Best laptops 2020: Reviews and buying advice
The best laptops of 2020 are experiencing a seismic shift. With the near-simultaneous launches of AMD’s Ryzen 4000 and Intel’s Comet Lake-H mobile CPUs in January, we had a real fight for the first time ever: Ryzen 4000’s cores vs. Intel’s clock speeds.
But there’s more: In September, Intel launched its Tiger Lake CPUs for thin-and-light laptops, promising yet again that thanks to flexible clock speeds, it would hammer Ryzen 4000. Or so Intel says.
On the gaming side (where the GPU matters more than the CPU), Nvidia has unveiled a new generation of mobile graphics technologies. Check out the latest news and reviews below.
Latest laptop news and reviews
The laptop innovations keep coming: Tiger Lake’s making the latest splash. Here are the latest news and reviews:
- Hello, Tiger Lake! Announced earlier this year, Intel staged a splashy official launch for its 10nm, 11th-gen chip on September 2, with a small army of designs from PC vendors (see below for a sampling). The company’s SuperFIN transistor is the chip’s secret sauce, enabling higher clock speeds—and Intel was eager to show how Tiger Lake performed in benchmarks. But those variable clock speeds in Tiger Lake could also make it hard to know how fast your laptop’s chip will be.
- Intel Tiger Lake-based laptops will begin shipping in October. We already know about some of the first models to come out, including the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 9i a bevy of ZenBook, VivoBook, and ExpertBooks from Asus; and the MSI Stealth 15M with RTX graphics.
- ”Evo” is Intel’s new brand name for its under-promoted Project Athena design initiative for thin-and-light laptops. The company collaborates with PC vendors and component makers to achieve its design goals. Acer claimed its Swift 5 was the first Evo laptop out of the gate, but there are plenty more coming.
- At barely four pounds, the Lenovo Legion Slim 9i is the world’s lightest 15-inch laptop with Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics. It’s no small feat to put a high-end GPU in a slender package. The Legion Slim 7i will start at $1,329 and is expected to be available in October.
Qualcomm is doggedly pursuing the laptop market, announcing its latest 8cx chip with 5G on September 3. The Acer Spin 7 is the first laptop we’ve heard of to carry the Windows on Arm CPU, but pricing and availability aren’t known yet.
Best thin-and-light laptop
It’s official: You can have both performance and light weight in the same laptop, and Dell’s new XPS 13 7390 is here to prove it. With its 6-core Intel Core i7-10710U CPU, this thin, light machine (available via Dell.com) has actually outpaced bigger workhorse models.
And no, before we get you too worked up: The XPS 13 7390 and its Comet Lake-U CPU aren’t going to outpace a current workstation with, say, a smoking-fast, state-of-the-art Core i7-9750H. But it is the first ultraportable laptop to actually outrun older 7th-gen “H”-class CPUs in heavier laptops, including those in its XPS 15 cousins.
The amount of performance in this amount of portability was simply unheard of just, well, earlier this year. Read our full review.
[$1,620 as tested; available on Dell.com]
Best laptop under $500
If this particular model of the Acer Aspire 5 looks familiar, it’s probably because it’s been sitting atop Amazon’s laptop bestseller list for months. It’s easy to understand why. This AMD Ryzen 3-powered Aspire 5 packs some enticing features for the price, including a Full-HD 15.6-inch display, a slim-and-trim chassis, and solid performance on everyday computing tasks.
That said, a Windows 10 laptop this inexpensive has its compromises. In this case, we’re talking a scant 4GB of RAM and a cramped 128GB solid-state drive, while battery life falls significantly short compared to similar Aspire 5 models that don’t cost much more. Read our full review.
[Currently $410 on Amazon, but prices fluctuate frequently.]
Best 14-inch/15-inch workhorse
The Dell XPS 15 9500, an overdue refresh to the company’s high-end workhorse, arrives just in time for it to be truly considered the “MacBook Pro killer” it’s always aspired to be. Dell gave it a top-to-bottom redesign, including a 16:10 aspect ratio, 15.6-inch panel running 4K+ with HDR400 and Dolby Vision support—and the slenderest of bezels. The result is a stunning all-screen look that is likely to set the style for other laptop makers to emulate. Read our full review.
The Lenovo Yoga C940 15 is a workhorse laptop with a few bonus features: a touchscreen that flips around into tablet mode, a built-in stylus for writing or sketching, and—thank heavens—a full-sized USB-A port to complement its two USB-C connections. It even fits in a number pad without cramping its excellent keyboard. While screen backlighting is a bit uneven and audio quality could be better, it’s a solid choice for those who want a luxurious workhorse PC. Read our full review.
[$1,700 at time of review on Bestbuy.com. Other configurations available on Lenovo.com.
Best convertible laptop
HP’s latest Spectre x360 13t has something to say to other thin-and-light laptops, which, it seems, are all about taking good things away from you. Where others say No, the HP Spectre x360 13t simply says Yes. You want a standard M.2 SSD? Got it, the Spectre x360 13t says. NBA-level of travel in your keys? Sure thing. USB Type-A port?! Of course the Spectre x360 13t has that, too. When we head-to-head compared the HP Spectre x360 13t to the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390, another leading convertible, the HP came out on top. Read our full review.
[ $1,299 as reviewed ]
Dell’s Latitude 7400 2-in-1 (available via Dell.com) is a 14-inch business laptop that delivers all-day battery life and performance. It achieves a simply incredible 18 hours of battery life using a powerful Intel 8th-gen Whiskey Lake processor, and it offers a full complement of ports plus a slightly gimmicky feature called ExpressSign-in (yes, it’s really spelled that way). While our review unit clocked in at a whopping $2,800, the starting price is $1,599, meaning you could make prudent downgrades to the configuration to fit your budget. Read our full review.
Best budget convertible laptop
The Lenovo Yoga C740-15IML (currently $790 on Lenovo.com) is one of the most impressive 2-in-1 laptops we’ve seen in its price range. Weighing in at just three pounds and jammed with nifty features, the slim, sturdily built, Yoga C740 packs in plenty of productivity pep, and it can last the whole day without its AC adapter. A bright, Dolby Vision-enabled display plus Dolby Atmos sound provide plenty of eye and ear candy. A physical camera shutter (which, unfortunately, is a little tough to slide open and closed) and a fingerprint reader help to bolster security.
In a world where high-end laptops no one can afford get all the attention, and budget laptops can be a bucket of compromises, it’s nice to see a mid-priced laptop that has so much going for it. The Lenovo Yoga C740 easily earns our Editor’s Choice award and our top pick for budget convertibles.
[$900 MSRP; $790 as reviewed]
Best 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid laptop
This category originally started out as the best “Surface” category because, well, for a time, there was nothing like Microsoft’s 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid device. Competitors picked up the pace, and the Lenovo Miix 520reigned for over a year. No longer.
The Surface Pro 7 represents Microsoft’s return to form, both with an up-to-date 10th-gen “Ice Lake” processor inside, but also a tweaked, modernized design that recognizes that USB-C is the wave of the future. Some legacy ports have disappeared (adios, MiniDisplayPort) but otherwise Microsoft’s tablet retains its traditional light weight and form factor. Sadly, a pen and Signature Type Cover are still extra. Read our full review for more details.
[$1,499 SRP as reviewed, excluding keyboard and pen; currently $1,199 on Microsoft.com]
Keep reading for our top picks in gaming laptops and more.