When you’re looking for a great laptop for travelling, you probably should consider your options differently than when you’re buying a laptop just for use at home or at the office.
Normally, you’d probably just look at your budget and get the best possible specs for your dollars. But when it comes to travel laptops, there are a few other things besides just raw processing power or screen resolution to consider.
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, has lots of battery life, is easy to use, and that it can easily store everything you need.
Access to the cloud is not always available (or convenient) on the go, especially if you’re travelling abroad or when you’re flying. That means being able to store plenty of files locally can be a more important factor.
Similarly, battery life is often key to being productive and online while travelling. Often a slightly more modestly specced laptop can get you much better battery life. Consider, for example, the increased battery life on a Dell XPS with a regular HD screen, versus one that has a QHD+ display with touch. Sure, the QHD+ display will look a little crisper, but it draws much more power too. So the question becomes: do you really need it? (And do you want to spend a lot of money extra on this, too?)
Certain graphics cards may be great for gaming, but will also heat up your laptop and drain lots of battery, making these less obvious for a dedicated travel laptop.
The following laptops are our current top picks for nomads, frequent travelers, 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.
Quick Overview: Best travel laptops at a glance
Dell XPS 13" (latest edition)
Best overall travel laptop
- 8th generation Intel Core i5-7200u 2.50 GHz Processor
- 8GB lpddr3-1866mhz
- 128GB SSD storage
Acer Aspire E15
- Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processor
- 4, 6 or 8 GB of RAM
- 256GB SSD
Acer Spin 1
- Intel Celeron N3350 Dual-Core Processor (Up to 2.4GHz)
- 11.6" Full HD (1920 x 1080) Multi-touch widescreen LED-backlit IPS display
- 4GB DDR3L Memory, 32GB Storage
Asus ZenBook UX330UA
- 13.3 Inch Anti-glare FHD 1920 x 1080 Display
- Latest 8th Gen Intel i5-8250U 1.6 GHz Processor
- 256GB SATA 3 M.2 SSD
Microsoft Surface Book 2
- 8th generation Intel Quad Core i7 Processor
- 512 GB of storage
- 16 GB RAM
HP Spectre x360
- 12.0-Inch diagonal wuxga+ IPS wled-backlit IPS touchscreen Display
- Intel Core m3-6y30, 0.9GHz, dual-core Processor
- 4GB LPDDR3 SDRAM Memory
Acer Chromebook R13
Best budget travel laptop (for basic tasks)
- MediaTek Quad-Core CPU, 13.3” Full HD Touch Display
- 4GB Memory
- 32GB eMMC
Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA
- Flexible 360 Degree hinge and 12.5" full-HD touchscreen
- Intel Core Processor with 64GB storage
- 4GB RAM
Best Windows travel laptops (budget)
Get this if: you need to run Windows apps but don’t wish to splurge on an ultrabook
Price range: $300 – $600
If you need a fast and highly capable laptop that is also light and portable, then ultrabooks are truly the best category to look at (scroll down for our ultrabook recommendations). But if you’re on a tighter budget, or if you don’t necessarily need a ton of horsepower, then there are some good budget Windows laptops to consider.
The following are our 3 top picks. They’re perfectly suitable for Office work, browsing, and media — and they can even run apps like Photoshop decently well. But if you’re a more demanding user, you may feel these are a little slow and lack sufficient storage space.
Acer Aspire E15 (latest version)
You don’t usually expect much from a sub $500 laptop — they tend to be poorly made, provide a lousy performance and offer only the bare minimum most of the times. But surprisingly enough, Acer Aspire E15 outperformed most of its competitors and offers those features that we expect only from the relatively pricier laptops. Let’s give it a closer look then.
It comes with either an Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processor along with 4, 6 or 8 GB of RAM. One of the biggest wow-factors of Aspire E15 is that despite being a cheap laptop it does offer an SSD, whereas most of the others include the slower HDD. Although small, the provided 256 GB solid state drive should be enough for your day-to-day stuff.
E15 comes with 2 types of display- the cheaper models feature an HD (1366 x 768) panel whereas the relatively costlier models feature a much better FHD (1920 x 1080) display. Surprisingly despite its compact stature, it comes with an array of useful ports. It touts 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 USB 3.0 port, a full-size HDMI port, an Ethernet port and also a USB type-C port. It also includes the old school CD drive… in case someone still uses those!
It’s decent performance-wise and can handle a moderate amount of multitasking. Although there was no significant delay or stutter while watching videos and running dozens of browser tabs, the performance starts to degrade if you burden it anymore.
In terms of portability, it lasts for nearly 8 hours when surfing the web or doing light tasks. Not an outstanding performance by any means but it will be enough to survive a day’s worth of use. A big drawback of this laptop is, however, the weight. At 2.5kg or 5.6 pounds it’s nearly twice as heavy as your average ultrabook.
