The best laptops of 2016: Buy the best UK laptops from £180

Great laptops aren’t exactly in short supply, but there are also plenty of also-rans – and this is Alphr’s guide to nothing but the very best. Thanks to Alphr’s team of reviewers (which, you’ll be reassured to know, includes some of the most experienced laptop reviewers in the UK) this regularly-updated Best Of guide covers everything from budget laptops that are ideal for the kids, to the finest ultraportables, gaming laptops, and cutting-edge hybrids.

You’ll find quick summaries of our favourite laptops below, and the key specifications for each device. Want to know more? Then click the product names to read our full, in-depth reviews, where we look at every detail of the device and put it through a demanding suite of tests and benchmarks. Only the best laptops make it this far – plenty don’t. 

1. Apple MacBook Pro 13in with Retina Display (2015)

Price: £999 Rating: 5/5 Key specs: 13.3in 2,560 x 1,600 display | Intel Core i5/i7 | 128-512GB SSD | 1.58kg 

It’s telling that, even in 2016, the MacBook Pro is still one of our favourites. It may not be the lightest 13in laptop around, and the last-generation Intel Broadwell processor technology is ready for an update, but Apple’s software platform ensures it delivers 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.

2. Dell XPS 13

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Price: From £849 Rating: 5/5 Key specs: 13.3in Full HD display/3,200 x 1,800 touchscreen | Intel Core i5/i7 (Skylake) | 128-512GB SSD | 1.29kg 

Dell was tantalisingly close to ultraportable perfection with the previous XPS 13, but now it’s well and truly cracked it – the new, improved XPS 13 is fan-bloody-tastic. The Skylake processors improve performance, extend battery life and deliver better gaming potential, and an array of minor tweaks has pushed the XPS 13 towards ultraportable perfection. The new NVMe SSDs are staggeringly fast, finally giving Apple’s laptops something to worry about, and Thunderbolt 3 compatibility seals the deal. 

3. Microsoft Surface Pro 4

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Price: £749 (128GB) Rating: 5/5 Key specs: 12in 2,736 x 1,824 display | Intel Core m3/i5/i7 | 128-512GB SSD | 786g (tablet only)

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 takes the tried and tested Surface Pro 3 and improves on it in almost every way. The screen is amazing, the keyboard is improved and the small design touches all gladden the heart. There won’t be quite enough here to make everyone want to upgrade from a Surface Pro 3, but it’s a good, solid update, and it remains the hybrid that sets the standard.

4. Acer Chromebook R11

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Price: £230 Rating: 4/5 Key specs: 11.6in 1,366 x 768 touchscreen | Intel Celeron N3050 | 16GB storage | 1.2kg

The Chromebook R11 is proof that you don’t need cutting-edge design or components to make a superb laptop. The flexible hinge takes its inspiration from Lenovo’s Yoga family, and it’s this that allows the R11 to effortlessly transform from laptop to tablet. The Celeron processor gets overwhelmed by one too many Chrome tabs, but for basic use and web surfing it’s perfectly bearable – to be entirely fair, it’s what you’d expect from a £230 machine. If you’re looking for a tough, cheap, portable laptop, then the Chromebook R11 will definitely hit the spot. 

5. HP Stream 11

Best laptops - HP Stream 11

Price: £180 Rating: 5/5 Key specs: 11.6in 1,366 x 768 display | Intel Celeron N2840 | 32GB eMMC | 1.29kg

HP’s budget Windows laptop comes in a choice of vibrant blue or magenta finishes, with a slim, lightweight chassis – it’s cute in a plasticky kind of way, and kids will absolutely love it. Thanks to Windows 10 Home, it’s 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).

6. Microsoft Surface 3

Best laptops - Microsoft Surface 3

Price: £419 Rating: 4/5 Key specs: 10.8in 1,920 x 1,280 display | Intel Atom x7 | 64/128GB SSD | 622g (tablet only)

At £419, the Surface 3 is significantly cheaper than the cheapest Surface Pro 4 (£749), although it’s worth bearing in mind that the Type Cover inflates the price by £119, and the Surface Pen adds another £45. Of course, the Atom processor does mean that 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.

