Best laptops of 2015
The best laptops to buy in the UK - our buyer's guide and in-depth reviews tell you everything you need to know
Whether you're after a budget laptop, business Ultrabook, professional workstation or a gaming goliath, you'll find the perfect buy in Alphr's definitive list. From low-cost Windows laptops that are ideal for the back-to-school rush, all the way up to the finest Ultrabooks and cutting-edge hybrids, we've collected the very best laptop deals available in the UK.
The list below represents the absolute cream of the laptop crop, all helpfully split into those key categories, and you can rest assured that every machine here has been tested to within an inch of its life. (Wondering how we test all the laptops that pass through our labs? Our tests are some of the toughest out there – use the dropdown menu above to go straight there.)
Got your credit card at the ready? Then get stuck in...
The best laptops of 2015
BEST OF THE BEST
Price when reviewed: £1,499 inc VAT
2015 sees the 13in MacBook Pro become a more attractive proposition than ever before. It’s light, and the arrival of Intel's Broadwell chip provides a fine balance between power and stamina. The high-DPI display and all-round quality alone are enough to make us wonder why we’d spend £1,000 on any other laptop, and the innovative Force Touch trackpad simply adds to the attraction.
Gamers should definitely look elsewhere, and there's little reason for owners of last year's model to upgrade, but for everyone else the 13in MacBook Pro with Retina display is as good as it gets. Now, where did we leave that credit card?
BEST BUDGET LAPTOPS
Price when reviewed: £180 inc VAT
Even were there nothing else to recommend the HP Stream 11, its eye-catching design would win it plenty of fans. HP’s 11.6in, Windows 8.1 with Bing budget laptop comes in a choice of vibrant blue or magenta finishes, with a slimline chassis that measures just under 20mm thick and weighs only 1.29kg.
It's a little more versatile than a Chromebook, working brilliantly with online apps, but it's still able to run more conventional Windows software if you’re sensible about your requirements or pair it with an external USB 3 hard disk (the 32GB of storage is an ever-present limitation). In all fairness, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 offers better hardware and a nicer screen, but the Stream 11 outmatches it for sheer value for money.
Price when reviewed: £199 inc VAT
When is a Chromebook not a Chromebook? When it runs Windows 8.1 with Bing. Toshiba's £199 laptop is no powerhouse, and just like Google's Chromebook fleet it's equipped with a mere 32GB of eMMC (similar to an SSD, but slower) storage, but it also comes bundled with a two-year subscription to 100GB of OneDrive cloud storage.
As a basic laptop for everyday use, it's an attractive proposition. The all-plastic chassis feels sturdy, and while the 11.6in 1,366 x 768 display is hardly the last word in quality, it's plenty bright enough for use while out and about. Battery life is good, too, and the Bay Trail Celeron processor and 2GB of RAM give just enough oomph to keep Windows 8.1 feeling responsive. For kids, students or just anyone after a cheap ultraportable, the Toshiba is well worth considering, but with the HP Stream 11 offering a slightly better all-round package for a little less, it's not the peerless bargain it once was.
Price when reviewed: £350 inc VAT
Budget laptops rarely set the pulse racing, but the Acer Aspire E1 excites purely by virtue of its price. For a mere £350, this 15.6in laptop touts a Core i3 CPU, 750GB hard disk and all the essential trimmings.
It's an unshowy 15.6in laptop with good build quality and a great specification for the money – a bona fide bargain.
Price when reviewed: £700 inc VAT
The Asus Zenbook UX303LA marked a successful debut for Intel's full-powered Broadwell CPUs when it appeared early on in 2015 and it remains an excellent buy. Given that it delivers a taste of premium Ultrabook performance for around £700, it's something of a bargain.
It houses a dual-core, 2.4GHz Core i7-5500U CPU, 6GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, and while performance isn't a huge leap forward over the previous generation, the efficiency of the new chip is supreme. The UX303LA lasted a hugely impressive 13hrs 6mins in our light-use battery tests.
