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For many travelers, there’s no need to travel with a laptop. As smartphones have become more powerful, most tasks once needing a computer can be done with the gadget in your pocket. For movies and many other things needing a larger screen, tablets are cheaper, lighter, and just as good.
Still, there are times when you just can’t beat a proper laptop. If you work while you travel, you’ll soon hit the limits of a mobile device. Android and iOS are designed to do one thing at a time, using a touch interface. Most work tasks are not.
Many professional tools are limited or unavailable for mobile operating systems, and everything from writing text to editing photos and video is much faster and easier on a laptop than anything else.
We’ve been traveling with portable computers for over a decade, from the tiniest netbook to the most powerful Macbook Pro, and know what works and what doesn’t. After checking out dozens of the latest models, of all shapes, sizes, and prices, we’re confident these are the best laptop options for travelers in 2020.
Whether you’re on a super-tight budget or have plenty to spend, travel full time or just want something for an upcoming vacation, we’ve got you covered. There’s even a killer digital nomad setup for under $1000 that’ll let you work all day, anywhere you’ve got cell service!
- Weight: 2.7 pounds (1.2kg)
- Battery Life: Up to 21 hours
- Specs: Intel i7-8565U, 8GB+ RAM, 256GB+ SSD, 3 x USB-C
- Display: 13″ FHD 1920 x 1080 IPS screen
- Operating system: Windows 10 Home
- Weight: 2.8 pounds (1.3 kg)
- Battery Life: Up to 12 hours
- Specs: Intel Core i5 1.6Ghz Y series, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 2 x USB-C
- Operating system: macOS
- Weight: 3.5 pounds (1.6kg)
- Battery Life: Up to 8 hours
- Specs: AMD Ryzen R5-3500U, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 1 x USB-C, 2 x USB-A
- Display: 14″ FHD 1920 x 1080 touchscreen
- Operating system: Windows 10 Home
- Weight: 3.8 pounds (1.7kg)
- Battery Life: Up to 12 hours
- Specs: Intel i7-8565U, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, 2 x USB-A
- Display: 14″ FHD 1920 x 1080 IPS non-touchscreen
- Operating system: Windows 10 Home
- Weight: 3 pounds (1.4kg)
- Battery Life: Up to 15 hours
- Specs: Intel i7-1065G7, 12GB RAM, 512GB SSD, 2 x USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, 1 x USB-A
- Display: 14″ FHD 1920 x 1080 IPS touchscreen
- Operating system: Windows 10 Home
- Weight: 1.7 pounds (770g) including Type Cover
- Battery Life: Up to 9 hours
- Specs: Intel Pentium 4415Y, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, 1 x USB-C
- Display: 10″ IPS 1800 x 1200 touchscreen
- Operating system: Windows 10 S (free upgrade to 10 Home)
- Weight: 2.4 pounds (1.1kg) including Type Cover
- Battery Life: Up to 10.5 hours
- Specs: Intel i5-1035G4, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 1 x USB-C, 1 x USB-A
- Display: 12.3″ IPS 3000 x 2000 touchscreen
- Operating system: Windows 10 Home
Best Travel Laptop: Dell XPS 13 (9380)
The Dell XPS 13 range has been around for quite a while. We reviewed the first version way back in 2012, and a followup model in 2015, and were impressed with them both.
At the time, all the talk was how they compared to Apple’s Macbook range, especially the Macbook Air. Apple’s laptops have stagnated somewhat in recent years, however, while Dell has continually improved not only the specifications of the XPS 13, but its size, features, and battery life as well.
The end result? After years of refinement, we’re confident in saying the Dell XPS 13 9380 is the best laptop for most travelers in 2020, especially those who work online.
The first thing you’ll notice about the latest XPS 13 is just how small it is. The bezels around the screen are tiny, coupled with a slim, tapered body that’s under 12″ wide and a 2.7 pound (1.2kg) starting weight. It’s simply easier to carry around or use on an airline tray table than the competition.
