Buying a laptop isn't anywhere near as expensive as it used to be, but if anything it's a lot more confusing.
In the dim and distant past you could probably get a laptop for a minimum of £500 and spend up to £2000 or even more on a top-end one. Some Apple MacBooks can certainly come in on the high end of that range, even now.
But what has happened recently is that Chromebooks have appeared, offering dirt-cheap portable computing with sufficient features for a lot of users like students and people who just need to type while out and about.
The appearance of £200 – and sometimes lower – Chormebooks though, has forced other laptops down in price too. So now you can get laptops for some absurd prices, especially if you pick up a sale bargain.
At the other end of the scale are new thin and light laptops that aren’t so interested in offering value. But they often sport all-metal construction, wafer-thin designs and internal guts that can chew through demanding tasks.
HP Spectre 13
A Windows laptop with the sleekness of a MacBook
CPU: 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3.1GHz with Turbo Boost | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520 | RAM: 8GB LPDDR3 SDRAM (1,866MHz) | Screen: 13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 FHD IPS UWVA BrightView Corning Gorilla Glass WLED-backlit display | Storage: 256GB SSD (PCIe; NVMe; M.2)
HP’s most luxurious laptop borrows the Lenovo Yoga 900S’s style and the MacBook’s bag-friendly dimensions. The Spectre 13 is so thin that tapping away on its tactile keyboard almost feels like your fingers are tap-dancing on the table. Its biggest advantage over the MacBook is its Intel Core-series processor inside, which lends it the winning combination of dazzling looks and computing muscle. Packing three USB-C ports for hooking up peripherals (note that you’ll need a converter to use your old USB-A ones), the Spectre 13 doesn’t just look like a laptop from the future - it has one eye trained on it too.
Read the full review: HP Spectre 13
Dell XPS 15
A portable 15-inch powerhouse
CPU: 2.6GHz Intel Core i7 6700HQ (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.5GHz with Turbo Boost) | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M (with 2GB GDDR5) | RAM: 16GB Dual Channel DDR4 (2,133MHz; 8GB x 2) | Screen: 15.6-inch, 4K Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) InfinityEdge touch | Storage: 512GB PCIe SSD
Like its smaller sibling, the XPS 13, Dell’s XPS 15 sports an almost bezel-less InfinityEdge display. It brings the dual benefit of making whatever you’re doing on its gorgeous 15-inch ‘4K’ screen come to life while also lending it the dimensions of a 14-inch laptop. It’s bag-friendly to boot and comes packing the goods, including an Nvidia GTX 960M mobile graphics card that’s beefy enough to handle just about any game so long as you stick to 1080p. The XPS 15’s battery life is its main weakness, so don’t expect its runtimes to stretch into the double figures without taking a booster pack along for the ride.
Read the full review: Dell XPS 15
Dell XPS 13
The most compact Windows laptop
CPU: 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch QHD+ (3,200 x 1,800) | Storage: 256GB SSD
If you’re looking for a Windows laptop, it’s hard to go wrong with the Dell XPS 13. While it’s more expensive than the Asus UX303 — particularly if you go for the QHD+ version — the XPS 13’s InfinityEdge display makes it worth the money. It’s surrounded by a bezel that’s just millimetres thick, lending the 13.3-inch laptop a body that’s closer to 11-inch laptops in size. It gives the XPS 13 excellent portability, and unlike the 12-inch MacBook Dell has done it without sacrificing ports or power. The XPS 13 packs Intel’s latest Skylake processors under the hood, and features both Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.0 ports.
Read the full review: Dell XPS 13
Asus ZenBook UX303
A slim and light metalhead
CPU: 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520 | RAM: 12GB (8GB DDR3L 1600MHz SDRAM, on-board memory 4GB | Screen: 13.3-inch IPS FHD (1,920 x 1,080) | Storage: 256GB SSD
Asus has upped the ante with the UX303, which takes everything we loved about the UX305 while adding a premium metal body and Intel’s full-fat Core i-series processors. If it’s power that you seek, the UX303 can be fitted with Intel’s Core i7-6500U, backed up by 8GB of RAM and a capacious 500GB hybrid solid state drive for a useful combination of capacity and speed. There’s the option of a touchscreen or non-touch 1080p display, and Asus reckons you’ll squeeze up to around seven hours of battery life out of the machine. It also wakes from sleep in just two seconds, putting an end to lengthy booting sessions.
Read the full review: Asus ZenBook UX303
Microsoft Surface Book
The ultimate Windows 10 hybrid laptop
CPU: 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U | Graphics: Intel HD graphics 520; Nvidia GeForce graphics | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.5-inch, 3,000 x 2,000 PixelSense Display | Storage: 256GB PCIe3.0 SSD
Microsoft’s Surface Book is a 2-in-1 with a detachable display that can be used as a tablet, and it’s an excellent laptop in its own right for several reasons. First, it’s the only one out there with a high-resolution 3:2 aspect ratio display which is great for reading long web pages, typing up documents and doing anything that requires a bit more vertical space on the display. Second, its keyboard is simply superb offering a deep amount of travel that reduces fatigue during long typing sessions. Third, Intel’s latest Skylake processors and Nvidia’s GTX 940M GPU give the Surface Book enough grunt for light gaming and multimedia editing. If money isn’t an issue for you, then Microsoft’s laptop should be considered even if you’re not planning on detaching its display. Which you will, of course — even if it’s just for showing off.
