How to Choose the Right Laptop
How long a laptop lasts on its internal battery is one of the most important considerations for PC shoppers. Business travelers and students are often at the mercy of their computer’s remaining juice, since so many conference rooms, airplanes, and classrooms are woefully short on accessible power outlets. Just a few years ago, it was necessary to buy and charge an external battery pack to get long battery life, or to insist on a machine with a removable, swappable battery. But today, even many thin ultraportables with sealed-shut chassis show impressive endurance away from an AC outlet.
These recent improvements in laptop battery life are thanks to CPUs and other components that are more power-efficient than ever. (It’s not just new battery technology that deserves the credit.) That’s especially true of Intel’s 8th and 9th Generation Core processors, which power most of the longest-lasting models currently on our list. (Though a 10th Generation model just took the crown.)
A laptop that can last for more than eight hours without a trip to a power plug should be enough to get you through a day’s work, but that’s not good enough to make it to the upper echelons today. Each of the laptops and 2-in-1s we’ve selected lasted for more than 17 hours on our tests, which means that they can survive a full day at the office and still offer plenty of juice for your commute or for watching videos on the couch. (Maybe both.)
In addition to being a critical specification, battery life is one of the toughest to measure. If you’re watching movies all day long, you’ll get far more unplugged time than someone who’s editing images nonstop in Photoshop. We test battery life based on a very specific scenario: watching movies stored locally at 50 percent screen brightness and with airplane mode turned on. If you’re frequently performing more CPU-intensive or graphics-hammering tasks, you’ll want to shave an hour or two off of our results.
Know Your Form Factor
Our top 10 list is stacked with traditional laptops and convertible designs with 360-degree display hinges. Detachable Windows tablets tend to be underrepresented, and for good reason: There’s simply no room for a large battery in such a small enclosure. One notable exception is the Microsoft Surface Book 2, which includes two separate batteries, one in the tablet and one in the keyboard base. Together, they eked out an impressive 17 hours of battery life in our testing, but you’ll get far less than that if you’re using the tablet by itself.
Of course, no matter what kind of laptop you’re in the market for, you can always add a few minutes or a few hours to your unplugged time by changing your computing habits. It’s a bit like driving more conservatively to save gas. For some ideas, take a look at our tips for improving your laptop’s battery life.
Want the Best Battery Life? Consider a Mac
Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro lineups have a reputation for excellent battery endurance, and Cupertino’s current offerings are no exception. Most of the portable Macs we’ve tested recently can manage more than 14 hours away from an outlet. Which one you should choose depends on your budget, your portability needs, and your usage patterns, but you can’t go wrong on the battery-life front with any Apple ultraportable. (And remember, Macs can run Windows, too.)
Other manufacturers are more hit-and-miss. The top honors for battery life among Intel-based Windows laptops of the moment go the Asus ExpertBook B9450 (30 hours!), but many competing machines run down much more quickly. We’re also seeing an emerging class of “always on” machines based on low-power Qualcomm Snapdragon processors that have outlasted most Intel-based Windows and macOS laptops we have tested. (See for example our review of the Samsung Galaxy Book2.) But know that these laptops are meant more for lightweight mobile computing with a continuous internet connection, and are far from power models meant for CPU musclework.
Ready for Our Recommendations?
If you have a long plane flight, a conference, or a final-exam period ahead of you, or if you’re just too busy to linger around a power outlet for long enough, any of these laptops will keep you productive throughout the day and into the evening. For a look at the wider laptop landscape, check out our very latest laptop reviews, as well as our picks for the top business notebooks and the best budget laptops.
Dell Inspiron 14 7000 (7490)
Pros: Packs 14-inch screen in 13-inch chassis.
Thin and light magnesium alloy enclosure.
Intel “Comet Lake” CPU is powerful and efficient.
Nearly around-the-clock battery life.
Cons: Screen could be brighter.
Touchpad a bit noisy when clicked.
Bottom Line: The Dell Inspiron 14 7000’s enviable blend of performance, screen size, and portability unseats the company’s near-legendary XPS 13 as our favorite ultraportable.
Apple MacBook Air (2020)
Pros: Improved keyboard action and feel. Sleek, lightweight design. Multiple color options. Long battery life. Reasonably priced, for a Mac.
