Best laptop 2016 - Windows 10 buying guide and top picks
Getting the right laptop isn’t always easy. As well as working out your budget, there’s a whole range of other things to think about including size, weight, battery life and gaming prowess. Often, it’s a matter of getting the right compromise, sacrificing one component for an other. For example, you might decide that thin and light is more important than having something super powerful. There are some pitfalls that you should avoid, too. For example, Intel has just released its Skylake architecture, which means that older Haswell-based laptops may suddenly be a lot cheaper, but not necessarily better value.
As you can see, making the right choice isn’t always that easy. There’s where I come in, with my guide to the best laptops available right now. Every year Expert Reviews tests hundreds of laptops, with the best coverage in the UK. This means that I can cut through everything and bring the absolute best list.
Below, I’ve split the choice into simple categories. There are general purpose and multimedia laptops for everyday use at home; gaming laptops are the best portable gaming stations; ultra-portables brings you the thin and light powerhouses; hybrids are for those that want the best of both worlds: a tablet and a laptop all in one. While you can trust my choice of laptops, if you want to get more information and help on what to buy, check out the Buying Guide on page two of this article.
Dealing with Windows 10
Although there are lots of laptops that now ship with Windows 10 and the number is increasing every day, there are still a fair number that ship with an older version of the OS, primarily Windows 8. As you'll be well aware, all computers running Windows 7 or Windows 8 are eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10, which you can perform by following Expert Reviews' detailed Windows 10 upgrade instructions.
All of the laptops that we've detailed on this page either run Windows 10 or can be upgraded to it with the manufacturers' support. However, with some other laptops it's not quite as easy. So, if you buy a different model running Windows 7 or Windows 8, there's the potential that you'll run into some problems. The big issue is one of drivers: if your manufacturer doesn't provide Windows 10 drivers (and the Windows 8 or 7 ones are incompatible) for key hardware in your computer, you could lose key features. For that reason, I recommend checking out your laptop manufacturer's support pages to find out if Windows 10 is explicitly supported for your computer.
You can also try the upgrade procedure, safe in the knowledge that you can roll back your OS to the previous version of Windows. Please note that you've only got 31 days from upgrading to make this change, so if you're suffering major problems with Windows 10, make sure you roll back quickly.
Best laptops of 2016
These are our choice of the best laptops that will fulfill the more general use laptop criteria, without being specifically ultra-portable or for gaming (see the separate sections below). These cover basic laptops that will handle the most basic of tasks (such as web browsing and word processing) to more expensive laptops that will provide more processing power needed for trickier tasks such as video editing.
Acer Chromebook R11
If you're not looking to spend a lot of money on a laptop and only have basic needs, a Chromebook could be the right choice. The convertible Acer Chromebook R11 is an attractive and practical choice and is great value for what you get.
Price when reviewed: £230. For the latest prices, see our full Acer Chromebook R11 review.
Processor: Dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3050, RAM: 2GB,Dimensions: 20x295x203mm,Weight: 1.2kg, Screen size: 11.6in, Screen resolution: 1,366x768, Graphics adaptor: Intel HD Graphics, Total storage: 16GB eMMC
BUY NOW: Acer Chromebook R11
Asus EeeBook X205TA
The X205TA is Asus' super cheap answer to the Chromebook. Costing just £180 and coming pre-loaded with a year of Microsoft Office 365 personal and 1TB of OneDrive storage (worth £60) it looks to be amazing value. Performance is perfectly reasonable, too, as long as you don't push it too hard. It's happy to browse the web, edit documents and play videos, which is about as much as you should expect from it.
Price when reviewed: £180. For the latest prices see our full Asus EeeBook X205TA review.
Processor: Quad-core 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3735F, RAM: 2GB, Size: 286x193.3x17.5mm, Weight: 980g, Screen size: 11.6in, Screen resolution: 1,366x768, Graphics adaptor: Intel HD Graphics , Total storage: 32GB eMMC
BUY NOW: Asus EeeBook X205TA
Asus ZenBook UX305
The Asus ZenBook UX305 manages to pair a premium feel with a surprisingly reasonable price. It has a high-resolution screen, plenty of RAM and a nice and thin design that rivals the MacBook Air for svelteness. If you prefer Windows to OS X it provides strong competition to the Apple MacBook, too.
