Gift Guide: Must-have laptops for everyone

By Joanna Stern and David Pierce |

Here's a look at some of the best laptops in the market.

Best budget laptops



HP Pavilion dm1z

The dm1z is the netbook improved. It has a faster processor than the typical netbook, a larger 11.6-inch screen, over five hours of battery life, and Beats Audio for less then $450.

  • Price: $429.99
  • Pros: Small and light. Beats Audio enhancements. Good performance and graphics muscle for its size. Long battery life.
  • Cons: Lots of preloaded software you might not want. Frustrating touchpad. Computer can get loud as it cools down.
  • Ideal for: Emailing and browsing on the go
  • Buy it

HP Pavilion G4

The G4 doesn't have cutting-edge specs, but it's powerful enough for basic users, and it comes in a rainbow of colors that's bound to cover everyone on your list. For a sub-$400 full-size laptop, it's tough to beat.

  • Price: $379.99
  • Pros: Inexpensive, but still powerful enough for basic tasks. Large 14-inch screen. Doesn't look all that cheap.
  • Cons: Performance is a generation behind the times. Battery life isn't great.
  • Ideal for: A home computer for e-mail, browsing, and watching videos
  • Buy it

Full review

Dell Inspiron 14z

It's almost hard to believe the 14z starts at $600 with its aluminum lid, attractive design, and DVD drive. It doesn't have the highest end specs, but it's good enough for your basic work and play activities.

  • Price: $600
  • Pros: Great looking and light. Good battery life. Backlit keyboard option.
  • Cons: Mediocre performance. Lots of annoying preloaded software.
  • Ideal for: Everyday computing tasks in a nice looking package
  • Buy it

Full review

Best ultraportables



Apple MacBook Air (13-inch)

The MacBook Air comes at a price premium, but you get what you pay for. This machine is light and thin enough to go anywhere, lasts for over eight hours on a charge, and is powerful enough to handle most people's computing needs.

  • Price: $1,299
  • Pros: Extremely small and light. Long battery life. Excellent performance. Touchpad and keyboard are superb.
  • Cons: Screen is glossy and reflective. No Ethernet port.
  • Ideal for: Anyone looking for a thin and light laptop with enough power for everyday tasks.
  • Buy it

Full review

Sony VAIO Z

Sony held nothing back in building the VAIO Z, and the result is a blazing fast, light, good-looking computer. It's got a gorgeous display, too, and will keep running for your whole cross-country flight. All this doesn't come cheap, though.

  • Price: $2,000-plus
  • Pros: Great looking, light and long-lasting. Fast performance. Excellent display. Cool accessories like the Power Media Dock external graphics card.
  • Cons: Incredibly expensive. Can get warm. Trackpad isn't great.
  • Ideal for: Those wanting to have their cake and eat it too
  • Buy it

Full review

Lenovo IdeaPad U300s

Lenovo has always built good computers, and the U300 continues the trend with a beautiful (and unique) look, comfortable keyboard, fast boot times, and a long-lasting battery.

  • Price: $1,195
  • Pros: Fantastic design. Great keyboard. Good battery life.
  • Cons: Screen is low-resolution, and doesn't have great viewing angles. No SD card slot.
  • Ideal for: Working on the go, and having a laptop whose design is refreshingly different than the Macbook Air.

Full review

Best mainstream laptops



Samsung Series 7

Samsung has mastered the art of breeding aesthetics and power with Series 7. The incredibly well-built aluminum laptop has an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, AMD graphics, and a USB 3.0 port.

  • Price: $999
  • Pros: Top-notch performance, and won't be out of date anytime soon. Solid build.
  • Cons: A bit heavy
  • Ideal for: Power-hungry users looking for a MacBook Pro alternative
  • Buy it

Full review

ASUS U36

ASUS does the big things right with the U36, packing in some great processing and graphics power without sacrificing much in the way of portability or battery life — there's not much you can't do with the U36.

  • Price: $969
  • Pros: Great performance for a laptop. Solid battery life.
  • Cons: Gets a bit hot. Not the best trackpad.
  • Ideal for: Those looking for a mainstream system for more then just browsing and email
  • Buy it

Full review

Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch)

Apple's 15-inch MacBook Pro is as good a laptop as is out there for those looking for power and a sleek design. It has the highest end specs, including an Intel Core i7 processor and AMD graphics. You'll pay for the privilege to use it, though.

  • Price: $1,7999
  • Pros: Extremely powerful with long battery life. Super-fast Thunderbolt port.
  • Cons: Very expensive. Can get very warm.
  • Ideal for: Users who prefer performance above all else
  • Buy it

Full review

Best gaming laptop



Alienware M17x

To call the M17x a "laptop" is to use the term loosely; this computer is huge, but it's also as powerful as any desktop you can match it up against. For gaming or other graphically intense activities, it's hard to beat, but to get the most from it costs an arm and a leg (maybe two).

  • Price: $3,330-plus
  • Pros: Insanely powerful. Cool, alien-like design.
  • Cons: Enormous. Very expensive. Can get hot.
  • Ideal for: Marathon Crysis sessions
  • Buy it

Full review

SOURCE: The Verge. GRAPHIC: Wilson Andrews and Michelle Williams - The Washington Post. Published Nov. 21, 2011.