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One of the lasting impacts of the Covid pandemic has been that more of us now work from home than ever. Data from the Census Bureau shows that, between 2019 and 2021, the number of people working primarily from home more than tripled. The nationwide average reached 17.9%, and in some states, almost a quarter of all workers were primarily home-based. While plenty of employers provide their workers with laptops, that’s not always the case, and of course, the self-employed get no such luxuries.
Finding the right work laptop can be tricky, especially if you’re on a tighter budget and trying to strike the right balance between capabilities and cost. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of top picks that we think represent great value for the features and power that you get. Whether your job centers more around office-type duties or you focus on the creative side of things, these 10 laptops should help unlock that extra bit of productivity during your work day.
Apple MacBook Air
While any Apple-branded product is unlikely to be the most affordable device of its kind, it’s hard to argue with the MacBook Air M2’s status as a benchmark in the creative space. We’ve been sold on the Cupertino, CA manufacturer’s entry-level line of laptops for years now, and we found the latest version makes some key improvements over its predecessor. The new M2 chipset packs more punch than before, although for optimal performance, you’ll have to shell out for the 10-core GPU rather than the base 8-core.
The Air’s webcam has also been upgraded, from a rather disappointing 720p version in the Air M1 to a noticeably crisper 1080p resolution here. It does mean that there’s now a notch at the top of the screen, but really, that’s not going to be a deal breaker for most people. Apple’s excellent Liquid Retina panel remains, albeit in a slightly taller form than its predecessor. It should be said that the Air M2 isn’t without its flaws — the entry-level model only comes with 256 GB of storage and 8 GB of unified memory, hardly standout stats considering the price you pay. There’s also a frustrating lack of ports, a necessary omission thanks to the Air’s super-slim design. Overall though, the Air still stands out as one of the best all-around productivity laptops on the market, perfect for most everyday work-from-home tasks.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
While we found that other versions of the Microsoft Surface never quite hit the mark, the Surface Laptop Studio pulls no punches. It delivers on all fronts, both as a high-end productivity laptop for everyday office use and as a creative tool for artists and editors. Its unique fabric double-hinge display might look strange at first, but it enables the Studio to be used in three distinct modes. The first is Laptop Mode, in which it functions exactly like any other laptop would. It’s cleverly designed, to the point where it’s indistinguishable from a non-folding laptop at a glance.
The second mode is Stage Mode, where the screen can be propped up at an angle to function as a media consumption device. Third is Studio Mode, which essentially turns the Surface Laptop Studio into a tablet that can be used with Microsoft’s Surface Slim Pen (which is sold separately). We found the combination of laptop and stylus to be exemplary, to the point of declaring we’ll “find it difficult to use a stylus or a touchpad with anything less than what’s provided here with regard to haptic feedback after this. There’s no going back.” The Surface Laptop Studio starts at $1,599.99, and you’ll have to cough up more than a thousand extra dollars for top-spec variants. However, if you’re looking for the best Windows laptop for both productivity and creative work, this is difficult to beat at its price.
HP ZBook Studio G9
If you’re looking for the kind of processing power found in the top-spec MacBook Pro, but aren’t too keen on Apple’s flagship laptop, then the HP ZBook Studio G9 is a worthy alternative. The latest iteration was unveiled in 2022 and boasts 12th-Gen Intel CPUs and an NVIDIA RTX 3070 Ti GPU in its priciest form. That’s likely to be overkill for all but the heaviest of video editing or design work, but it means the Studio G9 is capable of handling almost anything a remote worker can feasibly throw at it.
It should surprise no one that a laptop this powerful comes with a suitably sky-high price tag, and you should expect to pay well north of $3,000 depending on your exact configuration. Windows 10 Pro comes installed as standard, but a Windows 11 Pro license is also included should you want to make the switch to the next-gen OS.
