For many travellers, the need to travel with a laptop has dramatically decreased. As smartphones have become more powerful, most of the tasks that required a kilogram or two of laptop a few years ago can now be done with that little device in your pocket. For watching movies or anything else requiring a larger screen, tablet computers like the iPad Air are generally cheaper and lighter.
Still, there are times when you just can’t beat a laptop of some sort. If you work while you travel, you’ll quickly hit major limitations with any device not running Windows, MacOS or Linux. Even if you don’t, writing large amounts of texts, editing photos and video, or most other tasks that are more about creating content than consuming it, are much easier on a laptop than anything else.
We’ve checked out dozens of laptops, of all shapes, sizes and configurations, to come up with what we believe are the best options for travellers in 2018.
As has been the case for a while, 12-14″ machines offer the best combination of size, weight, usability and price for travellers.
All three of our picks for the best travel laptops of 2018 are upgraded versions of already-excellent models. Shave some weight here, add the latest processors there, cram in more storage, improve the battery life and away you go. These machines run the full price range, from under $700 to over double that, but they have one thing in common: they’re all excellent laptops for travellers.
Asus Zenbook UX330UA
What’s this? A slim, attractive Ultrabook with plenty of memory and storage and no real design flaws, for under $800? Apparently so.
The Asus Zenbook UX330UA is a remarkably good, attractive laptop for the money. The base model has 8GB of memory, 256GB solid state drive and boasts excellent battery life of 9-12 hours under normal conditions. It’s also just half an inch thick and weighs well under three pounds. It has a good 13″ screen, decent speakers and plenty of processing power.
There are two display options, HD (1920×1080) and, for a little more, Quad-HD+ (3200×1800). Even though the price difference isn’t much, stick with the lower-resolution version unless you really want the high-res model for some reason. You’ll get better battery life, and HD resolution on a 13″ screen is a good balance.
The laptop has a useful mix of ports — one USB-C, 2 standard USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, and micro-HDMI for connecting to a TV or monitor if you’ve got one in your Airbnb apartment. There’s also a fingerprint sensor built into the trackpad, which saves typing in passwords all the time.
So, are there any downsides? Yes, but nothing major. The touchpad, while it works fine, is a bit spongy. Unlike more expensive competitors, you can’t charge from the USB-C port, or run a monitor from it, and it’s not the absolute thinnest and lightest Ultrabook out there.
Asus has been making “best for the price” Zenbooks like this for a few years now, and the UX330 continues the trend. No other manufacturer is making sub-$800 laptops that we’d be happy taking on the road. We’re not quite sure how the company keeps the price so low — but we’re very happy it does.
With plenty of positives and very few negatives, the UX330UA is easily our pick for the budget-conscious traveler.
Convertibles (also known as “hybrids” or “2-in-1’s”) seek to combine the best features of both laptop and tablet computers. In theory, the machines should be powerful and comfortable enough to use as a full-time work computer, yet easily switchable to an entertainment device as needed.
They all have tablet-style touch-screens, some of which detach entirely from the base, others of which fold back 360 degrees, while still others clip into a keyboard accessory as needed.
Most of the earlier versions of these machines were failures — they were too heavy, too expensive, underpowered, had weird bugs or, if you were particularly unlucky, all four. In the last year or two, however, a few exceptions have hit the market that are actually worth buying.
If you want a machine that’s as useful for getting real work done as reading a book or binge-watching your favourite TV shows on a long train ride, here are our top picks for 2018.
HP Spectre x360
Topping pretty much every convertible review this year, the latest edition of HP’s Spectre x360 is an easy machine to recommend.
At 2.9lbs / 1.31kg, it’s noticeably lighter than previous models, putting it right in the middle of the pack in terms of weight. It’s a bit bulky in tablet mode, but if you don’t need the absolute thinnest and lightest machine, you’ll be rewarded with an attractive, reliable and well-performing device, equally useful for work and play.
The base-model 1920×1080 (HD) touchscreen on the Spectre is bright, with great contrast and accurate colours, and it’s our pick. You can buy this machine with a 4K display as well, but you’ll pay a premium in price and battery life that, for us at least, isn’t worth it.
With the HD model, you’ll get a lot of life out of a single charge, likely exceeding ten hours of even reasonably heavy use. You can also pick and choose your configuration options for CPU, memory, and storage — that’s not always common for HP machines.
The built quality is impressive, both keyboard and trackpad are reliable and enjoyable to use, and even the speakers are pretty decent for a laptop. Honestly, there’s very little not to like about this machine, other than a higher price tag than earlier models.
Check out the latest pricing before making a final decision about exactly which model you buy, but ensure you get at least 8GB of RAM and a 256GB drive.
The HP Spectre x360 is an excellent device, and as a result, it’s our top travel hybrid pick of the year.
All product images via respective manufacturers. Main image via HP.