Laptop brands, 2021 edition
May 25, 2021 4:50 AM   Subscribe

We need a new home laptop. Mostly for web surfing and word processing. But we tend to keep computers for years and years so we want to pay a premium for something with good build quality and preferably lightweight so it'll be nice to use for years to come. What brands should we be looking at?

Windows only — I have a Mac for work and it's nice but it's not what we're looking for.

I'm comfortable choosing specs (SSD, plenty of RAM, probably just a midrange processor) so the real question is "what brands of Windows computer feels nice to use and will last?" We currently have a somewhat cheap Dell that has always felt like a compromise even when it was new — surprisingly heavy and with an unpleasant keyboard.
posted by Tehhund to Shopping (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Nothing compares to my 2016 MacBook which is tiny and sleek and beautiful and perfect for web browsing and word processing. But if Macs are out, my newer Dell XPS is pretty nice as windows laptops go. Good build quality, lightweight, metal chassis. Ive used a lot of windows laptops for work and this is a clear step up from “work laptop.”
posted by jeoc at 5:09 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]

+1 Dell XPS - mine is from early 2016 and it’s the first laptop I’ve had where I’ve had to replace nothing (which is good because everything is soldered in pretty tight I hear). I’ve picked up gaming in the pandemic and it’s a bit too slow for it, but I didn’t buy it for that purpose so I can’t complain. Also the camera is in a weird place but I heard perhaps the newer versions are better?

I know thinkpads are recommended a lot but my work laptop is one, and it has been nothing but trouble.
posted by umwhat at 5:43 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]

Acer makes some nice slim laptops as well.

If I were you I would avoid Toshiba laptops. I have never encountered a Toshy whose insides were anything but a horrid nest of too-short flex cables attached to awkwardly placed boards in totally unreasonable places, and I have seen far too many with snapped hinges, cracked cases and ripped-out threaded inserts. They are a royal pain in the arse to service.

I'd avoid HP/Compaq machines too, on both design quality and build quality grounds: they cost very little for what they are but there are reasons for that, and their ventilation systems are usually horrible.
posted by flabdablet at 6:08 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]

Have you considered a Chromebook? They're great for the sort of light home usage you're describing. My wife stopped using a traditional laptop for her personal use a few years ago and finds her Chromebook to be ideal for her internet use. The Acer Spin 713 is highly rated.
posted by briank at 6:17 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

I use a Lenovo Thinkpad T470 for home use and a Lenovo Thinkstation P340 Tiny for work. The latter is new and I have had the former for about 3 years. Would recommend both for build quality, adaptability and reliability. Note that the Tiny is a mini-workstation rather than a laptop - but it is very portable and is a form factor you might want to also consider.
posted by rongorongo at 6:19 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

Given the sheer amount of gratuitous intrusive crap I have to keep turning off for other people every other time MS updates Windows 10 (e.g. no, MS, we do not want to use your crappy browser as the default PDF viewer any more than we did the last five times you forcibly overrode our carefully chosen settings), I'm having trouble reconciling "must run Windows" with "nice to use for years to come".

So if you want to spend big on nice hardware that just gets out of your way and lets you drive, perhaps the Librem 14 should be on your shortlist as well.
posted by flabdablet at 6:24 AM on May 25 [5 favorites]

Microsoft makes some nice Windows laptops - their "Surface" line isn't just tablets. They aim for a similar "luxury" build quality that Apple does. If you're near a Microsoft retail store they might be a particularly good choice, since that offers the same "drop it on the table and tell them to fix it" experience that the Apple Store does. HP also has some nice high-end lines like Envy and Spectre - we bought a Spectre for my wife 5 years ago and it's still going strong.
posted by jordemort at 6:51 AM on May 25

+1 to Surface Book and Dell XPS. My wife got an XPS13 for her personal laptop about a year ago and has had uniformly good experiences so far. I have only had to touch it once (to update a graphics driver that was causing display flicker, right after we bought it) which is pretty good!

I used a Surface Pro (the convertible where the screen detached from the keyboard) at my previous job and liked it enough that I may yet get one for personal use when it’s time to replace my Razer Stealth. Speaking of…

Stay away from Razer IMO. I thought their Blade 15” was the logical “not-a-Macbook” for many years, and the build quality remains great, but every Razer machine I’ve purchased/used in the last 3 years has needed a battery replacement at least once. It’s easy if you have a screwdriver and some confidence opening expensive electronics, but I shouldn’t have to do that for a “premium”-priced laptop. Also, their service options are pretty shit: no local repair options, just mail it off and they send you a new one back.
posted by Alterscape at 7:17 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]

Another +1 for XPS. I asked a similar question on here last summer and ended up getting an XPS 15. I've been pretty happy with it, zero issues so far (knock on wood) despite using it pretty extensively.