We recommend the Acer Aspire E15 for anyone who needs good specs at a low price, but won’t mind lugging a heavy machine around. It’s a good option if portability is not your primary concern, or if you just want a cheap but capable Windows laptop to take on the road while your main computer stays home.
Acer Spin 1
You think a good 2-in-1 have to be costly? Or maybe the cheaper ones must be terrible? Well, you’re not half wrong, but Acer Spin 1 is certainly an exception. It’s powered by either an Intel Celeron or Pentium processor which is accompanied by 4 GB of RAM. The included eMMC Flash storage (which usually range from 32 to 128 GB) may be insufficient unless you also use the microSD storage. The biggest positive of this convertible undebatably is the 11.6″ FHD panel which is one of the best in terms of clarity and brightness in this price range. It allows you to use the stylus which is supplied along with the laptop for scribbling and taking notes directly on the screen. The port selection is quite good as well including a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 port, an HDMI port and a microSD reader although it doesn’t include a USB type-C port.
Along with all the positives, there indeed are a few drawbacks as well. Firstly, the battery backup is decent at max at 7 hours while surfing the internet. And secondly, as mentioned earlier, the in-built Flash storage may be limiting even for day-to-day chores.
Asus ZenBook UX330UA
ZenBook UX330UA is slightly costlier than the rest of the entrants in this list, although that’s for a good reason. This aluminum armored knight is powered by either an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor along with 8 gigs of RAM. There’s is either a 256 GB or 512 GB SSD for your storage needs which is pretty average in terms of transfer rate as it’s pretty darn slow. The 13.3-inch FHD IPS display, on the other hand, is simply excellent thanks to both a high color coverage and brightness. At just 2.6 pounds or 1.2kg, it’s highly light and portable.
The port selection is good overall which includes 2 USB type-A ports, a micro HDMI port, a card reader and also a USB type-C port. The performance is simply fantastic as there was no noticeable lag even after burdening it with dozens of browser tabs. One key drawback is that the touchpad is somewhat lousy.
Best Windows laptops (ultrabooks)
Get this if: you need a high-end laptop that lets you be highly productive on the road
Price range: starting around $800 but can go up to $3000
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. 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.
Dell XPS 13
The XPS series from Dell undoubtedly is the spearhead of the portable, general purpose laptop section. Dell XPS 13 is powered by an Intel Core processor and you’d get either a Core i3, Core i5 or a Core i7 chip. It’s accompanied by a DDR3 RAM which, once again, varies according to your specific model. For the storage needs, it comes equipped with a PCIe Solid State Drive which makes it much, much faster and snappier than a standard hard disk drive powered machine.
The XPS 13 features a 13.3-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) anti-glare display. If you, by any chance, are not satisfied by the FHD display (or simply, are a fan of the QHD panel) you can opt for the rather expensive QHD+ model which also supports touchscreen. But that can have a negative impact on the battery life of the laptop. The panel brightness is pretty darn good at 370 nits and 310 nits making them perfect for working outdoors.
XPS gives a pretty solid show in the performance department as well. There was nearly no sign of lag or stutter even upon opening dozens of tabs in the browser while streaming videos. You can stay assured that this laptop would be able to handle almost any task that you can throw safely at a 13-inch notebook, although the Core i7 model is much stronger than the i3 or the i5 variants.
Okay, let’s talk about the connectivity of this laptop. Unlike the previous XPS 13 9360 model, it comes with 3 USB type-C ports. While the type-C ports help it charge from external power sources (such as an external power bank which is very useful for the travellers) and transfer data much faster than your usual type-A ports it still is not as widespread as the type-A ports. So, if you’re not very pleased after hearing this news I think you should go for the previous 9360 version.
Battery life is influenced greatly by the internal configuration of the laptop. The basic model with the FHD panel was able to last nearly 12 hours while the high-end, flashy version with the QHD+ panel lasts for only 8 hours. If you want even more juice out of your laptop I would recommend you to go for the 9360 version as it comes equipped with a slightly bigger battery which enables it to run for a whopping 15 hours!
Now, let’s not forget that nothing in this world is perfect- not even the XPS. Firstly, it doesn’t come with a dedicated graphics unit. The integrated Intel HD Graphics GPU maybe is good for amateur video or photo editing but would run out of juice for gaming or other intense uses. Even games like Dirt 3 would run only in the lowest possible settings. One good alternative would be the XPS 15 model which comes with the option of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050. Secondly, as stated earlier there is NO USB type-A port which means you could have trouble connecting the older gadgets as type-C ports are still not that widely used. Finally, in order to make the XPS screen so thin-bezelled, the webcam is somewhat awkwardly placed in the bottom-left corner.
That said, the Dell XPS is one of the thinnest and fastest lightweight ultrabooks around, making it one of the best Windows travel laptops you can buy.
