When working from home and beyond, choosing the best laptop for remote work will ensure that you can remain productive both at home and on the road.
Although you can now skip the commute and work in your pajamas indefinitely (hooray), you may also be required to invest in some hardware of your own. To point you in the right direction, we’ve put together this handy remote worker’s laptop guide.
What to Consider When Buying a Laptop for Remote Work
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for a remote work laptop—the ideal device depends on your job, travel habits, preferences, and budget. Whether you’re a work-from-home (WFH) warrior or a globetrotting digital nomad, keep the following six factors in mind.
Battery life isn’t a big deal if you leave your laptop permanently plugged into a 120V power point at home. But if you take your work on the road or spend hours tapping away at trendy cafes, you’ll need plenty of juice to make it through a full workday.
Manufacturers advertise battery life under ideal conditions. If a brand boasts eight hours, that only rings true when the screen is dimmed down, WiFi is disabled, and you’re doing low processor-intensive tasks. Under real-world working conditions, an “eight-hour” battery will last four or five hours tops.
Size, weight, and sturdiness are key considerations when working in multiple locations.
The average WFH user can get away with a big bulky 17-inch screen as they’ll rarely need to move it around. But should you regularly lug your laptop between work meetings or exotic locales, a compact device is ideal. A 15-inch screen offers a nice balance between size and portability, although you might be more content with a nimble 13 or 14-inch model.
If both power and portability are essential for you, consider investing in an uber-light but somewhat pricey Ultrabook.
Brightness and Glare
The brilliant thing about remote work is you can do it anywhere there’s an internet connection, be that a park, playground, or pristine beach. But the downside to working outdoors is glare, so factor that in if you fancy clocking work hours in the open air.
A super bright screen can reduce UV glare at the cost of battery life, and some models come with specially designed anti-glare screens. Aftermarket glare protectors offer a viable alternative.
Typing-intensive tasks become tiresome when you’re tapping away on a tiny keyboard. Aim for a bigger keyboard if you tend to write frequently. If you’re a numbers guy (or gal), then a numeric keyboard is essential—or consider getting a standalone keypad instead.
Another key factor is the keys themselves. Top-of-the-line laptops come with spring-loaded mechanical switches to provide optimal tactile feedback and a soothing ‘clickety-clack’ sound. Cheap devices, on the other hand, may have inferior silicone dome switches that require a firm press and degrade with time.
Camera / Microphone
Zoom meetings are the new normal in the post COVID era, so it pays to invest in a device with a high-quality camera and mic. These components are tough to gauge from the specs alone. Take the time to pour through a few independent reviews.
Laptops cost anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousand, so seek out something suitable for your current situation. If you’re a full-time salaried employee, try convincing your boss to foot the bill.
Laptops for Work, Email and Watching Videos
Most work activities don’t require much processing power from your laptop. Typing and viewing documents, checking emails, and surfing the web can all be done on even the cheapest of laptops.
Even though watching videos requires a tad bit more processing power, you should have no problem watching clips on YouTube or movies on Netflix. Even some light photo editing in Photoshop graphic design is possible on a budget laptop.
Laptops for Video Editing and Gaming
Once you step into the world of video editing, things get more intense. You’ll need a bare minimum of 8GB of memory and a dual-core CPU to get by. 16GB of memory and a quad-core i7 processor (or higher) is recommended for professional video editors who want to work smoothly and efficiently. You’ll need to fork out more cash for a laptop that’s suitable for video editing.
In the past, gaming was reserved for bulky at-home desktop machines, and not suitable for laptops. But modern mid to high-end gaming laptops often have a dedicated GPU, making it possible to play some of the latest PC games on your laptop.
One thing to note is that you’d need to stick to using Windows (not Mac) if you want to play the widest selection of games on your laptop. While there are some excellent deals for gaming laptops, the reality is that gaming laptops tend to sit at the higher price range of laptops.
Choosing Mac vs. Windows
The age-old debate: what’s better, Windows or Mac?
The answer ultimately comes down to your budget and personal preference. We’ll run through the pros and cons of each to help you decide.
Pros of using a Windows Laptop
- Multiple manufacturers, i.e., HP, Dell, Lenovo, or Acer
- Better bang for your buck
- More upgrade and customization options
- More touchscreens, hybrids, and convertibles
- Better software compatibility
- Gamer-friendly: 99% of Steam games support it
Cons of using a Windows Laptop
- More susceptible to viruses (most viruses are created for Windows)
- May come with excessive bloatware
- Customer service can be hit and miss
Pros of using a Mac Laptop
- Sleek, trendy design
- Easy to use interface
- Superb customer service
- Compatible with the Mac ecosystem (other devices like iPhones, Apple Watches, etc.)
- Fewer viruses
- Unix-based operating system great for developers
- Retina display guarantees a vibrant high-quality image
Cons of using a Mac Laptop
- More expensive than comparable Windows laptops
- Fewer software options
- Very few compatible games
Best Budget Laptops for Remote Work
If you’re after an affordable Windows-based workhorse, then check out the following four budget-friendly laptops from the biggest brands in the game. If the given specs aren’t right for you, you can upgrade or downgrade to find the sweet spot.