It’s an attractive laptop, too. There are distinctive white and rose gold variants made from woven silica and aluminum, as well as the silver and black carbon fiber design we’ve seen in the past. Even the little things like the tiny lights on the side to show the remaining charge are stylish and understated.
Despite its small stature, the XPS 13 is crammed full of high-end components. Dell bills it as the most powerful laptop in its class, and independent benchmarks confirm this isn’t just marketing speak.
You can choose between the latest Intel Whiskey Lake i3, i5, and i7 processors, with up to 16GB of RAM. The solid state drive tops out at a whopping 2TB, with the option of either a FHD (1920 x 1080) screen, or 4K touchscreen.
The FHD screen is cheaper, but we actually prefer it for another reason: battery life. The higher resolution of the 4K display also means higher battery usage. You’ll get up to a remarkable 21 hours out of the XPS 13 with the cheaper screen, noticeably less with the 4K version.
Unless you know you’ll really benefit from the higher resolution, or have a burning desire to put greasy fingerprints all over your screen, we’d suggest sticking with the FHD display.
The keyboard is firm and accurate despite the small amount of key travel, and I was surprised how quickly and quietly I was able to type on it. The trackpad, too, is smooth and reliable, easily one of the best on the market.
Ever since the XPS 13 first came out, people complained about the webcam being positioned at the bottom of the display. This year, Dell finally shut the detractors up by moving it to the usual place at the top of the screen.
Perhaps inevitably from such a slim laptop, there are no USB-A sockets, so you’ll need a dongle for older accessories. The three USB-C ports are used for everything from charging to connecting a monitor, with two of them supporting Thunderbolt 3.
There’s also a micro-SD card slot in the side, while security is handled by a fingerprint reader built into the power button.
All in all, there’s an awful lot for travelers to like about the Dell XPS 13 9380, and almost nothing not to. With the best mix of size, power, and price for travelers right now, it’s easily our top travel laptop pick in 2020.
Runner-Up, Best Travel Laptop: Apple Macbook Air
Years ago, Apple’s Macbook Air consistently made it to the top of our “best laptops for travel” list. It was small, light, and powerful enough to get real work done, in a market with few alternatives.
Things changed quickly, though. Apple stopped updating the Air, right when other companies started putting out lighter, faster, cheaper machines. At the same time, Apple itself slimmed down its Macbook Pro, to the point where if you preferred the company’s ecosystem, it was clearly the model to buy.
For years, we confidently predicted Apple would kill the Macbook Air. After ignoring it for years, however, the company proved us wrong. Not only did it not stop selling that model, the Air finally got a significant update.
It’s now hard to decide between the Air and the Pro. Both machines have their strengths and weaknesses, and it’s really a matter of weight and price versus power and expandability. For most travelers, though, we recommend the Air.
Well-built and reliable, it comes with the latest Intel i5 processor (albeit the slower “Y” variant,) and 8 or 16GB of RAM. Storage space ranges from 128 to 1.5TB, and it weighs just 2.8 pounds (1.3 kg).
One of the biggest upgrades in the latest model was to the display, and the Air now uses Apple’s gorgeous Retina (2560×1600) True Tone screen. It’s crisp and vibrant, and adjusts white balance and brightness based on the ambient light for more natural colors.
The laptop has two USB-C Thunderbolt ports — as with many other current laptops, these double as charging sockets. Other than a headphone jack, there are no other connectors, so you’ll end up with various dongles and accessories in your bag. That’s a common story with many laptops in 2020, unfortunately, and the Air is no exception.
Apple has had big problems with the keyboard on recent Macbook models, and has changed the materials it uses for the latest Air. It’s too early to say whether the new approach will fix the problems with sticking and non-working keys, but early impressions are good. The trackpads on Apple laptops have long been some of the best around, and that trend continues here.
Overall, while there’s nothing about the latest Macbook Air that’s going to set the laptop world on fire, it simply gets most things right for travelers. It’s small and light, and is plenty powerful enough for watching video or running several browser tabs at once.
Battery life is rated at up to 12 hours, a full two hours more than the equivalent Pro. In the real world, it’ll get you to the end of a long flight or work day, at least if you’re not pushing the processor too hard.
