Best laptops 2021: High-performance devices for working from home or gaming on the go

·14-min read
Working remotely? It might be time to upgrade your hardware (iStock/The Independent)
Working remotely? It might be time to upgrade your hardware (iStock/The Independent)

The best laptop is the one that does what you need it to, and in 2021 you have the widest ever selection of brands, styles, prices and form factors to choose from.

Maybe you’re working from home and – having considered and rejected the idea of dragging your desk onto the balcony – decided you want a fast and long-lasting laptop for tackling emails and taking Zoom calls in the sun. Perhaps your faithful old laptop has gone to the big blue screen in the sky and you’re finally ready to move on. Or you might be a student in search of the perfect laptop for work and gaming.

Competition between the top brands is so fierce now that you could throw a dart in a Currys PC World store and find a perfectly decent laptop to handle most everyday tasks. But if you’d rather some expert guidance – and don’t want to be banned from your local Currys – we’ve assembled a list of the 10 best laptops in 2021 to help you choose.

These are laptops we’ve thoroughly tested and can recommend, from MacBooks and Windows models, to convertible two-in-one devices. We’ve included both budget laptops and high-end machines capable of handling the most demanding applications and playing games on the go.

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Most of the laptops featured here can be configured to have more RAM, a bigger hard drive or a faster processor. You can also find a bargain by searching out earlier models of the laptops we’ve picked, though be aware that some of the features we mention might not appear in previous generations.

If you’re not sure what type of laptop you want, head over to our comprehensive guide to choosing the best laptop for your needs, where we break down some of the basic components, functions and features to look out for.

The best laptops for 2021 are:

  • Best gaming laptop – Dell XPS 15: £1,599, Dell.com

  • Best Windows laptop – Microsoft Surface book 3: £1,399, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best Apple laptop – Apple MacBook air: £899, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best budget laptop – Lenovo yoga 7 slim: £628.98, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best two-in-one – Dell XPS 13 2-in-1: £1,249, Dell.com

  • Best for students and writers – Microsoft Surface laptop 4: £999, Currys.co.uk

  • Best for working from home – Huawei MateBook X pro: £1,399, Johnlewis.com

  • Best for photo and video editing – Apple MacBook pro: £1,187, Currys.co.uk

  • Best for work – HP spectre x360: £1,299, Currys.co.uk

  • Best for connectivity – Asus zenbook 13: £899, Argos.co.uk

Dell XPS 15

Best: Gaming laptop

Rating: 10/10

  • CPU: Intel Core i5 10300H through to Intel Core i9 10885H

  • Graphics: Intel UHD graphics/Nvidia geforce GTX 1650 Ti

  • RAM: 8GB through to 64GB DDR4

  • Screen: 15.6in, 1920p x 1200p/3840p x 2400p

  • Storage: 512GB through to 1TB SSD

  • Pros: Powerful, great display

  • Cons: Less portable than smaller laptops

This is Dell’s flagship laptop, a showcase of everything the manufacturer can reasonably pack into a single machine without the entire thing melting into a hot puddle of silicon and plastic. The Dell XPS 15 is one of the best Windows laptops you can buy, and pairs a minimalist, no-fuss design with top-level functionality and performance.

The bright, crisp 4K touchscreen stands head and shoulders above most other laptops we’ve tested, while under the hood the 10th generation Intel processor packs more performance than the average desktop computer. Those looking for a more portable laptop might want to look elsewhere. At 15 inches the Dell XPS 15 is a hefty lad, and battery life is middling, lasting about a full working day if you don’t tax it too much.

