13-inch Apple MacBook Air

Best Apple laptop

Windows devotees might disagree, but the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air is the best mainstream laptop you can buy right now. Performance, build quality and reliability put it at the top of the pack, reviews tell us. The design has stayed the same, which means it’s now just a beautiful classic rather than breathtakingly cutting edge, and the display, while nice, is low resolution compared to many competitors. Updates for 2015 are minimal, but include a move to the latest generation Intel Core processors. And if you absolutely need to run Windows, it can do that, too.

$994.00    

 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display

13-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display

Premium ultraportable Apple laptop

Those who don’t think that that Apple MacBook Air is the best ultraportable on the planet give that honor instead to the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display. It’s pricier than the Air, but you get more powerful hardware, including a faster-still fifth-generation Core i5 processor and Iris integrated graphics that are good enough to play most modern games — albeit at lower quality settings. You also get Apple’s Retina display. It’s still terrific looking, even if it’s been surpassed a little in terms of total pixels by some Windows competitors.

$1,299.00  


Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13

Best Windows laptop

The 2015 version of the Dell XPS 13 breaks from the pack with a near-edge-to-edge Infinity display that fits a 13-inch screen into a laptop sized similarly to an 11-inch model. This Dell laptop is available in a variety of stock and customizable configurations ranging from a non-touch, Core i3 model that’s ideal as a budget choice for school and home, to Core i5-driven high-resolution touch versions that can handle anything up to hard-core gaming. Road warriors will appreciate the near 12-hours of battery life that the non-touch versions reached in some tests, although touch versions rack up around 25 percent less run time. The Dell XPS 13 gets great reviews and Editors’ Choice (or similar) awards from nearly every expert that’s tested it.

$929.00  


Lenovo ThinkPad X250

Lenovo ThinkPad X250

Windows business laptop

If you need a business laptop for life on the road, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better travelling companion than the Lenovo ThinkPad X250. It’s not the lightest or thinnest ultraportable you can buy, but it’s still svelte enough to not load you down. Its killer feature is its super long battery life — up to 16 hours in tests when equipped with an optional 6-cell battery. If you buy it from Lenovo’s website, you can customize the X250 to hit your personal sweet spot when it comes to performance and price, and a variety of processor, memory and hard drive options are available. Both touch and non-touch screens are offered as well.


Razer Blade

Razer Blade

Best gaming laptop

Even if it is a great performer in every other way, modern, high-end games can make most laptops buckle, slowing them to a crawl at all but the lowest graphics settings. The Razer Blade isn’t most laptops, however. While it might not be able to drive its stunning QHD screen to its fullest resolution at playable frame rates with super-tough titles, its performance is quite good if you can settle for “merely” HD resolutions for those. Otherwise, with its Core i7 processor and high-end NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M graphics, gaming performance is spectacular. It’s also got the chops to perform admirably as a work computer for graphics pros. The price is nice for a competent gaming ultraportable laptop, too.

Est. $2,200 and upEstimated Price


  Dell Inspiron i3147

Dell Inspiron i3147

Best cheap laptop

For good, everyday performance in a super-cheap Windows laptop, it’s hard to find fault with the Dell Inspiron i3147, a version of the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 sold at retailers such as Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and elsewhere. The processor is powerful enough for basic computing — web surfing, document creation, video watching — the sorts of things most people use a computer for on a daily basis. The touch screen at this price point is a welcome feature, especially since it makes life with Windows 8.1 a much more productive experience. The screen even flips around to convert this laptop into a capable, albeit heavy, Windows slate.

$335.49


Acer C720P

Acer C720P

Best Chromebook

The ultra-cheap Acer C720P gets that way by ditching Windows. Instead, you do almost everything in the cloud via Google Chrome on this Wi-Fi only laptop. Online apps are your programs, and you get 100 GB of free Google Drive storage for two years. Chrome now allows for some offline use, though that’s far from a polished experience. The Haswell-based processor allows for good performance despite the C720P’s modest price. The C720P adds a touchscreen to the cheaper-still Acer C720 (Est. $225 and up); while not every Chrome app makes use of touch, experts say that the screen on the C720P improves the user experience for those who do.

$349.97


HP Stream 13

HP Stream 13

Chromebook alternative

If you love the price of a Chromebook and can live with its modest performance, but hate being tied to Google’s ecosystem for all your apps, the Windows-based HP Stream 13 could be just the ticket. The hardware line up is in line with what you should expect in a Chromebook, but it runs the full Windows operating system. Performance won’t blow your socks off, and the solid-state drive is skimpy for a Windows machine, but the HP Stream 13 is judged to be a good choice for school — and kids might especially like the magenta or blue color choices — or light-duty everyday use. HP even throws in a free year of Office 365 and cloud storage (1 TB), though you’ll need to pony up around $70 per year after that.

Est. $230 and up