When choosing the right laptop it all comes down to what you are willing to spend and what you plan to use it for. If the idea of navigating the countless options out there sounds daunting we’ve got you covered. After looking at several of the best devices this year and analyzing dozens of professional reviews and user opinions, we bring you the best of the best in a handful of popular categories.

Best Overall and Best Ultraportable Laptop

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon G6 - 2018

There are several high quality ultraportable laptops on the market today, making this the most tricky category to select a winner-takes-all pick. Every company, from Dell to Asus, Microsoft, Lenovo, Apple and HP and more, all have fantastic premium laptop options, and to be honest, for the most part you can’t go wrong with many of these flagship models.

Eventually we decided to go for two highly configurable laptops that have a lot in common and offer a range of pricing depending on chosen specs. The Dell XPS 13 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon are the best ultraportables in the market today offering solid build quality, great displays, battery life, and industrial design. The XPS 13 starts at around $1,050 for the base i5-8250U, 8GB, 256GB PCIe SSD model, while the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is more expensive for the same base setup at around $1,360.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a top-end business laptop option, offering a 14” IPS screen, great connectivity including dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, a great keyboard and fast NVMe storage. There is no option for a discrete GPU, but if you're lucky you can catch one of Lenovo's many deals offered throughout the year. The ThinkPad X1 is configurable with a number of display options including a touchscreen or Dolby HDR. Its webcam is Windows Hello compatible though it also offers a fingerprint sensor. To round off business features the ThinkPad offers docking accesories and can be equipped with global LTE-A connectivity. Everything on a 2.49 lb package, not bad.

The XPS 13 is an equally impressive ultraportable, also ready for business but built as a flagship everyday computing laptop first and foremost. The newest revision of the XPS received a slimmer design and a new cooling system, an updated keyboard and improved touchpad. It keeps the same 8th-gen Core CPUs and fast NVMe storage and now offers the option of a 4K display (1080p IPS standard).

In making the slimmer chassis, the XPS lost support for regular-sized USB ports -- it offers plenty of connectivity though, USB-C and DisplayPort/Thunderbolt 3 included, as well as a microSD slot -- and the nostril webcam is still a thing here. But we tend to forgive those when everything else is as well thought out as you get with this Dell ultraportable. The XPS 13 is just 2.7 lbs.

Other Great Choices

As we mentioned, there are lots of other stellar options on the market for ultraportables. The Zenbook 14 UX433FN is a brand new offering, combining powerful Whiskey Lake quad-core + GeForce MX150 internals and a 14-inch 1080p display with super slim bezels, so the footprint is closer to a 13" laptop. For $1,200 and the combination of hardware it's pretty great. The Zenbook almost topped our list but display quality is generally better on the XPS and the ThinkPad.

The LG Gram offers some of the best battery life among portable laptops with decent specs including quad-core CPUs, if you really need the best battery life it’s one machine we’d look out for, also around $1,000.

The Razer Blade Stealth is another unique looking laptop with Apple-esque attention to detail with a gaming flair. Finally, there's the Surface Laptop 2, perhaps one of the best designed laptops on the market. It offers a large 13.5-inch 3:2 aspect ratio display which is ideal for productivity, in combination with up to Intel Core i7 CPUs and outstanding battery life. Prices start at around $1000, but you’ll probably want to spend a bit more to get a decent amount of RAM and storage.

Best Convertible Laptop

Microsoft Surface Book 2 13.5"

The Surface Book 2's feature set includes some of the best hardware you can get in a 13-inch form factor, combined with a screen that detaches from the base for those times you need a portable tablet. There haven’t been many standout convertible laptop releases this year and Microsoft's Surface is excellent, so we are once again recommending it even though it's not the most affordable option for everyone.

When you choose the Core i7 model, you get Intel’s top-end Kaby Lake Refresh CPU, the Core i7-8650U, but on top of that you also get a GeForce GTX 1050 discrete GPU, which is much more powerful than the MX150 we typically see in these sort of devices. That extra power does help to drive the gorgeous, high-resolution 3000x2000 13.5-inch LCD, which features a 3:2 aspect ratio that’s awesome for productivity apps.

The list of features doesn’t stop there. The touchscreen display supports the best active stylus in the business, the Surface Pen, which is a $100 optional extra but is definitely worth it for those that like to annotate and draw. The magnesium chassis is one of the best you can get on any laptop, and it now includes USB-C, though there’s no Thunderbolt 3 support. The battery life is also quite good for a laptop that’s so powerful.

Microsoft hasn’t yet updated the Surface Book 2 to use Intel’s newer Whiskey Lake CPUs, but Kaby Lake Refresh is very close in terms of performance, so it’s not a big deal.

Our favorite configuration of the Surface Book 2 would be the 13-inch model at $2,150, which provides the Core i7, GTX 1050, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD. It is a very expensive laptop – there are definitely cheaper convertible laptops going around – but you won’t find anything as powerful or well built.

The race really isn’t that close in our opinion: the Surface Book 2 is what you buy when you want the best.

For About Half the Price...

If you want that convertible form-factor and you need a Windows tablet first, full-time laptop second, there's the original Surface Pro.

