Choosing a new laptop is no easy task. To start with, there are dozens of quality products to pick from, and the design on most just keeps getting better. They're lighter, more attractive, have better peripheral options and can run on a single battery charge for nearly a day.
Because competition is fierce, and style and function are getting so good, it's important to consider your precise needs when making your final decision. Sure, there's something to be said for brand loyalty, and operating systems aren't all created equal, but before you pull out your credit card for a purchase, your ultimate consideration should be how you will use your new laptop.
In an effort to smooth your decision-making process, we've researched dozens of machines and come up with our top picks for your small business. Here are the laptops we think are worth your consideration. All prices were accurate at the time of writing but are subject to manufacturer change.
Laptop Trends in 2018
It seems that computers in general keep getting cheaper and laptops are no exception. There are plenty of netbooks out there that come in under $300 or even $200 in some cases, but these basic computers aren't the only affordable options. At the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this year, gaming laptops were on display, powered by new, more affordable graphics cards.
"Owning a powerful laptop no longer means sacrificing your back in order to do more than two hours of gaming. At the same time, you won't need to pay a fortune for a lightweight model that's also a decent gaming machine," writes Endgadget's Steve Dent.
Other, more expensive laptops, are adding flashy features like facial recognition, HDR screens and much faster processors. Laptops are also getting lighter - well, at least some of them are. LG recently introduced the Gram 13, which weighs in at just 963 grams. That's about five unpeeled bananas, in case you were wondering.
Best Overall for Small Business: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
When it comes to performance, styling, portability and price, it's almost impossible to beat this sleek, super-light contender. It's a great choice for pretty much anyone looking for a top-quality computer that is portable enough to take anywhere and powerful enough to manage your daily computing needs.
Weighing in at 2.49 pounds and just 16 mm thick, the X1 Carbon is the smallest, thinnest business Ultrabook that Lenovo has made to date. Despite it's diminutive profile, the 2017 X1 Carbon doesn't skimp on power. It offers 7th Generation Intel Core processors, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports and a sparkling 14-inch Quad-HD display. The X1 also has available Microsoft Windows 10 Pro Signature Edition.
Don't let the X1's good looks and power make you think you'll need to treat it with kid gloves. It's also tough. Lenovo has reinforced the chassis with four layers of carbon fiber plus a magnesium alloy roll-cage. It also comes with a spill-resistant keyboard. Lenovo says the X1 was "tested against 12 military-grade requirements and passes more than 200 durability tests."
Lenovo also says the X1, which starts around $1,538, has 15.5 hours of battery life but expect closer to 13 if you're using Wi-Fi. If audio is important to you, you're probably going to find the X1's speakers as tinny as we did. That's our attempt to nitpick this genuinely outstanding laptop.
Pros: Great display, lightweight, long battery life and rugged, soft-touch chassis
Cons: Tinny audio. We found the display to be a bit dim compared to competitors, and that can make working outdoors difficult.
Best Laptop for Business Travel: Dell XPS 13 (2017)
There are a lot of really lightweight, diminutive laptops out there these days, but if you're a serious road warrior looking for superior portability and function at a virtually unbeatable price, the Dell XPS 13 is the laptop for you.
Starting at just under $800, Dell touts this trusty workhorse as "the smallest 13.3-inch laptop on the planet." The virtually borderless InfinityEdge display means you won't sacrifice any screen space in the process. Plus, at just 2.7 pounds, you'll hardly notice it in your shoulder bag or briefcase.
You also won't sacrifice any power with the Dell XPS 13. The base model comes with a 7th Generation Intel Core i3-7100U processor (3MB cache, up to 2.4 GHz), 4GB of memory and a 128GB solid-state hard drive. The XPS 13's superior battery life (surpassing 16 hours in some tests) will ensure you'll get plenty of work done even on international flights without power plugs. Of course, you also get a built-in camera, speakers, microphone and plenty of ports, including:
2 USB 3.0, one with PowerShare
1 SD card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC)
1 headset jack
1 Noble lock slot
1 Thunderbolt 3 (2 lanes of PCI Express Gen 3), which supports: Power in/charging, PowerShare, Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps bidirectional), USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps), VGA, HDMI, Ethernet and USB-A via Dell Adapter (sold separately)
The XPS comes with Windows 10 Home, and you can choose between a chassis finish of silver or rose gold.
Pros: Powerful computing even with the base model, superior portability, excellent battery life
Cons: The webcam is in an odd position, resulting in awkward, chin-heavy shots.
Best Laptop for Sharing Business Data: HP Spectre x360
If the shareability and flexibility of a 2-in-1 is important for your business and even personal use, you'll want to check out the HP Spectre x360. Not sure what a 2-in-1 is? Well, these hybrids provide all the utility of a laptop paired with the usability of a tablet - a laptop with a variety of interactive screens, some of which include 360-degree hinges.
The Spectre is our pick in this category for many reasons. To start with, it's a beautifully designed piece of hardware, particularly in HP's newest color scheme, dark ash silver. It's a striking combination of a dark gray body with copper trim that will definitely get you compliments.
The Spectre's beauty doesn't stop there. Its full-HD display has 8 million pixels and allows you to sketch and draw with your active pen and Windows Ink.
One area where the Spectre really shines is graphics. According to testing by LaptopMag.com, the Spectre outperforms the 2-in-1 category average in graphics performance by a wide margin.
Weighing in at 2.89 pounds, it's not the lightest 2-in-1 on the market, but it's still highly portable. The Spectre also is powerful. It's equipped with the Windows 10 Home 64 operating system with Windows Ink and comes with either 8 or 16GB of memory, and four available hard drives, beginning at 256GB and going all the way up to 1TB. Not bad for a starting price of $1,150 for the 13t Touch.
