Best Laptops: Q3 2019by Brett Howse on August 23, 2019 9:00 AM EST
In our series of laptop 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 a tricky time to be shopping for new laptops, with the big news in the laptop space being Intel's launch of it's 10th generation Core processors, and which comes with a twist. Some 10th gen parts will be 14nm Comet Lake, based on the years-old Skylake core but with updated LPDDR4X support, more cores, and faster frequencies. Other 10th generation parts will be the new 10 nm Ice Lake SoC, offering improved CPU IPC with lower initial frequencies, and with the added bonus of a much improved GPU.
These parts are going to start arriving in devices in the very near future. Overall most of the laptops in this list are going to get upgraded internals, it's just a matter of when. So if you are in the market, holding out for the new processors should provide more performance and battery life, although on the flipside, finding an 8th gen notebook on clearance can also be a great way to get into a new device.
|Laptop Recommendations Q3 2019|
|Segment||Model||Starting Price (As of writing)|
|Entry Level||Chuwi LapBook SE||$279.99 USD|
|Microsoft Surface Go||$399 USD|
|Midrange||Chuwi AeroBook||$499 USD|
|Dell Inspiron 15 5585||$545.59 USD|
|Premium Ultrabooks||Lenovo ThinkPad X395||$902.30 USD|
|Dell XPS 13||$899 USD|
|Convertibles||Microsoft Surface Pro 6||$699 USD|
|HP Spectre Folio||$1149.99 USD|
|Discrete GPU Laptops||Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme||$1763.40 USD|
|Microsoft Surface Book 2||$1299 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.
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
We've recommended the Chuwi LapBook SE before, and it still slots in at the entry level for this guide. Chuwi tends to offer a lot of product for the dollar, and their latest LapBook SE is no exception. This model is slightly different than the previous one we recommended, and although it seems like a downgrade, it fixes one of the biggest issues with the LapBook SE. Chuwi outfits this with the latest Intel Celeron N4100, based on Gemini Lake, and the performance is a nice jump up from previous models. Gemini Lake is also the first x86 SoC to launch with LPDDR4 support, of which there is only 4 GB in this laptop, which is definitely a drawback. Chuwi originally sold this in North America with a 32 GB eMMC OS drive, and a 128 GB SATA SSD, but the model they are selling now is 64 GB of eMMC only. This is the change I mentioned above that seems like a downgrade, but the 32 GB eMMC as the OS boot drive was an unusable solution, since any programs and just a few patches would quickly fill it. Having 64 GB for the OS is a much more usable device in the end, and you can still add a M.2 drive if needed. The build quality on the LapBook SE is reasonable, and it offers a 13.3-inch 1920x1080 IPS display panel, which is still rare in this segment. We are kind of between devices right now from Chuwi, with this likely being phased out, but if you need something on the tightest budget, it's still worth looking at.
Microsoft Surface Go
We've recently reviewed the LTE model of the Microsoft Surface Go and despite less than stellar battery life, and middling performance from the Intel Pentium, it's still a well-built machine offering a good display. If you're after a small Windows PC, the 3:2 aspect ratio works well, coupled with the light weight, and the removable keyboard offers backlighting and good key travel, but is cramped for everyday use. The base model comes with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of eMMC storage, and Microsoft has added extra options with a 4 GB / 128 GB model, or an 8 GB / 128 GB version, with the larger storage options being BGA SSDs upgrading from the eMMC on the 64 GB units.. The optional LTE adds untethered mobility as an option, although with LTE it has a MSRP of $679 without the keyboard, and starts to encroach on the Surface Pro pricing.
If you need to step up to something with more processing power, more storage, and have a higher budget, you'll get a lot of advantages over the entry level segment.
Although Chuwi has been known for the entry level devices, they've recently stepped up their price and performance with the Chuwi AeroBook. It's the first device from the company to not ship with an Atom based processor inside, and Chuwi jumped all the way up to Core m3, rather than the Pentium found in the Surface Go. The drawback here is that Chuwi went with a 6th generation Core m3, which has much lower boost clocks than the more recent 8th gen models, but regardless, the Core m3 offers a nice performance jump over any of the Atom based LapBooks the company has sold previously, especially in the GPU department where Core m3 offers a much larger GPU than Gemini Lake. As is typical with Chuwi, it offers a 1920x1080 IPS display, and some nice value as well with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of SSD storage. The fit and finish is surprisingly good for a low cost device as well. For $499, this laptop offers a light aluminum finished chassis, a reasonable display, and enough RAM and storage, with the downside of poor battery life.
