Last Updated: January 2018
Portability, battery life, storage space and of course price are some of the key considerations when buying a travel laptop.
When it’s a device that will be with you on the road it’s important to consider raw specs like memory and processing power, but it’s equally important that your laptop is versatile and lightweight, easy to use, and that it can easily store everything you need (as WiFi or mobile data is never guaranteed, especially if you’re travelling abroad).
Smartphones and tablets may be convenient for basic uses, but ultimately you can’t beat having a fully capable computer with a larger screen, full keyboard, and more processing power. The following laptops are some of the current top picks for nomads, frequent travellers, or anyone else needing a good computer on the go. We’ll start with some affordable budget options before getting to some higher-end lightweight laptops.
— by Marek Bron & Matthew Schall
Budget Chromebook laptops
Get this if: you want an affordable ultraportable… and can make due with a simpler OS
Typical price range: $300 to $500 (or from about 300 Euro or GBP)
Want a no-frills inexpensive travel laptop? Then a Chromebook can be an incredibly tempting option, so long as you know what to expect.
Chromebooks don’t run a full operating system like Windows 10, but a more basic one designed around the Chrome browser. This does make them more efficient (and free of typical Windows bloatware) as well as a lot cheaper.
You can’t run professional-grade video editing software or Adobe Photoshop on them, and instead of Microsoft Office you’ll have to use the free Google Docs and Sheets apps (which can be used offline) or Microsoft’s Office Online for Chrome (this is online only). So long as you don’t mind this, a Chromebook could well be a perfect budget travel laptop for you.
For internet browsing, watching movies, basic photo editing, and everyday office suite use, a Chromebook will easily get the job done. With the ChromeOS file browser, you can also easily use it to back up files from your other devices (such as a camera). Many recent models have touchscreens and will run Android apps (much like any tablet), making them perfect travel companions.
Keep in mind that most Chromebooks only have 32GB or 64GB of storage space, which is less than the 128GB or 256GB typically found on ultrabooks. However, you do get a free 100GB subscription to cloud storage service Google Drive included with any Chromebook. You can also increase your local storage capacity if needed by adding a MicroSD card or USB drive.
Top Pick: Acer Chromebook R13Price: $408.99 view on amazon
Acer has made some nice Chromebooks over the years, but with the R13 and R11 they truly start to feel like… well, proper laptops. Even though we are normally ultrabook users, we’ve been very happy to use the Acer Chromebook R13.
Why do we like it? For starters it’s just amazing value, with the 13″ version selling for under $400 and the 11″ version selling for around $300. Judged on specs alone it might not seem like the fastest machine, but since it’s optimized for Chrome it’s surprisingly snappy in day-to-day use. It can easily handle dozens of browser tabs open while playing music or videos or running many browser extensions in the background.
Mind you, it isn’t a premium laptop. The screen has a thick bezel that looks nowhere near as sleek as a Dell XPS or Macbook screen. The standard trackpad is quite clicky and not as buttery smooth as a glass trackpad found on many ultrabooks. You also won’t look your best on Skype owing to a very low resolution webcam. But given the price, you really can’t complain. This laptop can handle most things that most people need a laptop to do, it’s affordable, and it’s incredibly easy to use.
The Acer Chromebook has a touchscreen with a 360-degree hinge, which means you can fold it up and use it like a tablet. This is great for traveling as there’s often little space on airplane tray tables or in trains and buses, yet the tablet mode lets you easily watch a video or flick through your travel guide PDFs from your lap. Both the R13 and R11 let you run Android apps (this feature is currently in Beta). The battery life is between 9 and 12 hours, which again is ideal for travel.
The R13 model is the better and faster laptop overall, but the R11 is a lot more lightweight.
You should get the R13 if you like the bigger keyboard, 2 hours more battery life, a 1080p full HD screen, and a USB-C charging port (this lets you charge the laptop from a portable power bank with a USB-C port if you’d like).
You should get the R11 instead for greater portability and a lower price. The screen is only 720p but it’s also much more comfortable to hold in tablet mode.
|Acer Chromebook R13 and R11
Excellent value and our personal top pick. Has touchscreen and Android support.
|Asus Chromebook Flip 10″ and 13″
With touchscreen and Android support. Choose between tiny 10″ or full size 13″.
Price: Out of stock
|Samsung Chromebook Pro
Has touchscreen and Android support, and includes a digital pen for drawing and writing.
Best ultrabook laptops
Get this if: you need a high-end laptop that lets you be highly productive on the road
Typical price range: starting around $800 but up to $3000 (or starting around 700 Euro or GBP)
Ultrabooks are high-end laptops that have the best combination of power and portability. As such these lightweight laptops tend to be the favorite tool of many nomads, remote workers, photographers / videographers, and other high-end users.
