• Apple MacBook Air (2020)

  • How We Tested

  • What You Should Know About Budget Laptops

  • Other Budget Laptops We Tested

  • More Articles You Might Enjoy

macbook air m1
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

The M1 MacBook Air is a revolutionary laptop thanks to its crazy-fast M1 processor and its staggering 12+ hour battery life.

Best Overall
Apple MacBook Air (2020)

With north of a dozen hours of battery life, a crazy-powerful M1 processor, and an incredibly smooth trackpad and keyboard, it should be no surprise that the MacBook Air M1 shoved our previous top laptop out of its spot.

Compared to the mid-2020 MacBook Air, the M1 version is almost identical. The only changes are the switch from Intel to the Apple-made M1 processors, and the total lack of fans. Apple claimed this new M1 chip would be so amazing that we’d want to ditch our old Intel Macs. They delivered, with the M1 processor packing 7,667 points in Geekbench 5, over 1,000 points higher than our third-highest laptop, the Dell XPS 15 7390 with a 9th gen Intel Core i9 processor (the highest-end processor of that generation), and scoring less than 100 points under our fastest laptop processor, the insane AMD Ryzen 9-4900HS processor in the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14. Basically, this $1,000 laptop performs better than most laptops twice its price.

But it’s not all about performance. The most astonishing feature of the MacBook Air is its battery life. Our battery test always pulls less hours from the laptops than they claim to give, so we expected the claimed 15-hour battery life to turn into 9 hours—instead, we got over a dozen hours. In short, it shattered the record for longest battery life we’ve seen from a laptop running Chrome (the previous record was 9 hours and 44 minutes from the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 3). We went days on end without charging this laptop.

The MacBook Air M1 comes with the same aluminum chassis and Retina screen we loved in the earlier 2020 Intel MacBook Air, although we’d love to see a redesign for the MacBook Air’s next iteration (thinner bezels, perhaps?). This is one of the most surprising releases we’ve seen in years, and we can’t imagine anyone not falling in love with the M1 MacBook Air.

Pros

  • Jaw-dropping battery life

  • Incredible performance

  • Iconic build quality

Cons

  • Poor port selection

How We Tested

Testing
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

We test laptops for their processing capability, graphics, battery life, and screen brightness.

The Tester

I’m Whitson Gordon, and I’m a freelance tech writer charged with testing laptops here at Reviewed. I’ve been writing about tech professionally for almost 10 years, from building computers to setting up smart homes, and served as the editor-in-chief of Lifehacker and How-To Geek before freelancing for publications like the New York Times, PCMag, and Reviewed. This isn’t just my day job—it’s my calling. I’m obsessed with researching, testing, and finding the best possible gadget in a given category, so much so that my brother made it a central joke in his best man speech at my wedding.

I’m particularly picky about laptops, which need to achieve a delicate balance of processing power, battery life, portability, and build quality. If a keyboard, trackpad, and hinge aren’t going to stand the test of time, then the laptop isn’t worth buying. Thankfully, manufacturers have innovated a lot in recent years, finding new ways to stand out from the pack.

Hey there, I’m Adrien Ramirez, laptop staff writer here at Reviewed. I’ve been working professionally with tech and PCs for six years, from game development to reviewing and everything in between. Before I came to Reviewed, I had worked with Lifewire and the MIT Game Lab. I’m passionate about all things tech, although I especially enjoy working with PCs. When I’m not testing and evaluating laptops, I’m planning new keyboard and small form factor desktop builds, playing games in virtual reality, or nerding out about graphics cards.

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The Tests

Here at Reviewed, we test laptops for their processing capability, graphics, battery life, and screen brightness. We use popular benchmarks like Geekbench and 3DMark to gauge how well the laptop multitasks, runs games, and more. We also test multiple platforms, from Windows laptops to Macs and Chromebooks alike.

To test battery life, we set up our laptops to continuously cycle through various websites at a brightness of 200 nits—which is around 60% for many of these mid-range models—until they run out of power, estimating how much work you can get done on a single charge. We also use each laptop for an extended period of time, rating each on factors like build quality, price, portability, and design.

