Remote working has swept across the world as workplaces everywhere adjust to new circumstances. With offices staying closed for the foreseeable future, the flexibility to work remotely has created a wonderful world of freedom and possibilities for many people. But are you equipped for it? Whether you are working at home, in a coworking space, at a coffee shop or on a beach somewhere exotic, having a good laptop is essential for productivity. This handy guide compiles the best laptops for working remotely in 2021 to help you choose the right machine for your needs and budget.
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Things to consider when choosing a laptop for working remotely
Perhaps you’ve already been working remotely for years, and you’re looking to upgrade your old machine. Or maybe you’re new to this, and you need to equip yourself for your newfound freedom from office life, or for a workation you are planning. Whichever it is, there are several things to consider when choosing a laptop for remote working in 2021.
Weight and size
If your remote-working lifestyle involves travelling and moving around a lot between workspaces, then a lightweight laptop that isn’t too bulky will make your life a lot easier.
Lisa and I both use 13-inch laptops, and we find that’s just around the sweet spot for remote working. It’s an ample enough screen size for working with images and documents, but still fairly compact, and nicely portable for journeys. Our laptops both weigh in around the 1.3kg mark. If you plan to travel a lot, we would suggest a laptop below the 1.5kg mark.
When working remotely, you may not always be in close vicinity of a power source. Whether it’s a long bus journey, a plugless waiting room or a disconnected day on the beach, you will probably encounter situations when you will need a decent amount of battery life to get some work done. Eight hours of battery life is a good minimum threshold to aim for.
Functionality and speed
Most of us have different needs when it comes to how we use a laptop for work. Think about the core functions you need to get your job done, and make sure that the laptop you buy will be able to handle them. For example, do you do a lot of video conferencing? Do you work with images, videos and graphic designs? Or do you mainly use a laptop for writing and editing documents, analysing data and sending emails? The answers to these questions will dictate the functionality you need in a laptop.
If you work with design software and use heavy files, then you will need a faster processor than if you are just editing documents or working with spreadsheets. For simple tasks, a dual-core processor should do the job, but for more intensive work then a quad-core processor is ideal.
A webcam is an essential feature if your work involves video conferencing. It’s probably a good idea anyway, especially if you are travelling from place to place and want to connect with family and friends.
“Think carefully before squeezing the pennies too tightly on a laptop. It can easily turn out to be a false economy.”
RAM and storage
The processor is not the only consideration when it comes to the power and performance of your laptop. RAM is also crucial, as it dictates how much information your machine can handle simultaneously. If you’re just browsing the internet and sending emails, 4GB should be sufficient. But if you are using design software or editing videos and photos, 8GB is more suitable. For more intensive tasks, you may need to look at 16GB.
For storage, it mainly comes down to your usage needs. In terms of performance and usability, SSD storage has replaced the old-school hard disk drives. I find that 256GB SSD storage is more than enough when using my laptop for editing photos, occasionally using InDesign, and regular stuff like browsing the web and checking emails.
There’s always the option to use external storage too – we use Amazon Drive Cloud Storage to back up all our old photos and files.
When you’re always on the go, a laptop that is easy to use and requires minimal faffing around will help you stay sane and get more done. Good ergonomics are a big factor in the quality of a laptop. Look for a keyboard with a comfortable layout and space between the keys, and with backlighting so you can use it in the dark if needed.
Depending on your style and needs, you may want to opt for a 2-in-1 laptop. These have touch screens can be used as either a laptop or tablet, as the screen can be turned fully around. Lisa has one of these, and it’s great for switching to tablet mode for a train journey, or on the sofa at home.
It’s likely you will want to connect other devices to your laptop, whether it’s a camera or a monitor or headphones or something else. You can always buy adaptors, but it can get clumsy and messy, so it helps if your laptop has the ports you need already built in. A couple of USB ports as a minimum is a good start, and an SD card slot is very helpful if you want to transfer photos frequently.
Something else to bear in mind is that WiFi 6 launched in 2019, with speeds nearly three times faster than WiFi 5. It’s not essential yet, but certainly a bonus if you can stretch to a new machine that is compatible with this next generation of WiFi.
Finally, everybody has to work within a budget, and wherever yours lands will obviously affect the spec of laptop you can afford. Few people have unlimited budgets, and you will probably need to make trade-offs and compromises.
However, think carefully before squeezing the pennies too tightly on a laptop. It can easily turn out to be a false economy. If you can stretch your budget, a faster laptop may help you to be more productive in your work. Then you will end up with more money in your pocket or more free time on your hands to enjoy.
What laptop spec do you need for working remotely?
