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When 13 inches is too small and 17 is too big, a 14- or 15-inch laptop from a company such as Dell, Lenovo, Apple or Acer may be just right.

Lori Grunin July 24, 2021 4:00 a.m. PT
  • Best budget 15-inch laptop Acer Aspire 5 Jump to details $680 at Acer
  • Best for denizens of Samsung's Galaxy Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 Jump to details $1,300 at Best Buy
  • Best midrange laptop for 1440p gaming Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition Jump to details $1,500 at Best Buy
  • Best for work and play Razer Blade 14 Jump to details $2,800 at Razer
  • Best 2-in-1 Lenovo Yoga 9i Jump to details $1,450 at Best Buy
  • Best mainstream 15-inch Windows laptop for photo editing Dell XPS 15 9500 Jump to details $1,729 at Amazon
  • Best 15-inch budget gaming Dell G5 15 Jump to details $821 at Amazon
  • Best 14-inch Chromebook Asus Chromebook Flip C436 Jump to details $778 at Amazon
  • Best balance of speed and battery life Apple MacBook Pro 16 Jump to details $2,000 at Best Buy
  • Best dual-screen laptop Asus ZenBook Duo Jump to details $2,021 at Amazon
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It used to be that American buyers gravitated toward 15 inches as a middle-ground size between pricey 17-inch laptops and smaller, less powerful 13-inch models, while consumers outside the US favored 14-inch computers. But this has shifted over the last year, as manufacturers like HP, Acer, Lenovo and Asus have significantly broadened their laptop offerings -- and marketing efforts -- with more flagship 14-inch models, and I admit I'm more partial to them. The best 14- and 15-inch laptops strike a balance between size, performance and price.

We selected what we consider to be the best of these laptops based on performance for a given set of specs (aka, their configuration), features and design for the price. We included both premium and budget laptop options, taking into consideration factors such as battery life, keyboard, solid-state storage, graphics, processor speed, operating system and more. Features like the amount of storage (including whether it has an SSD or a spinning hard drive), display type and resolution (4K, QHD or FHD), a fingerprint reader, a touchscreen and more factor in as well. Laptop screen size and price shouldn't be the only specs dictating your purchasing decisions.

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Read more: Best Chromebook for 2021: Acer, HP, Asus, Lenovo and more compared

If you're looking for lower prices or a broader set of options, check out our picks for laptops under $500 and budget gaming laptops. And choosing just a handful out of a sea of hundreds pretty much ensures that you'll miss some important devices, especially if you're looking for a more powerful laptop that's tailored to specific needs, like video editing, so you should also head over to see our best gaming laptops, two-in-ones, Chromebooks and the best MacBook Pro alternatives for the Windows set. There are a lot of premium laptop choices out there.

Specs and availability are often in flux, so we limited our choices to models that are current and that we've actually tested. We update this list periodically with new products and information.

Read more: Best gaming laptop to buy for 2021

Best budget 15-inch laptop

Acer Aspire 5

Sarah Tew/CNET

The newest version of our perennial pick for best budget laptop remains a good option for the money. It's hard to find a budget laptop that's also thin and light, much less one that has decent performance and battery life. The Aspire 5 line starts at $450, but that model has only 4GB RAM -- way too little to run Windows comfortably. The slightly higher-end models hit all the necessary targets and more, with a solid assortment of ports (including USB-C, HDMI and Ethernet as well as USB-A) and easily upgradable hard drive storage and memory. It's got a budget build, but you can't expect everything for so little money.

$680 at Acer

Best for denizens of Samsung's Galaxy

Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360

Josh Goldman/CNET

The highlights of this thin and light 15-inch Windows two-in-one are its excellent battery life, high-contrast OLED screen and the plethora of cross-device features it serves up for owners of Samsung's Galaxy phones and accessories. It's specifically designed for people who want a laptop experience similar to that of their phones, with similar responsiveness.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 review.

 

$1,300 at Best Buy $750 at Samsung

Best midrange laptop for 1440p gaming

Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition

Lori Grunin/CNET

Asus' $1,650 all-AMD gaming laptop delivers excellent performance and battery life, with a top-of-the-line AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU and Radeon RX 6800M GPU -- and that's before you realize that the performance and components are way above its price class. It runs cool and quiet, even running close to full tilt.

Read our Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition review.

 

$1,500 at Best Buy

Best for work and play

Razer Blade 14

Lori Grunin/CNET

The 14-inch returnee to Razer's Blade line of laptops is a much better dual-purpose laptop than the 15-inch model that was my previous choice. It can be configured to be almost as powerful as the 15-inch, but weighs half a pound less and you don't really miss the screen real estate that much. If you lean more towards gaming than work or love a high-contrast screen, the 15-inch does offer faster gaming displays or a 4K OLED option. We tested the RTX 3080 model, but the significantly cheaper $2,200 RTX 3070 version is probably a fine choice as well.