What You Should Know About Budget Laptops

$1,000 is a lot of money, but it’s actually more midrange when it comes to laptops. At this price point, you’re getting good performance for most everyday tasks that won’t feel sluggish after a year or two of use, plus solid build quality and a few nice bells and whistles like facial recognition. Still, you’ll likely have to make some choices about what’s most important to you. You’ll need to consider:

  • Performance: The CPU, graphics chip, RAM, and storage inside your PC determine how well your computer can multitask, handle intensive tasks like gaming, and store all your files. The better the specs, the snappier the laptop will feel as you work.

  • Build Quality: Not only do you want a laptop that can take a beating (since you’ll probably be lugging it around with you), but you want one with a well-built keyboard and trackpad since they’re your primary form of interaction with the machine. A poor trackpad or finicky keyboard can really kill the experience.

  • Touch Screens, Portability, and Features: 2-in-1s have gained in popularity, but that touch screen and pen cost money to include. Similarly, cramming all those powerful components into a small, easy-to-carry package can often cost more than a larger laptop with fewer design constraints.

In addition, consider which operating system you need. Windows is still the dominant OS these days, and if you’re going to play games, edit photos and videos, or need certain software for work, you’ll probably stick with Microsoft’s offering. If you spend all your time on the web and want to save some money, though, a Chromebook may serve you well.

Between Netflix, Gmail, Google Docs, and even online photo editors like Pixlr, you can do almost anything in a browser, and many of those web apps even work offline for those rare occasions you don’t have Wi-Fi. Chromebooks have the advantage of being cheaper (since they don’t need as much processing power) and virtually virus- and bloatware-free (since they run Linux under the hood).

Display Size

From there, you’ll need to look a bit deeper at the form factor. You’ll usually find laptops in one of three main sizes, measured by the diagonal length of the display:

  • 13 inches and under: These smaller laptops are great for carrying around, and more than suitable for light work like writing papers and browsing the web.
  • 15 inches: Mid-sized laptops are a bit less portable, and won’t necessarily work in space-constrained spaces like airplane seats. But the larger display is useful for photo editing and watching videos.
  • 17 inches: This is very large, and only recommended if you are doing video editing or other intensive work that requires a lot of screen real estate—and you don’t mind lugging it around.

There can still be varying sizes within those categories—for example, the XPS 13’s smaller bezels make it much smaller than most 13-inch laptops—and sizes in between, like the 14-inch Lenovo Yoga C740. But in general, picking a size range you’re comfortable with can help narrow down the field.

You’ll also want to consider how many USB ports the laptop has, whether you need HDMI and Ethernet, and how comfortable the keyboard and trackpad are to use—this can vary quite a bit from model to model, and it’s important to get something responsive and durable.

Under the Hood

Finally, you’ll need to consider the guts: the processor, graphics chip, RAM, and storage that determine your laptop’s capabilities. For browsing the web and using office software, lower-power chips (like the Intel Core i3 processor) are adequate, though midrange chips like the i5 are ideal if you can get them. 4GB of RAM is usable in a Chromebook, though even web browsing can eat up RAM these days, so 8GB is recommended if you tend to open lots of tabs, use lots of browser extensions, and want a laptop that’ll last you well into the future—we wouldn’t advise 4GB for most Windows users these days.

If, on the other hand, you run more intense workloads—whether that means heavy photo and video editing or running the latest PC games—you’ll want something with a bit more “oomph.” Intel’s higher-end i7 processors will make those video encodes run noticeably faster, and a dedicated graphics card will ensure your games run smooth as butter (instead of choppy like a bad flipbook).

