It was an exciting year for laptops in 2021. We saw better displays with higher refresh rates on non-gaming machines, faster CPUs, and innovative form factors. We even saw better budget laptops than ever, with some blurring the distinction between budget and premium.
Even among such a diverse and excellent field, some new laptops stood out. Some were entirely new models, while some were sizable iterations on established lineups. But they all brought something new to the table beyond an increase in specs, as we typically see in laptop upgrades.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
Microsoft could have iterated the Microsoft Surface Book 3, perhaps adding newer processors and increasing GPU performance, but otherwise keeping the same removable screen form factor. Instead, it came out with something completely new, the Surface Laptop Studio, which borrows the HP Specter Folio’s 2-in-1 convertible design while incorporating much more powerful components. In this case, that means 11th-gen 35-watt Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs, up to an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU, and a 120Hz display. It’s fast enough for demanding productivity workflows while meeting the needs of less demanding gamers and creative professionals.
Our review called the laptop “weird and wonderful,” and that’s an apt description. With its screen folded up, it’s like any standard laptop: snug on a lap and cutting the same familiar profile. But fold the screen outwards, that is, rotate it along its center so that the bottom part moves forward and you have the “Stage Mode” which is optimal for watching media or concentrating on the screen.
Pull the bottom further out and the screen will lie flat, perfect for writing with a Surface Slim Pen 2, complete with haptic feedback that makes the experience feel more like writing on a sheet of paper. TheIt is one of the unique laptops introduced in 2021, and it shows that Microsoft is not resting on its laurels.
Razer Blade 14
Razer has consistently produced some of the best gaming laptops on the market, with its Razer Blade 15 topping our list of the best gaming laptops for a while. That changed in 2021 with the introduction of the Razer Blade 14, an even smaller laptop that’s easier to carry from one LAN party to another, while still having a surprising amount of gaming power. He immediately took over our top spot and hasn’t looked back since.
It’s the first Razer laptop built around AMD’s Ryzen 5000 CPU, making it blazingly fast on CPU-intensive tasks, while somehow squeezing an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU into the slim chassis and lightweight. The Enjoy the iconic Razer Blade aesthetic, bold and beautiful without being garish. This is a laptop that you can use in a conference room without feeling embarrassed.
We include both the MacBook Pro 14 and MacBook Pro 16 here because they are very similar laptops that share the same huge benefits. Apple has outdone itself with these machines, increasing their connectivity and, most importantly, moving from Intel CPUs to Apple’s own M1 Pro and M1 Max processors. These are two blazing-fast laptops for creators, moving through demanding creative workflows in a way that was once relegated to dedicated mobile workstations. Even with all that power, they’re two of the most durable laptops we’ve tested when unplugged.
As always, they are among the best-built laptops you can buy and while they are a bit thicker to accommodate the improved connectivity, they are still thin enough and have a sleek aesthetic. They are expensive, but if you are a creative professional who needs a lot of power on the go, then the and the they are the ideal laptops for you.
Surface Pro 8
The Surface Pro line is not new. In fact, it’s in its eighth generation, making it a full-length series. But the Surface Pro 8 is so different from its predecessors that it might as well be an entirely new device. Its screen is larger and now runs at 120Hz, which makes animations fluid, while its bezels are smaller, which means that it is only a fraction larger than its predecessor.
Surface Pro 8 is compatible with the Surface Slim Pen 2 and shares haptic feedback with the Surface Laptop Studio, making it look like you’re writing on paper and not on a piece of glass. It’s also a faster laptop that finally packs in Thunderbolt 4 for the most powerful connectivity options, including external GPU housings. TheIt’s not just a step up from the Surface Pro 7, it’s a huge leap.
HP Specter x360 14
HP’s Specter lineup has had its share of excellent 2-in-1 convertibles, notably the Specter x360 13 and the Specter x360 15. However, when it came time to upgrade the line to a taller screen, HP produced a tweener, the Specter x360 14, which takes advantage of a 3: 2 screen for improved productivity and tons of additional vertical screen space. It is a very functional but tiny 2-in-1 convertible.
Best of all, the Specter x360 14 retains the sleek Specter aesthetic, with gem-cut corners and edges and colors that stand out without being extravagant. The laptop is one of the most attractive you’ll find, and it’s also one of the best built without buckling or bending anywhere on the lid or chassis. It’s fast, has good battery life, and offers a 3K (3000 x 2000) OLED display with wide, accurate colors and incredible contrast. TheIt’s the best 2-in-1 convertible you can buy today, and it was a standout presentation in 2021.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano
Take everything that’s good about one of the best business laptops you can buy, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9, and narrow it down to a tiny package that maintains the same ThinkPad style, build quality, and performance. That gives you the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano, a brand new model in the ThinkPad lineup in 2021 that is all about being small.
And it’s small, measuring just 0.66 inches thick (very thin 0.55-inch tapered) and weighing just 1.99 pounds. That is remarkably light!
Even so, it retains the much-vaunted ThinkPad build quality without bending, bending, or twisting, and has undergone the usual set of military tests for ruggedness. Being small does not mean becoming weak. TheIt offers a high-resolution display with top-notch colors and contrast, and has a fast performance that will provide a full working day on a single battery charge.
Asus ZenBook 13 OLED
The Asus ZenBook 13 OLED was the first laptop to offer the bright colors and inky blacks of an OLED screen for less than $ 1,000. That in itself was an achievement. But it also performed excellently thanks to an AMD Ryzen 7 5800U CPU, solid build quality, and spectacular battery life, making it a great bargain.
It’s been on our list of the best laptops since its introduction, thanks to being such an incredible bargain. Its OLED screen may be just Full HD (1920 x 1080) in the old-school 16: 9 aspect ratio, but it’s still good enough for creative professionals with less demanding needs. Thebroke the mold of making for a great mid-range laptop.
There’s more where that came from
This is just a short list of the best new laptops for 2021. Really, a lot of great laptops made their debuts this year, and we just didn’t have the space to list them all. So we were judicious and believe that the laptops included here are the best of the best.
Take a look at all of our laptop reviews for more cool new machines that debuted in 2021. And we look forward to 2022, when Intel’s 12th Gen CPUs promise to change the game once again.
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