It also has an excellent 13.3in Full HD screen and a decent keyboard, a lovely design and a very tempting price. Not many other laptops can match this machine's all-round appeal and value for money.
Price when reviewed: £1,099 inc VAT
Dell's XPS 13 has all the hallmarks of a no-compromise, high-end Ultrabook. Intel's Broadwell processors join forces with a speedy SSD and high-DPI display, and the XPS 13 looks and feels just like a flagship laptop should.
The XPS 13 does suffer from a few aggravating niggles – the high-DPI display has an aggressive dynamic contrast feature that constantly adjusts the brightness, for starters – but it's impossible not to retain a soft spot for the XPS 13.
One of Alphr's team has been working on one for the past few months, and has no complaints whatsoever – given the opportunity, he refused to swap it for a 13in MacBook Pro with Retina display. Yes, it's that good.
Price when reviewed: £280 inc VAT
The fact that this laptop doesn't run Windows will leave some people running for the hills, but Toshiba has done a superb job with the Chromebook 2. We’ve long been hankering after a Chromebook with a top-quality screen, and the Toshiba’s Full HD display certainly delivers on that front – it's better than many displays on laptops at three times the price.
We could ask for a little more travel in the keyboard, longer battery life and perhaps a better set of speakers, but we’re just being spoilt. Right now, this is the Chromebook we’d buy, and it offers a fine alternative to the likes of HP's bargain-priced Stream 11.
Price when reviewed: 64GB, £639; 512GB, £1,649 inc VAT
The Surface Pro 3 represents a confident step towards the perfect hybrid device. The new 3:2 display makes it a far more agreeable tablet than its predecessors, while the new kickstand and Type Cover make it a more convincing alternative to a regular laptop. It still isn’t perfect, but it feels considerably less compromised than the previous generations.
Where the Surface Pro 3 stumbles is pricing. Although the low-end models look like great value, we’d hesitate to recommend anything less than a 256GB SSD for serious use. It's well worth keeping your eyes peeled for any discounts, though: the Broadwell-equipped Surface Pro 4 is waiting in the wings.
Price when reviewed: £419 inc VAT
Looking for a more portable alternative to the Surface Pro 3? The Microsoft Surface 3 is it. It has a slightly lower screen resolution, but the smaller screen means that pixel density is identical, so image quality is every bit as sharp.
At £419, it's significantly cheaper than the £649 Surface Pro 3, although it's worth bearing in mind that the Type keyboard inflates the price by £119, and the Surface Pen adds another £45.
The Atom processor means the Surface 3 is a tad underpowered, but if you don't need to chomp through Photoshop edits on a regular basis, it's a capable little hybrid - and as classy as Windows devices get.
Price when reviewed: £799 inc VAT
The Transformer Book Chi T300 is a great little hybrid. The display is great, the design attractive and, crucially, this is a hybrid that manages to perform well in both tablet and laptop roles.
If you’ve been looking for a more affordable, more flexible alternative to the Surface Pro 3, the Asus Transformer Book Chi T300 is well worth considering.
BEST LUXURY ULTRAPORTABLE
Price when reviewed: £1,049 inc VAT
There's no denying it, the MacBook is one seriously gorgeous machine. A combination of ultra-slim lines and clever design deliver a usable 12in laptop in an impossibly compact chassis.
Yet this minimalist, sub-1kg portable won't be for everyone. It isn't powerful enough to do the same jobs a MacBook Pro 13in with Retina Display can, it's expensive and connectivity - limited to a single Type-C USB port - isn't ideal for a work machine, either.
Still, if desirability matters more to you than practicality, there's nothing else that comes close.
BEST BUSINESS LAPTOP
Price when reviewed: £1,892 inc VAT
HP's EliteBook might just be the best Windows business laptop ever made. It fuses a glorious 12.5in 2,560 x 1,440 touchscreen with bombproof build quality, a brilliant keyboard and innovative ForcePad touchpad to produce an Ultrabook of rare quality.