As with all Apple laptops, you’re paying a premium compared to an equivalent Windows machine. It’s hard to justify that premium on the hardware alone — high-end Windows laptops have got dramatically better in that regard — but there are still benefits to owning Apple.
You’ll get much better integration with your iPhone or any other Apple gear you own, for example. There’s also the comfort of being able to walk into an Apple store or service agent around the world for support if you need it. Both of those things have real value.
Most macOS-loving digital nomads will probably still want to go for the extra power of the Macbook Pro. For other types of traveler, though, the latest Macbook Air with Retina display is our top pick for Apple fans in 2020.
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Best on a Budget: Lenovo Flex 14
If you’re tight for cash but still want a laptop appropriate for travel, there aren’t many good options. Machines tend to be big and heavy, with poor battery life and specifications, and are often made from cheap materials that don’t stand up well to life on the road.
One of the few to buck the trend is the Lenovo Flex 14, a 2-in-1 device that’s surprisingly affordable for what it offers. Because the screen folds backward to let you use it in “stand” or tablet mode, it’s a much better option for watching shows on long flights than a standard laptop.
The design of most budget laptops is usually an afterthought at best, but that’s not the case here. The Flex 14 is an attractive device, that looks and feels far more expensive than it actually is.
Its specifications, too, are better than you’d expect. While many budget machines skimp on things like RAM and storage, you’ll get the same 8GB/256GB that comes by default in much more expensive laptops.
The Vega graphics card consumes some of that memory, but even so, the Flex 14 is a solid performer that’s easily capable of handling most tasks you’re likely to throw at it.
The Flex 14 isn’t as thin as some of its more-expensive competition, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The extra depth means there’s room for an inbuilt card reader, along with a USB-C port and two USB-A ports for connecting other accessories.
The FHD (1920 x 1080) resolution fine for a 14″ display, and there’s also an HDMI port for connecting to an external monitor if you’ve got one available.
Weight and battery life are about what you’d expect from a budget travel laptop, at 3.5 pounds (1.7kg) and up to eight hours respectively. The keyboard, so often the downfall of machines like these, is comfortable to type on, and the trackpad is better than most at this end of the market.
If graphic design is your thing, the Flex 14 is powerful enough to run many design tools reasonably well, and ships with Lenovo’s Active Pen stylus for drawing or writing directly onto the touchscreen.
Other than the weight and battery life, this is a 2-in-1 laptop with few compromises for travelers who need a machine that can handle a proper workload, but don’t want to blow their entire travel budget on it.
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Best Value for Money: Acer Spin 3
Want to get the best bang for your buck? If you can’t justify spending a thousand dollars or more on our top picks, take a look at the Acer Spin 3 instead.
While it’s not as sleek or lightweight as the XPS 13 or Macbook Air, the Spin 3 is a powerhouse. Shipping with an i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage, many of the specs are better than those found on high-end laptops, for several hundred dollars less.
It’s also a convertible 2-in-1 device, letting you use it as a tablet or watch movies in “stand” mode by folding the screen backward. I’ve typically found 13 or 14-inch devices too large to use regularly as a tablet, but it’s surprising how often I’ll fold the screen back to watch movies on a plane or in bed.
The port selection, however, is a bit odd. You’ll get a pair of USB-A ports, an SD card reader, and an HDMI port for connecting to an external monitor, but no USB-C ports at all. That’s pretty unusual these days, although how much it will affect you in the real world depends entirely on the accessories you use. Still, it’s something to bear in mind.
Battery life is rated at up to twelve hours, although you won’t get that in the real world. Even so, it should be enough to get you through a long flight or a day working in a coffee shop if you don’t push it too hard.
The only real downside of the Spin 3 is its weight. At nearly 3.8 pounds (1.8kg), it’s right at the upper end of what we’d consider appropriate for travel. You’re not going to drop this laptop in your day bag and forget it’s in there.
For those that can handle the heft, though, it offers remarkable value for money. If you need a powerful machine that’s equally at home doing intensive work or binge-watching your favorite show, and don’t want to spend a fortune on it, you could do an awful lot worse than the Acer Spin 3.
