Best Laptops: Q1 2018by Brett Howse on January 3, 2018 8:30 AM EST
It's time for another look at the notebook market. The rollout of the 8th gen quad-core U series has been slowly happening, with more products available, and we've also had the announcement and release of the latest AMD 15-Watt U series processors as well. There's only a single laptop available with the AMD chip at the moment, but we expect more over the coming months. The excitement there will be improved GPU performance in a low TDP processor, where Intel has owned the market for the last several years, so hopefully we can see some more products shipping with AMD soon, so we can check them out in a high quality chassis.
|Laptop Recommendations Q4 2017|
|Segment||Model||Starting Price (As of writing)|
|Low Cost Notebooks||Chuwi LapBook 14.1||$270 USD|
|Chuwi LapBook 12.3||$330 USD|
|AMD 2-in-1||HP ENVY x360 15||$749 USD|
|Premium Ultrabooks||Dell XPS 13||$799 USD|
|Microsoft Surface Laptop||$899 USD|
|eGFX Support||Razer Blade Stealth||$1299 USD|
|Convertibles||HP Spectre x360 15t||$1899 USD|
|Microsoft Surface Pro||$748 USD|
|Discrete GPU Laptops||Dell XPS 15||$1815 USD|
|Microsoft Surface Book 2||$2499 USD|
|Apple MacBook Pro 15||$2399 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.
First up is the entry-level devices, and although they may cost less than the rest, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be short of features.
Chuwi LapBook 14.1
If you’re after a mid-size notebook at an affordable price, it’s hard to go wrong with the Chuwi LapBook 14.1. It offers a 1920x1080 IPS display, which is somewhat of a rare find in this segment of 1366x768 TN laptops. It’s based on Intel’s Apollo Lake Celeron N3450, which is four Atom Goldmont cores that can go up to 2.2 GHz. 4 GB of Dual-Channel RAM coupled with 64 GB of eMMC storage make this a surprisingly capable notebook for the price, and although it’s plastic, the material has a great texture to it. This is one of my favorite notebooks of 2017 so far, and it sells for $270 USD.
Chuwi LapBook 12.3
Another Chuwi may seem like favoritism, but this company has been releasing some very interesting PCs for price-sensitive buyers, and the LapBook 12.3 continues the trend of the 14.1 by offering a lot of bang for the buck. Obviously, the name gives away the hint that this is a smaller notebook, but the 12.3-inch display is actually the same 3:2 2736x1824 panel found in the Microsoft Surface Pro, so it offers an impressive 267 pixels-per-inch in this laptop chassis. Like the LapBook 14.1, it’s also powered by a quad-core Celeron N3450 with Intel Atom Goldmont CPU cores, but the LapBook 12.3 bumps the memory from 4 GB to 6GB, while keeping the same 64 GB of eMMC storage. It’s relatively light at 1.45 kg / 3.18 lbs, but heavier than a more expensive Ultrabook would be. We just had a chance to review this device, and it was seriously impressive for the cost. Plus, you can add a M.2 2242 SATA SSD if you want to bump the storage. It's a price bump over the 14.1, but the move to an all-aluminum body makes it feel a lot more premium than the $330 price would suggest.
It's been a long time since we could recommend an AMD laptop. Prior to Ryzen Mobile, the AMD APUs were generally found in ultra-budget chassis from only a handful of OEMs. Ryzen has been a great launch for AMD though, and the Ryzen Mobile APUs now come with Vega graphics, which should be a solid combo.
For a 2-in-1, a 15.6" model is a bit large, but if you're after the Ryzen Mobile APU, this is your pick for right now. However this isn't the ultra-budget AMD based laptop of yesterday. It features the AMD Ryzen 5 2500U CPU, which has Vega 8 graphics, and up to 16 GB of dual-channel DDR4 RAM. Although the base models come outfitted with HDD configurations, the laptop can be configured with SSD storage as well. The 15.6-inch display is a 1920x1080 IPS panel, with touch, of course, and pen support. The ENVY line isn't quite as premium as HP's Spectre family, but it's still a nice notebook, and the prices start well below the Spectre. In this case, the price starts at $749 at Best Buy right now.