Dell Inspiron 15 5585
After years of having mid-range laptops offering exclusively spinning storage, there's getting to be a few in the market that offer SSDs. The Dell Inspiron 15 5585 offers 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB of SSD storage, and a 15.6-inch 1920x1080 display, and is powered by the latest AMD Ryzen, with the linked model being the Ryzen 5 3500U with Vega 8 graphics. Dell also offers the Ryzen 7 3700U with Vega 10 graphics for less than $100 more, and additional models with more RAM and storage. There's a lot of laptop here for the price, but to hit the midrange something has to give, and that is battery capacity at just 42 Wh, and 1x1 wireless.
Lenovo ThinkPad X395
Lenovo's ThinkPad X395 is powered by AMD's latest Ryzen processors, and Lenovo offers models with the Ryzen 3 Pro, the Ryzen 5 Pro, and the Ryzen 7 Pro to fit your needs and budget, with the base model coming in at a very reasonable $900 USD, and that comes with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of SSD storage, so it's enough for many people, unlike some devices with ship with just 4 GB as a baseline. Lenovo also offers a jump to a Ryzen 5 Pro 3500U with 512 GB of storage for a couple of hundred more. Lenovo rates the X395 at up to 14.5 hours of battery life as well, so you can truly get work done on the go. For those that would prefer an Intel processor, Lenovo also offers the X390 lineup.
Dell XPS 13 7390
Dell has recently announced the XPS 13 with 10th gen Intel Core and improves again on its industry defining laptop. The XPS 13 set the benchmark for display bezels, and Dell has refined their design to improve the laptop even further, with one big fix being the webcam placement, which is now correctly located at the top of the display. The 7390 should be available soon, and will ship with the Comet Lake processors, starting at $899 with a Core i3, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage, which is specifications that are too low for most people, so expect to pay closer to $1000-$1200 for a nicely configured device.
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. Microsoft doesn't refresh their devices on the same cadence as the rest of the industry, so even though we're seeing new devices from many manufacturers with the latest processors, The Surface Pro will stick with the 8th gen for now, but despite that, it's still the convertible to beat.
HP Spectre Folio
HP's leather chassis in the Spectre Folio makes it one of the most unique laptops around, but that added luxury doesn't hinder functionality, with the Spectre Folio offering a somewhat unique convertible mechanism that folds the display around from the center of the display, so the display can lay flat on top of the keyboard, keeping the keys safe when used in tablet mode. The Folio can also be offered with integrated LTE for true mobility, and this device offers stunning battery life as well. The downside is the Y series processors, which allow the device to be fanless but which suffer from being dual-core CPUs in a quad-core world. HP will benefit significantly if / when they switch to the 10th gen Intel Y series, which will offer quad-core even in the lowest TDP range Intel offers.
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.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme
Lenovo pulled out all of the stops with the X1 Extreme, offering hex-core 8th generation processors and the NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti Max-Q GPU. As is typical with a Thinkpad there are plenty of coniguration options, including an optional 15.6-inch UHD Dolby Vision display, 64 GB of RAM, and up to 2 TB of storage with 2 x 1 TB SSDs. Despite the performance, Lenovo still rates the X1 Extreme at up to 15 hours of battery life, thanks to the 80 Wh battery. The X1 Extreme also keeps the thin and light theme of Lenovo's X series intact with a starting weight of 1.7-1.8 Kg (3.76-4.06 lbs) depending on if the device has touch or not. Being a Thinkpad, you also get the great build quality, keyboard, and TrackPoint that Thinkpads are knoiwn for.
Microsoft Surface Book 2
Likely the best laptop we've reviewed in several years is the Microsoft 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 3240x2160 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. As with the Surface Pro 6, Microsoft tends to update their devices on a different cadence than the rest of the industry, so there's no word yet on an updated model, but despite this, it's still likely the best Windows laptop around.
Apple MacBook Pro 15
Apple has 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.