Despite typically weighing about 3 pounds (1.35kg) or less, ultrabooks tend to have impressive processing power for their size. They use faster and less energy-consuming SSD storage, though it’s worth noting that this tends to have a lower capacity than laptops with HDDs. If you need to store lots of very large files, consider getting a separate external portable drive.
Most ultrabooks advertise between 6 to 12 hours of battery life, though as always expect to hit the lower end of these estimates if you put it through a lot of intensive use.
If you do a lot of video editing, image editing, or a lot of multi-tasking, then an ultrabook is almost certainly the best type of travel laptop for you. But even for regular office and internet use, you may wish to consider an ultrabook if you’re a demanding user.
Apple originally established the ultrabook category with the first Macbook Air. But this product line is no longer being updated, and the Apple Macbook Pro is more or less seen as its replacement. Apple laptops have been getting more expensive while technologically lagging behind Windows 10 ultrabooks, so this makes them less tempting than they once were. Windows 10 ultrabooks are now a better deal (OS preferences aside).
Top Pick: Dell XPS 13Price: $789.89 view on amazon
Yes, Dell make those dull PCs you use at work. But they also happen to make one of the sexiest consumer ultrabooks around.
The screen on the XPS is gorgeous with only the thinnest of bezels around the display area. Even though it’s a 13.3 inch size screen, it fits within the typical space of a 11” laptop, making this a wonderfully space-efficient and portable device.
To make the edges so thin, the webcam did have to be placed pretty awkwardly. Instead of the usual top-middle position, it’s tucked away in the bottom-left corner, which produces some unflattering chin-heavy angles. That said, this is the only minor flaw in what is overall a wonderfully designed laptop. An aluminium casing and a carbon-fiber interior give this laptop a sturdy and durable feel, while the keyboard and glass trackpad are a joy to use.
The Dell XPS comes in many different flavors. The base configuration costs about $800 and gets you an Intel i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, and you may find these specs more than sufficient for common uses. As a demanding user you can also choose from plenty more powerful configurations. You can also get an XPS edition with a touchscreen, though since this isn’t a convertible laptop the utility of this is debateable (if you’ll be travelling with your XPS, it’s better to go without a touchscreen and save some battery life).
The Dell XPS is one of the thinnest and fastest lightweight ultrabooks around, making it one of the best travel laptops you can buy.
|Dell XPS 13
Comes in many configurations; this is the most basic one with an Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, and 128 GB storage.
Perhaps not as slickly designed as the XPS, but has great capabilities for its price.
Premium priced, but its beautiful 12″ Retina display is a perfect mid-size for travel.
2-in-1 convertible laptops
Typical prices: starting around $800 but up to $3000
Get this if: you like the increased flexibility and easier use for entertainment purposes
Convertible laptops can be used both as a normal laptop and as a tablet. Some of the Chromebooks mentioned earlier are also convertibles, able to essentially double as an Android tablet. To round out this guide, we should mention some Windows 10 convertibles as well.
There are times when you need a full laptop, but other times a tablet is vastly more comfortable, and now you can have both! I used to sit in airplane chairs all crunched up with my laptop in dinosaur arms position, but now I can just fold up the keyboard and hold the screen like a book. Much better.
It’s great to have a device that can easily function as ebook reader, video player, sketchpad, and more — but which can also transform into a full laptop with keyboard when needed. The only downside to convertibles is that they tend to be less powerful than regular ultrabooks, due to obvious size/design limitations. If you need to do a lot of video editing or other intensive tasks, maybe they’re not for you, but they can handle other tasks quite well.
Top Pick: Microsoft Surface ProPrice:
Microsoft’s laptop helped define the 2-in-1 convertible category, packing a ton of performance into a tiny lightweight 0.8kg / 1.7 pound device. If you’re looking for a mid-price option, then starting at about $700 it’s a great choice.
Ultra-thin and with 9 hours of battery life, it’ll easily last you through a long journey. The Surface Pro may look like just a regular tablet, yet it has a full keyboard, video out (to connect it to a monitor), USB ports, microSD card reader, up to 1TB of storage, and runs the full version of Windows 10. At 780 gram, it’s lighter than any ultrabook. The only downside is that the attachable keyboard relies on having a flat surface, so it’s not quite as easy to use casually on your lap as you would with a full laptop.
Note: the Surface is sold both with and without keyboard. If you need the keyboard, make sure it’s included!
|Microsoft Surface Pro
More of a tablet than a laptop, it’s one of the lightest devices.
|HP Spectre x360
One of the top Windows 10 convertibles currently available.
Best travel laptops in 2018:
- Acer Chromebook R13
- Asus Chromebook Flip 10″
- Samsung Chromebook Pro
- Dell XPS 13
- Asus Zenbook
- Macbook Pro
- Microsoft Surface Pro
- HP Spectre x360
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