No matter who you are, we recommend erring on the side of more storage rather than less—people often underestimate how much space they’ll fill up with all their music, photos, and videos over time, and it’s a hassle to lug an external drive around. Storage can be expensive, though, so if you can’t afford a 256GB solid-state drive, consider buying a laptop with an SD card slot and using a high-capacity card for cheap, expandable storage. Keep in mind internal upgradeability, too: many modern laptops solder their components onto the motherboard, meaning you can’t swap in more RAM or a bigger storage drive down the line. So either buy a laptop that keeps its components separate or spend a bit more to buy the specs you’ll need in a couple of years—not just what you need right now.


Other Budget Laptops We Tested

HP Envy x360 (13z-ay000 touch)

If you need a day’s worth of battery, a powerful processor, and a laptop that can handle occasional gaming, you may think you need to spend top dollar. Not so thanks to the HP Envy x360, which has an 8-hour battery life and impressive performance for well under $1,000.

It absolutely crushes the Intel-based Macbook Air in performance, looks just as beautiful, packs a pleasantly springy keyboard, and turns into a 2-in-1 tablet. Usually, in laptops this affordable and powerful, the screen isn't as great. Not so with the Envy x360, whose screen is bright and colorful.

HP really nailed it with this one, and you can't go wrong with any configuration. To get the best bang for your buck, we recommend getting an Envy x360 configured with an AMD Ryzen 5, 8GB RAM, and 256GB SSD storage. You can always upgrade storage later with a new drive or a microSD card if you need to.

Pros

  • Great battery life

  • Impressive performance

  • Powerful processor

Cons

  • Nothing we could find

HP Envy x360 15z

Fast, beautiful, and affordable, the 15-inch HP Envy x360 is a dream for those in need of a larger laptop that won't break the bank. We're usually weary of $500 laptops, but this one proves that you can get great laptops without making sacrifices. Inside its beautiful body, the 15-inch Envy packs an AMD Ryzen 5 processor that trades blows with laptops twice its price—perfect for photo editing, light gaming, and even a bit of video editing.

What's even more impressive is that it can hit all the marks while still delivering almost seven hours of battery life. While it doesn't outdo the MacBook Air, it stands on par with the Air's competitors, like the HP Spectre 15 or the Dell XPS 15. It's undoubtedly the best 15-inch laptop in its price range, and we doubt we'll see a worthy contender for its crown anytime soon.

Pros

  • Excellent performance

  • A beautiful design

  • Sturdy 2-in-1 hinges

Cons

  • So-so battery life

  • Heavy

Microsoft Surface 3 (VGY-00001)

Microsoft’s mainline Surface Laptop packs just about everything you could need in a slim, portable machine. It has a beautiful high-resolution display with a 3:2 aspect ratio perfect for web browsing, a smooth and accurate trackpad, and a quiet backlit keyboard with 1.3mm of key travel—not quite as deep as we’d like, but good enough for typing longer documents. Plus, seven and a half hours of battery life assures us that you can get through just about the whole workday on a single charge. We also love the latest Microsoft Surface Laptop 4, but the Surface Laptop 3 is almost as good for a much lower price.

You also get face recognition for near-instantaneous login, a touchscreen, a USB-C, and USB-A port—which is awfully nice during this transition period between the two standards. Plus, you get a Windows installation free of manufacturer bloatware. It does still have Windows 10’s usual pre-installed games like Candy Crush and Farm Heroes, but at least those aren’t bothering me with notifications all the time (like the antivirus trials that come on oh-so-many laptops these days).

I have quibbles with the Surface Laptop, but they’re small. The keyboard has just a bit of flex to it and Microsoft’s proprietary charger is more annoying to use than a standard USB-C charger would be. The charger does, however, have an extra USB port in the power brick, so you can charge your phone at the same time—a very nice touch. I also worry about the fabric keyboard discoloring over time—but these are minor nitpicks and, to their credit, Microsoft claims the fabric keyboard can be cleaned with soap and water once every month or two. Battery life clocks in at seven hours and thirteen minutes in our test, which is good, but not as high as we’ve seen in other models.

