Best Laptops: Holiday 2018
In our series of holiday hardware buyers guides, here’s the latest update to our list of recommended laptops. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing.
It’s time for our holiday look at the laptop market. We are still waiting on the Intel Gemini Lake models to ship, so it’s not the best time to look for something in the budget range, although there are some new models there. We’ve seen more models ship with AMD’s Ryzen Mobile as well, and the 8th Generation Core CPUs have been a nice boost over the outgoing 7th Generation models.
|Laptop Recommendations Holiday 2018|
|Segment||Model||Starting Price (As of 11/22)|
|Entry Level||Chuwi LapBook SE||$260 USD|
|Microsoft Surface Go||$399 USD|
|Midrange AMD||Acer Swift 3||$699 USD|
|Lenovo ThinkPad A485||$625 USD|
|Premium Ultrabooks||HP Spectre 13t||$999 USD|
|Huawei MateBook X Pro||$1200 USD|
|Convertibles||Microsoft Surface Pro 6||$899 USD|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga||$1170 USD|
|Discrete GPU Laptops||Dell XPS 15||$1000 USD|
|Microsoft Surface Book 2||$1199 USD|
|Apple MacBook Pro 15||$2150 USD|
As always, we’ll break the guide down into several segments to serve various markets, from low-cost, to mid-range, to high end.
Entry level laptops are going to be lacking features against their more expensive competition, but it’s where the trade-offs are made that make or break something in this category.
Chuwi LapBook SE
Chuwi tends to offer a lot of product for the dollar, and their latest LapBook SE is no exception. With the latest Intel Celeron N4100, based on Gemini Lake and the new Goldmont Plus Atom cores, Chuwi is able to fit in a new quad-core processor without breaking the bank. We’ve got this laptop for testing and will be reviewing it soon. It’s typical Chuwi though, and if you’ve read any of our other reviews on their laptops you’ll know what to expect. The keyboard is surprisingly good, and Chuwi was even able to squeeze in backlighting on this entry level model. It comes with just 4 GB of LPDDR4, which is a bit on the low side, but not unexpected at this price. The build quality is decent, and the 1920×1080 IPS display is still a great feature on an entry level laptop. Chuwi offers a lot of storage for a laptop of this price, with a 32 GB eMMC OS partition, and a 128 GB SSD. The extra space is appreciated, but Chuwi should have installed Windows 10 on the SSD, which is what anyone who buys this should do. Still, for $265, there’s a lot of laptop here for the money. With the savings, you can splurge on a mouse so you don’t have to use the not-so-great trackpad.
Microsoft Surface Go
The Microsoft Surface Go comes in at about double the price of the Chuwi LapBook SE, assuming you purchase the practically mandatory type cover, but it too has a lot of good features for the price. At a $399 starting price, you get a Kaby Lake Pentium Gold 4415Y processor, which is a good step up in performance over the Atom CPUs you’d normally see around this price range. Microsoft also calibrates all of their displays, and the 1800×1200 10-inch display offers a respectable 216 pixels-per-inch. The base model is just 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of eMMC, but there’s also an 8 GB model with a 128 GB SSD for $549. Adding in a type cover to make this a portable laptop though and it’s already climbing out of what we’d consider entry level, but still, with the lack of quality notebooks right now in the $200-$400 range, this is a solid offering that should provide better build quality and performance than the Atom based PCs normally found around this price.
AMD is slowly making inroads, with Vega graphics available in their Ryzen CPU to offer a lot more GPU performance than we see in the Intel notebooks.
Acer Swift 3 15.6-inch
We got a chance to review the Acer Swift 3 with the AMD Ryzen 7 2700U, and the laptop is a good entry for the price. The starting price of $749.99 includes 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD, along with a good aluminum chassis and nice looking design. The Vega GPU is a stout performer too, offering the ability to play some entry level games on an integrated GPU with surprisingly good framerates.
Lenovo ThinkPad A485
Lenovo is offering the AMD Ryzen Pro CPUs in its A series ThinkPads, which adds functionality necessary for business, wrapped up in the familiar and trusted ThinkPad package. Featuring AMD Ryzen 7 Pro 2700U with integrated Vega graphics, this is a solid entry for someone looking for a laptop featuring Ryzen. It offers two USB-C ports, two USB-A ports, HDMI, and Ethernet in a 14-inch package. The base model offers a 1366×768 TN display and should be avoided, but the IPS 1920×1080 display offers touch as an option if you need it. Thanks to SODIMM slots, you can even outfit this with up to 32 GB of DDR4 RAM, and Lenovo offers up to 512 GB of SSD storage. The 14-inch model comes in at 3.63 pounds, but if you’d prefer something smaller Lenovo offers the similar A285 with a 12.5-inch display and it weighs 2.85 pounds.