Dell XPS 13
Dell’s XPS 13 has aged well, and it still offers one of the slimmest bezels on any notebook. Dell was one of the first to announce support for the 8th Gen quad-core, and it's available now, but the Kaby Lake models are still around as well, so if you're after an i7, pay attention to what you're getting. The base model still comes with just 4 GB of RAM, so the jump to the 8 GB / 256 GB model is likely the best target for entry if looking at the XPS 13. The highest end models come with a beautiful 3200x1800 QHD+ display, compared to the 1920x1080 panel on the base model, but the lower resolution is easier on the battery. The webcam is still in an awkward location on the bottom bezel of this notebook, thanks to the thin top bezel, so if you’re a heavy webcam user this may be enough to dissuade you from considering this otherwise excellent laptop.
Microsoft Surface Laptop
Microsoft’s Surface brand has some significant advantages over much of the competition, including individually calibrated 3:2 displays, which make them much better for content creation. The Surface Laptop also has an Alcantara keyboard cover, which should offer an interesting feel to the typing experience. There is a Core i5-7200U model, or you can opt for the Core i7-7660U with Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 with 64 MB of eDRAM and 48 Execution Units on the GPU, up from the standard 24 Execution Units of the generic U series. The display is the same size as the Surface Book, at 13.5-inches, but the resolution drops a bit to 2256x1504, compared to the 3000x2000 of the Surface Book. The lower resolution is likely partially to keep costs down, and also to keep battery life in check. The Surface Laptop weighs in at 1.25 kg / 2.76 lbs, and will be the first laptop shipping with Windows 10 S. This will be a more restrictive version of Windows 10, only allowing Windows Store apps to be installed, but Surface Laptop buyers will be able to unlock Windows 10 Pro for free for the first year. The Surface Laptop will be available in four colors, starting at $999 for the Core i5/4GB/128GB model, and up to $2199 for the Core i7/16GB/512GB version. We've not had a chance for a full review of the Surface Laptop yet, but we have had a chance to try it out. The attention to detail is high, which is the case with most Surface devices, and it's hard not to love the 3:2 display.
Razer Blade Stealth
Razer has updated the Stealth, and the updates are significant. The Stealth was always a great looking Ultrabook, that suffered from large display bezel syndrome. Razer has addressed this with a new 13.3-inch model, in the same chassis as the original 12.5-inch laptop. The new display is a QHD+ (3200x1800) sRGB panel.They still offer a UHD model (3840x2160) with AdobeRGB gamut support, in the original12.5-inch display. The 12.5" UHD is a bit overkill on resolution though, so the 13.3 is likely the nicest pick of the bunch. Either model comes with a Core i7-7500U, or a Core i7-8500U, 16GB of RAM, and up to 1TB of NVMe SSD. Razer still brings its gaming roots to the table too, with an individually lit RGB keyboard, offering almost limitless combinations of color, and external graphics support, in case you want to dock this using the Thunderbolt 3 port and add a desktop graphics card. It’s a very nice, light laptop, with the Razer traditional CNC aluminum chassis, which can now be found in Gunmetal Gray, along with the traditional Black. Razer has shuffled this product around a bit though, and a laptop that they originally targetted at the $1000 price range is right now only available for $1299 and up.
HP Spectre x360 15t
HP's Spectre lineup is their premium range, and the x360 15t is a stunning laptop. The laptop has been recently updated with the 8th gen Core i7-8550U option, as well as an NVIDIA GeForce MX150 GPU, which is going to be a nice step up in performance over the Intel HD 620 built into the CPU. The 15.6-inch display is a 3840x2160 resolution panel, and the laptop comes with a 79.2 Wh battery, so despite the high resolution, battery life is rated for 12.75 hours from HP. You can get up to 1 TB of NVMe SSD as well, and the laptop is equipped with Thunderbolt 3 for high-speed I/O. At 4.42 lbs, it's fairly light for a large notebook as well. HP's launched some great looking devices over the last year or two, and it's definitely one to look for. They also offer a 13.3-inch model of this, if you want something a bit smaller.