Price when reviewed: £600. For the latest prices see our full Asus ZenBook UX305 review.
Processor: Dual-Core Intel Core M-5Y10c, RAM: 8GB, Size: 324x226x12mm, Weight: 1.2kg,Screen size: 13.3in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080,Graphics adaptor: Intel HD 5300, Total storage: 128GB SSD
BUY NOW: Asus ZenBook UX305
Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro (early 2015)
The changes made to the 2015 MacBook Pro are relatively minor when compared to last year's model but, frankly, Apple didn't have to do a lot to keep the thing ticking over. You get faster storage, a better processor, better battery life and the innovative Force Touch touchpad, which all add up to a better product for pretty much the same price. It's absolutely worth the upgrade.
Price when reviewed: £1,199. For the latest prices, read our full Apple 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display review.
Processor: Dual-core 2.7GHz Intel Core i5 5257U, RAM: 8GB, Size: 314x333x18mm, Weight: 1.6kg, Screen size: 13.3in, Screen resolution: 2,560x1,600, Graphics adaptor: Intel Iris Graphics 6100, Total storage: 256GB SSD
Dell XPS 15 (Late 2015, Skylake)
When it comes to the best Skylake-based Windows 10 laptop you can buy, the Dell XPS 15 is right up there. It has the now familiar super-thin bezels of Dell's InfinityEdge displays, paired with an ultra high-resolution touchscreen display. You get plenty of power from the Skylake processor and even the ability to play some games through the dedicated Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M graphics. The build quality is also absolutely top-notch.
Price when reviewed: £1,649. For the latest prices, read our full Dell XPS 15 review.
Processor: Quad-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ, RAM: 16GB, Dimensions: 357x235x17mm, Weight: 2kg,Screen size: 15.6in, Screen resolution: 3,840x2,160,Graphics adaptor: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M, Total storage: 512GB SSD
BUY NOW: Dell XPS 2015 (Late 2015, Skylake)
Ultra-portables and hybrid devices
Super slim laptops are great for chucking into a bag without much thought, and many of them offer reasonable performance and great battery life, too. Meanwhile, laptops that split or fold into tablets at a moment's notice are a versatile and cost effective way of getting the best of both worlds. Here are our favourites.
Dell XPS 13 (Late 2015)
The Dell XPS 13 is a stunning ultra-portable and those InfinityEdge bezels are as gorgeous as ever. The addition of Thunderbolt 3 brings it up to date as does its processor upgrades. There's no doubting the XPS 13 is a premium ultra-portable.
Price when reviewed: £1,149. For the latest prices, read our full Dell XPS 13 (Late 2015) review
Processor: Dual-core 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, RAM: 8GB,Dimensions: 304x200x15mm,Weight: 1.29kg, Screen size: 13.3in, Screen resolution: 3,200x1,800, Graphics adaptor: Intel HD Graphics 520, Total storage: 256GB SSD
BUY NOW: Dell XPS 13 (Late 2015)
Asus Zenbook UX303
We've always liked the Asus ZenBook range at Expert Reviews but the displays haven't always been the best. The UX303UA improves upon its predecessor in this regard. While it's not the lighest ultra-portable around, it's well built and has decent performance and battery life making it a great choice.
Price when reviewed: £973. For the latest prices, read our full Asus Zenbook UX303UA review
Processor: Dual-core 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, RAM: 12GB,Dimensions: 323x223x19.2mm,Weight: 1.45kg, Screen size: 13.3in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080, Graphics adaptor: Intel HD Graphics 520, Total storage: 256GB SSD
BUY NOW: Asus Zenbook UX303UA
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Fourth time has been the charm for Microsoft with its Surface Pro laptop/tablet hybrids. Where the Surface Pro 3 got a lot of things right, the Surface Pro 4 has now perfected the art. It's extremely well-built, has one of the best styluses out there and has the performance to handle anything you throw at it. The Surface Pro 4 really shows off Windows 10 in its best light, too.