$2,800 at Razer $2,800 at Best Buy See Razer Blade 15 Base Model at Razer

Best 2-in-1

Lenovo Yoga 9i

Sarah Tew/CNET

Available in both 14- and 15-inch versions, this refreshed and rebranded Yoga C940 remains one of our favorite two-in-ones. It now incorporates up to a quad-core Intel Core i7-1185G7 processor and up to Nvidia GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q discrete graphics. Plus, you gain the design flexibility of a convertible -- kiosk mode (also called "stand mode") and tent mode (my personal favorite), which are the best ways to use a laptop with a touchscreen that hangs around the house.

Read our Lenovo Yoga 9i review.

 

$1,450 at Best Buy $1,300 at Lenovo

Best mainstream 15-inch Windows laptop for photo editing

Dell XPS 15 9500

Lori Grunin/CNET

If, like me, you're not a big fan of OLED screens for photo editing -- they're not optimized for Adobe RGB and aren't great at tonal range in the shadows -- what you need is a laptop with a good IPS display. The Dell XPS 15 9500 with the 4K screen option delivers that, and it's not as reflective as the OLED screens I've seen. It doesn't qualify as an "RTX Studio" laptop because it tops out at a GTX 1650 Ti, but that graphics processor is sufficient for most photo editing and you don't need the Nvidia Studio drivers for most photo editing. Dell's PremierColor software isn't perfect, but it gives you more control over screen settings than most I've seen, and it has two Thunderbolt 3 controllers to make your external drives happy.

If you're willing to go a little bigger for a lot more graphics power, the 17-inch XPS 17 9700 doesn't feel smaller than it looks.

Read our Dell XPS 15 9500 review.

 

$1,729 at Amazon See XPS 17 9700 at Dell

Best 15-inch budget gaming

Dell G5 15

Lori Grunin/CNET ED I T O R S ’ C H O I C E Oct 2020

Dell's G series comprises some of the best mainstream gaming laptops you can find, with strong performance, a variety of component options and a more travel- and user-friendly design than most. Plus, battery life is a lot better than a typical gaming laptop's, and a solid-performance base configuration starts at less than $1,000.

Read our Dell G5 15 (2020) review.

 

$821 at Amazon $987 at Amazon

Best 14-inch Chromebook

Asus Chromebook Flip C436

Joshua Goldman/CNET

The Chromebook Flip C434 was one of our favorites last year, and we think it's a great touchscreen Chromebook this year, too. It has a slim aluminum design with a 14-inch full-HD touchscreen. Inside you'll find higher-end components than the previous iteration for greatly improved performance. It also comes with a higher price, though, starting at $700. Still, as Chrome OS matures, the extra processing performance is certainly nice to have, as is having that performance in an attractive design.

Read our Asus Chromebook Flip C436 review.

 

$778 at Amazon $800 at Best Buy $779 at Walmart

Best balance of speed and battery life

Apple MacBook Pro 16

Sarah Tew/CNET

It may now have a 16-inch screen, but the MacBook Pro remains a 15-inch laptop in size and spirit. I'm not a fan of the Touch Bar, but at least the keyboard's improved, and the combination of the MacBook Pro's hardware and MacOS extracts the maximum performance from the components while delivering class-leading battery life in a way Windows systems never seem to do, and the Retina Display screen remains terrific. You pay for it, though -- base price for the 16-inch MacBook Pro model is $2,250.

Read our Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) review.

 

$2,000 at Best Buy $2,249 at B&H

Best dual-screen laptop

Asus ZenBook Duo

Josh Goldman/CNET

The Duo's tilt-up second screen can act as an ancillary display, an extension of the primary display (for viewing those long web pages) or a separate control center from which you can run Asus' custom utilities or as control surfaces for select creative applications. Plus, Asus excels at squeezing every bit of performance out of its high-end laptops, and the 14-inch delivers great battery life, as well. 

It comes in two models, the Pro Duo 15 OLED, an update to the model we reviewed in 2019,  which now has up to an Intel Core i9-10980HK, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 discrete graphics and up to 32GB of memory.   The new 2021 14-inch Duo 14 has either 11th-gen Core i5 or i7 low-power processors, optional Nvidia MX450 discrete graphics and up to 32GB of memory -- a lot less powerful powerful than the 15-inch, but lighter and cheaper.

Read our Asus ZenBook Duo 14 review.

 

$2,021 at Amazon $1,299 at Adorama

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