Currently on its sixth generation, it's a proven design that works really well if you see yourself carrying an iPad-like device that runs Windows applications without much fuss. The Surface Pro offers a premium build and design with decent internals that start with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for $800 (add to that $100 for the necessary Type Cover).

For those that want to buy an ultraportable system for productivity in the popular 13-inch size category, but also want to do some light gaming on the go. What is the absolute fastest system you can get in this sort of form factor?

It might surprise you how few gaming-capable systems there are with 13" displays. At one point this was sort of an emerging category, but that quickly evaporated in favor of 15" portable gaming laptops. What we’ve been left with are plenty of systems with no discrete GPU, and a growing number with Nvidia’s okay but not amazing MX150 and MX250 GPU offerings. The MX150 is good for games that aren’t too GPU demanding like Overwatch, Fortnite and CS GO, but what if you want something with a bit more oomph?

There’s only one option: Microsoft's Surface Book 2 13.5". As far as we can tell this is the only laptop on the market of this size to pack a proper GTX 1050 in its chassis. The GTX 1050 remains an entry-level discrete GPU, but it’s easily more than 50% faster than an MX150, which opens up more gaming options at medium and low settings.

The privilege of having a GTX 1050 in a (premium built) 13-inch system comes at a price. Kitting out a Surface Book 2 with the required hardware to get this GPU will set you back $1,750, but you’ll probably want more than 8GB of storage and a 256GB SSD, in which case you’re looking at ~$2,000 for 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD. That’s more than most portable 15-inch gaming laptops for less performance.

With that said, the Surface Book 2 does have a lot of advantages, like the detachable tablet section, full stylus support and a high quality 3000x2000 display which you don’t get with most true gaming laptops. So it’s just a balance of what you might want and how much gaming should factor into your buying decision.

Best 15-Inch Productivity Powerhouse

Dell XPS 15 (9570)

Intel hasn’t refreshed their line of H-series performance-oriented mobile CPUs since we last updated this article mid-year. This is why we are once again recommending the Dell XPS 15 9570, which packs a six-core Coffee Lake CPU that’s suitable for high-performance productivity tasks in a slim and portable chassis.

The Dell XPS 15 has been a favorite of ours for some time now, because it provides such a great combination of performance, portability and price. For $1,500 or so, you get a six-core Core i7-8750H, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, a 15.6-inch 1080p display with slim bezels, and a GTX 1050 Ti discrete GPU, plus a huge 97 Wh battery and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.

Now, this isn’t the cheapest laptop to include this sort of hardware; you can easily find a chunky gaming laptop for around $1,200 like the Asus ROG Strix Scar that will satisfy your hardware craving. But the key thing about the XPS 15 is its portability and battery life: the overall laptop footprint is smaller due to slimmer bezels, it’s more than a kilogram lighter, and we’re looking at a thickness of more like 15mm rather than 24mm. All while providing a battery that’s more than 50% larger and lasts considerably longer.

The discrete GPU on the XPS 15 is just a GTX 1050 Ti rather than a GTX 1060 like you’ll get with a decent portable gaming laptop, but the 1050 Ti will be more than enough for tasks like video editing, code compiling, simulations, and so forth. Plus if you want to do more than just occasional gaming, a gaming laptop might be a better option for you anyway.

For those of you opting for a Mac, there is a single obvious choice: the 15" MacBook Pro. A fine machine, with great overall qualities except for its keyboard and steep asking price.

Best Budget Laptop

Asus VivoBook S S510UN

If you're on a budget and simply want the best hardware you can get, look no further than the Asus VivoBook S S510UN, which retails for about $670. A lot of the hardware this laptop provides you’ll also find in top-end devices, yet you’re saving upwards of $300 and that’s no small amount for a budget shopper.

The VivoBook S has everything you will want from a hardware perspective: a quad-core Core i5-8250U, GeForce MX150 discrete GPU, you also get 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, which are both great inclusions in an entry-level product. We wouldn’t recommend buying a laptop with no SSD and with less than 8GB of RAM, but this Asus machine includes both.

The VivoBook S complements the internal hardware with good connectivity (USB 3.1, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, HDMI, and SD card), dual band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, a backlit keyboard, a fingerprint sensor in the touchpad and Windows Hello support. The display is a basic 15.6-inch 1080p LCD and the battery life is decent but not outstanding. You do get slim bezels and the footprint reduction that comes with it, which is appreciated on a 15" class device that weights less than 4 pounds. The VivoBook S is a great choice for an inexpensive ultraportable that will handle day to day tasks without much fuss.

Good Budget Alternatives

The Envy x360 13 is a highly impressive device for the price. For $700 you get a metal chassis with a 360-degree hinge, an acceptable 1080p touch display with a pen in the box, and most importantly, the power of the Ryzen 5 2500U complemented by 8GB of RAM and 256GB of fast SSD storage. The Ryzen 5 2500U provides CPU performance around the mark of the Core i5-8250U in most benchmarks, yet it absolutely smashes the Intel offering in GPU performance with a much faster integrated Vega GPU.

Want to Save More?