Microsoft Surface Pro (2017)
The Surface Pro has come a long way since the original version launched, and the latest generation is a refinement of the already excellent Surface Pro 4. The biggest changes inside are that it's now powered by Kaby Lake processors, but even more interestingly, the Core i5 model has gone completely fanless. We got a chance to review the Core i7-7660U model with Iris Graphics, and it was simply fantastic. The performance was excellent, while at the same time, the sound levels had decreased, and battery life had increased. Microsoft has softened the edges of the convertible laptop, to great effect. The move ot Kaby Lake has also solved the power management issues that plagued the Surface Pro 4, especially at the start of its life. The high end models can get expensive, and the keyboard and pen are both add-on options, but the 3:2 display and attention to detail put the Surface Pro over most of, if not all, of its competition. Microsoft hasn't yet updated to the quad-core KBL-R yet, but the Surface Pro is still the 2-in-1 that defines this category.
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, so check out our gaming laptop guide for those, but if you need a strong laptop to get work done, these laptops fit the bill.
Dell XPS 15
Dell took the winning formula with the XPS 13 and applied it to their larger XPS 15, and the result is a great looking laptop, which has a 15.6-inch display in a smaller than normal chassis. The latest XPS 15 9560 offers quad-core Kaby Lake CPUs, along with the latest NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics, which is a big jump in performance over what’s available in any Ultrabook. You can get a UHD display with 100% of the Adobe RGB gamut as well, although the battery life takes a big hit with that many pixels, so the base 1920x1080 offering may be better suited to those that need a bit more time away from the power outlet. The keyboard and trackpad are both excellent, just like the XPS 13, and it features the same styling cues. The XPS 15 starts at $999. We got a chance to review the latest XPS 15, and it doesn't disappoint.
Microsoft Surface Book 2
Although we haven't yet finsihed the review on this device, we do have it, and it improves significantly over the original in several areas. One such area is that it's improved greatly is the GPU, which was a GeForce 940MX on the original Surface Book, which was later bumped to a GeForce 965M on the Performance Base model. With the Surface Book 2, Microsoft has moved to Pascal based graphics, which are going to offer a significant bump in performance, and they've also created a larger 15-inch version of the Surface Book 2, which offers an even faster GPU. The base Surface Book 2 can still be had with just integrated graphics, but the 13-inch version now comes with an optional GeForce 1050 GPU, and the 15-inch model has the GeForce 1060 GPU. The latter is especially impressive, since it's something you'd normally see in a gaming notebook. The Surface Book 2 can be had with the Core i7-8650U quad-core CPU as well, and the 3:2 aspect ratio and high resolution display is always a joy to work with, thanks to Microsoft individually calibrating each panel. We've not been able to recommend the Surface Book lineup for a while now, as it hadn't been updated since it launched in November 2015, but the latest model is a worthy successor in every way.
Apple MacBook Pro 15
Apple has kept the same Retina display resolution for the newest MacBook Pro, but improved the color gamut to cover the P3 color space instead of just sRGB. They’ve slimmed the 15-inch model down a lot, making it only four pounds, and they’ve embraced the next generation of IO with USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. Unfortunately, they’ve completely abandoned the USB-A ports though, so be prepared grab USB-C versions of any peripherals you may need.
The 15-inch MacBook launched with Skylake quad-core CPUs, and feature an AMD Polaris GPU that can drive up to six displays, or, two of the new 5K displays that were announced as well, in addition to the laptop panel. Combined with the low profile and weight, and the latest generation MacBook Pro packs a lot of performance into relatively little space.
Apple has moved to the butterfly switch keyboard on this model as well, and they’ve added a touch bar instead of the function keys. Not everyone has loved the latest MacBook Pros, but if you’re after a new macOS device, these are the best offerings right now.