Buy now £1599.00, Dell.com

Microsoft Surface book 3

Best: Windows laptop

Rating: 9/10

  • CPU: Intel Core i5 1035G7 through to Intel Core i7 1065G7

  • Graphics: Intel iris plus

  • RAM: 8GB through to 32GB DDR4

  • Screen: 13.5in, 3000p x 2000p

  • Storage: 128GB through to 1TB SSD

  • Pros: Detachable touchscreen, great performance

  • Cons: Thick bezels

The Surface book 3 is an imposing looking machine. The flagship laptop in the Surface range is designed to showcase everything a portable Windows device is capable of, and appears to have been hewn from a single block of brushed metal. The neat unibody chassis is unblemished by anything so tacky as a holographic Intel sticker, brandishing only the minimalist Microsoft logo on the back of the display. This is Microsoft at its most Apple.

The Surface book 3 has performance to back up its looks, powered by the newest Intel Core i7 processor and a modest 32GB of memory. The keyboard is comfortable to work on and the 3:2 ratio screen is a natural fit for web browsing and document editing. At the touch of a button, the screen comes away and can be used as a fully mobile Windows tablet.

Buy now £1399.00, Amazon.co.uk

Apple MacBook air (M1, 2020)

Best: Apple laptop

Rating: 9/10

  • CPU: Apple M1 chip

  • Graphics: Integrated M1 GPU

  • RAM: 8GB DDR4

  • Screen: 13.3in, 2560p x 1600p

  • Storage: 512GB through to 1TB SSD

  • Pros: Thin, light, very fast performance

  • Cons: Only two ports, new model launching soon

Apple’s thinnest, lightest MacBook transcended the tech world to become an instantly recognisable design icon, the profile of which many rival laptops have since followed. If you’ve ever held one you’ll understand why it’s such an alluring device: the MacBook air is an elegant piece of engineering, weighing just 1.29kg and measuring 4.1mm at its thinnest point.

The newest 2020 model is powered by Apple’s new M1 processor, an ARM-based chip that unlocks notable performance boosts and better battery efficiency over the older Intel CPU seen in previous generations. There is a 2021 model soon to be announced, so bear than in mind when you shop.

Buy now £899.00, Amazon.co.uk

Lenovo yoga 7 slim

Best: Budget laptop

Rating: 8/10

  • CPU: Intel Core i5 1135G7 through to Intel Core i7 1165G7

  • Graphics: Intel iris xe

  • RAM: 8GB DDR4

  • Screen: 14in, 1920p x 1080p

  • Storage: 256GB through to 512GB SSD

  • Pros: Powerful laptop for this price

  • Cons: 1080p display is a little dated

A premium ultrabook without the premium price tag, right now the Lenovo yoga 7 slim is the best laptop you can buy for under £700. For the last few years Lenovo has been quietly turning out laptops and tablets that offer smart design and decent specs without costing the earth, and this model is the culmination of the Chinese manufacturer’s best work.

This super-thin laptop is powered by a Core i5 processor tuned for laptops, giving you enough grunt to handle CPU-intensive tasks like photo and video editing, and even some lower-end games. To bring costs down Lenovo has plumped for a standard HD, 1080p display, but it’s a good quality panel with excellent colour reproduction and contrast.

Buy now £628.98, Amazon.co.uk

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

Best: Two-in-one laptop

Rating: 8/10

  • CPU: Intel Core i5 10135G7 through to Intel Core i7 1165G7

  • Graphics: Intel iris xe

  • RAM: 8GB through to 32GB DDR4

  • Screen: 13.4in, 1920px x 1200px/3840px x 2400px

  • Storage: 256GB through to 1TB SSD

  • Pros: Long battery life, can handle gaming

  • Cons: Shallow keyboard

When it comes to Windows machines, the boundary between laptops, tablets and hybrid two-in-one devices is looking increasingly blurred. There are tablets you can attach a keyboard to, touchscreen laptops with detachable displays, and then there are devices like the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, a seemingly ordinary laptop that can be folded back on itself to become a portable tablet.

But where many other hybrids offer tablet-grade performance in a laptop chassis, this Dell model is a powerful device by any measure. The 11th generation Core i7 processor, supported by up to 32GB of memory, has enough power and graphics performance to handle video rendering and gaming. We tested the 2019 version, which was updated in late 2020 with a more powerful processor but has an almost identical exterior design.