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Best 2-in-1 Laptop: Lenovo Yoga C940
We’ve mentioned a couple of 2-in-1 devices already, but since they’re priced toward the lower end of the market, they come with compromises in specs or weight. If you’re after a premium convertible laptop, however, the best option right now is Lenovo’s Yoga C940.
Lenovo makes a few different 2-in-1 options, including the inexpensive Flex 14 that’s our budget pick. The C940 is at the other end of the range, a quality device with high-end features, and the price tag to go with it.
The machine comes in various configurations, but our pick has an Intel i7 processor, 12GB of RAM, and a 512GB drive. All versions include a 14″ FHD (1920×1080) touchscreen, Intel Iris Plus graphics, two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, and USB-A port for attaching older accessories.
Weighing just under three pounds (1.4kg), it’s not the lightest laptop you’ll find, but doesn’t feel particularly heavy in a carry-on or day bag. Thankfully the power adapter is relatively small, and doesn’t add much additional weight.
I’ve been using one of the C940’s predecessors as my main machine for nearly two years, and this latest version improves on what was already an excellent travel laptop. It’s fast and reliable, with more than enough power for almost any work-related task, watching HD video, and light gaming.
Battery life is extremely good, rated at up to 15 hours with the FHD screen (10 hours with the 4K display). Unlike some other laptops, you’ll probably get pretty close to that rating if you don’t push it too hard.
The distinctive watchband hinge from previous models is gone, but for a good reason. Lenovo has replaced it with a Dolby Atmos soundbar that runs almost the full width of the display. This greatly improves the sound quality and volume when you’re using it for entertainment in tent or tablet mode.
Little annoyances have been fixed as well, like storing the (included) stylus in a dedicated slot at the back instead of in an ugly plastic attachment. In a nod to customer’s privacy, a webcam shutter is now built in, so you can keep the camera covered while not in use.
Both keyboard and trackpad are impressively good, a bit of a rarity on Windows laptop. Keystrokes are firm and responsive without being annoyingly loud. The trackpad buttons are equally crisp, and scrolling is smooth and reliable. A fingerprint reader sits alongside.
The Lenovo Yoga C940 is a fast, well-built machine, as good for binge-watching your favorite shows on a long-haul flight as it is for working out of a cafe all day. It’d be nice if it was a little cheaper, but given the quality, we think it’s still worth the asking price.
As a result, it’s our top 2-in-1 laptop pick for travelers in 2020.
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Best for Traveling Light: Microsoft Surface Go
At first glance, Microsoft’s Surface Go is a bit of an odd machine. It’s a tablet computer with a 10″ screen that weighs a little over a pound, with a starting price under $400… yet it runs Windows 10.
While the Pentium Gold processor inside the Go is definitely a low-end chip, you’ll still be able to run the majority of Windows apps, and even play a few basic games, without the machine grinding to a halt.
The optional Type cover adds a keyboard and trackpad as well as protection, and it’s surprisingly enjoyable to type on. Battery life is rated at up to nine hours, and you’ll likely get around six or seven in the real world depending on what you’re doing.
That battery life could be better, since it’s not enough to get you all the way through a long-haul flight or full work day. Still, because the Surface Go can charge via either the Surface Connect or USB-C ports, you’ve always got the option of using a portable battery like this to power it (and all your other devices) back up again.
It’s an attractive, well-built machine, and the bright, colorful 1800×1200 display is dramatically better than you’d expect at this price point. Since storage is limited, the micro-SD slot is essential, since it’s the perfect place to dump photos, movies, and other stuff you want to access to on the road.
The adjustable kickstand lets you change the angle of the Go to suit whatever you’re doing. It can sit fully upright when you’re typing, on an angle when you’re watching TV shows on the plane, or fold down entirely when you’re reading in bed.
Microsoft’s Surface Pen also works with the Go, making it a pretty good graphics tablet as well. It runs Windows 10 S out of the box, which can only access apps from the Windows store, but there’s a free one-way upgrade to Windows 10 Home available.