Lenovo IdeaPad 3
- Specs: 10th Gen Intel Core i3, 8GB RAM, 256 GB SSD
- Size: 0.88 lbs, 15.6-inch screen
- Battery life: 7 hours 30 minutes
The sleek Lenovo IdeaPad 3 packs a punch considering the low price point at play. For under 500 bucks, you’ll get a reliable and portable device capable of most standard work tasks. A speedy 256 solid state drive minimizes load times, and you’ll enjoy crystal clear resolution on the 1920 x 1080 screen. The in-built microphone and webcam make video conferencing a breeze. It’s a good standard laptop for working online.
Dell Inspiron 15 3000
- Specs: 10th Gen Intel Core i3, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD
- Size: 4.85 lbs, 15.6-inch screen
- Battery life: 7 hours 15 minutes
The Inspiron Series is the most popular line of laptops from Dell, and the cost-effective Dell Inspiron 15 3000 model is perfect for remote workers with low processing requirements. Although its i3 processor and 8GB of RAM won’t power you through modern games or video editing and the like, it’s easily sufficient for everyday tasks. If you’d rather sacrifice disk space for a speedier SSD, you can upgrade for an extra $30 or so.
HP Pavillion 15
- Specs: Intel Dual-Core 6405U, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD
- Size: 3.93lbs, 15.6-inch screen
- Battery life: 10 hours
While HP Pavillion 15 makes a wide range of laptops to suit every budget and taste, the no-nonsense Notebook series is your best bet for low-cost computing. This latest 2021 model has a respectable dual-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a zippy SSD to load files without long wait times.
Acer Swift 3
- Specs: AMD Ryzen 7 4700U Octa-Core, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD
- Size: 2.65 lbs, 14-inch screen
- Battery life: 11.5 hours
Acer is famous for pumping out affordable laptops with plenty of power, and the popular Swift series is no exception. The latest edition, the Acer Swift 3 is a a superb option for budget-conscious remote workers after a lightweight device. Coming in at a meager 2.65 pounds, this featherlight 14-inch laptop is a cinch to lug around town.
Surface Laptop 4
- Base model: AMD Ryzen 5, 8GB RAM, 256GB
- High-end model: Intel i7 Quad Core, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD
- Size: 13.5-inch to 15-inch touch screen
- Battery Life: up to 19 hours
What better way is there to experience Windows, than by using Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4? This speedy machine sports a crisp 201 pixels-per-inch touch screen display at a rare 3:2 aspect. The taller-than-usual display makes it a great business laptop for reading documents and surfing the web.
While the base model is fast, the high-spec model is even faster. With the i7 CPU, you can breeze through the most demanding workloads. All packed within a razor-thin design. This is the ultimate Windows business laptop experience.
Best Mac Laptops for Remote Work
More of a Mac person? These three stylish devices are Apple’s most prized laptops.
- Specs: Tenth-gen Intel Core i3, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD
- Size: 2.8 pounds, 13.3-inch screen
- Battery life: 11.5 hours
Sleek, slimline, and super light, the MacBook Air has long been a favorite of funky designer types. Its ultra-portable dimensions make the device a breeze to bring to and fro, while all-day battery life lets you spend the whole day at the café. Be aware the 13-inch screen is a little small for some, and the specs won’t blow you away (upgrade to the new M1 MacBook Air model for more power).
MacBook Pro (Intel)
- Specs: Tenth-gen quad-core Intel Core i5, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD
- Size: 3.1 pounds, 13.3-inch screen
- Battery life: 10 hours
If you want something a bit beefier, go with the MacBook Pro model instead. You’ll pay more for the privilege, but the Pro gives you enhanced processing power with the same stylish slimline design. More RAM, a better quad-core processor for multitasking, and extra storage on the speedy SSD make the MacBook Pro a hit with well-heeled users.
Although integrated graphics are included in the base model, you can order customized MacBook Pro with a dedicated AMD Radeon Pro GPU for better graphics performance. The MacBook Pro is tried-and-true among professionals, easily making it the best laptop for work from home jobs and freelancers alike.
MacBook Pro M1
- Specs: M1 Chip, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD
- Size: 3.0 pounds, 13-inch screen
- Battery life: 20 hours
The Macbook Pro M1 is a hot entry in the laptop space right now. A relatively recent innovation and a game-changer in the Mac world is the Apple M1, a custom-designed Apple processor offering more power than ever before. The lightning-fast M1 chip enhances the GPU and CPU by several orders of magnitude to enable rapid processing of everyday tasks and games. You also get a mammoth 20 hours of battery life on the device, the most ever in an Apple laptop.
Chromebook Laptops: Worth It?
While Windows and Mac operating systems dominate the laptop market, one up-and-comer is making waves: the Chromebook.
Chromebook laptops use Google’s Chrome operating system, which gives you a lower purchase price and significantly higher battery life. On the downside, the device only supports Android apps; thus, it isn’t suitable for specialist tasks. You also need a reliable internet connection because most storage is conducted through the cloud rather than on a local HDD.
Nonetheless, if you don’t need any fancy programs or stacks of processing power, Chromebooks are an excellent low-cost option. One of the best budget-friendly Chromebooks is the Lenovo C330 Convertible, which packs a powerful punch for a modest price.
Best Laptops for Remote Work: Final Thoughts
Whether you want performance, portability, or a low price point, there are plenty of fantastic laptops on the market to power through your remote work life. We’ve given you a run-down of some of the top considerations to help you work out what’s best for you.
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