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What makes a good laptop?

One thing about this job is that everyone in your life — from friends to relatives to distant acquaintances and strangers on the Internet — will ask you questions about laptops from time to time. The most common one I hear is one of the hardest to answer: “What makes a good laptop?”

Unfortunately, my beloved asked the question, and the answer — as with most answers in life — is subjective. Sometimes I hate a laptop that my fellow reviewers love and vice versa. (I’m always right, but don’t listen to them.)

But this question prompted me to step back and do a little introspection (as one does). What makes a laptop different? i like From a laptop good?

First, it’s easy to think of what makes a laptop Not good. One hour battery life? Not good. A USB-C port, that’s all? Not good. Does it take 12 minutes to boot up? Not good. Does it cost $8,000? Probably not good unless it comes with a free car or something. And that’s just off the top of my head — I could whip these up all day.

But the question is what There is Good is difficult, I think, because most devices serve very different audiences and use cases. Seven hours of battery life may be necessary for a good ultraportable, but not for a good gaming rig. A discrete GPU might be necessary for a good gaming laptop but certainly not for a business-oriented convertible.

There are many features (specific ports, screen resolutions and refresh rates, keyboard feel, bezel size) over which people can reasonably disagree. But I am do Assume that a general purpose laptop (such as anything that looks remotely like a MacBook Air) has a certain set of things to be “good”. I would hesitate to recommend an ultrabook that doesn’t meet these requirements, and so should other reviewers. If you’re shopping for a general-purpose laptop, you want to make sure you’re buying one that meets these criteria, regardless of other preferences you may have.

  • At least 1920 x 1080 display. High profile models with lower resolutions than this are still sold, and in today’s market, those models are not good. (And I’m sour on 1080p on screens 16 inches or larger – you can actually see the pixels on them.)
  • At least two ports and a headphone jack. I wish I could put a higher number here, but many of the best laptops on the market today are sold with exactly two USB-C ports and a headphone jack. It’s gone too far. I’m just declaring: I don’t care how much you love your Thunderbolt dock, a laptop with fewer than two ports is not good.
  • Fans that work and are not too loud. It’s the year 2022, people. If my five Chrome tabs are turning your chassis into a toaster and your fans into a symphony orchestra, your laptop is no good.
  • Keyboard backlighting. This is essential for working late at night and is especially helpful for the visually impaired. Good laptops require it.
  • Hinges with at least 1 mm of travel. I know there’s a (inexplicable, frankly) spontaneity out there that prefers flatter keyboards. However, even if you like flat-keyboard-er, I can assure you that you don’t want keys with less than 1mm of travel. That’s butterfly keyboard territory, nobody wants it. We in the laptop community don’t like to remember the times of our lives.
  • Seven hours or more of battery life for general purpose use. There is no longer any excuse for five hours of battery life, even at the lowest prices in this category. If someone tries to recommend you a laptop that reviewers are getting less than seven, or Maybe Six and a half hours later, tell them they’re wrong and send them this article. You are welcome.
  • Usable processor. Yes, I’m coming for Celeron: it’s time to stop putting them in laptops. Even for people with very light workloads, they’re very slow – and even if you’re on a tight budget, I guarantee you’ll save money in the long run by buying a longer-lasting chip. Sorry, Celeron. You’ve had a good run.

Now, if you are shopping for a specific purpose, not all of these items will apply and there may be other things to look for. Here are some other use cases.

  • What makes a good laptop for college? Portability. A good student-focused laptop should be under three and a half pounds, give or take. Backpack space is prime real estate at school, and you’re going to be carrying this thing around A lot.
  • What makes a good laptop for business?? Build quality. This is something that people on a budget can compromise on for lower price points in the general use space, but business laptops as a category are expensive and they need to withstand the test of time to earn their value. A good business laptop should be made of aluminum, carbon fiber, or other non-plastic materials, and they shouldn’t bend all over the place when you torque the screen or tap on the keyboard deck. Generous storage and excellent security features also make a good business laptop (and laptops marketed to the business space, in general, have these features).
  • Which is the best laptop for gaming? Frame rates. Things like keyboards, touchpads and battery life are less fundamental here and more subjective – most people may want better ones, but there’s room for reasonable disagreement as to how important they are. One thing that can objectively make or break a gaming laptop is good frame rates for its price — and that’s what reviewers and buyers should focus on when evaluating these products.

At the end of the day, whether a laptop is “good” or not doesn’t matter nearly as much as whether the laptop works well for you. I, myself, have certainly enjoyed using a laptop here and there that doesn’t meet all of these criteria. We like what we like and gadgets are no exception.

However, I believe there is value in us, reviewers, keeping such strict definitions in our heads when deciding what to recommend. Our friends, relatives and random Twitter advocates have no context for these products that we do.

I’ve heard so many horror stories from friends who were convinced to pay $600 for Celeron machines on the Best Buy floor, bought their kids a 1366 x 768 machine that had trouble reading, or ordered a crappy plastic chassis that only lasted a year because it was the cheapest thing they saw on Amazon. It’s important for companies to make affordable machines, but it’s also important that those machines deliver on the promise of the 2022 laptop. Some parts of this business are subjective, but some aren’t — and it’s a service to everyone to keep that in mind.

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