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Finder's in-house experts spend hundreds of hours each year testing the latest laptops. This list combines the results of this testing, as well as a methodical analysis of online reviews to pick the very best premium laptops for business and pleasure. Everyone's specific needs are different, of course, so this is presented as a list of options, with explanations for each choice below.
All choices are independently made based on our combined 60+ years of reviewing experience and are not based on commercial relationships. Get more detail on our methodology below.
Image: Alex Kidman/Finder
There's a reason Apple is one of the most pervasive technology brands in the world. Apple received the highest score for laptop design, performance and battery life.
Apple's market share is still dwarfed by the Windows world, but the MacBook Air M1 makes a serious statement about both computing power and, critically, battery life. You can get the M1 in everything from the iPad Pro 12.9 to the 24 inch iMac with the same basic performance throughout. The MacBook Air M1 has the same power, lower price and exceptional battery life for a laptop system, making it an easy winner.
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When you're looking for bang for your buck, you're playing in a territory that constantly shifts because the bargain models of 6 months ago can often outpace newer models in the same mid-range price point. That's where Dell's Inspiron 15 3000 series typically shines, thanks to the use of a variety of processors from either Intel or AMD, so you can balance performance against price.
They're also constantly on sale somewhere, further increasing their value proposition. Many online reviews do point out their slightly cheaper build as a drawback, however, alongside displays that don't even hit Full HD.
The Dell XPS 13 is a build-to-order model, which means its power can vary a lot depending on whether you order a top-spec model or something more affordable. That flexibility doesn't end there, however, with a great design that incorporates minimal screen bezels and lightweight design.
As with any build-to-order system, be careful to check that you're getting what you expect, as sometimes older processor models stick around at retail. Nothing wrong with buying them if you can score a bargain – but don't pay top dollar for older technology either!
The M1 MacBook Pro is the most expensive M1 MacBook you can buy, excluding the smaller range of Intel-based models still on Apple's books. However, because all M1 chips are the same right now, the performance of the cheaper Apple MacBook Air M1 is exactly the same if you opt for the 8-core CPU/8-core GPU model. That, combined with its excellent battery life and portability, make the MacBook Air a top choice.
In the ultrabook world, the Acer Swift 3X doesn't look like much. Indeed, it rather looks like it's been built off a reference design for any ultrabook. Where the Swift 3X stands out is with what it bundles under the surface, with 11th Generation Intel Core processors and a surprisingly capable battery for such a lightweight laptop system. The use of Intel's own Iris Xe Max graphics means it's not great if you need heavy duty graphics processing, but beyond that it's a superb ultraportable option.
Lenovo's Yoga line comprises a lot of 2-in-1 models – it's rather inherent in the Yoga name – with the C940 being a great premium option. The 2020 model packs the latest 10th-gen Core i7 processor with either 8GB or 16GB of soldered RAM, although its use of Intel's Iris Plus graphics means that it's far from a gaming powerhouse.
Where the Yoga C940 scores over its competition is via its included stylus, which sits within the body of the laptop, so you shouldn't easily forget it. It can be a little tricky to remove in a hurry, but this is still a great option if you need a 2-in-1 device with a strong productivity focus.
The 2021 Razer Blade 14 manages the tricky balance of providing portability and gaming power that you need into a single package. The caveat here is that the tastiest models, like most gaming laptops, aren't cheap. But with performance that sits at the very best in market right now, high refresh rate displays and excellent in-body cooling – so you never cook your lap while you're roasting your foes – the Razer Blade 14 2021 is a top-notch gaming system.
Microsoft's Surface line is intended by the software company to act as references for the rest of the laptop industry, but along the way Microsoft has made some very good laptops in their own right. The Surface Laptop 4 is a great example, whether you opt for the lower-cost AMD variants or the higher-power Intel versions. Microsoft's sat on the design of the Surface Laptop for a while now, and it could do with more ports and maybe a better mix of colour choices, but for business users in the Windows world, the Surface Laptop 4 is hard to beat.
It seems likely that Microsoft will switch it up for the next-generation Surface Pro in design terms to something closer than the Surface Pro X and, hopefully, that will bring a few more ports along for the ride too.
Students typically need long battery life – because classrooms and lecture theatres often don't have easy access to power sockets – and a robust build, because knocking around in a backpack or satchel bag isn't easy on a plastic-framed laptop. That's where Apple's MacBook Air M1 excels, with a robust design, plenty of processing power and truly great battery life for a laptop in its class. Yes, it's a somewhat more expensive option, but it's also an option that should be able to last through multiple school or tertiary study years.
The Chromebook category hasn't taken off in Australia to the extent that it has in other countries. Most options have been very low-cost and pretty ordinary, with very few "premium" Chromebooks ever finding their way Down Under. Lenovo's IdeaPad Duet Chromebook straddles the "affordable" and "good quality" markets nicely, presenting rather like a low-cost Microsoft Surface, but running on Google's Chrome OS.
Overseas reviews note its exceptional battery life and, being a Chromebook, its fast operation for primarily cloud-based productivity work. As a proper 2-in-1, it's also effectively an Android tablet in its own right.
The LG Gram's superpower is that it makes a large 17" laptop ultra-portable. Unbelievably, at 1.35kg it's lighter than most 13" notebooks. So, you get this big, beautiful 16:10 QHD screen without the penalty of weight. It makes the LG Gram fantastic for students and multitasking professionals that need to do a lot of travel or commuting, but want that big screen to maximise efficiency.
Despite the weight, the LG Gram is still packed with more than enough power for day-to-day activities. This includes an i7 1.8HGz quad-core processor, 16GB RAM, 512GB NVMe m.2 SSD and over 19 hours of battery life. However, the integrated graphics card and basic speakers don't make it useful for high-end gaming.
