Whether you’re looking to play games, stream movies, or stay connected while traveling or at home, the latest laptops balance portability with the performance and power you need. Start your search for the perfect laptop with our overview of the most important features to consider.
Shopping for a new laptop.
- Light use: Browsing the web, paying bills online, email and social networking, organizing and sharing digital photos.
- Average use: Storing and streaming music and movies, tasks like spreadsheet and document creation.
- Demanding use: Multitasking with multiple tabs and programs, sophisticated graphics and photo editing, and video production.
You can learn a lot about a laptop by handling it. As portability is a key factor for laptops, consider the model’s overall weight and whether it will be comfortable to hold and carry as you move around your home, walk around campus, or commute to work. Hinges and clasps should feel sturdy enough to withstand daily use. Test the lid and body — typically made from plastics or aluminums — to see if they are adequately rigid while being lightweight. Make sure the keyboard’s spacing and depth allow for comfortable typing. The trackpad and mouse buttons should allow you to solidly click, scroll and zoom without skipping. Also, if you rely on 10-key for data entry, be sure the machine you select has a numeric keypad.
2-in-1s vs. traditional laptops.
2-in-1 models typically feature a flip-and-fold display on a 360° hinge, or sometimes a detachable keyboard. These designs let you adjust the laptop to best suit your activity — whether typing documents, watching movies, reading e-books, playing games, or browsing online. And compared to a separate tablet, 2-in-1s typically include more USB ports and other connectivity options, making it easier for you to transfer files and photos or attach a range of accessories.
Installed exclusively on Mac computers, macOS boasts an elegant and easy-to-use interface to complement Mac’s sleek aesthetics and impressive battery life. Macs have historically had fewer issues with viruses and malware. However, MacBooks start at a higher price point than other laptops, and no Mac model to date includes touch-screen functionality.
Windows is designed specifically around an intuitive touch-screen interface (though it can be used with a traditional mouse and keyboard), expanding your navigation options. The integrated Windows Hello feature lets you log in quickly using a look or a touch instead of a password, while remaining enterprise-grade secure. It also offers an updated task manager, streamlined file management and a suite of built-in apps.
Chromebooks are laptops that run Chrome OS — the fast, simple and secure operating system built by Google. Chrome OS is built for the web and is tailor-made to run on Chromebook hardware. Chromebooks leverage the Google Play Store, which means they can run millions of apps, including games, document creation, and photo editing apps. Google collaborates closely with popular manufacturers to ensure every Chromebook has built-in security, boots up and performs fast, and stays easy-to-use with automatic updates.
Touch-screen laptops make navigating on your computer more intuitive. Tap to select, hold and drag to move items, swipe to scroll and pinch to zoom, just as you would on a smartphone or tablet. Currently available on many Windows laptops and select Chromebooks.
Laptop screen sizes range from about 11 up to 17 inches, measured diagonally. A larger screen is ideal for gaming, watching movies, photo and video editing, and viewing documents side by side. Keep in mind, a big screen can increase the overall size, weight and power consumption of a laptop.
Shop by screen size:
Higher resolution equals better picture quality. Laptop screens come in a range of resolutions (measured in pixels, horizontal x vertical).
- 4K Ultra HD: 3840 x 2560 and 3840 x 2160 resolutions boast four times the pixels of Full HD, creating rich colors and images for viewing and editing incredibly lifelike images and graphics. Watch a video comparing 4K Ultra HD and Full HD
- QHD (Quad HD) and QHD+: With 2560 x 1440 and 3200 x 1800 resolutions, respectively, the extremely high pixel density creates crisp detail and sharp text, ideal for professional photo and graphics work as well as high-def movies and games.
- Retina display: 2560 x 1600 and 3072 x 1920 resolutions are found in Apple’s 13" and 16" laptop displays, respectively.
- Full HD: 1920 x 1080 resolution allows you to watch Blu-ray movies and play video games without losing any level of detail. Watch a video comparing Full HD and HD
- HD+: 1600 x 900 resolution is great for casual gaming and watching DVD movies.
- HD: 1366 x 768 resolution is standard on mainstream laptops. Good for web surfing, email and basic computing tasks.
Shop by resolution:
Different display technologies yield different colors and brightness levels. Many laptops employ LED backlighting, which can display bright colors without draining the battery. If you plan to use your laptop to watch movies and shows with a friend, choose a display with an IPS panel for wider viewing angles. Screens with a glossy finish generally provide richer colors and darker blacks, while matte displays will reduce glare if you frequently work outdoors or near windows. Laptop models featuring a narrow bezel — the border around the screen — allow for more display space to fit within the laptop’s form factor.
The Apple M1 chip is Apple’s first chip designed specifically for Mac, and can be found in the latest generations of MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. The Apple M1 system on a chip (SoC) integrates the CPU, GPU, Neural Engine, I/O and more, and delivers on performance, custom technologies and power efficiency.
Laptops typically provide several options for staying connected to the internet as well as to other devices. Most laptops provide the latest Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking standards plus Bluetooth capabilities, so you can easily sync your smartphone, speakers and other accessories.
Some laptops also feature a voice assistant. Some of the latest MacBook models include Siri, and a growing number of laptop PCs have Amazon Alexa built in, which helps you easily keep track of tasks, control connected smart home devices, and more.
Keep an eye out for the following ports that are commonly used for connecting to TVs, cameras and other devices.
- USB Type-A: This legacy port lets you connect external drives, gaming controllers, headphones, and other accessories. USB 3.0 ports are distinguished by a blue insert and transfer data faster than USB 2.0 when used with USB 3.0 devices. They are backward-compatible with legacy USB 2.0 devices, but limited to 2.0 speeds.
- USB Type-C: This latest iteration provides blazing speeds and versatile power. USB-C features connectors with identical ends that plug in upside down or right-side up. Adapters allow for video as well as backward compatibility with Type-A ports.
- Thunderbolt: Ultra-high bandwidth for fast data transfer between devices featuring a Thunderbolt or MiniDisplayPort connection.
- HDMI or mini HDMI: Connect a projector or display HD media on your flat-screen TV.
- Media card slots: Transfer photos from the memory card in your digital camera or camcorder.
Some laptops offer additional physical security features to help safeguard you and your information. Look for laptops with a fingerprint reader to easily unlock your laptop, or a webcam privacy shutter or kill switch to prevent hackers from seeing in through the camera.
Shop gaming laptops:
- Microsoft 365 and Office: Popular applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint for portable productivity.
- Printers: Quickly print your reports, assignments and photos right from your laptop. Most printers offer wireless and mobile print options.
- Sleeves and bags: Safely and stylishly transport your laptop and accessories.
- Mice: Precise, comfortable control for quick navigating, scrolling and gaming.
- Storage drives: Supplement or replace your laptop’s capacity for greater storage space and faster speeds.