Lenovo ThinkPad Z13
Lenovo’s ThinkPad line of laptops has been around for three decades now, and over that time, they’ve built up a solid reputation as capable-yet-affordable workhorses. The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 doesn’t deviate from the script in that sense, but that’s no bad thing. It’s slim and compact enough to fit in a shoulder bag, yet it’s powerful enough to handle everyday office work or light Photoshop use with ease. Lenovo also gives a nod to sustainability, with the chassis being made from recycled aluminum, and the delivery packaging being compostable.
Battery life is great too, with our reviewer able to squeeze a day and a half’s worth of work in between charges. If your work involves frequent video calls, then the laptop’s 1080p webcam and dual microphones will be more than up to the task. Like any laptop of its kind, the ThinkPad Z13 has its annoying quirks — we found the half-size up and down arrow keys a pain to use, and the fingerprint sensor periodically stopped working over our three-week review. That aside, the ThinkPad Z13 remains an attractive option for everyday productivity, and existing ThinkPad owners and newcomers alike won’t be disappointed. At the time of writing, the Z13 is on sale on Amazon for a substantial discount off its original retail price.
Asus Vivobook 15 M1502
If you’re on a tight budget and can’t justify spending four figures on a laptop, then the Asus Vivobook 15 is well worth considering. It packs everything you’ll need for everyday productivity tasks, and it won’t break the bank, since it’s available for under $500 on Amazon at the time of writing. It’s powered by an AMD Ryzen 5 processor, and there’s 8 GB of RAM on offer as standard, although there’s an expansion slot to double that figure.
Eye strain is a common problem for those of us who spend dozens of hours a week glued to our screens, but the Vivobook 15 is TÜV Rheinland-certified for low blue-light levels, helping to reduce that risk. The 15.6-inch screen boasts a 1920×1080 resolution and 60 Hz refresh rate, and unlike many pricier competitors, there’s no shortage of ports. Three USB Type-A ports and a Type-C port are available, alongside an HDMI port for connecting to external screens. In sum, the Vivobook 15 punches well above its weight when it comes to features versus price, making it one of the best affordable laptops on the market right now.
HP Spectre x360 16 2-in-1
It might not be quite as versatile as the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio, but the HP Spectre x360 16 2-in-1 boasts a few key advantages over its rival. Namely, a 16-inch 4K display and a 5 MP “GlamCam” camera, which HP says can intelligently keep you well-lit and in-frame during video calls. The Spectre x360 16 2-in-1 with the 4K OLED screen retails for $2,029.99, but can be found on third-party retailers such as Amazon for significantly less. Opting for a lower-resolution base-spec panel will save a few hundred dollars, but then you’re missing out on one of the Spectre x360’s best features.
The laptop features quad speakers with audio tuned by Bang & Olufsen, and there’s a Low Blue Light feature to help minimize sleep pattern disruption for late-night workers. Like many of its competitors in recent years, HP has taken steps to improve its sustainability as a manufacturer, and as a result the Spectre x360’s design includes recycled plastic and aluminum. The 4K laptop market is a tightly packed and highly competitive segment, but we think the Spectre x360 16 2-in-1 is one of the best out there right now.
Dell XPS 13 Plus
The Dell XPS 13 ultra-portable forked into two separate lines in 2022, with the XPS 13 using Intel’s 12th-Gen U-Series chips and the XPS 13 Plus using more powerful P-Series alternatives. Not only that, but the XPS 13 Plus got a more thorough overhaul than its lower-spec sibling, with an all-metal design that’s most closely comparable to a MacBook Air in terms of styling and feel. Indeed, the XPS 13 Plus makes for a compelling alternative to Apple’s offering, not least because it boasts an excellent 4K 60 Hz display.
Cramming 3840×2400 pixels into such a compact frame required ultra-thin bezels, and the keyboard also makes full use of the limited space on offer, stretching right to the edge of said frame. There’s no visible trackpad — it’s instead hidden away underneath the laptop surface, but it’s easy enough to use once you get used to where it is. One minor annoyance is the 720p webcam, which trails behind most of its rivals at this price point, and will be a serious sticking point for anyone whose work involves a lot of video meetings. Other than that, there’s little to dislike about the XPS 13 Plus, which remains one of the best 4K laptops on the market.
