7 processor. It might be heavier and a bit thicker than our last top pick, the Asus ZenBook 3$1,077.99 at Amazon, but you'll have to make fewer concessions, which means that this latest XPS 13 Touch is the one to beat, and our Editors' Choice. It would have taken the top spot, but Apple is hard to beat.