Whether you're buying your kid's first laptop or upgrading one on its last legs, you'll find there are a ton of great options out there. There are quality lightweight computers you can pop in a laptop backpack or laptop bag to make work-from-anywhere or hybrid learning a reality. There are also options perfect for anyone serious about video games and laptops with the versatility to morph into a great tablet.
The experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute Media & Tech Lab have reviewed dozens of laptops over the years, ranging from entry laptops for kids to pro-level options from Mac, Windows and Chromebook. Our recent tests have focused on portable and convenient laptops for back to school, with a weight of less than three pounds, screen size from 10 to 13 inches, WiFi connectivity and built-in webcams.
When our experts assess machines, they test the CPU and GPU capabilities, file transfer speeds and running temperature, as well as start-up, program start and turn off times. We assess audio quality and volume-to-screen and weight-to-screen ratios, plus viewing angles. Our analysts also evaluate battery life (most of our picks provide at least 10 hours of battery life based on our tests) and consider customer support options. Our picks are a combination of top-performing models and road tests of their updated versions as well as new-to-market products.
How to find the best laptop to buy
✔️Operating system (OS): To gauge what operating system is right for you, consider which applications and software you'll need as well as what OS your existing devices are on:
- Apple's iOS is great for those invested in the Apple ecosystem (iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, etc.)
- Windows is useful for professionals who frequently need the Microsoft Office suite (Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.)
- Chromebooks can be a smart choice if you’re predominantly doing web-based tasks (streaming, using Google Docs, etc.). They generally can't run advanced apps, but they tend to be affordable.
✔️Speed: This refers to processor speed. Intel and AMD are the two most common brands for CPUs (central processing unit). We recommend at least two core processors for your machine to run efficiently and quickly; four or more is even better if you can afford it. As a handy guide: The speedier and more powerful processors have higher numbers and are generally more expensive. For example, the Intel Core i3 is the least powerful in the lineup, followed by Core i5 and Core i7 and then the more robust Core i9. A Core i3 will likely only be found in budget-minded devices for kids or families; a Core i5 or i7 will be adequate for most users.
✔️Storage space: Aim for a minimum of 64 GB SSD. SSD is the acronym for solid state drive. (Previous hard drives used spinning plates, which were prone to damage over time or from dropping or jostling the computer: Solid state drives are, as expected, solid, so they're more secure.) They're also smaller, which helps with weight, and faster, so you can access your data more quickly.
✔️Webcam: This feature might have been an afterthought in the past, but a quality built-in webcam has gained importance with Zoom meetings and online classes. Look for a camera that features at least 720p video capture, though 1080p is preferable — and a 4k webcam offers even better resolution. Beyond better quality in general, the higher the resolution, the more you'll be able to crop into a frame and still keep it sharp.
✔️Screen resolution: Today's laptop screens are very impressive. If your budget will allow it, opt for full HD (1920 x 1080), which is helpful for streaming media, gaming and business collaboration tools. Unless you're getting a super small screen (like for a young child), you will really appreciate full HD.
✔️Battery life: Manufacturers can measure battery life differently, so the comparison is not always apples to apples when shopping. You can use the company's claims as a guide, but check to see what conditions it states the battery life was tested under. And don't be shocked if you don't get quite as much longevity, particularly if you use a lot of powerful programs or run a lot of programs at once. Ideally you want a battery that can handle more than 10 hours of multitasking use before needing to be plugged in.
✔️Screen size: Screen size generally ranges from 11 inches to 17 inches. Younger kids are probably better off with the smaller 11- to 12-inch displays. Laptops under 14 inches are considered more portable (and are often lighter and more compact in general). But if the laptop will mostly live on your desk or you're doing, say, video editing, 15 inches or larger is recommended.
✔️Connectivity: Make sure the computer can connect over WiFi and has at least one USB-C port and a 3.5 mm jack for headphones.
✔️Customer support: Consider what options you'll have when you need help with your computer. Does the manufacturer offer a hotline or chat? Are you near an Apple store? Do the repair shops in your area have expertise with your model?
