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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 2019.
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!
Want to know more? Here you go!
- Best Travel Laptop: Dell XPS 13 (9380)
- Runner-Up, Best Travel Laptop: Apple Macbook Air
- Best on a Strict Budget: Lenovo Flex 14
- Best Value for Money: Acer Swift 3
- Best 2-in-1 Laptop: Lenovo Yoga C930
- Best for Traveling Light: Microsoft Surface Go
- Best Windows Tablet: Microsoft Surface Pro 6
The Dell XPS 13 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 2019, 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 2019.
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 prefered the company’s ecosystem, it was clearly the model to buy.
We confidently predicted 2018 would be the year Apple finally killed the Macbook Air, but last November, it proved us wrong. Not only did it not stop selling it, the Air got its first significant refresh in three years.
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 standard Retina (2560×1600) screen. It’s crisp, vibrant, and reasonably bright, and although it’s not quite as good as the TrueTone version found in higher-end Pro models, it won’t disappoint.
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 2019, unfortunately, and the Air is no exception.
Apple had big problems with the keyboard on recent Macbook Pro models, but the latest refresh addressed most of the issues. Fortunately the 2018 Air got that version as well, and although it’s still a little “clacky” in use, the keyboard is generally very 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 2019.
If you’re tight for cash but still want a laptop appropriate for travel, there aren’t many good options. Most low-cost machines tend to be heavy, with poor battery life, 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 can usually be found for under $500. 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 polished aluminum of the Flex 14 looks and feels surprisingly stylish, and at first glance the machine could be mistaken for one that’s far more expensive.
Costs are cut somewhere, of course, and in this case it’s on the spec sheet. The Flex 14 comes in a few different configurations, some of which are quite powerful, but this base model isn’t. The combination of a Pentium 4415U processor and 4GB of RAM definitely won’t set any speed records in 2019.
As a result, it’s much better for web browsing and Office-style applications than gaming, graphic design, or other intensive tasks. You’ll likely also end up using an SD card to supplement the 128GB of storage at some stage.
Fortunately, there’s an inbuilt card reader to let you do just that, and a USB-C port and two USB-A ports for connecting other accessories. While the HD (1366 x 768) resolution is relatively low for a 14″ display, 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 low-cost travel laptop, at 3.7 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.
The Flex 14 isn’t powerful enough to run high-end graphic design tools, but if you were happy to use more lightweight versions, it does support Lenovo’s Active Pen stylus (sold separately.)
As with most technology, you’ll always make sacrifices by buying at the bottom of the range. That’s true to some extent with the Flex 14 as well, but it does the basics well, whether you’re using it for work, play, or just staying in touch with the folks back home.
That’s why it’s our 2019 travel laptop pick for those on a tight budget.
While it’s nowhere near as powerful as the XPS 13 or sleek as the Macbook Air, it’s still a solid machine that can handle most tasks you throw at it. As usual there are a few compromises, but at under $700, the Swift 3 offers exceptional value for travelers.
Relatively slimline, it’s one of the few budget laptops with an all-aluminum case. That makes it look better than the plastic versions, but more importantly, helps it handle the inevitable bumps and knocks that travel brings.
Despite the low price, this version of the laptop (there are many others) doesn’t skimp on the internals. You’ll get our recommended specifications of the latest generation Intel processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD.
Acer hasn’t cut corners on the Swift 3’s port options, either, with a better selection than most machines costing far more. There’s a USB-C port, three USB-A ports, and an SD card reader, plus an HDMI port for connecting to an external monitor.
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 Swift 3 is the 14″ HD screen, which is noticeably dimmer than our higher-end picks. It’s unlikely to be a problem indoors, even under bright lighting, but it’s a different story outside. Expect a fair amount of squinting in direct sunlight.
The Swift 3 weighs 3.2 pounds (1.5kg), which is a little heavy for a non-convertible laptop. The weight’s far from unmanageable, but you’re not going to drop this machine in your day bag and then forget it’s in there.
Still, if those are the only real problems in a sub-$700 laptop, they’re pretty easy to overlook. If you’re just starting out on your digital nomad journey, or want an inexpensive yet useful laptop to take on vacation with you, you could do an awful lot worse than the Acer Swift 3.
Convertible 2-in-1 laptops occupy a middle ground between tablets and traditional laptops. They look and feel like any other laptop in general use, but have a touchscreen that folds backward to turn them into a tablet.
Buy a good one, and you’ll get a great machine for both work and play. Buy a bad one, and you’ll end up with something big, clunky, and not much use for anything on the road. The best option right now is Lenovo’s Yoga C930, which is one of those rare 2-in-1’s that gets almost everything right.
Lenovo makes a few different convertible laptops, including the sub-$500 Flex 14 that’s our budget pick. The C930 is at the other end of the range, a high-end device with premium 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 256GB drive. All versions include a 13.9″ FHD (1920×1080) touchscreen, Intel UHD 920 graphics, two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, and USB-A port for attaching older accessories.
Weighing just over 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 the C930’s predecessor as my main machine for several months, 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 14.5 hours with the FHD screen (less 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 the previous model 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. 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 C930 is a fast, well-built machine, as good for binge-watching your favourite 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 2019.
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 $399 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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If you want a tablet that’s a complete laptop replacement, you’ll need to step up to the Surface Pro 6. Running Windows 10 Pro, the latest processors, and 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 favourite colour scheme. The tablet itself is available in black or platinum, while the cover comes in four colours and two different 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 13.5 hours, battery life is also long enough to get you through a lengthy flight or all-day work session.
In an inexcusable omission, though, there are no USB-C ports, although at least the single USB-A socket lets you plug in older accessories. The lack of modern USB ports is arguably the biggest downside of the Pro 6, although how much that matters will depend on what you want to plug into it.
There’s also a Mini Displayport for connecting to monitors or projectors, and a micro-SD slot for extra storage or copying 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. We’re still eagerly awaiting a version with LTE — right now, a cellular-enabled model is only available for the previous generation Surface Pro. When it arrives, it’ll likely be well worth a look.
Main image via StockSnap, all other images via manufacturers.