Cons: As ever, no touch screen. Limited port selection. Lackluster raw computing performance. No support for Wi-Fi 6.
Bottom Line: If you’re a macOS fan who primarily uses a laptop to write and browse the web, the 2020 Apple MacBook Air’s redesigned keyboard and lower price make it easy to recommend.
Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch
Pros: Excellent Retina Display, now larger and with slimmer bezels. Revamped keyboard. Comfortable, XL-size touchpad. Superb audio quality. Powerful Intel Core i9 and AMD Radeon Pro 5500M. Long battery life. SSD storage options up to 8TB.
Cons: Lacks microSD slot, USB Type-A ports. As ever, no touch-screen option. Expensive as configured.
Bottom Line: With a larger display, a beefier graphics chip, and (vitally and finally!) an improved keyboard, Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro is a beyond-capable big-screen powerhouse built for creatives.
Asus ExpertBook B9450
Pros: Super-light design. Astounding battery life of more than 24 hours video playback. Angled keyboard is comfortable for typing. LED number pad built into touchpad. Features a host of business-facing extras. 2TB of SSD storage.
Cons: Heavy-duty users will want a peppier CPU. A lot of chassis flex in and around the touchpad. Finicky calculator activation button.
Bottom Line: A record-setting battery-life monster, the Asus ExpertBook B9450 is a super-light “Project Athena” business laptop with loads of handy connectivity. You can find speedier and better-built laptops, but it’s a great choice for long-haul travelers.
Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1
Pros: Proximity sensor streamlines sign in. Sturdy, sleek chassis. Thin screen bezels, and relatively large 14-inch screen. Excellent touchpad and keyboard. Three-year warranty. Prime-time battery life.
Cons: Relatively low maximum screen brightness. Lackluster audio quality.
Bottom Line: With a deluxe chassis, keyboard, and touchpad, paired with a snappy sign-in feature and superb battery life, Dell’s Latitude 7400 2-in-1 is a top contender among business convertibles.
Dell XPS 13 (9300)
Pros: Sleek styling
Excellent 16:10 display
Narrow screen bezels
Long battery life
Cons: Expensive as configured
Limited port selection
Bottom Line: The 2020 version of the Dell XPS 13 is an excellent ultraportable laptop, with head-turning looks and plenty of power for everyday tasks.
HP Spectre x360 13 (Late 2019)
Pros: Compact footprint. Potent Intel “Ice Lake” CPU and Iris Plus graphics. Optional AMOLED screen. Well-positioned power button. Wi-Fi 6. Digital pen included. Long battery life.
Cons: Chassis is thicker than its predecessor’s. Clumsy touchpad. Cumbersome USB port.
Bottom Line: Nifty design flourishes, strong performance and battery life, and a reasonable price make the latest HP Spectre x360 13 a first-class convertible laptop.
Microsoft Surface Book 2 (15-inch)
Pros: Quad-core processor and GTX 1060 graphics.
Integrated receiver for Xbox wireless controllers.
Cons: 16GB RAM maximum.
Pen is now a separate purchase.
Bottom Line: The 15-inch version of the Microsoft Surface Book 2 is a 2-in-1 detachable tablet that caters to artists, gamers, and performance-craving users who value a large screen and powerful components.
LG Gram 17
Pros: Astoundingly light for a 17-inch laptop. As compact a footprint as possible for the screen size. Outstanding battery life. Excellent display. Comprehensive port selection.
Cons: Boring, plain design. Feels flimsier than the alloy body suggests. Uncomfortable touchpad. No touch-screen option. Relatively pricey.
Bottom Line: LG’s Gram 17, astonishingly light for a 17-inch laptop, delivers excellent battery life and a glorious screen. But the relatively high price, the plain design, and some quibbles with the keyboard and touchpad keep it from stardom.
Samsung Galaxy Book2
Pros: Long rated battery life.
Thin and light.
Cons: Weak magnetic pen holder.
Dull color scheme.
Bottom Line: With a power-sipping Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 processor, the Samsung Galaxy Book2 Windows tablet promises excellent battery life and LTE connectivity.
More Inside PCMag.com
About the Author