These are the best laptops to buy in 2021:
- Top scorer for CPU performance as well as sound quality
- Touch bar adds functionality based on which program you're using
- Need an adapter to use USB cords
This computer was among the top performers on GPU and CPU capabilities and scored among the best on overall performance. It was also a top scorer on range of frequency, loudness and quality of sound, and its 13-inch screen with Retina display is crisp and clear. It offers 512GB SSD storage and up to 10 hours of battery life, which will suit most users well. It comes loaded with an impressive creative suite with programs like iMovie and Garage Band as well as Apple’s productivity suite that includes Pages, Numbers and Keynote and makes it easy to enjoy Apple TV and Apple Music. Consumers love that the full-color Touch Bar adapts to the program you're using, letting you scroll through a movie or suggesting spelling corrections as you type. The four Thunderbolt 3 ports let you connect a display, drive or adapter because it is designed to handle data and video input through one connector.
- Ample ports and a microSD to expand storage
- Long-lasting battery
- Less capability to work offline
This affordable laptop boots up quickly and is easy to use. It's thin and lightweight — just 0.71 inches and 2.35 pounds — but packs in two USB-C ports for ultra-quick data transfer, two USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports and a microSD slot for extra storage. The Chrome OS runs all the Google apps, like Docs and Drive, and makes it simple to access your Google photos. It includes an HDR camera, and our experts loved the long-lasting battery.
- Very lightweight and portable
- Cover can be used as a stand
- Only a single USB-C port
Use this lightweight, 2-in-1 Chromebook as a standalone 10-inch tablet or with the keyboard as a laptop. It weighs less than a pound without the cover or keyboard and just over two pounds with both, so it’s super portable. The Chrome OS runs all the Google standards — Google Docs, Drive and Keep plus Google Play Movies, Music and Store — as well as productivity apps like Microsoft Word and Excel. It starts quickly and has 4GB of memory and up to 128 GB eMMC. The cover can adjust to 135 degrees, so you can use it as a stand for the screen when typing on the keyboard or watching video, and you can also work and browse in handheld tablet mode.
- 14-inch full HD touchscreen
- Video feed is shut off with privacy shutter when not in use
- Limited to Chrome-friendly software
This HP laptop has a 14-inch anti-glare 1920 x 1080 touchscreen, which means you can interact in full HD with all the Android apps that you can access through the Google Chrome OS. Google's operating system provides consistent updates to protect from malware, and this device includes a privacy shutter that covers your camera when it's not in use for added protection. HP claims up to 10 hours and 45 minutes of battery life between charges. The machine also includes an impressive number of ports so you can connect devices and drives as needed: two USB-A and two USB-C ports, and HDMI input, a MicroSD reader and a headphone jack.
- Fast processing and operating system
- Thin and lightweight
- Limited ports
Apple's slim, lightweight Air is a powerhouse machine thanks to its M1 chip (with 8-core CPU and 7-core GPU, 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD) and superfast Big Sur MacOS. Our experts like this laptop for work and play, since it runs Apple's iWork productivity suite as well as creative apps like iMovie and Garage Band and entertainment apps like Apple Music and Apple TV. The fanless design means it's quiet when operating, and it offers retina display and a great keyboard. The touch ID makes it easy unlock the computer, and the battery life is impressive for working or streaming.
- Long battery life
- Compact but with a touchscreen and full keyboard
- Screen resolution is not super crisp
Students will appreciate that this laptop can get through an entire day of school with a single battery charge — our experts got more than 10 hours of battery life in Lab tests. At under 2.5 pounds, it's totable while still offering a full-size keyboard and a 12.4-inch interactive touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio (which means it's a taller screen for more rows of text or more cells in spreadsheet). It has a 720 HD camera for video chats or Zoom classes. All models feature an Intel Core i5 processor and Intel UHD graphics; choices range from 64GB to 256 GB storage.
- 17-inch screen
- Slim and lightweight
Our analysts recommend this computer for college students because it's super lightweight — perfect to carrying to class — yet has a 17-inch screen, which makes working, streaming and gaming a breeze. It's designed with an Intel Evo Platform with an 11th generation Intel core i7-1165G7 processor and Intel Xe Graphics, which means it's faster and can deliver longing sessions between charges. It has an HDMI port, two USB-C ports and two USB-A 3.2 ports plus a microSD card reader and a 3.5mm audio jack, the perfect amount of bells and whistles for any undergrad. It also includes an HD webcam and has Amazon Alexa built in for ultimate ease of use.