As an alternative to the VivoBook, the Acer Swift 3 offers similar specs, battery life and form factor for a little less at $610. It's Acer's direct counter to the VivoBook, there are similarities, but we were impressed when we found the system as certified refurbished on Amazon for just $495, too.

For $100 less than the VivoBook but nearly the same specs you can also take a look at our previous budget pick. The Acer Aspire E 15 has a basic chassis that lacks the slimness of the VivoBook, it's heftier, but offers good performance for less than $600.

There are a few more machines that sell under $600, even as low as $350, but in many of those cases you're looking at mechanical hard drives or really low quality panels, which we can't recommend at this point. You can also find Atom-powered Windows devices that we wouldn't recommend and, of course, Chromebooks for less – but long term we feel a solid Windows machine like our top budget picks above will serve you better long term.

Best Gaming Laptop

MSI GS65 8RF Stealth Thin

Our favorite category of gaming laptops are portable designs with tons of power. We’ve already reviewed a handful of these devices over the last few years, but a few stand out that come loaded with the Core i7-8750H from Intel. The best of the bunch is the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin.

If you’ve been keeping an eye on our laptop recommendations, this one might be familiar to you, because we also recommended it last time. Neither Intel nor Nvidia have updated their performance oriented CPUs and GPUs in the second half of 2018, so we haven’t seen many new gaming laptops hit the market (also see our article dedicated to gaming laptops at various price points). Essentially, we’re in the middle of the release cycle right now.

The GS65 Stealth Thin remains a killer product from MSI. It has slim bezels surrounding a 144Hz 1080p display. It’s still very thin and light for this class of device, and the new design with subtle gold highlights looks better than ever. It’s MSI’s most refined laptop build yet.

As for gaming performance, the GS65 comes with two GPU options, a GTX 1060 or GTX 1070 Max-Q. Either option is a sound choice at their respective price points, though the GTX 1070 Max-Q model is better suited to gaming on the 1080p high-refresh display, and gives you more power in the same form factor. Other features like 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD are standard for this laptop and its competitors.

We opted for the GS65 over competing laptops from Gigabyte and Asus for a couple of reasons. The GS65 is quieter than the similar Gigabyte Aero 15X during gaming, and the build quality is superior. It was a tough choice between the GS65 and Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501; the Zephyrus is more powerful with a full GTX 1070 inside rather than the Max-Q variant, but it’s also louder, hotter, and more expensive as a result. The GS65 has a larger battery and lasts longer, too.

Either the GS65 or the Zephyrus would be our pick depending on what you were after. However at this point it could also be worth waiting for Nvidia to refresh their line of mobile GPUs, which we expect to happen at some point in early 2019. Intel may also chime in with new H-series CPUs around the same time, and that’s when we’ll see a series of new gaming laptops hit the market. But if you don't want to wait, MSI's GS65 won’t disappoint.

Best MacBook & What to Choose

Apple MacBook Pro 13 - Mid 2018

Choosing the best MacBook each year is relatively straightforward thanks to Apple’s simple line-up. As it's usually the case with Apple's laptop offerings, there are only a few options and the best for your needs largely comes down to whether you want a smaller or larger more powerful machine.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro is more powerful and correspondingly more expensive, but the 13-inch model is more portable and still highly capable. Apple also offers the ultra-slim but weaker 12-inch MacBook, and the new, refreshed MacBook Air. Here's our cheat sheet:

  • MacBook 12" -- You want iPad-like portability on a full laptop, don't mind limited performance
  • New MacBook Air -- You want a shiny new laptop for everyday computing, it has to be a Mac, you want it to be well-rounded and portable. It will last you several years.
  • MacBook Pro 13" -- All the above, but you want better overall performance for multi-tasking. The Pro 13" is about the same size and weight as the Air.
  • MacBook Pro 15" -- Pro users. Need workstation capabilities and faster graphics. The added weight and display size come handy for work, too.

After examining all options, in our opinion the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the best suited to most users (at least the kind that read TechSpot). It’s the most versatile laptop of the offerings, providing dual or quad-core processors in a chassis just 15mm thick and 1.4kg heavy (3 pounds). The 13-inch Pro offers a high resolution 2560 x 1600 retina display with wide gamut support and True Tone, making it a fantastic option for content creators. The display is brighter than the new Air's, and the base dual-core processor is faster, for just $100 extra on essentially the same size and weight.

Granted, MacBooks are expensive for what you get on the spec sheet. Apple are selling 2017 models as their entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pros, so to get the new quad-core CPUs you’ll need to spend at least $1,799, which is a lot to fork over. While you do get a Core i7 CPU at that price, you’re only getting 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, plus the rather useless Touch Bar. If you want a decent amount of RAM and storage, the price quickly balloons to over $2,000.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro is also a decent option if you are willing to stomach the $2,199 starting price. It’s much more powerful than the 13-inch model, thanks to six-core Coffee Lake processors and discrete AMD Radeon Pro graphics. The 15-inch Pro is built for high-performance productivity workloads like video editing, which is why 16GB of RAM is also standard, though again you have to pay for it.

Masthead image credit: Colby Brown