HP Spectre 13t
HP’s Spectre lineup offers some of the nicest looking laptops around, and the Spectre 13t is no exception. Now offered in a new Ceramic White color, alongside the Ash/Gold offered before, HP now offers two amazing finishes. At just 2.45 pounds, the Spectre is also one of the lightest 13-inch laptops available. Of course as a premium Ultrabook it also features the latest quad-core Intel U series chips, up to a Core i7, and you can spec it with 8 or 16 GB of LPDDR3. There’s Thunderbolt 3 as well if you want to connect to some external UHD displays, to compliment the 13.3-inch panel which can be found in both a 1920×1080 IPS offering, or for $150 extra you can get a 3840×2160 version. HP’s design team has been on a roll the last couple of models.
Huawei MateBook X Pro
What’s most surprising about the Huawei MateBook X Pro is how much they got right when they are relatively new to the PC game. The MateBook X Pro feels like Huawei looked at everything that could be added to an Ultrabook, and decided to just add it all. It’s got a beautiful design, featuring very thin bezels like the XPS line from Dell. It’s got a Core i5 or Core i7 quad-core CPU, with 8 or 16 GB of RAM, and 256 or 512 GB or storage. There’s Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C, but also a USB-A port for compatibility. The high-end model ships with a USB-C breakout box to provide HDMI, VGA, and another USB-C port, along with USB-A. The 3000×2000 display is one of the most accurate we’ve ever tested, and the power efficiency is almost chart topping. The Core i7 model even ships with an NVIDIA GeForce MX150 GPU, providing much more performance than the integrated graphics can. The MateBook X Pro is a stunner that impresses every time you use it. The fact that it costs hundreds of dollars less than comparable models is the icing on the cake.
Microsoft Surface Pro 6
There’s little doubt that Microsoft has scored a big win with the Surface Pro lineup, inspiring other companies to mimic their design, but with the latest model, Microsoft maintains their edge. Now featuring quad-core U series CPUs, there’s no longer the performance gap that existed while the Surface Pro 2017 model was being offered. The price has even gone down for this year, thanks to a smart decision to switch to Windows 10 Home on the consumer version. If you need Pro, it’s of course an easy upgrade in the store, but for most people, Home is all they require, so the cost savings are appreciated. The standout feature is the new black color, which does look awfully good. The Core i5-8250U model is also fanless, yet able to deal with the full 15 Watts from the CPU, as we saw in our review. Also, the battery life has been improved quite a bit, and what initially seemed like a modest revision turned out to be a really nice update for a device that was already the class leader. The lack of USB-C is lamentable, but the overall package is tough to beat.
ThinkPad X1 Yoga
Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga takes their amazing 360° hinge and pairs it with a ThinkPad design, offering a great keyboard, and of course the latest 8th generation Intel CPUs. If you want a convertible that is a laptop most of the time, the Yoga hinge is the way to go. It offers a very usable tent and stand mode, as well as a not as great tablet mode, but if you need a keyboard in your lap, this is the right answer. The 14-inch display can be either a 1920×1080 IPS, or a 2560×1440 IPS as well, with the higher resolution display even offered with Dolby Vision. At just 3.08 pounds, it’s also easy to take with you. Lenovo offers it in their traditional black finish, or the new gray as well.
Discrete GPU Laptops
Sometimes you just need more performance, and the integrated GPU isn’t going to cut it. If you’re into gaming, some of the more gaming focused devices are likely a better bet, but if you need a strong laptop to get work done, these laptops fit the bill.
Dell XPS 15 9570
Dell’s XPS 15 is one of the best in its class, and Dell has refreshed it with the latest Intel CPUs, from the Core i5-8300H, to the Core i7-8570H, all the way up to the Core i9-8950HK. You can get it with either the GTX 1050, or GTX 1050 Ti GPU as well, with the latter being a bump over the 9560 model last year. RAM is up to 32 GB of DDR4-2666 in 2×16 GB, and Dell still offers both a 1920×1080 FHD display, or the 3840×2160 panel with Adobe RGB coverage.
Microsoft Surface Book 2
Likely the best laptop we’ve reviewed in several years is the new Surface Book 2. The 15-inch model got a go on our bench, and it’s the best laptop available right now. Microsoft has improved it dramatically with new quad-core CPU options based on Kaby Lake-R, and offers very powerful GPUs in the 13-inch with the GTX 1050, and the 15-inch model whiich offers the very strong GTX 1060. Microsoft sets the bar in terms of display quality, and the Surface Book 2 is no exception, with its 3240×2160 resolution PixelSense display. The device is of course also a detachable tablet, and with the tablet and laptop combined, it has 86 Wh of capacity, and it provided almost 14 hours of run time on our light battery test. The Surface Book 2 couples incredible performance with an elegant design. Microsoft has even provided a USB Type-C port for the first time on their devices, although it’s not TB3.
Apple MacBook Pro 15
Apple has recently refreshed the MacBook Pro lineup with Intel’s Hex-Core Coffee Lake CPUs. They’ve also given the keyboard a once-over to hopefully improve the reliability of the butterfly design. If you’re in the market for a Mac, the MacBook Pro 15 is the one to beat. They’ve also moved from LPDDR3 which limited them to 16 GB of RAM, to DDR4 which doubles the maximum capacity to 32 GB. To compensate for the extra power draw from the CPU and RAM, Apple has also bumped the battery capacity to 83.6 Wh.