Laptop Buying Guide
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Buying a laptop is hard, and there are countless questions to ask. Are you looking for a Mac or a Windows PC? Do you want a large 16” or 17” screen? Does your laptop need to be ultralight, or are you ok with a slightly heavier machine? What is a dedicated graphics card? What about battery life?
The process is overwhelming, and it's tempting to simply walk into an electronics store and pick the first laptop you see. That might even work! But, to be honest, we'd rather you not do that.
Thankfully, it gets much easier once you know what to look for. You need to figure out what features you really need and then pick a laptop that fits. Even better, we did some of that work for you. Here’s Optimum’s guide to buying the best laptop.
What to look for in a laptop
There are a ton of factors to consider when shopping for a laptop. Most of the time, you don't need to worry about all of them. With that said, there are three things you should always keep in mind: size, battery life, and speed.
Size of laptops
Size should always be top of mind when choosing a laptop. When we say "size," we're typically referring to some combination of a laptop's weight, width, and screen size.
Except for some gaming models, the days of heavy laptops are behind us. Most mainstream laptops are no heavier than 3 pounds, and many clock in at well under that. Width goes hand in hand with weight. Thinner laptops are lighter, though they're also more expensive.
For screen size, the sweet spot tends to be 13". If you're comfortable with a smaller screen and want the lightest laptop possible, an 11"(or less) screen may be the way to go. For applications where screen size is important (think gaming, graphic design, and video editing), 15", 16", and 17" models are worth a look.
Laptop battery life
Battery life is the classic laptop spec. For the most part, modern laptops have excellent batteries that last 10 hours or more, so long as you're not doing anything more intensive than browsing the web. Battery life on laptops with big screens is better than it used to be, though you're always going to be sacrificing some battery life for screen size.
When it comes to laptop speed, don't make things too complicated. With some exceptions, pretty much every mainstream laptop can handle streaming, web browsing, word processing, and even light gaming without much difficulty. If that's all you plan on using your laptop for, you won't have much to worry about. If you're planning on doing more intense activities like serious gaming or video editing, your needs will be different. Make sure you buy a laptop with a dedicated graphics card.
The best Apple laptops
For most people, the Air is the way to go. It's thin, light, and gets a whopping 18 hours of battery life. Apple's Retina displays are some of the best in the business, and the Air's 13.3" screen is no exception. The Air starts at $999, so it's the most affordable Apple laptop too.
MacBook Pro 13
The 13" Pro is more niche than both the Air and the 16. It's a bit heavier than the Air, but features the same fast M1 processor. At 20 hours, the battery lasts a bit longer, too.
MacBook Pro 16
If you need more power, the MacBook Pro 16" is phenomenal. It has incredible battery life for a laptop of its size, and the keyboard is excellent. It starts at $2,399, more than double the Air, so it's definitely a premium option.
The best Windows laptops
For an all-around Windows workhorse, it’s tough to beat HP’s Spectre X360 series.
HP Spectre X360
The Spectre series are spectacular laptops, featuring excellent build quality, battery life, and displays. They're also 2-in-1: The display is a touchscreen, so you can convert the laptop into a tablet.
Dell XPS series and Razer Book 13
If you're looking for a more affordable option and don't need a touchscreen, it's really hard to go wrong with Dell's XPS series. The XPS 13 in particular is a standout.
For those who want a MacBook feel but don’t want to use macOS, look into the Razer Book 13. It’s expensive, but the Book’s weight, performance, and premium feel are outstanding.
The best gaming laptops
Gaming laptops used to consist almost entirely of 10 pound, 17" behemoths with an hour or two of battery life. That's no longer the case. It's very easy to find an excellent, portable gaming laptop with a 14" or 15" screen. And while a laptop with a 17" display is never going to be easy to carry around, current models are far more agreeable than the bricks of yore.
For the smaller guys, the Razer Blade 15 is the cream of the crop. Razer's build quality is second-to-none, and the laptop is packed with the latest and greatest components. Its little brother, the Blade 14, packs almost as much power into a more portable package. It's hard to go wrong with either, though with Razer, you will pay a premium. Dell’s G series is an excellent alternative if you want to bring the price down.
ASUS Rog Strix Scar
If you want a 17” gaming laptop, look no further than the ASUS ROG Strix Scar. It's an absolute beast of a machine and is as close as you can get to a gaming desktop you can fit in a backpack. That said, buying a gaming PC is about more than just picking the most powerful option. Check out our PC gaming guide to learn more.
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