While that starting price looks great in the marketing material, you’re likely to pay quite a bit more. The base model only comes with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of slow storage, and no Type cover. Those specs aren’t enough to run anything but the most basic of Windows apps, and you’ll need the keyboard and trackpad to do any real work.
The upgraded version has 8GB of RAM and a faster, 128GB drive. It’s very much our pick for anyone who wants to do more than the bare minimum with this machine. Once you’ve done that, and added the Type cover, the price jumps to $649.
That’s not unreasonable for a machine of this quality, but it’s still quite a bit more than that starting price. The cover adds an extra half-pound of weight as well, bringing it up to 1.7 pounds (770g) total.
There’s nothing else like it on the market, though, so it’s still easy to recommend. If you’re after an attractive, superlight machine that performs well as both an entertainment device and productivity tool, it’s definitely worth a look.
The Killer Digital Nomad Setup?
For digital nomads and other remote workers, the higher-end Surface Go has another trick up its sleeve: an LTE-enabled model. Drop in a data SIM, and you’ve now got a laptop that can get connected anywhere you’ve got cell service.
If you’re from the US, this is an ideal use for Google Fi’s international roaming. If not, a local SIM will do the job equally well — you might just need to switch to a different one when you change countries.
It can automatically switch to using cell data if there’s no alternative, and back to Wi-Fi when you get within in range. Sure, using LTE for hours drops the battery life a bit, but again, a decent power bank deals with that problem.
Throw all of this together, and for around $900 including the cover and battery, you’ve got a lightweight setup that lets you work all day from almost anywhere on the planet. Could this be the killer digital nomad rig?
For some people, quite possibly. If you’d prefer a larger screen or need a lot of computing power, you’ll need to look elsewhere. If most of your work is web-based or uses standard productivity tools, however, this option is seriously worth considering.
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Best Windows Tablet: Microsoft Surface Pro 7
As good as Microsoft’s Surface Go (above) is, it has its limits for full-time use. The screen is a bit small, the battery life is a couple of hours too short, and the slow CPU is a problem whenever you fire up Photoshop or open several tabs in your browser.
If you want a tablet that’s a complete laptop replacement, you’ll need to step up to the Surface Pro 7. Running the latest processors and configurable with up to 16GB of RAM, performance is the match of any other travel-sized Windows laptop.
It’s an attractive and well-made device, and you can even pick your favorite color scheme. The tablet itself is available in black or platinum, while the cover comes in a range of colors and materials.
The 12.3″ screen is a better size for long work stints, with an impressive 500:1 contrast ratio for easier outdoor viewing. At up to 10.5 hours, battery life should also be long enough to get you through a lengthy flight or all-day work session.
The biggest change from the previous model is Microsoft (finally) adding a USB-C port to the Surface Pro. It’s about time. There’s also a single USB-A socket for plugging in older accessories.
A micro-SD slot lets you add extra storage as needed, or copy photos off your camera. That slot is less important than on the Surface Go, however, since the Pro can be configured with up to a 1TB drive.
The typing experience is even better than on the Go, since the keyboard is closer to being full-size. The optional Surface Pen is also compatible, if you’re a graphic artist or prefer to write rather then type.
Importantly, despite all of its high-end specifications, the Surface Pro remains lighter than almost any standard laptop. The tablet itself weighs 1.7 pounds (770g), and adding the Type Cover brings it up to a total of 2.4 pounds (1.1kg).
The Surface Pro isn’t a cheap option, especially since the keyboard cover again isn’t included by default. Just like the Go, though, there’s nothing else out there with the same mix of weight and performance. Its few competitors have similar pricing, but just don’t perform as well in one area or another.
The i5 model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB is the best mix of cost and performance, and what we’d recommend for most travelers. If you’re after a version that’s even lighter and has LTE support, check out the Surface Pro X. We don’t recommend that model for most people due to slower performance and compatibility issues with some software, but it makes sense for a certain subset of travelers.
For the rest, however? The Surface Pro 7 is where it’s at.
Main image via StockSnap, all other images via Amazon.