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If you’re buying a new laptop this holiday season, you should probably get a MacBook Air. Its build quality is best-in-breed, its 12-15 hour battery life (on the 13" model) absolutely embarrasses the competition, and its operating system is extremely reliable and polished. Plus, despite what you may have heard about Apple products, it's actually quite affordable compared to the competition.
Retina Display: At only $200 more than the 13" Air, the 13" MacBook Pro trades a few hours of battery life and an extra half pound of heft to bring you faster performance, better graphics, and a stunning 2560x1600 retina display. You can't go wrong either way, but your priorities will determine which notebook is the better fit.
For Pros: If you have truly professional needs, the 15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display is your best bet. It benchmarks nearly twice as fast as the 13" Pro due to its quad core i7 processor, and really shouldn't even share a name with its smaller sibling. It's certainly not cheap, but it's the best choice for photographers, video editors, and the like.
For Windows Users
Lenovo Yoga 2 | $1,049 and up
The newly-released Lenovo Ideapad Yoga 2 features very similar internals to the Air, plus an amazing 3200x1800 13” touchscreen that can fold into various poses that you probably won’t use very often. Even if you never contort the Yoga into teepee mode though, it’s still a great value proposition. A well-appointed model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD is available for just $1,150 through Lenovo directly.
Unfortunately, your battery life will only be about half of what you’d get from a MacBook Air, and reviewers complained about the previous generation's finicky touchscreen and trackpad. It remains to be seen if these were addressed in the second go-around. These aren't deal breakers for most, but they're worth noting.
For Pros: The upcoming Dell XPS 15 is the Windows world's answer to the 15" MacBook Pro. It features fairly similar specs across the board at slightly lower prices. If you have no interest in OS X, but you need a powerful laptop for video, photography, and graphics work, this might be worth waiting for. It ships in mid-November, and reviews should start appearing shortly thereafter.
- Dell XPS 15 | $1,500 and up
Chromebooks: Keeping It Simple
Acer C720 | $249
If all you really need from your laptop is a second computer for typing emails and checking the web, Chromebooks are finally getting good enough to recommend. If you go this route, get the Acer C720 for around $250. The C720 is easy to overlook since it lacks the playful designs of its 11” competition, but make no mistake, this is the one to buy.
Most compact Chromebooks these days use ARM processors that struggle to play back HD video, and even scroll large web pages smoothly. The C720 though packs an Intel Haswell chip with 4GB of RAM and no such performance issues, all while delivering best-in-class 8.5 hour battery life. Really, the C720’s biggest downside here is its relatively bland design, and that’s not enough to knock it off its perch.
Toshiba Qosmio X75 | $1,420
It’s not the most powerful gaming laptop out there, but you won’t find better bang for your buck than the Toshiba Qosmio X75. Every Qosmio X-series laptop includes the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770M with 3GB of GDDR5 RAM, which will play Crysis at high settings, and pretty much anything else at ultra settings. Reviewers praise the Qosmio’s cooling power, keyboard, and 1080p display, all of which are critical for a good gaming rig.
The base configuration includes a 1TB hard drive, 16GB of RAM, and a quad core i7 processor. You can add a 256GB SSD for about $280 more, but you should buy one on your own (we recommend this one) and add it yourself to save some cash.
Don't Buy: There's a lot of hype surrounding the Razer Blade, but for what it costs, you get a slower GeForce 765M GPU, and a truly horrendous screen. It's a beautiful machine on the outside, but don't fall for its siren song.
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