Apple 12-inch MacBook
The most fashionable laptop around
CPU: 1.1GHz or 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5300 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 12-inch 2,304 x 1,440 pixel-resolution Retina display | Storage: 256GB or 512GB PCIe-based flash storage | Connectivity: USB-C (USB 3.1) | Camera: 480p FaceTime camera | Weight: 0.92 kg | Dimensions: 28.05cm x 19.65cm x 1.31cm (W x D x H)
Apple’s 12-inch MacBook isn’t just the most portable MacBook of them all, you won’t find a more compact laptop with a high-resolution display full stop. Every inch of Apple’s impossibly-thin machine is gorgeous, but it comes at the expense of usability. With just one USB Type-C port, the MacBook requires an adapter if you want to use multiple USB devices - or a combination of peripherals and a display - at the same time. If you don’t mind carrying one around in a case, the MacBook’s surprisingly punchy speakers, good battery life and catwalk looks make it a unique (and fun to use) laptop.
Read the full review: Apple 12-inch MacBook
Lenovo Yoga 900S
Lightweight and beautiful, with a twist
CPU: 1.1GHz Intel Core m5-6Y54 (dual core, 4MB cache, up to 2.7GHz with Turbo Boost) | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 4GB LPDDR3 (1600 MHz) | Screen: 12.5-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 FHD IPS LED glossy multi-touch display | Storage: 128GB PCIe SSD
Convertible laptops undoubtedly make better tablets when they’re lightweight. The Yoga 900S is one such machine, weighing in at a svelte 2.2 pounds. What you get then, is a 12.5-inch laptop with a bright and colourful screen that can rotate into several different positions, making it easier to interact with touchscreen apps, do a bit of lightweight gaming or even a spot of reading laid back on the couch. In terms of design, the Yoga 900S borrows the Yoga 3 Pro’s stylish watchband hinge design without charging the jewellery shop price tag. It’s thinner too, while bringing the same pixel-packed 2,560 x 1,440 pixel-resolution display along for the ride.
Read the full review: Lenovo Yoga 900S
Gigabyte Aorus X3 Plus v5
A small gaming laptop that packs a huge punch
CPU: 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M (6GB) | RAM: 16GB 2,133 MHz DD4 | Screen: 13.9-inch (3,200 x 1,800) | Storage: 512GB Samsung SM951 M.2 SSD
If you’ve got the money, you’ll be hard pressed to find a laptop that’s both as portable and powerful as the Aorus X3 Plus v5. Packing Intel’s top-end Skylake processor, paired with a mighty 6GB version of Nvidia’s GTX 970M, here is a gaming machine that can play any game at 1080p with the settings cranked up. Featuring an innovative cooling system that blows air out of the back, plenty of ports and a great keyboard, this Stealth Bomber-like machine can slip into your backpack with room to spare. Loading times are barely there thanks to its nippy M.2 SSD, and a decent range of connectivity ports that includes HDMI and DisplayPort Inputs means you can hook it up to an external display when not on the move.
Read the full review: Gigabyte Aorus X3 Plus v5
HP Spectre x360
Another Spectre that's oddly brilliant
CPU: Intel Core i5 2.2 GHz | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5500 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 13.3 inches 1920x1080 | Storage: 128GB SSD | Connectivity: 3x USB3 | Camera: HD | Weight: 1.48kg | Dimensions: 12.79 x 8.6 x 0.63 inches
There's something oddly brilliant about HP's Spectre range. Clearly intended to compete with Apple in terms of build quality, but priced just a tiny bit lower to gain some traction with potential buyers. The X360 is another convertible that allows you to fold the screen backwards to create a tablet-style device. This is ideal for Windows 10, although you'll probably not use it much as a tablet because it's still a laptop-weight device.
Read the full review: HP Spectre x360
MacBook Pro 13-inch with retina display
A class act
CPU: Intel Core i5 2.7GHz | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 6100 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3- inches 2,560 x 1,600 | Storage: 128GB | Connectivity: 2x Thunderbolt 2x USB3 | Camera: FacetimeHD| Weight: 1.58kg | Dimensions: 12.35 x 8.62 x 0.71-inches
If we consider that the Air is essentially an Ultrabook then we can safely ignore it in this roundup and head directly to the Pro. It's a larger, heavier machine but it's also the powerhouse of the range. Starting at £999 it's not bad value when you consider it has 8GB of RAM and an i5 2.7GHz and 128GB SSD.
You'll get 10 hours out of the battery, in the ideal conditions, and the real keyboard makes for a pretty delightful user experience. Oh, and the trackpad - there's simply nothing like it on any PC we've ever used, it's a class act.
If you need Windows 10, that's no problem either, just install with Apple's Boot Camp.
Read the full review: MacBook Pro 13-inch with retina display