While simple in design, the laptop looks sharp and shows off its screen well with a subtle bezel. However, it does feel a bit brittle and the screen can flex a little if you're not careful. It may take you some time to get used to typing too, as the main keyboard isn't centred to the screen or the touchpad.
For a more detailed analysis, please read our LG Gram 17 review.
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Surface Go 2 from $399
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When choosing a laptop, consider the following factors:
You can pick up an entry-level laptop for between $300 and $500. Adding more features and higher specs, such as a bigger screen, faster processor, more RAM and greater storage capacity, will see prices rise pretty quickly. Top-spec general-use laptops max out at around $4,000, while gaming laptops can be priced up to $5,000 and beyond.
2-in-1 laptop prices start at around $400, while you could pay $4,000 or more for a top-spec model.
Laptop screen sizes generally range from 11-18 inches, with the 14-15 inch range being the most popular choice. Look for the right balance between portability and the optimum display size for your needs. 2-in-1 screen sizes tend to be smaller for more portability.
In terms of resolution, a 4K screen might be a handy addition if you're a gamer or you stream a lot of video content. However, high-resolution screens are expensive and can drain the battery quickly. Also, think about whether you want a laptop with a touchscreen.
The CPU plays an important role in ensuring your laptop's efficient performance. Intel and AMD are the main processor manufacturers, and you can compare CPUs by considering their processing speed, number of cores and price.
If you're a gamer or you run powerful video editing software, look for a high-end processor. However, if you'll only be using your laptop for basic tasks like checking emails, web research and word processing, a cheaper CPU will suffice.
Measured in gigabytes, RAM helps your computer multitask and run programs quickly. The more RAM you have, the better performance you can expect. 8GB is a good starting point for most users, while gamers might want as much as 64GB for optimum performance.
If you intend to run graphically demanding applications such as high-end video games, 4K video editors or graphic design software, it's imperative to check the laptop's GPU (short for 'graphics processing unit'.) Unlike desktop PCs, these are usually sealed to the laptop's motherboard, which makes it very difficult to upgrade. In other words, you're basically stuck with your onboard graphics card, so choose wisely! If you want a high level of performance in this area, choose a laptop with a discrete graphics card instead of an integrated GPU. This means the laptop has a dedicated processor just for graphics. Brands to look for in the specs include Nvidia's GeForce GTX range and AMD's Radeon RX series. You can learn more about this technology in our graphics card guide.
Next, consider how much space (measured in gigabytes or terabytes) the laptop offers for storing your files, photos, music and documents. Traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) are most commonly used and more affordable with the greatest amount of storage space. Solid-state drives (SSDs) more expensive but they also run a lot faster and help minimise the weight and bulk of a laptop. You can also store important files in the cloud, use an external hard drive or even a NAS drive.
If possible, head in-store to try before you buy and find out just how user-friendly a laptop is. For example, is the screen easily visible? If you're shopping for a 2-in-1, what do you need to do to convert from laptop to tablet mode? Is the keyboard well laid out or does it feel too cramped when you try to type? Is the touchpad smooth and responsive, but at the same time not overly jumpy?
Make sure the laptop comes with all the ports you need to connect to other devices. For example, how many USB ports do you need? USB-C ports are a common inclusion on modern laptops, while USB 3.0 and up (or Thunderbolt 3) offer the fastest performance.
Consider whether you need an HDMI out port for video, and which wireless standard does the laptop support?
Find out what level of confidence a manufacturer has in its products by checking the warranty that comes with a laptop. How long does it offer protection and what exactly is included in the cover?
If you need to use your laptop away from power points for long periods, check the manufacturer's claimed battery life. And remember that these claims don't always stack up in the real world – the programs you run, the screen brightness and even your operating system can all have an effect on battery life, so they should be taken with a grain of salt.
You have two main options to consider when choosing a laptop:
If you'd prefer the portability and convenience of a tablet, check out our tablet buying guide. Alternatively, if you're in the market for a more traditional desktop device, our desktop computer buying guide has plenty of useful info.
Most laptops come with one of the following operating systems:
Consider the other computers, smartphones and tablets you have around the home to ensure compatibility. For example, if you run a Windows desktop PC and Android phones and tablets, choosing a MacBook Pro as your laptop could make it tricky to move files and programs between devices.
Make sure you consider the following factors before deciding on the best laptop for you:
The Acer Swift 5 delivers exceptional battery endurance in a lightweight frame, making it a great option for those who need to work on the go.
The Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition is great gaming laptop, but you're never going to be able to convince anyone you're doing actual work on it.
ASUS's ROG Flow X13 GV301 is one of the most "2-in-1" laptops we've ever tested, just as capable as a simple lightweight ultrabook as it is a higher end gaming laptop.
Big gaming laptops are heavy beasts, right? Nobody told the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G15 GA503 that, because it beautifully balances power and lightweight construction.
The Acer Swift 3X doesn't look much different to most other ultrabooks, but it impresses with exceptional battery life.
The Razer Blade 14 2021 gives you an astonishing quantity of gaming power in such a small laptop, although like most premium gaming laptops, it's at a price that some may find challenging.
Huawei’s flagship laptop, the Matebook X Pro, is packed with features, but does it deliver a quality experience?
Microsoft has made virtually no design changes to the Surface Laptop 4, but it’s what’s beneath the Surface that counts.
Lenovo’s latest laptop certainly lives up to its slim name, although its battery life isn’t quite as impressive as it could be.
The LG Gram has the multitasking efficiency of a 17" laptop with the ultra-light portability of a 13” notebook. Here's our Australian review.
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