The Spectre also comes with Computrace LoJack for Laptops, making it easier to find your hardware if someone ever grabs it while you're not looking.
Pros: Beautiful design, great functionality
Cons: No Secure Digital card slot
Best Laptop For Rugged Work: ASUS Chromebook C202SA
The ASUS Chromebook C202SA is tough, good-looking and comes at a price that isn't going to make you cry when you drop it, slosh your coffee onto the keyboard or manage to let a bag of tools falls onto it. In fact, at just $229, the C202SA is a fraction of the cost of comparably tough laptops aimed at rough trades. It's so inexpensive you may consider buying a backup for the inevitable day you kill yet another laptop. But hold that thought for a moment.
The ASUS Chromebook, which was originally designed with kids in mind, comes with a reinforced, rubber-wrapped protective guard that reduces the damage that accidents could cause. It also has a keyboard that is resistant to up to 66 cubic centimeters of liquid. Up to 2.23 ounces of your coffee, tea or other beverage just rolls off the keyboard.
On top of that, the ASUS Chromebook is designed with grips that make it less likely to slip out of your hands and go crashing to the floor. It's also gone through rigorous endurance testing to ensure the inevitable drop will be less harmful than it might be for other laptops.
Just because it's rugged doesn't mean the ASUS Chromebook isn't super-functional, particularly if you're already doing your invoicing and other work in the cloud. To start, it's fairly lightweight at just 2.65 pounds, so taking it with you to work sites is totally doable. The screen has a 180-degree hinge, making it easier to share designs,, contracts and other materials with clients and crew. Larger keys also make it easier to type accurately (in fact, it's got a phenomenal keyboard). And while it's far from the battery life you'll get with higher-end (and more expensive) laptops, the Chromebook's battery averages about 10 hours, enough to get you through a busy day.
The Chromebook C202SA comes standard with a built-in camera, stereo speakers, microphone, Bluetooth and a 3-in-1 card reader. Kensington Lock security also is included.
Keep in mind that this is not a computer for power users. It's a Chromebook, so there's no word processing or e-mail software on this computer. You'll need to use cloud-based applications like Google Docs and Sheets, etc. It also has a simple 1.6 GHz processor, onboard memory of 2 or 4GB and just 16GB of storage, so unless you're keeping files in the cloud, you'll likely need at least a thumb drive or two.
Best of all, the ASUS Chromebook is built to be easily repaired, so replacing parts is quick and inexpensive.
Pros: Easily repaired, super tough, portable and practical with good battery life, all at a great price
Cons: Can be a little slow and very little onboard storage
To find the best laptops for a wide variety of business users, we began by talking to business travelers, entrepreneurs and sole-proprietors. We asked what features are most important in choosing a new laptop and what features they would change or improve. Of course, different things were important to different users. Power and portability led the charts among business travelers, durability was tops among trade professionals, and display was key for business owners who need to share their screen with clients. Cost and computing power were important across the board. Customer support and security features also weighed heavily in purchase decisions.
Along with talking to a range of users, we also did our own extensive research, reading hundreds of online consumer and professional reviews. We then narrowed our list to the 10 most mentioned brands, comparing and contrasting the options offered. We also reviewed manufacturer specs and customer resources, among other things.
Based on this research, we developed these criteria, which we used to evaluate each product:
Display clarity and size
Ports and peripherals
Audio and video clarity
Weight and dimensions
Technical support availability
More Small Business Laptops to Consider
Lenovo Thinkpad T470
A strong contender that came close but couldn't beat its sibling the Thinkpad X1 Carbon as the best overall laptop. Starting around $881, it is a good choice for your business computing needs if you want to save some considerable cash. Business analyst Amarjit Kaur said her T470 is great "but it will lose Wi-Fi in case you just close it and then open it without the proper shutdown process, so you have to restart again."
Lenovo Yoga 910
Lenovo's Yoga 910 was another of our favorites in the 2-in-1 convertible category. The display is beautiful and nearly bezel-free. It also boasts more than 10 hours of battery life, making it a great companion in the office or on the go. It's not cheap, however, starting at around $1,080.
Apple MacBook Air 13-inch
It's hard not to show a little bias here, given that this article was written on a MacBook Air 13-inch, mostly on a plane by a writer in a tiny economy seat. In fact, a larger laptop may not have fit on the tray table. The MacBook Air's slim profile makes it a great travel companion, plus it has awesome battery life and starts at just $849. Yes, the display could be better, but if you're a fan of Apple's OS, it's a solid choice.
Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch)
Overall, the MacBook Pro is a great product that's beautiful to look at. The Retina display is truly gorgeous, and this is one seriously fast computer, but there aren't many changes to the newest model that give it any serious "wow" factor. Still, if you're willing to pay the $2,399 entry price, it's a solid piece of technology that's built to last.
MSFT Surface Book 2
Microsoft's latest Surface Book became available to pre-order on Nov. 9, and some reviewers who've already taken it for a test run hail it as a "top-of-the-line powerhouse," with a 13.5-inch or 15-inch display, dual-core and available quad-core processors, exceptional battery life of up to 17 hours, and NVIDIA graphics performance, all on the Windows 10 Pro operating system.
Since then, it's held up to the hype and has even seen a price drop of $300 to $1,199 from it's original $1,499. There's also special pricing of $1,079.10 for eligible students, parents, teachers, and military.
Acer Chromebook 14 for Work
If you work in the cloud, a Chromebook can be a great way to save money on a solid piece of hardware. Starting at $549, Acer's Chromebook 14 for Work is more expensive than a lot of its competitors, which leaves it lacking in our opinion, even with its decent battery life and virtually bezel-free display.
This article was updated March 12, 2018.