Which laptop should I get?
March 2, 2022 10:49 PM   Subscribe

Please just tell me which laptop to buy!

My old laptop (Samsung something-or-other) has died - or at least, the keyboard has, and I’ve decided it’s not worth salvaging as it’s quite old.

I’m a lawyer, mostly working from home. The vast majority of my time is spent emailing/researching/flicking between windows/composing documents. I’m used to the Windows operating system and it’s what I use for work.

Priorities are: slim, light, good battery life, nice to use, good screen resolution.

What I don’t need to do: gaming (never), video or sound editing, anything with fancy graphics.

I’ve been looking at the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 and Surface Pro X. I don’t have an iPad so I guess a laptop that converts to a tablet would be good. That said, I only buy & use iPhones, never Androids - will I hate using a Microsoft in tablet form??

If anyone techy has strong recommendations, it would be massively appreciated. I know very little about computers except whether they’re working or not - I know RAM is memory and the processor is speed and…not much else. Cost is not an issue, within reason, but I don’t want to pay for features I don’t need; I just want something that is nice to use and reasonably future-proof. Thanks in advance!
posted by Salamander to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Dell XPS 13, optional 4K screen, or Dell XPS 17 with 4K screen has the best screen (linked to base version, remember to click on the 4K screen)

HP Elite Dragonfly has optional 3840x2160 screen in 13.3 in and if you buy the extended battery, has up to 12 hours of usable battery life. It's also a "convertible" where the keyboard folds back so it can be used as a tablet.
posted by kschang at 11:19 PM on March 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For slim, light, and Windows I recommend the Dell XPS 13. Almost any configuration it comes in would probably be fine for you, though I'd suggest an i5 or (preferably) i7 CPU. 8GB of RAM would be OK but 16GB is not that much more and will give you a smoother experience.

You can get it in a convertible version that lets it turn into a clunky tablet or a standard laptop. I will note that my XPS 13's keyboard started going sticky around 3 years old so if you go that route, either look for an extended warranty or budget for a replacement. Other than that, it's had the best typing experience I've had on a thin and light laptop and I have a ridiculous amount of tech.

I've not used the Surface Pro lines so I can't give anecdata but my friends with them have generally been happy and if you want a Windows laptop that can detach the keyboard to serve as a tablet, that's the route I would personally take.

will I hate using a Microsoft in tablet form

It's OK but it's not the polished experience of iOS. If your use case is casually reading websites or an eBook reader in tablet mode in the hammock after work, it's fine, but if you want to use it for content creation for work (without a keyboard), not as much. There's almost always a nagging feeling that you're using a desktop OS with a touch interface glued on rather than something that's designed from the ground up to be touch-centric.

On the other hand, even the cheapest iPads are quite good these days and if your personal use is already iOScentric, getting an iPad for that and a less expensive Windows system that's not tablet capable for professional use might be worth considering.
posted by Candleman at 11:39 PM on March 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'll ditto something of an XPS variety. The number is screen size so how big you want to go may depend on how much you travel with it. Bigger also means a bigger keyboard so likely more comfortable to use, but the tradeoff is bulk and, to a lesser extent (even the 17 isn't that heavy), weight.

People have mentioned the 13 and 17, so I'll just note that the midpoint 15 is also an option.
posted by juv3nal at 1:56 AM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

I had a Surface for work for a few years and while I loved the light weight and portability and touchscreen, it struggled when I had a lot of programs open and (ironically for a Microsoft product) especially with Teams video calls. My company also found the longevity just wasn't there - after 2-3 years everyone's started breaking down. The display on mine started glitching like crazy and our IT team just couldn't get it working properly. My suspicion is trying to make a computer in compact tablet form work 8+ hours a day just created too much heat and broke down the components. My Surface would get screaming hot to the touch; some of my coworkers' computers even warped. (These were ~2018-2019 era Surface tablets, not sure if they are better now.)
posted by misskaz at 4:35 AM on March 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

So, it's double the price of the XPS13, but my work laptop is a Latitude 5410, and I love it. It's a little bit faster than the XPS13, comes with twice as much RAM (16GB as opposed to 8GB, and can be expanded to 32GB), and has all the ports that laptops leave out nowadays (Ethernet, HDMI, USB-A and C, SD and SC card slots). It's more than I would ever need for a personal laptop, but is ideal as a work laptop.
posted by briank at 6:10 AM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have a Surface Pro 3 that I got a long time ago and it was great for reading and annotating PDFs in tablet mode. It took a nasty fall, cracking part of the screen and deforming the body, and has since become my son's computer but it's still chugging along. The screen is small so you'll want to plug it into an external monitor when it's in your desk.

