While budget laptops are fine for everyday mailing and browsing, their top-end, big budget cousins have considerably more features and functionality and can handle resource-hungry activities such as gaming.
Where budget laptops run exclusively on Chrome or Windows, bigger pockets give you access to Apple’s MacBook range. Some of the Windows machines here have removable displays which turn them into tablets when there’s no keyboard hooked on. Many Windows laptops have touchscreen displays; no Apple laptops do.
The choice between Windows and Apple may come down to specific programs you need to run. There are more available on Windows, though for general use there’s little you can’t do on a Mac and they are arguably easier to use.
Most laptops at this end of the scale have features like back-lit keyboards, making it much easier to type in a dimly lit room for instance, as well as plus-points like quick charging or extended battery life.
1. Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar: from £1,749, Apple
This from Apple – a brand which really does dominate the top-end of the market – is pricey but includes the brilliant Touch Bar. This means the top row of function keys is replaced with a thin touchscreen where the keys can be customised for the application in use. It’s a spectacular and useful way to make a laptop even more convenient to use. Beyond that, this is a super-slim, lightweight machine with a huge trackpad and a keyboard which is among the most comfortable available. The 13-inch display (15-inch models are available too) is high-resolution and vividly colourful. It also has a fingerprint sensor built into the power button, so signing in or validating online purchases are speedy operations. If you don’t fancy the Touch Bar, there are new MacBook Pro models available from £1,449 and older models from £1,249.
2. Microsoft Surface Book: from £1,099, PC World
The Surface Book is the best PC that software supremo Microsoft has ever made. It’s technically a tablet with clip-on keyboard, but you’ll want to use it as a laptop because the keyboard includes battery, connectivity and a graphics card, delivering better performance when they’re connected. The keyboard is also very comfy to use and the supplied stylus attaches magnetically so you won’t (or rather shouldn’t) lose it. It looks sleek, with an Ultra HD screen, and is solidly made with a magnesium chassis that’s strong and very light.
3. Dell XPS 15: £1,599, PC World
The screen here is a 15-incher but the narrow bezel means the laptop is smaller, and therefore lighter and more portable than some. Lots of memory, both active and storage, mean this is a powerful and quick laptop. Battery life is also impressive, lasting up to 17 hours between charges. The large trackpad is responsive and the processor is good enough to deal with the most demanding programs, such as for photo editing or music production.
4. Apple MacBook: from £1,249, Apple
This laptop is the best balance of power and portability on our list. It’s super-slim and has a great, 12-inch Retina display – Apple’s name for its high-resolution screens. Like the Pro above, it uses the latest connector, USB-C, and that’s all. So if you have accessories, you’ll need an adaptor. (The MacBook has just one socket, the MacBook Pro models have either two or four). It’s about the best-looking laptop on the market and comes in four different colours: conventional silver, space grey (a super-cool darker shade), gold and rose gold. It weighs less than 1kg and is less than 13.1mm thick. A real performer.
5. Alienware 15: £1,599, PC World
This is a gaming laptop, which means that it has high-performance processors and graphics cards to meet the intensive demands of the latest games. The ventilation is good, too – if you regularly game on a laptop, you’ll know how hot some of them can get. With a silver design, it runs Windows 10, has a 15.6-inch display and a huge amount of RAM (16GB) to ensure it’s super speedy. There’s not only a hefty hard drive (1TB) but 256GB of fast SSD memory, too. The alien logo on the back is a sure-fire sign of the gamer.
6. Asus ZenBook 3: £1,499.95, John Lewis
Like the Apple MacBook above, this has a slightly smaller screen (12.5 inches here) than most and comes in rose gold – even the keys are colour-matched to the case. It’s slim and light but still manages to be fast and capable. Battery life is decent but the standout here is the charging speed: from zero to 60 per cent in under 50 minutes. Audio playback is good, thanks to Asus teaming up with audio specialist Harman Kardon for the speakers.
7. Microsoft Surface Pro 4: £735.21, Amazon
If you want a really portable laptop, the Pro 4 Tablet combined with the Type Cover keyboard make for a compelling choice. The 12.3-inch screen is bigger than the one on the MacBook and easily high-resolution enough for use as your full-time laptop. There are a range of processors and storage options available, but this model has a good balance between power, storage (128GB of Flash memory) and price. The touchscreen responds well to either your finger or the included Pen. This price also includes the Type Cover.
8. MSI Apache Pro: £1,499, PC World
Another gaming machine, this has a huge 17-inch screen – so there’s less chance of an enemy sneaking up on you. Like the Alienware laptop above, it has 16GB of RAM, and a combination of hard drive and SSD memory. So powerful is this system that to avoid overheating an advanced cooling system is built in. It only has up to four hours’ battery life, however. If you have an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift VR console you’ll know it needs to be connected to a particularly powerful set-up – even the Surface Book can’t manage that, but this one can.
9. HP Spectre x360 13-v000na: £1,149.95, Amazon
The Spectre has a display which is exceptionally thin and light. It comes in a fetching dark shade with metallic detailing. The carbon fibre and aluminium frame is strong and feels extremely well-crafted. The display is bright and high-resolution, though is not touch-sensitive. Audio is strong on the Spectre thanks to Bang & Olufsen-branded speakers which sound good despite the thinness of the laptop. Comes with three USB-C ports.
10. Lenovo Yoga 900: £1,195, John Lewis
The champagne-coloured Lenovo is hard to miss and has a lot going for it. Its versatile hinge offers four different positions in which it can be used, while it has a slim, lightweight profile. The battery lasts nine hours and the 13-inch screen is extremely high-resolution. It’s a touchscreen, too. Dolby-tuned speakers mean this is a decent laptop for video playback in terms of sound, too.
For a tremendous mix of power and style, the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is very hard to beat – but it comes at a price and you’ll have to buy an adaptor or two to use it. The Microsoft Surface Book is a real performer that looks great and has strong versatility. The best all-rounder for use on the go is the MacBook.
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