FWIW my last laptop was a more budget-friendly Dell Inspiron I bought in 2014. Changing to a new one was like night and day - keyboard is better quality, the screen is much easier on my eyes (and displays colors properly!), not to mention it's far, far faster.
posted by photo guy at 8:38 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

Thinkpad X1 Carbon
posted by stinkfoot at 8:46 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]

I'm also a fan of the XPS line from Dell, I've supported over a dozen of those, and Lenovo T series / X series is what I personally have at home.
posted by zenon at 9:04 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

I'd like to add a +1 to the X1 Carbon recommendation as well. Work issued me one for a while and I thought it was quite nice! Good screen, good keyboard, very thin and light. I exchanged mine for something with a bit more GPU grunt due to the type of development I do, but I had no problems with it while I had it. It's definitely also a solid option around the same price-point as the XPS. Historically I have had good experiences using and supporting Thinkpads, too, but at this point Lenovos are so many evolutionary steps from the original IBM ThinkPads that I'm not sure that counts for anything anymore.
posted by Alterscape at 9:21 AM on May 25

I haven't used windows much. But, Lenovo's high-end/business-themed stuff in the Thinkpad brand continues to be surprisingly good. The hardware is well documented and easy to upgrade.
posted by eotvos at 9:44 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I'd watch Costco ads for one of the recommended laptops in this thread or Tom's Hardware, take it home and return it if you don't like it. Rinse wash and repeat.

Wife and I did something like that years ago with Best Buy, getting 2 Asus identical laptops which have really lasted (knock on wood).

Of course be careful to check the current return policy before pulling out your credit card.
posted by forthright at 10:16 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

I bought a Thinkpad based on this question. Seems great so far!
posted by Paper rabies at 10:21 AM on May 25

Response by poster: If you're coming into this thread to recommend a Mac go ahead and sit this one out. Our household has Windows, Mac, and Linux computers so I'm well aware of the trade-offs. There are lots of nice things we can say about Macs but "they fit our particular use case" is not one of them.
posted by Tehhund at 10:24 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]

I bought an HP Spectre a few years back and I'd buy another if I was looking for a new machine today. Compact and lightweight machine.
posted by kindall at 10:42 AM on May 25

Surface Laptop 4 or Dell XPS are the models I'd consider for this. I have a top-end Surface Laptop 3 for work, and it's excellent; the build quality is absolutely up there with a Mac (although, so is the price).
posted by parm at 11:24 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

My work laptop is a Dell Precision 5500 series and it's basically equivalent to a Macbook Pro. I was pretty impressed.

(Windows laptops in general seem to have upped their game a lot over the last 5 years or so.)
posted by neckro23 at 12:23 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

You definitely want things marketed towards business (Dell Precision, HP Elitebook, some of the Thinkpad line) or high end consumer (HP spectre, Dell XPS, MS Surface). The cheap consumer stuff won't last.
posted by mmascolino at 2:17 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

I'm pleased with my recent purchase of a used (not refurbished) ThinkPad T480s. The "8" in that model name stands for 2018, and the "s" for slim. A T470 like rongorongo's got is thicker, has more ports and so forth, and is from 2017, but is otherwise extremely similar. It's got excellent build quality, a good screen and so forth, though only two USB ports, which is a drag.

I recommend T-series ThinkPads from this era in general. Going back a few years-- I think back to 2017-- gets you a removable battery on some models, which is nice. There was a period where they had a "bridge" battery inside, too, allowing hot-swapping of the main battery for truly extended battery life.

Mine came with a few years remaining on the previous (corporate) owner's top-end Lenovo warranty, which entitles me to in-person service from a technician who comes to my home to install replacement parts at no cost whatsoever to me. I've used that warranty twice: once when the fan assembly started to loudly fail, and once when I spilled something on the keyboard.
posted by 4th number at 2:43 PM on May 25

I’ve twice had to decide between a Dell XPS 13 and an HP Spectre 360 (not because one broke on its own but because of catastrophic trauma no computer could have survived). Both seem to fit exactly what you’re looking for and most of the experts on the internet think the Dell slightly nudges out the HP in terms of best consumer Windows ultrabook. Still, both time I was able to find a deal on the HP Spectre that put it several hundred dollars below the equivalent Dell, and both times been very happy with performance, build quality, and enjoyment of use. Both should be on your list as you narrow down your options.
posted by exutima at 4:00 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

Just bought a new fieldwork laptop this week, my main criteria were high memory/storage, small and ultraportable. I wanted a Dell XPS but could only afford the basic, so settled on an Inspiron 14 specced way up instead. No regrets!
Before that I had a series of Lenovos I was pleased with (RIP Miix). Their ThinkPads seem to make people happy, but the red nip mouse gives me bad tech startup flashbacks.
posted by Freyja at 3:55 AM on May 26

That T480s that 4th number suggested is great option for the folks looking for an older* machine (which I don't think is the question here) as that year is when they got both USB C and quick charging. Lenovo claims to be "simplifying" their naming scheme and a couple of years ago went from the T490 to the T14 while the X13 followed the X390. Which is simpler only in that it contains less characters.

*i'm a huuuge fan of the T430's - it's just the platonic ideal for a general purpose device for around 100$
posted by zenon at 11:01 AM on May 26

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