When readers ask me (and they often do), “What laptop should I buy?”, most of them really mean, “Which brand name should I look for?” That’s a tough question to answer, because there are so many factors to consider. How did a company’s systems perform on our benchmark tests? How good is the company’s support? Are the company’s systems well made on both the inside and the outside?
The answers to all of these questions matter, especially as companies experiment more with laptop-tablet hybrids. That’s why every year, I pit the biggest brands on the market against one another in the battle to end all battles, with the ultimate goal of telling you which companies deserve your hard-earned cash.
How I Graded (100 points possible)
I gauged laptop brands across 8 categories: reviews, tech support, design, keyboards & touchpads, display & audio, innovation, value & selection, and software. Categories are weighted a value of either 20, 15, 10, or 5 points, for a total possible brand score of 100 points. Here’s a guide to my criteria for each of the eight categories.
Reviews (20 points)
For this category, I examined reviews from January 2013 through January 2014, and it is weighed heavily to reflect the average star ratings and performance scores from a given company’s notebooks. Extra points are offered for Editors’ Choice Award-winning machines.
Tech Support (20 points)
If a company doesn’t believe in its own products enough to help the average Joe with common issues, then the company isn’t worth your time. That’s why this category, based on our annual Tech Support Showdown, is worth a hefty 20 percent of a brand’s overall grade.
Design (15 points)
These 15 points hinge on a company’s overall design — including things like materials used, durability and color — and take every sub-brand into account.
Keyboards & Touchpads (15 points)
If you can’t type comfortably or move the cursor around on a laptop with ease, the machine is doomed. Yes, doomed. I award these 15 points based on keyboard travel, flex and responsiveness. Touchpads should offer easy navigation, easy-to-use buttons and fluid gesture support.
Display & Audio (10 points)
Relying on measurements of screen brightness and audio output in combination with a brand’s viewing angles, resolution, touch responsiveness and speaker quality, I determine these 10 points.
Innovation (10 points)
These 10 points are subjective, but it’s important to reward brands that attempt to break the mold. I look at which companies are walking on the cutting edge as an indicator of which ones are moving the category forward, especially in regard to laptop-tablet hybrids.
Value & Selection (5 points)
More than just dollar signs, these five points are about bang for your buck — which companies offer the best performance for the money, and which ones have the largest selection so they can offer something for everyone’s needs.
Software (5 points)
For this category, I evaluate the branded utilities and third-party software that each company includes with its laptops. How useful and unique — or annoying — are the preloaded options?
1st Place: Apple
For a remarkable fifth year in a row, Apple has proved once again that it’s still the gold standard of laptop makers. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company won four of eight categories outright, and tied for first in two others. A perfect score in the Reviews category is nearly unheard of, but Apple pulled it off with ease. Tech support is nearly flawless, as is the company’s design, keyboards and displays. The useful and intuitive preloaded software is yet another plus. Assuming you can afford the premium, Apple laptops are the best way to go.
2nd Place: Lenovo
Lenovo scorcardLenovo’s laptops came in second for the fourth year in a row. Not only does this brand offer a huge breadth of notebooks at a wide range of prices, but the company’s tech support is top-notch, as are its keyboards and touchpads. I’m also consistently impressed with Lenovo’s laptop-tablet hybrids and benchmark performance.
3rd Place: ASUS
Close on the heels of Lenovo, ASUS only missed the silver by a single point. But the company held on to the bronze for the second year in a row, thanks to its forward-looking innovations, solid tech support and sleek designs. ASUS’ audio quality isn’t the best, but the brand consistently earns solid review scores.