Buy now £1249.00, Dell.com

Microsoft Surface laptop 4

Best: For students and writers

Rating: 8/10

  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 4680U through to Intel Core i7 1185G7

  • Graphics: Radeon/ Intel iris xe

  • RAM: 8GB through to 32GB DDR4

  • Screen: 13.5in, 2256p x 1504p

  • Storage: 256GB through to 1TB SSD

  • Pros: Streamlined Windows experience, thin design

  • Cons: Thick bezels

The Surface range showcases Windows 10 at its absolute best, allowing Microsoft to take control of both the hardware and the software to create tablets and laptops that feel unified, streamlined and uncompromised. Whereas most other Windows laptops come preloaded with sketchy third-party apps and anti-virus bloatware, Microsoft’s Surface laptops are much closer to the Apple-style user experience. Clean, tidy, and simple to use.

In this analogy the Surface laptop 4 is the MacBook air of Windows machines. This is a fast and thin touchscreen laptop, with even the slowest and cheapest configuration running on a decently powerful AMD Ryzen 5 processor. The laptop is unlocked with facial recognition, the keyboard is a delight to type on for hours on end, and you can pay a little extra for the very lovely faux-suede alcantara finish.

Buy now £999.00, Currys.co.uk

Huawei MateBook X pro (2021)

Best: For working from home

Rating: 9/10

  • CPU: Intel Core i7 1165G7

  • Graphics: Intel Iris Xe

  • RAM: 16GB DDR4

  • Screen: 13.9in, 3000p x 2000p

  • Storage: 1TB SSD

  • Pros: Impressive screen, stylish design, powerful

  • Cons: Strangely positioned placed webcam

Huawei’s latest flagship lifts the best design elements from both the Surface book and the MacBook pro, resulting in a device that looks so smart that it’s hard to begrudge Huawei copying its rivals’ homework. The MateBook X pro has a bright and colourful 3:2 ratio display bordered by a vanishingly small bezel. The display is also a multi-point touchscreen, so don’t forget to pack some wet wipes in your laptop bag.

This configuration of the Huawei device is powered by an Intel Core i7 processor with 16GB of memory and a generous 1TB hard drive. A fingerprint scanner rounds off a quality piece of hardware, though one notable downside is the awkward position of the webcam, which is hidden beneath one of the function keys. The angle is less-than-flattering in video calls.

Read the full Huawei MateBook X pro review

Buy now £1399.00, Johnlewis.com

Apple MacBook pro (M1, 2020)

Best: For photo and video editing

Rating: 9/10

  • CPU: Apple M1 Chip

  • Graphics: Integrated M1 GPU

  • RAM: 8GB

  • Screen: 13in, 2560p x 1600p

  • Storage: 256GB through to 512GB SSD

  • Pros: Touch bar and Touch ID, top performance

  • Cons: Only two Thunderbolt ports

The performance gap between the MacBook air and the smaller MacBook pro has been shrinking lately, but Apple’s premium laptop is still the go-to machine for specialist users and editors who need every last bit of processing power. Though both are powered by Apple’s new proprietary M1 chip, the MacBook pro can handle tasks that would have its slimmer cousin wheezing into a brown paper bag.

The MacBook pro is also Apple’s playground for weird and fun new ideas, such as the narrow touchscreen along the top row of keys that changes to suit whichever application you’re currently using. Like the MacBook air, the power button has a fingerprint sensor built into it, the keyboard is comfortable and the trackpad is big and responsive.

