Buying the best laptops in 2021 comes with a range of brands, prices and features. Our latest pick for 2021’s best laptop is Dell XPS 13. Here are the rest of the top laptops, business notebooks, gaming rigs, Chromebooks, and 2-in-1 convertibles.
We live in a time where smartphones are prevalent, laptops are popular, and even smartwatches are something people talk about daily. But with all these advancements the humble laptop managed to live for good reason. Whether it’s editing images, writing loads of emails, drafting articles, or keeping in touch with colleagues and family, we’re here with our top picks to help you find the right laptop for the job.
ASUS ROG ZEPHYRUS G14
The Zephyrus G14 is an incredibly powerful gaming laptop (relative to other notebooks with comparable hardware).
It pairs AMD’s latest Ryzen 9 4900HS with an Nvidia RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU and 120HZ display, and can easily run challenging games at their highest settings. It’s light for such a powerful laptop, weighing just over 3.5 pounds. Its battery life is also incredible for a gaming rig; we’ve had almost nine hours multitasking. But you needn’t be a gamer to enjoy the Zephyrus G14.
It’s also a perfect business and multitasking notebook with distinctive retro styling. On the flip side, if you need to use your videoconferencing laptop, the G14 wouldn’t be a perfect option as it lacks a webcam. On the flip side, if you need to use your videoconferencing laptop, the G14 wouldn’t be a perfect option as it lacks a webcam.
You don’t need to spend $1,000 to get a premium-looking laptop. The HP Envy x360 2021 is the best value laptop you can buy with its robust, lightweight design, trendy convertible design and excellent performance.
Exactly what makes the Envy so great is that HP carried over a variety of components from its outstanding 2019 flagship, the Spectre x360, including the small and light frame, and almost bezel-free display with an 88% screen-to-body ratio. The touchscreen (supporting HP’s MPP2.0 pen) is bright and looks nice. And HP added a row of handy keyboard hotkeys, including microphone and camera kill switches. But the most exciting feature is inside: AMD’s Ryzen 4000 series power the latest Envy x360.
My model’s Ryzen 5-4500U did an excellent job with a fairly strong multitasking load. And integrated Radeon graphics from AMD provided strong gaming performance comparable to what you’d expect from a lower-powered, discrete GPU.
DELL XPS 13 (2021)
If you’re looking for a laptop that does all well, we suggest Dell’s new XPS 13. It features a robust structure, 10th Gen Intel processors with strong integrated graphics, and a bezel-free 16:10 screen.
You’ll probably notice the display first. It has a 91.5 percent screen-to-body ratio with a 4.6mm bottom bezel. Using a 1920 x 1200 pixel or 4K display, you can customize the XPS, but the lower-resolution model should be sufficient for those not doing creative work. It delivers up to 500 nits of brightness (abundant in a bright room or even outdoors) and precise, vivid colours. Besides the lower cost, it will also give you substantially improved battery life.
Several other specs can be customized; the current base model has a Core i5-1035G1, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and 1920 x 1200 non-touch display. (There’s reportedly a model with a Core i3 and 4GB RAM floating about, but it’s not currently available on Dell’s website. You should skip it if you see it.) We suggest this base model to someone who just wants to browse; if you intend on gaming or creative work, it’s worth the upgrade for more storage and RAM.
Ice Lake processor features Intel’s latest integrated Iris Plus graphics, providing excellent performance for an integrated GPU. You’ll also want a discreet graphics card for serious gaming, but there’s no problem running smaller things like Overwatch and Rocket League. It provides comparable performance on those games to some lower-tier graphics cards, including Nvidia’s MX150 that came in older versions of Razer Blade Stealth.
Dell’s XPS 13 is the ultimate execution of conventional thin-and-light laptop design. It’s elegant and lightweight has a decent keyboard and trackpad and performs well.
In the other elements, the XPS beats its competition in just about every way. We had an acceptable seven-hour battery life and three-hour light gaming. (League of Legends was playable for around 85% of the time.) Keyboard and touchpad are one of the best in their areas. And it’s very compact, just 2.8 pounds and 0.58 inches thick.
XPS 13’s biggest knock is its small port range. With only two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a headphone jack and a MicroSD slot, it reaches MacBook territory (though it does ship with a USB-C to USB-A dongle). The 720p webcam is also pretty bad, but in Dell’s defence, it had to cram it into a 2.25mm top bezel.
There are legitimate issues that may lead users to search elsewhere. But most users won’t be as relevant as the basics: build quality, keyboard, touchpad, monitor, and performance. In all these fields, XPS excels, winning it our top recommendation.
Recently, Dell launched a new XPS 13 variant with Intel’s 11th-Gen Tiger Lake processors. Starts at $999. We’ll review that soon, and update this page to let you know how it compares.
MACBOOK AIR (2021)
The 2021 MacBook Air is best for most people who enjoy the Apple platform.
The Air comes with 10th Gen Intel processors (although in lower power variance than XPS 13), a sharp Retina display, and a new keyboard for scissor-switch. The base configuration (including a Core i3, 8GB RAM, and 256GB storage) comes in under $1,000, but we suggest that you go for an improved Core i5 processor at least. In recent years, MacBook keyboards have been almost consistently maligned.
But 2021 Air obtained the new-and-improved keyboard from the current 16-inch MacBook Pro, taking back the “inverted T” arrow layout and 1mm travel keys. There is also no Touch Bar, but it’s already a controversial feature, and most users should be happy with the top-line and function keys. It retains the fingerprint scanner for fast login and payment authentication. You can customize the Air with three separate Y-series chips to a 1.2GHz quad-core Core i7.
We had no issue with the 1.1GHz Core i5, though; it managed fine Chrome, Slack, Zoom, and Lightroom, and had Geekbench single-threaded scores in line with the 16-inch MacBook Pro. In which you might get into trouble is with high workloads, such as rendering graphics or exporting video.
In these situations, we observed some thermal throttling, and clock speeds were capped at less than half the processor boost. That means you’ll probably experience lag and a really loud fan if you’re doing heavy creative work or other activities that really drive the CPU. MacBook Air has other major vulnerabilities.
The main battery life. We got about five hours using Chrome, Slack, Zoom, and Lightroom workflow with full brightness screen. If you dim the screen and stick with Apple’s software, you’ll probably get more juice, but we expect most people to want to keep the brightness up (it only gets up to 400 nits), and many third-party applications are necessities. Despite these downsides, MacBook Air can support most users as a professional and reliable computer.
It has an excellent design, monitor, efficiency, and keyboard we expect from Apple. Power users who need Pro probably know who they are with Air, everybody else should be okay.
HP ELITE DRAGONFLY
If you’re a business professional and money doesn’t matter to you or your organization, you can’t do better than the HP Elite Dragonfly.
The 2021 model is the first Dragonfly using HP’s super-secure SureView Reflect technology that tints the screen so that eavesdroppers can’t see what you’re doing while working in public. When not tinted, the display becomes very bright (over 700 nits) and has great viewing angles. The new Dragonfly is also the first laptop to have a Tile tracker.
That means you can use the Tile smartphone app to set up an alarm (if in Bluetooth range) or locate it anywhere in the world using Tile’s crowd-funding network. And when the laptop is off the tracker will operate for a limited time. It has some of the best battery life of any laptop on the market (we got over 11 hours), a sleek and beautiful 2-in-1 style, and an outstanding keyboard.
It includes renewable products, including ocean-bound plastics and recycled DVDs. The Dragonfly is expensive, and business laptops are cheaper to meet the needs of most professionals.
But if you’re looking for the best, it’s the unambiguous winner.