The only stumbling block, aside from its ludicrously high price, is its Core M processor, which rules it out for heavy duty tasks such as video editing or 3D rendering. With no compromise on any other front, however - connectivity, battery life, portability are all top notch - those problems are easy look past. Simply put, if you want the best and are prepared to pay for it there's nothing to beat the HP EliteBook Folio 1020.
Price when reviewed: £1,892 inc VAT
The 1.31kg ThinkPad X1 Carbon means business. Offering enterprise-grade features that Apple’s “Pro”-branded laptops can only dream of, this is a true professional ultraportable.
As ever, the price is dauntingly high. The entry-level X1 Carbon kicks off proceedings at over the £1,200 mark and touts a mundane specification – the combination of a Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD and Full HD display is underwhelming for the money. Add in a Quad HD touchscreen, 256GB SSDs and Core i7 CPU, and the price leaps up above £2,000.
It does everything you can ask of it – performance is great, and battery life competitive – but at this price we'd expect nothing less. A premium business laptop for a premium price.
BEST GAMING LAPTOPS
Price when reviewed: £899 inc VAT
Portable, powerful and affordable are three words that rarely go together when one thinks of gaming laptops, but that’s exactly what Chillblast has served up with the Defiant 2 Mini.
Like squeezing the engine of a supercar into a hatchback, the Defiant 2 Mini unites a quad-core Intel CPU, a cracking Full HD IPS display and has recently been upgraded with the latest Nvidia GTX 960M graphics chip. If you want to play the latest games but don't want to shell out on a giant laptop, the Defiant 2 Mini is a pint-sized wonder.
Price when reviewed: £2,000 inc VAT
The MSI GT72 is every inch the gaming laptop we’d love to own. And we wouldn’t be disheartened by the £2,000 asking price, either: the price of our review unit was inflated due to the inclusion of a swathe of SteelSeries gaming accessories and an MSI rucksack. Spend a little time shopping around and, as long as you don’t mind dropping to 8GB of RAM and a single 128GB SSD, you can buy a GT72 equipped with a 4GB GTX 980M for less than £1,400. At that price, this easily upgradable powerhouse is a steal.
Price when reviewed: £1,430
There's no two ways around it: 17in gaming laptops are chunky monsters. Not so the Chillblast Helix 2. It has the same plus-size footprint as its 17in rivals, but it's gone on a crash diet to achieve its 27mm thickness.
It's still no lightweight – you'll feel every gram of its 2.66kg weight in a bag – but the payoff is very respectable performance across the board. A quad-core Core i7, 128GB SSD, 1TB HDD and Nvidia's GeForce GTX 970M provide enough oomph to run most games smoothly at the 17in screen's Full HD resolution.
If you want big-screened gaming power with a little less bulk, the Helix 2 could be just the ticket.
BEST MOBILE WORKSTATIONS
Price when reviewed: £1,799 inc VAT
Workstation laptops aren’t meant to be sexy or attractive, but the new Dell Precision M3800 turns convention on its head. It packs a quad-core CPU, Nvidia Quadro graphics and solid-state storage into a slim, stylish chassis that makes it look more like a super-sized Ultrabook.
Price when reviewed: £3,598 inc VAT
The biggest model in our line-up is the ZBook 17, and it partners a huge 17.3in display with a burly, upgradable chassis, a truckload of connectivity and a slew of high-end componentry.
HP’s mobile workstation is powerful, well equipped and the optional DreamColor display is earth-shatteringly good. The only downside is the astonishingly high price. If your IT budget is up to it, however, there's no doubting the quality on offer.
Price when reviewed: £2,210 inc VAT
High-DPI displays are the flavour of the moment, but the Dell Precision M4800 marks the first time we’ve seen such a screen on a business-class machine. That isn’t this monster of a workstation laptop’s only talent though.
The Dell Precision M4800's chunky chassis crams in a stupendous amount of tech, providing just the right blend of comfort, power and portability for those seeking the ultimate in laptop oomph.