I think generally if you're only getting a laptop every few years after the old one dies then whatever you get will be miles ahead of what you had so there are really no bad choices.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:09 AM on March 3, 2022

I have the convertible version of the XPS13 which I use pretty much exclusively for business applications/email/web and it works very well. I only got the convertible version because I needed a new computer, there was a good sale, and that was what was available in the time frame I needed. I also have an ipad so I never use the computer in tablet form. However, the touch screen (which works in either configuration) is very handy sometimes.

I want to say the touch screen is available in the non-convertible models as well, but I could be wrong.
posted by sevenless at 8:14 AM on March 3, 2022

My husband loves his XPS 13. I have an HP Elitebook from my job, and I envy the lightness of his. MIne has amazing speakers though :)
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:33 AM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

All of the XPS lines are available in non-convertible format with a touchscreen, which is what I have on my 13. Despite my previous statement that the Windows 10 experience on tablets is lacking, I do generally prefer it with a touchscreen. YMMV.

One other note on high resolution screens - most apps are scaling aware and look fine on the ~4K screens but some are not and are hard to use on a 13" screen unless your vision and mouse precision skills are top notch. If you use custom apps at work (which if they're like many apps that I've experienced with lawyers tend to be more than a little behind the times), you might want to compare notes with coworkers and/or experiment with a high resolution monitor to make sure that they all scale appropriately. I often travel with a 1080p USB C external monitor with my high resolution XPS 13 because some of the tools I need don't scale and are hard to use on the laptop screen.
posted by Candleman at 8:35 AM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

I also need to get a new laptop, processing matters to me (programming work / visual creative work / rare but possible gaming). I've decided that I'm going to wait for laptops carrying the 12th gen intel chips to become available / get third party reviews for heat management.
posted by real-fern at 9:00 AM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Can you give us a sense of what screen size you are looking for? Do you use an external monitor setup when working from home?

I've been pretty happy with HP Spectre x360 14. Its display is 3:2 instead of 16:9 or 16:10, which means I get a lot more vertical screen real estate. OLED displays are an option for the model, but they come at the expense of battery life.

Battery life is pretty bad for 2022 standards, but the Framework laptop is the ultimate in upgradability.
posted by oceano at 9:15 AM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Everything I’ve read suggests that intel’s 12th gen CPUs are a significant upgrade from 11th gen. (My 11th gen HP Spectre, can get uncomfortably warm.) As a stopgap measure, you could use an external (usb or bluetooth) keyboard.
posted by oceano at 9:53 AM on March 3, 2022

My laptop keyboard died three years ago. I bought a Bluetooth keyboard that sits on top of it and carried on.
posted by Hogshead at 1:00 PM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

You're used to Windows, but you're also in the Apple ecosystem with your iPhone so I think you should consider a MacBook Air. There are lots of niceties you get with the iCloud integration between devices. Even simple things like responding to text messages, opening links on your various devices, password management, etc are pretty great usability perks.

My partner is also an attorney in an all-Windows firm. She switched to an Air and the move was fairly painless. No issue connecting to network drives, the biggest item for her was downloading drivers for the office scanner, which you may need to do in Windows anyway.

The variables on the PC side tend to make you choose between battery life / newer processor / heat / memory / resolution / weight while lots of people agree that the new MacBooks are a great balance, and with no fan needed they are always quiet.
posted by homesickness at 1:14 PM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

A convertible Windows laptop isn't a bad choice. Windows is a fairly awful as a tablet operating system (one of the reasons I like my Mac laptops to run MacOS and my iPad to run iPadOS), but it's usable -- just don't think of using the touchscreen for everything. I had a Dell Latitude 13 convertible and hardly ever used the touchscreen, so your mileage may vary.

As much as I love my Apple hardware, there's no shame in sticking with Windows if that's what you know. I'm not the Dell fan I was ten years ago...from what I hear, Lenovo makes better hardware. But I think you would find the newer MacBooks to be a better deal as far as performance and quality, and the prices are very comparable with similar Windows hardware.
posted by lhauser at 2:04 PM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: XPS 13. I just got one of the new versions. OLED screen, 32gigs of ram. It's more than fast enough for anything I need, and even plays a few decent games for airplane rides. Battery life isn't as good as the HP, but it's good enough for me. I wanted thin and light. XPS delivers. Wonderful trackpad as well, and I have to confess, for an old Windows 7 guy .. 11 is a delight on the rig.
posted by damiano99 at 6:18 PM on March 3, 2022

If you look at the XPS 15, be sure to check out the reviews for heat issues. I've seen multiple reviews of the newest model that say that its cooling is insufficient for an 8 hour workday. FWIW, I've used my 4 year old XPS 13 for 8+ hours without a problem. It gets warm but not hot.
posted by Candleman at 8:11 AM on March 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for all the brilliant answers - I’m sticking with my old laptop plus an external monitor for now, will probably go for the Dell as an upgrade in June. :)
posted by Salamander at 12:38 AM on April 26, 2022

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