Update: the XPS line was updated in early 2019. That means you can either pick up the previous models a little cheaper, or go for the latest and greatest. One reason to go for the 2019 edition (model number 9380) is the much more sensible center-top position of the webcam, which finally addresses the XPS’ only shortcoming.
Microsoft Surface Book 2
Although aesthetically Surface Book and Surface Book 2 aren’t that much different, the internal configuration has been changed quite a bit. Surface Book 2 comes in 2 sizes- the smaller 13.5 inch and the bigger and pricier 15 inch. You can use it in any of the 3 modes- the laptop, the convertible or the tablet. The PixelSense QHD display alone is enough to spin some heads with its crystal clear visuals. But the biggest attraction indeed is the battery life – it can easily last for a good long 15 hours even when used for watching movies. That would be more than enough to survive long flights with ease.
Although Microsoft has put quite a bit of effort in making it nearly perfect it still has some drawbacks. First and foremost, the price is simply way too steep for a general purpose laptop. Even the most basic version without the dedicated GPU would cost you over a thousand bucks. Secondly, there’s no Thunderbolt-enabled port although you get a USB-C port. Instead, you get the Surface Connect ports which, if you ask me, are simply overhyped. And lastly, even after paying the top dollar (and burning a hole or two in your pocket) you won’t get the Surface Pen with it; you have to buy that $100 stuff separately. Quite a bummer!
HP Spectre x360
Do you still believe that a 2-in-1 have to be a bland piece of metal and can’t look gorgeous? You haven’t met the HP Spectre in that case. This svelte looking convertible comes in 2 sizes as usual- the 13 inch and the 15 inch. It offers either the standard FHD display or the eye-catching UHD panel. Spectre x360 13 includes both the USB type-A and type-C port which makes it convenient for charging on the go with the help of external power bricks. The battery backup of the FHD variant under everyday workload is around 8-10 hours which is pretty standard. The backup comes down to a meagre 6 hours in the power-hungry 4K version.
One of the major drawbacks of Spectre x360 13 is that it doesn’t have the option of a dedicated GPU; you have to make do with the onboard Intel UHD Graphics 620 which can, honestly speaking, serve you only that much. If you are looking for a bit of serious graphics work or gaming I would suggest you to go for the 15-inch version which gives you the option of NVIDIA MX150 which is pretty decent performance-wise.
Best Chromebook laptops (budget)
Get this if: you want an affordable ultraportable… and can make due with a simpler OS
Typical price range: $300 to $500
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 or Microsoft’s Office Online for Chrome. That said, for internet browsing, watching movies, basic photo editing, and everyday office suite use, a Chromebook will easily get the job done. Many recent models will also run Android apps (much like any tablet), making them excellent travel companions.
Chromebooks tend not to have a lot of storage space and are limited in which apps they can run. But if you need a laptop for simple word processing, online work, or entertainment, then they can be a clever budget option.
Acer Chromebook R13
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.
Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA
Unlike most of the other Chromebooks which concentrate more on the pricing Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA took a slightly different path and is more concerned about the quality. It packs an Intel Core M (or sometimes a Pentium) processor along with 4 or 8 gigs of RAM and eMMC storage of 32-128 GB under the full aluminium body. The attached 12.5-inch FHD display is simply fantastic for the price range with a good colour coverage and brightness.
The port selection is certainly not great but at least covers the most essentials including 2 USB type-C ports which lets you charge it by external power banks and a micro SD card reader. The battery backup is overall good, if not great, at 9 hours under standard web surfing workload. It’s a tad bit pricier than most of the available Chromebooks. But other than being costly, as mentioned earlier, there’s another issue- it doesn’t have any USB type-A ports meaning you have to use an adapter for connecting your regular gadgets.
Best Apple travel laptop
Apple MacBook Air 13″ (2019 edition)
We’ve mostly focused on Windows laptops in this article as Apple has been lagging behind technologically in recent years, not to mention experiencing some trouble with its MacBook Pro series (with many customers apparently ending up with malfunctioning keyboards). Despite once starting the ultrabook category with the MacBook Air, it hadn’t seen updates in several years.
But all of that changed this year when Apple (finally!) updated the MacBook Air. We recommend the Air over the MacBook Pro, as it is lighter, has more battery life, and is much more suitable for travel. That said, if you need to do processor-intensive tasks (such as video editing), you may want to go for the Macbook Pro instead.
The MacBook Air is thinner and lighter than ever before, has Apple’s beautiful industrial design as well as a Retina display, and is a favoured option among digital nomads. It can feel a tad underpowered compared to similarly priced Windows ultrabooks, however.
Best travel laptops in 2019:
- Acer Aspire E15
- Acer Spin 1
- Asus ZenBook UX330UA
- Dell XPS 13 (2019 edition)
- Microsoft Surface Book 2
- HP Spectre x360
- Acer Chromebook R13
- Acer Chromebook Flip C302CA
- MacBook Air (latest edition)
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