7. Apple MacBook (12in)

Price: £1,049 Rating: 4/5 Key specs: 12in 2,304 x 1,440 display | Intel Core M | 256/512GB SSD | 923g

There’s no denying it, the MacBook is one seriously gorgeous machine. Yet this minimalist, ultra-light 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. Still, if light weight and desirability matter more to you than all-out practicality, there’s nothing else that comes close.

8. Dell XPS 15 (2015)

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Price: £1,649 Rating: 4/5 Key specs: 15in 3,840 x 2,160 touchscreen | Intel Core i7-6700HQ | 512GB SSD | 2kg

It’s not cheap in the slightest, but Dell’s sleek 15in laptop is everything you could ask of a top-flight Windows laptop – if manufacturers want to take the fight to Apple’s increasingly dominant MacBook family, they should be taking notes. The XPS 15 is surprisingly fast for such a slimline laptop, good-looking, and has enough gaming grunt to take on the latest games at high resolutions and detail settings. Did I mention the stunning 4K display? This is perhaps the ultimate do-it-all Windows 10 laptop.

9. Microsoft Surface Book

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Price: from £1,299 Rating: 4/5 Key specs: 13.5in 3,000 x 2,000 touchscreen | Intel Core i5/i7 | 256-512GB SSD | 1.5kg

The Surface Book is Microsoft’s vision of the ultimate laptop. It’s superb in many ways – the screen is astonishingly good; the keyboard and touchpad are best in class; and performance (particularly from the GPU-equipped models) is impressive for a 1.5kg device. There are flaws, though. The design quirks and short battery life in tablet mode are disappointing, and it’s breathtakingly expensive.

10. Asus Zenbook UX303LA

Best laptops - Asus Zenbook UX303LA

Price: Around £700 Rating: 5/5 Key specs: 13.3in 1,920 x 1,080 display | Intel Core i7 | 128GB SSD | 1.4kg

The Asus Zenbook UX303LA has been around a while, but it remains an excellent buy. Serving up a taste of premium Ultrabook performance for around £700, it’s something of a bargain. 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.

11. Toshiba Chromebook 2

Best laptops - Toshiba Chromebook 2

Price: Around £270 Rating: 4/5 Key specs: 13.3in 1,920 x 1,080 display | Intel Celeron N2840 | 32GB SSD | 1.35kg

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. This is a Chromebook with a top-quality screen, that’s better than many displays on laptops at three times the price. 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.

12. Toshiba Satellite C40-C 

Best laptops - Toshiba Satellite C40-C

Price: Around £200 Rating: 4/5 Key specs: 14in 1,366 x 768 display | Intel Celeron | 32GB SSD | 1.7kg

Not so long ago, buying a super-cheap laptop would have left you looking at Chromebooks and not a whole lot else. Now, however, Windows is fighting back. Toshiba’s 14in Satellite C40-C is a solid all-rounder which brings Windows 10 to the table for only £200. It’s not especially exciting, but the 14in display strikes a good balance between portability and all-day usability, and though the Celeron CPU is pretty slow, it’s good enough for basic use. Battery life is good, too – over 7 hours of video playback bodes well for a full day’s worth of lighter usage.

13. Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Best laptops - Surface Pro 3

Price: £639 (64GB) Rating: 4/5 Key specs: 12in 2,160 x 1,440 display | Intel Core i3/i5/i7 | 64-512GB SSD | 800g (tablet only)

The Surface Pro 4 has stolen its thunder, but that doesn’t mean that you should ignore the Surface Pro 3. Microsoft is no longer selling it, but you may still be able to find some tempting discounts elsewhere across the web – if you see the Pro 3 going for a song, it’s still a fantastic tablet and hybrid in every way. Beware the handful of sites which are selling it at ior even above its original price, however.

14. Asus Transformer Book Chi T300

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Price: Around £500 Rating: 4/5 Key specs: 12.5in 2,560 x 1,440 display | Intel Core M-5Y71 | 128GB SSD | 1.43kg (tablet 720g) 

The Transformer Book Chi T300 is a great little hybrid. The high-DPI display is superb, 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 tablets, the Asus Transformer Book Chi T300 is well worth considering – and especially now that you can pick it up for under £500.

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