Those nitpicks are overshadowed by the Surface Laptop’s fantastic design and performance. The base model was actually the most powerful laptop we tested under a grand. With a Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, it can handle most everyday workloads without skipping a beat. The default 128GB of storage is a bit less than we usually recommend, but you can replace the SSD yourself thanks to the Surface Laptop’s easy-to-open design. You can’t upgrade the RAM, though, so make sure to buy as much as you think you’ll need for the life of the machine.

Pros

  • Slim

  • Portable

  • Accurate trackpad

Cons

  • Mediocre battery life

Dell XPS 13 9310 2-in-1 (2020)

Dell’s XPS 13 has long been one of the best-engineered laptops on the market, and the 2-in-1 version of Dell’s flagship keeps a lot of the same features that make the standard XPS 13 so impressive. Its performance was among the best we tested, with our mid-tier configuration boasting a 10th-gen Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. Battery life came in squarely at seven hours, which is just about enough to get you through the workday, and a bright 4K screen will suit you even if you’re working outdoors. Most importantly, it has the same super-thin bezels as its non-touch sibling, meaning you get a 13-inch laptop in a tiny package more similar to competing 11-inch laptops. The base model is a smidge above the $1,000 line at $1,049, but it's worth it.

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is lacking in a few things compared to the non-touch model, though. The keyboard is also incredibly shallow—even more so than this year’s non-touch version—which means typing for long sessions isn’t as comfortable as other laptops. Additionally, its storage is soldered onto the motherboard just like the RAM, which means you can’t upgrade it later on like you can with the non-touch version—so buy what you think you’ll need for the future, not just what you need now.

Still, even with those notable downsides, Dell is still ahead of the pack in terms of performance and product design. The trackpad is near-perfect, the touch screen hinge is smooth as butter, and the laptop is thin enough that it’s actually decent to use as a tablet, especially with the sold-separately Dell Active Pen. And even with that super-compact design, it still bested most of its competition in performance, which is no small feat.

Pros

  • Top-tier performance for an ultraportable

  • Bright, gorgeous screen

  • Incredibly thin, portable form factor

Cons

  • Keyboard is very shallow

  • Port selection is limited

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 (QWU-00001)

The well-loved Microsoft Surface Pro isn’t really a laptop, but a Windows tablet that can do double duty when paired with the Microsoft Type Cover—so we’d be remiss not to include it. We tested the 7th generation model with an i7 processor and 16GB of RAM, which costs well over $1000—though you can grab the i5 version with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for only $900.

The Surface Pro’s display also stands out from the pack, with a whopping 2736x1824 resolution and a respectable 375 nits of brightness, for a super-sharp image with bright, vibrant colors. The Type Cover’s keyboard is quite decent despite its slim profile, but the trackpad is a bit small, and the kickstand is a bit more awkward to use than a standard laptop hinge. That said, some people love the half-tablet-half-laptop form factor of the Surface Pro line, and for well under a grand, it’s a great price for the performance you get.

Pros

  • Compact body

  • Bright display

Cons

  • Surface Pen and Type Cover cost extra

HP Spectre x360 13t Touch (13-aw0013dx)

HP’s Spectre line merges performance with a premium design, featuring an all-aluminum build, a convertible touch screen, and great performance in an incredibly small package. Like the Dell XPS 13, the Spectre x360’s bezels are super thin, so you pack a 13-inch screen into a much smaller chassis. But despite that, the keyboard is big, backlit, and surprisingly deep for the laptop’s size. Two USB-C ports and one USB-A port make for a versatile port selection, battery life hits a clean seven hours and forty-five minutes, and you can log in quickly with facial recognition or a fingerprint scanner.

Unfortunately, the Spectre had one big downside compared to its competitors: its trackpad is awfully small, making it hard to use comfortably. It’s a super sleek laptop, and it checks most of the right boxes, but its usability suffered enough that it doesn’t quite stack up to the other great models we tested.

Pros

  • Great design

  • Beautiful display

  • The keyboard is a dream

Cons

  • Starting price a little high

Acer Aspire 5 (A515-55-56VK)

The Acer Aspire 5 is a legend in the cheap laptop arena. For years, you could get an Acer Aspire and get an extremely fast laptop, with a ton of memory and storage, for around $550—with an upgraded model around $700. It was plastic, the screen was bad, and it was bulky (including a CD burner), but it was great for the price.

