NEW DELHI—With the laptop industry going under a major overhaul in the past few years (tablets with detachable keyboards are picking up steam) picking the right one for your needs can be confusing. Some laptops double up as tablets, some business laptops weigh less than a kilogram, and many of them are touch-enabled.
On the other end of the spectrum are the hefty gaming behemoths. It’s going to be a while before we move into the era of foldable laptops.
Need help in clearing through the clutter and making a decision? Here’s what you need to consider before even getting into what brand manufacturers the best of the lot.
Windows vs Mac
You’ll need to decide if you want an Apple Mac OS laptop, or a Windows laptop which could come from a wide range of manufacturers. These days, most of the software you need is available on both platforms, but there are some differences in the user experience both provide.
MacBooks are best known for their multimedia usage. Many video editors prefer these machines over Windows. On the flip side, Windows laptops are certainly better machines for gamers, while business users should be fine on either operating system.
If you choose to go with a Windows OS laptop, you get plenty of options. From size to form factor to the manufacturer, the world is your oyster. If you’re going to go with a MacBook, then you just have a handful of options from Apple alone.
Chromebooks are at the cheaper end of the market. They are Chrome OS-based laptops and typically start around the Rs 15,000 range. They are what you would call the always-online laptops that stay connected constantly through the Internet and don’t do much offline. It’s a whole different world and meant primarily for consumers who need a laptop for basic needs such as Microsoft Office and some Android apps. If most of your time on a laptop is spent in a web browser, then a Chromebook is a budget-friendly option.
Your picks will range between ultraportable 12-inch and 13-inch laptops, to 17-inch machines best suited for video editing or gaming. In between you have the most common 14-inch to 15.6-inch laptops. Each of these fill different niches.
Ultraportables typically weigh less than 1.5Kgs, have great displays, and keyboards that are just big enough to type comfortably. This is great for most business users, who need to take their laptops on the go, and mostly work on documents, spreadsheets and presentations. One drawback is that ports like USB, LAN and so on are often limited.
The 14-inch and 15.6-inch workhorses are a popular choice bringing together both portability and functionality. The screen size is better for binge-watching and they offer more ports, bigger batteries and better hardware. However, if you’re on the go a lot, the extra weight and space requirements can be a problem, so these aren’t necessarily the best option for people who need to travel regularly for work.
The 17-inch laptops really only make sense for professional video editors, graphics artists, or video gamers who will use the laptop as a desktop-replacement. They’re meant to be mostly plugged-in, have a low battery life, and weigh a lot, but if you need raw power, you’re not likely to find it in the smaller sizes.
There are a number of popular designs available as well, so which one is right for you? Here’s a short explanation of popular styles of laptops.
Ultraportables are extremely compact and slim, and were initially popularised by the MacBook Air. These sleek and modern devices have long battery life, fast performance, and are now fairly affordable too. Touchscreens, Full HD displays, HDMI ports are commonplace on these laptops. Within just the past few years, traditional laptops have slimmed down and become the defacto choice for on-the-go productivity.
With touchscreens becoming more popular thanks to smartphones and tablets, 2-in-1 laptops have also become quite popular. There are two types of 2-in-1 laptops in today’s market. The first type of 2-in-1 are the 360-degree laptops, which allow you to position the keyboard behind the screen, allowing you to use them as tablets if you want. The other type of 2-in-1 laptops are the detachable hybrids. These are primarily tablets (just look at Microsoft’s Surface line of devices) and come with a keyboard as an accessory.
If you’re a serious gamer, then nothing short of a high-end laptop will do you any good. You’ll need a discrete graphics card, a high-resolution display, a maxed-out processor, and plenty of RAM. These laptops tend to be on the expensive side though.
There is also a new line of gaming laptops that aren’t behemoths. They do not have the level of gaming performance that some of the traditional gaming laptops command but they do a good job of blending portability with gaming.
The spec-sheet of a laptop might seem like greek to a layperson, but there’s not too much you need to think about. If you’re a gamer, or someone else who needs a high performance machine like a video editor, then you already know the kind of specs you require, but for the casual user, the baseline of hardware is already pretty much ‘good enough’.
Once you’ve had a chance to think about these different features, here are some picks to go over. Here are our favourite laptops on the market currently.
1. Dell XPS 13 (7390)
Dell has been constantly pushing the envelope for what an ultraportable can be. Dell’s XPS 13 laptops may not bag the title of the thinnest or the most powerful laptop, but they provide the perfect blend of sleekness and performance. Most importantly, Dell has finally figured out a way to fix the annoying ‘nosecam’ that plagued the XPS 13 line for a couple of years. The webcam is finally up top, back to where it truly belongs.
The Dell XPS 13 (9300) for 2020 is shaping up to be a much better buy, having improved upon its predecessor in many ways—such as a larger InfinityEdge display, and a vastly improved keyboard.
Its India-launch date has not been announced yet, so the Dell XPS 13 (7390) from 2019 remains the top choice right now. It’s lightweight, a workhorse, and can play games at medium settings without a hitch. It’s got Intel’s latest 10th-generation processors and plenty of RAM.