Buy now £1187.00, Currys.co.uk

HP spectre x360 (13in, 2020)

Best: For work

Rating: 8/10

  • CPU: Intel Core i7 1065G7

  • Graphics: Intel iris plus

  • RAM: 16GB DDR4

  • Screen: 13.3in, 3,840p x 2,160p

  • Storage: 512GB SSD

  • Pros: Vivid AMOLED display

  • Cons: Limited graphics performance

Full credit to HP for designing a laptop that doesn’t look like yet another MacBook air. The HP Spectre x360 is a high-performance machine with a display that can be folded back in on itself to transform into a tablet, albeit a slightly chunky one when compared to two-in-ones that can be fully snapped in half.

Every inch of this device feels premium. The 13in 4K display is responsive and vivid. The fingerprint sensor is fast, and the physical cut-off switch for the webcam is a nice addition for the security-conscious. Under the bonnet you’ve got top-end components. We tested the 2020 model with its do-everything Core i7 processor and generous 16GB of memory. The 2021 version doesn’t tinker too much with the exterior, but improves on the specs with an even faster Intel CPU and a wider range of configuration options.

Buy now £1299.00, Currys.co.uk

Asus zenbook 13 (UX325)

Best: For connectivity

Rating: 8/10

  • CPU: Intel Core i5 1135G7 through to Intel Core i7 1165G7

  • Graphics: Intel iris xe

  • RAM: 16GB DDR4

  • Screen: 13.3in, 1920p x 1080p

  • Storage: 512GB through to 1TB SSD

  • Pros: Smart ergonomic design, sharp OLED screen

  • Cons: 1080p display is a little dated

The zenbook 13 is littered with interesting little design touches that make this coffee shop ultrabook stand out from the crowd. For a start, where other laptops have whittled their ports down to just one or two USB-C connections, the one proudly keeps its USB-A port alongside an HDMI out and a MicroSD card slot, and all without sacrificing thinness.

When opened the hinge is designed to lift the keyboard slightly for more ergonomic typing and better airflow. The touchpad can display a number pad or calculator app, while the infrared camera can be used to unlock Windows. An all day battery life, vibrant edge-to-edge screen and stylish finish rounds off one of the best 13in laptops you can buy.

Buy now £899.00, Argos.co.uk

Laptop FAQs

What is the best laptop to buy?

There is no single best laptop we can recommend. Rather, the best laptop to buy is the one that meets your needs. Like all electronics, laptops become obsolete over time, so there are diminishing returns when you invest in the most expensive, high-spec and powerful devices. Instead, consider what you might use your laptop for (gaming, emailing, spreadsheets, photo editing) and where you want to use it (at a desk, on a train, on the sofa) and choose a laptop that fits those criteria.

Check out our laptop buying guide for some helpful advice on choosing a laptop that suits your needs.

What is the difference between a Chromebook and a laptop?

Most laptops use Microsoft’s Windows operating system, while MacBooks use Apple’s own MacOS operating system.

Chromebooks are different. They run on Chrome OS, an operating system designed by Google. Anyone can license this operating system, so you’ll see Chromebooks manufactured by a wide range of different brands and available in a variety of styles.

Google’s operating system doesn’t run traditional desktop programs. Instead it behaves more like the Chrome web browser, using online apps such as Google Docs, as well as some Android apps. This sounds limiting — and for most users it is — but there are upsides. Because most of the processing is happening over the internet, Chromebooks don’t need to be so powerful. This means they generally have a longer battery life, are much cheaper, far more secure, and boot up faster than regular laptops.

If you do most of your work inside your browser, a Chromebook makes sense. Designed to showcase what a Chromebook is capable of, the Pixelbook go (£629, Google.com) is our recommended laptop in this category.

The verdict: Laptops

If you’re looking for a high-performance, do-it-all Windows machine that can run rings around most desktop computers, the Dell XPS 15 is your laptop.

Most shoppers won’t need that much power, so we’d recommend the Lenovo Yoga 7 slim for those who want a laptop that can handle everyday tasks without leaving a giant hole in your bank account. Apple users have an easier choice. The MacBook air is our favourite Apple laptop right now.

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