The updated Aspire 5 has an all-new design that sheds some of the thickness—and the CD burner, RIP—for a design that feels like a more conventional, affordable machine. It has chiclet style keys, a mostly plastic body, and a raft of ports including a full-size HDMI, USB-C, three USB ports, and an honest-to-goodness Ethernet port. It also sports some updated design cues that lend it an air of class that the previous Aspire sorely lacked.

In our tests, the updated Aspire proved it’s still a great machine if you need a lot of power and ports on a budget. The machine was more than fast enough for basic tasks, though the battery lasted less than seven hours in our browsing test and the screen was fine, at best.

Unfortunately, the magic isn’t quite there. This is a great machine for the money, but there are a lot of laptops in this price range that are sleeker, faster, and offer better battery life. It’s good if you never, ever want to carry a dongle, but for everyone else our top pick is a better, cheaper bet.

Pros

  • Great port selection

  • Elegant looks

Cons

  • Battery life could be better

Asus Zenbook 14 (Q407IQ-BR5N4)

Compared to the 2019 Zenbook 13, the AMD-based Zenbook 14 trades in its 8th gen Intel processors for markedly better performance and battery life while maintaining the Zenbook line’s admirable portability. We were a little disappointed to see the premium build quality go on the cheaper models, but this is still a good midrange buy with some of the best battery life and weight in its class.

When you open the laptop, the comfortable keyboard stands out. It’s deep and easy to type on, and it’s not as cramped as the Zenbook 13’s keyboard. The extra inch makes a difference. This model’s trackpad isn’t the glassy glider from, say, a Macbook, but it’s nonetheless comfortable to use thanks to its width and its excellent fingertip detection.

However, we were not impressed with the Zenbook 14’s screen. This matte 1080P panel gets darker than last gen’s glossy screen, but it’s also 70 nits dimmer at max brightness. Its colors are also a bit more washed out than those of the Zenbook 13’s display.

One aspect where the Zenbook 14 far surpasses its predecessor is in performance, arguably the aspect that most affects your experience with a laptop. Its new Ryzen 5 4500U processor is blazing fast, crushing the old Intel Core i5-8500U in benchmarks, and its lower power consumption means the Zenbook 14 has a battery life of almost eight and a half hours. Overall, this is a great budget laptop for those in need of a powerful but uber-portable traveling companion.

Pros

  • Fantastic battery life

  • Solid performance

  • Decent keyboard

Cons

  • Display is somewhat dull

Lenovo Yoga C740 (81TD0003US)

If you want a slightly larger screen, Lenovo’s Yoga C740 stretches the display to a comfortable, but still-portable 14 inches, with a thin body and a 2-in-1 convertible touch screen to boot. It also has a fantastic trackpad, a fingerprint scanner, and a decent keyboard, though the keys feel slightly plasticky compared to the just-over-$1,000 C940.

Its port selection is decent, with two USB-C ports and one USB-A for your older devices, though it does come with a bit of pre-installed bloatware (like a McAffee Antivirus trial that nags you for money quite a bit). And, despite its i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage, its performance was the lowest of all the Windows laptops we tested—though it costs just over $800, so it’s a bit more affordable too, especially considering its 2-in-1 design. Plus, its battery life was just under eight hours, so you can be confident that it’ll last you through the day.

Pros

  • Thin body

  • Convertible touchscreen

Cons

  • Bloatware

Meet the testers

Whitson Gordon

Whitson Gordon

Freelance Writer

Whitson Gordon is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.

See all of Whitson Gordon's reviews
Adrien Ramirez

Adrien Ramirez

Staff Writer

@itsaramkat

Adrien is a staff writer for Reviewed, mainly focused on reviewing laptops and other consumer tech. During his free time, he's usually wandering around Hyrule.

See all of Adrien Ramirez's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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