Model: Dell XPS 13 (7390)
Price: Rs. 99,890
2. HP Spectre x360
The HP Spectre x360 launched in India in December 2019. It’s probably the best 2-in-1 laptop out there in the market. It’s got Intel’s 10th-generation processors, 4G LTE wireless, and thinner bezels and a smaller overall footprint. It’s got other smart features like an instant mic mute button, an IR camera, a fingerprint reader, and a switch that disables the webcam.
Furthermore, the Spectre x360 lasts for a whopping 13-hours on a single, medium-usage charge, though my experience was closer to 10-hours on most days. It also comes with a stylus to make full use of the 2-in-1 design.
Model: HP Spectre x360 (2019)
Price: Rs. 1,24,990 onwards
3. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme
From back when the brand was still IBM, the ThinkPad line has consistently given us the best business laptops. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme pushes the envelope even further.
The 15.6-inch display, build quality, and aesthetics make the laptop hard to beat. It has Intel’s six-core processor to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, making it powerful enough for a variety of uses. There’s also an option for an excellent 4K display with HDR support, dual-SSD storage.
Finally, the laptop also has many enhanced security options, like the ThinkShutter webcam screen. The only downside is that these come with Intel’s 9th-gen processors, and doesn’t come in cheap.
Model: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme
Price: Rs. 1,64,741 onwards
4. Apple MacBook Air (2019)
The MacBook Air is basically the MacOS variant of the Dell XPS 13. It’s extremely portable, has a premium look, and comes with USB-C. It also has a higher-resolution Retina screen and even has the best battery life of all the MacBooks out there.
Just don’t expect to play any games on this, or do some serious video editing.
Model: Apple MacBook Air
Price: Rs. 94,990 onwards
5. Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch
This is the laptop for creators. For those people who sit and edit videos on a daily basis. It is everything that last year’s 15-inch MacBook Pro wasn’t. In fact, to aid these creators, this laptop has one of the best sounding speakers ever on a laptop. They aren’t external speaker quality, but they are pretty good.
Apple has vastly improved its keyboard (after suffering from major backlash recently) and the travel on the keys is wonderful. It’s got improved thermals—a larger heat sink for resource-heavy tasks—and more consistent performance when pushing it to the limit.
It comes with Intel’s 9th-generation processors. It’s also more expensive than most laptops on this list.
Model: Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch
Price: Rs. 1,99,900 onwards
6. Asus ZenBook 13 UX333
The ZenBook 13 UX333 from Asus launched early in 2019, but it still stands out as an affordable Windows PC that tick all the right boxes. It’s lightweight, powerful, and has a long-lasting battery. It’s the perfect laptop for students who love to multi-task.
It’s got razor-thin bezels, a crisp display, and is smaller than a sheet of A4 paper. One interesting feature is that the touchpad doubles up as a number pad. It’s something I have never seen before.
The starting price is Rs. 88,990, but it is retailing for Rs. 73,990 on Amazon. It is using Intel’s 8th-generation processors, which is the only thing one can legitimately complain about this laptop.
Model: Asus ZenBook 13 UX333
Price: Rs. 88,990 onwards
7. Alienware Area-51m
If you want a desktop replacement for gaming, the Area-51m is the best choice. It’s expensive, but worth it. The laptop looks like some kind of futuristic space station, and has best-in-class graphics performance and lightning-fast SSDs.
The best part of the Alienware Area-51m is that all the major components are upgradable. It is one of the most powerful laptops to date and will ace each and every benchmark test you put before it, as long as you’re willing to accept the huge price tag it comes with.
Model: Alienware Area-51m
Price: Rs. 2,57,689.99
8. Razer Blade 15
The Razer Blade 15 is a gaming laptop that is also very good for creative work. The aesthetics on the Blade 15 are up there with the best. On top of that, the laptop can be fitted with an Adobe RGB calibrated 4K OLED display and a GeForce RTX 2070, which is quite impressive, but it also comes at a high price.
Model: Razer Blade 15
Price: Rs. 2,99,990 onwards
9. Microsoft Surface Pro 6/7
It’s hard to choose between the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 and the Surface Pro 7. The Surface Pro line of devices feature a detachable keyboard along with a full Windows 10 experience. It’s a do-it-all tablet that doubles up as the familiar laptop experience we’re all used to. It comes with a Surface Pen stylus.
It may be running Intel’s 8th-core processors but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a powerhouse. The Surface Pro 6 was officially announced in India with a starting price of Rs 83,999 (currently at Rs 71,099 on Amazon), while the Surface Pro 7 is still awaiting a release date.
If you can get a Surface Pro 7 from somewhere though, it does have upgraded internals as well as a USB-C port rather than the mini-DisplayPort on the Surface Pro 6.
Model: Microsoft Surface Pro 6
Price: Rs. 71,099
10. Asus Chromebook Flip C434
Asus has by far the best Chromebook, though it’s not officially available in India. However, you can buy it on Amazon for Rs 55,532, with a full International warranty. It’s got a brushed-aluminium design, a crisp Full-HD 14-inch display, and more RAM than its predecessor. That’s enough for a comfortable experience with Chrome OS. As a bonus, this laptop is a 2-in-1, so it can be used as a traditional clamshell as well as a tablet.
Model: Asus Chromebook Flip C434
Price: Rs 55,532