The best laptops for any budget in 2021

Weight 1.2kg (non-touch) 1.27kg (touch) | Size: 14.8mm thick | Battery life: 12 hours | Screen: 13.4-inch 1080p/4K | RAM: Up to 32GB | Storage: Up to 1TB | CPU: Up to 11th Gen Core i7 | OS: Windows 10 Home
The Dell XPS 13 (from £1,229) has set the standard for compact ultrabooks for several years now. Rivals are fast closing in while Dell’s flagship has stood fairly still. However, the XPS 13 still remains the best laptop you can buy right now.
The rival machine that’s closing in on the XPS 13 the fastest is the Apple MacBook Air M1 (below), representing a leap in efficiency that leads to battery life and performance gains that will marvel many. What keeps Dell’s 13-inch ultrabook just ahead of Apple’s revamped MacBook is a rather sizeable gap when it comes to modern design. Alongside the gorgeous Razer Book 13 (below), the XPS 13 is one of the best looking laptops around.
In particular, it’s the near edge-to-edge 16:10 display that makes this laptop an eye-catcher. When you first open this diminutive laptop, you’ll be astonished by how much screen Dell has managed to pack in and, with the 4K version, the bright colours are absolutely knock out too.

As a productivity machine, the combination of a 16:10 display, portability and blazing fast basic tasking makes this a top pick for working at home. Whether you’re browsing the web with upwards of 15-20 tabs and beyond, working in Office or watching videos, the XPS 13 doesn’t blink. A superb keyboard and trackpad pair exceptionally with the speedy internals, with a surprising amount of key feedback for such a slim device as well as a responsive trackpad. (Although if we’re being picky, a slightly larger trackpad wouldn’t go amiss next time around.)
While Intel’s 11th gen processors are a step up from the last generation, you won’t notice a massive difference if you’re just using the XPS 13 as a productivity device, an area in which it already excelled. However, you will notice it with more graphics-intensive tasks. Previously, the XPS 13 could eke out some very light photo and video editing along with playing some low demand games like Fortnite and Apex Legends at minimal settings to get decent frame rates. The increase isn’t huge but you’ll feel less like you’re just about managing with these graphical tasks now, with the aforementioned games playable at around 1080p and upwards of 30fps on low graphics settings – rather than the bare minimum.
The Dell XPS 13 has occasionally been beaten on specific features but rarely topped when it comes to consistency. However, competitors are catching up and this Dell needs to start standing out more. While the XPS 13 design is premium and sleek in its own right, the lack of an all-metal design like the MacBook Air, Razer Book 13 and Surface Laptop 3 is leaving it wanting amongst these rivals that exude quality.
Then, there’s performance. With the majority of top-notch ultrabooks using Intel’s best mobile chips over recent years, this wasn’t much of a talking point – performance was pretty uniform. However, the efficiency gains of the new MacBook Air M1, bringing a fanless design and enhanced battery life, as well as the value offering of lower-priced AMD ultrabooks, like the Lenovo IdeaPad 5 and HP Envy 13, mean Dell’s time at the top could be in danger. With the XPS 13 getting slightly warmer than one would like in some scenarios, Dell certainly has gains to make here. Intel has its new Alder Lake chips coming this year, which could help Dell in this department, but the XPS 13 can’t afford to rest on its laurels for another year.

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