Samsung Galaxy Book3 Pro
A common compromise with ultra-thin laptops is that they tend to be lacking in ports, forcing you to carry around pesky adapters all day. The Samsung Galaxy Book3 Pro proves you can, in fact, have the best of both worlds, since it’s the brand’s thinnest laptop to date, but it packs two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a USB-A 3.2 port, an HDMI port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a MicroSD slot. It’s powered by a 13th-Gen Intel Core i7-1360P processor, with 16 GB of RAM and up to 1 TB of SSD storage.
The 3K AMOLED screen is also a highlight, with a 16:10 aspect ratio and up to 120 Hz refresh rate. Either 14-inch or 16-inch screen options are available, with the 16-inch version gaining a larger battery to compensate for the extra power usage. AKG-tuned quad speakers promise crystal-clear audio whether you’re on a conference call or watching a movie, and they boast Dolby Atmos support. If you already own a Galaxy smartphone, the Galaxy Book3 Pro includes a quick share feature for seamless photo and video editing. With your Galaxy smartphone linked directly to your laptop, you can call and text without getting your phone out, and if you own a Galaxy Tab, you can link it to use as a second laptop screen. The Galaxy Book3 Pro is very much a laptop best suited to users already in the Galaxy ecosystem, but even as a standalone device, it’s a solid choice.
Acer Chromebook Vero 514
Sustainability is becoming an increasingly talked-about topic in the tech industry, and Acer has positioned itself at the forefront of this new sustainable laptop movement with the Chromebook Vero 514. We got to try out an early example and found its prominent use of recycled materials to be unusual at first, but generally a very positive thing. The packaging is made entirely of cardboard and paper, and the body shell of our review unit was a rather dull gray, but again made out of recycled plastic. Likewise, most of the main components utilize PCR (post-consumer recycled) plastics to some degree, with the keyboard keys and speakers being made from 50% recycled material.
Move away from the laptop’s unique construction, and the Vero 514 proves itself to be a very capable example of a Chromebook, with a range of 12th-Gen Intel processors on offer depending on your configuration. The 14-inch Full HD screen comes in both touch and non-touch form, and 16 GB of RAM is available on the top-spec variant. If you’re not already familiar with what a Chromebook is, then it’s worth noting that this isn’t your regular Windows laptop — it runs ChromeOS, and app-wise, you’re limited to what’s on the Google Play store. However, that won’t be much of an issue for anyone whose work mostly involves in-browser apps or basic office software, and at a starting price of $499.99, the Vero 514 undercuts many of its similar-spec Windows-based rivals.
Apple MacBook Pro
The Apple MacBook Pro is already the laptop of choice for plenty of creatives, freelancers, and business owners, and with a big performance boost for 2023 models, it’s now more appealing than ever. The M2 Pro and M2 Max chips boast vastly superior performance to their Intel-based predecessors, with Photoshop image processing up to 80% faster, color grading up to twice as fast, and effects rendering up to six times faster, according to Apple.
That’s enough of a performance leap to give anyone with an older MacBook Pro reason to upgrade, but even more recent M1 owners should see a noticeable difference in speed. Apple claims the latest chips boast a 20-40% speed advantage over first-gen Apple Silicon processors. In addition to all this extra power, there are plenty of extra new features on offer: Wi-Fi 6E support, improved battery life, and support for 8K 60 Hz monitors through the HDMI port, among other things. Suffice it to say, taking advantage of all this new tech will require a considerable investment, with the 14-inch MacBook Pro starting at $1,999 and reaching $3,099 in top-spec form. However, the 2023 model’s power, design, and unbeatably sleek user experience make it well worth the price of entry.