- Rugged and durable
- Loaded with content that does not require Internet access
- A bit heavier than similar computers
This is our experts' pick for a great first laptop. The 10.1-inch Android 10 tablet is a 2-in-1 device with a detachable ergonomic keyboard. It comes loaded with a lot of educational content and apps designed for kids ages 6 through 12 — no Internet required. It's drop- and splash-proof, and it has a built-in Webcam privacy cover that you can use to physically block the camera. It has 32 GB of storage and 1280x800 screen resolution.
- Top of the line graphics
- Upgraded cooling technology
- Manufacturer states up to 2 hours of battery life
Serious gamers will be impressed with the tech Alienware has fit into this laptop that's just 3/4 inch (22 mm) thick. The 17-inch display provides a roomy canvas for the fast, realistic graphics rendered by the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 30-series graphics. This laptop uses 10th Generation Intel Core i7, and the company reports it has added "vapor chamber cooling technology" and beefed up the number of fan blades to help keep the machine from running hot. It has 10 ports beyond the power slot, including a lock slot so the laptop can be secured. One downside: the manufacturer only claims up to 2 hours of battery life, so you'll be tethered to an outlet.
- Excellent battery life
- Limited ports
Our GH experts loved the display on this 13.4-inch screen: It makes great use of the available space on this lightweight laptop. Our pros found that even the base model performed well, thanks to the 11th Generation Intel Core i5 processor. The Windows 10 Home OS covers most Windows suite needs, but those with specific requirements can opt for Windows 10 Pro. The computer includes two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a micro-SD card slot and a headset port.
- Long battery life
- Secure Chrome operating system
- Limited to Chrome-friendly software
This was our experts' pick for travelers thanks to up to 12 hours of battery life and the ability to get 2 hours of life from just 20 minutes of charging. In addition, the ridges on the textured bottom make it easy to grab and go. The 8th Gen Intel Core processor makes it quick and responsive, and the 13.3-inch screen with full HD resolution is good for working, streaming and video calls. It has two USB-C port, and runs ChromeOS, which is designed to be secure — handy when on the road.
- 13.5-inch touchscreen with 360-degree hinge
- Includes built-in stylus
- The 3:2 aspect ratio can be great for web and text but may letter-box streaming content
The Acer Spin 5 is designed with a durable 360-degree hinge so you can shut the display on the inside or rotate it for viewing with the device tented or flip it completely to close the screen on the outside for tablet mode. This flexibility goes hand-in-hand with the included Active Stylus with Wacom AES 1.0, which docks in the base of the laptop for secure storage and quick charging. The built-in stylus responds to more than 4,000 levels of pressure sensitivity for a more authentic pen-and-paper writing experience, which is great for drawing, drafting and note-taking. The 13.5 inch touchscreen also makes it simple to scroll, zoom and mark up docs and photos. The company reports up to 15 hours of battery life with typical use.
- Very thin and lightweight
- Includes multiple ports
This computer is thin, lightweight and powerful. It's a mere 0.5 inches (13.9 mm) thick and weighs just 2.36 pounds (1.07 kg). But Asus has still packed in the ports to give you flexibility: It has USB-A, two USB-C ports, a full HDMI port and a microSD card reader. It runs Windows 10 Pro and has an Intel Core i7 processor for fast multitasking work. Asus claims up to 22 hours of battery life, which keeps you productive or lets you enjoy streaming on the NanoEdge display, which the company says creates an "88% screen-to-body ratio."
- Quad Bang & Olufsen speakers
- Full HD touch screen
- Stylus does not attach to laptop
Whether you're editing your songs or streaming an epic movie, you'll appreciate the sound quality of the HP Spectre x360. HP reports that it had the sound experts at Bang & Olufsen tune the quad speakers on this slim laptop. It also features a 13.3-inch full HD touch screen and HP Active Stylus Pen, so you can note, mark and draw in laptop mode or with the top flipped around for tent mode. The Intel Core i7 processor helps you access files quickly, and the Windows 10 Pro OS is well suited for productivity. HP also added a web cam kill switch and a mic mute key — nice features for the Zoom era.