Price when reviewed: £1,189 (with Type Cover). For the latest prices, see our full Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review
Processor: Dual-core 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U, RAM: 8GB,Dimensions: 292x201x8mm,Weight: 1.37kg inc keyboard and power brick, Screen size: 12.3in, Screen resolution: 2736x1824, Graphics adaptor: Intel HD graphics 520, Total storage: 256GB SSD
BUY NOW: Microsoft Surface Pro 4
HP Pavilion X2 10-n054sa (2015)
With Windows 10 installed, the HP Pavilion x2 is a force to be reckoned with, and while its specifications may make its £250 price seem slightly over the odds, its impressive design and build quality, usable keyboard and great battery life more than make up for it. If you only want one device in your life and your needs are modest, the HP Pavilion is a great choice.
Price when reviewed: £250. For the latest prices, see our full HP Pavilion X2 10-n054sa (2015) review
Processor: Quad-core 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3736F, RAM: 2GB,Size: 20x173x264mm, Weight: 1.6kg, Screen size: 10.1in,Screen resolution: 1,366x768,Graphics adaptor: Intel HD Graphics, Total storage: 32GB eMMC
BUY NOW: HP Pavilion X2 10-n054sa (2015)
Toshiba Satellite Radius 15
The Satellite Radius 15 is more expensive than many of its convertible rivals but its price is justified by its high quality screen, great battery life and stylish chassis. The brushed aluminium chassis in particular is lovely that gives it a classy, yet rugged, feel. It's a great way to take advantage of Windows 10's touchscreen elements, too.
Price when reviewed: £700. For the latest prices, see our full Toshiba Satellite Radius 15 review
Processor: Dual-core 2.2GHz Intel Core i5-5200U, RAM: 8GB,Size: 380x245x20mm, Weight: 2.3kg, Screen size: 15.6in,Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080,Graphics adaptor: Intel HD Graphics 5500, Total storage: 1TB hard disk
BUY NOW: Toshiba Satellite Radius 15
You pay a premium for the portability of gaming laptops, but they offer freedom to gamers that a 15kg desktop PC simply can't match. You can play Splinter Cell on your sofa, Fallout at your friend's house and LoL at a LAN party without being constrained by the size of your rig. If you're looking to play games on decent settings, you'll probably want to spend at least £800, although you can spend well in excess of £3,000 if you want desktop levels of performance.
MSI GE72 6QF Apache Pro
MSI's gaming laptop chassis is becoming slightly over-familiar, but it's what's inside the GE72 that counts. Freshly updated with an Intel Skylake processor, this is a gaming laptop that sets the benchmark for the new wave of systems. You're not left wanting for processor or graphics performance.
Price when reviewed: £1,257. For the latest prices, read our full MSI GE72 6QF Apache Pro review.
Processor: Quad-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ, RAM: 16GB, Size: 383x260x27mm,Weight: 2.7kg, Screen size: 17.3in, Screen resolution: 1.920x1,080, Graphics adaptor: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M, Total storage: 128GB SSD, 1TB hard disk
BUY NOW: MSI GE62 2QE Apache
Acer Predator 17
While the Acer Predator 17 is expensive, it justifies its cost with top-level performance and great build quality. Both the screen and keyboard in particular are excellent. You also get the latest specifications in the form of an Intel Skylake processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M.
Price when reviewed: £1,500. For the latest prices, read our full Acer Predator 17 review.
Processor: Quad-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ, RAM: 16GB DDR4, Dimensions: 423x322x40mm, Weight: 4kg,Screen size: 17.3in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080,Graphics adaptor: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M, Total storage: 256GB M.2 SSD, 1TB hard disk
BUY NOW: Acer Predator 17
Acer Aspire V15 Nitro (VN7-591G)
Acer hasn't released a proper gaming laptop in years, so we were curious as to how it would turn out. It was a pleasant surprise, with a wonderfully-built 15.6in chassis with a textured lid and matt black wrist rest. The Full HD screen is one of the better panels we've seen on a laptop and its Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M graphics card make it a capable multimedia and gaming machine.
Price when reviewed: £849. For the latest prices, see our full Acer V15 Nitro review.
Processor: Quad-core 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-4710HQ, RAM: 8GB,Size: 23.9x389x257mm, Weight: 2.4kg, Screen size: 15.6in,Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080,Graphics adaptor: Nvdia GeForce GTX 860M, Total storage: 1TB hard disk (with 8GB SSD cache)
BUY NOW: Acer Aspire V15 Nitro (VN7-591G)