Bringing together all these considerations, if you’re still unsure, you can use the following suggested spec for guidance when choosing a laptop for working remotely. It’s based on my own workload, which is mainly general usage plus a bit of design work and photo editing. This can be used as a benchmark when looking for an all-round laptop:
- Screen size: around the 13″ mark is ideal
- Weight: lower than 1.5kg
- Processor: Core i5, Ryzen 5 or better
- RAM and storage: 8GB RAM, SSD 256GB storage
- Battery life: 8 hours minimum
Best laptops for working remotely in 2021: our picks
1. MacBook Pro
- Processor: 1.4 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 +
- RAM: 8GB +
- Weight: 1.37kg
- Battery life: 10 hours
- Pros: fast performance, sleek usability with versatile touch bar, keyboard and trackpad, beautiful high-resolution display
- Cons: the base model (which I use) has only two thunderbolt ports, which is a bit restrictive, and there is no SD card slot. MacBooks are also on the expensive side – you can get laptops with similar specs for less money
We begin our compilation with the laptop I use personally for remote working – the MacBook Pro. I find this to be a powerful all-round laptop that is easy to use (I love the iOS operating system!). MacBooks are definitely a favourite among remote workers around the world – they probably account for more than half the laptops I see whenever I go to coworking spaces.
I use the 13-inch version of the MacBook Pro. After recently upgrading from my 2017 model, I’m now using the 2020 base model, with a 1.4 GHz quad-core Intel i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and SSD 256GB storage. The newer versions are more efficient, so even though the clock speed is only 1.4 GHz compared to 3.1 GHz on my previous version, it can turbo-boost to 3.9 GHz so it handles better.
I have the 13-inch version, which strikes a great balance between usability and portability, as we outlined above. The touch bar, which has been featured on MacBook Pro models since 2016, adds an extra layer of usability.
While I’ve had a few nicks and scrapes with it, the MacBook Pro is still my go-to laptop for working remotely. It performs well, is beautiful to use, and does everything I need it to. Well worth the investment if your budget allows.View prices on Amazon
2. Macbook Air
- Processor: Apple M1 chip with 8-core CPU (2020 version)
- RAM: 8GB / 16GB
- Weight: 1.27kg
- Battery life: 11 hours
- Pros: solid processor performance and battery life, sleek and lightweight, lowest-cost Apple notebook
- Cons: as with the MacBook Pro, you can get similar spec Windows laptops much less money
The MacBook Air is Apple’s slightly more lightweight and affordable laptop compared to the MacBook Pro. It has many of the same benefits, such as using the iOS operating system, and the newest version finally comes with Apple’s attractive Retina Display.
Although its hardware isn’t as powerful as the MacBook Pro, it has longer battery life and is easier to carry around, making it an attractive option if you don’t need it for intensive heavy-duty tasks.
The latest version of the MacBook Air released in November 2020 features the new Apple M1 chip processor, with 8-core CPU and 7- or 8-core graphics depending on which model you choose. It’s also compatible with WiFi 6.
This development came slightly too late for me as I’d just invested in a new MacBook Pro, but it would have given me serious pause for thought! The MacBook Air is a great all-round lightweight machine, and packs a lot of performance into the entry-level version for the price.View prices on Amazon
3. Microsoft Surface Book 3
- Processor: 10th Generation Intel Core i7-1065G7
- RAM: 8GB / 16GB / 32GB
- Weight: 1.53kg
- Battery life: 17.5 hours
- Pros: detachable screen, brilliant battery life, excellent processor performance, touchscreen
- Cons: expensive, design may outdate quicker than a MacBook
After receiving some feedback we have added the Microsoft Surface Book 3 to our list of recommendations by popular demand. We hadn’t tried this machine before, but having now had a whirl we can see why it’s a sought-after model.
The Surface Book was top of Lisa’s laptop wishlist, but she ultimately opted for the next option in our list, the HP Envy, because of the price tag. however, if you are ready to splash the cash on a great piece of gear, the Surface Book is a fine way to do it.
This latest model clocks in at just above that magic 1.5kg in weight, but we won’t mark it down too much for that. It’s a big improvement on previous models. The benefits are that you get a gorgeous, sleek laptop with a fancy detachable screen so it can double up as a tablet. A dream for working on the go.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is a good alternative entry point into the Surface touchscreen series. It’s cheaper, lighter, and gets the job done.View prices on Amazon
4. HP Envy X360
- Processor: AMD Ryzen 7 2700U with 2.2 GHz +
- RAM: 8GB
- Weight: 1.32kg
- Battery life: 13 hours
- Pros: impressive processor performance, touchscreen with pen, great value for money
- Cons: the cooling fan is pretty loud, which can be annoying
Lisa bought her HP Envy X360 back in 2018. It’s performed a dream and proved to be durable, reliable and convenient for carrying around on our travels. At the time she bought it as a more affordable alternative to the Microsoft Surface Pro or HP Spectre 360, but it has turned out to be an excellent purchase in its own right.
The HP Envy X360 is a 2-in-1 laptop with premium processor and graphics performance, pretty much unrivalled at its price point. Its convertible nature makes it great for working on the go. Having used this for over three years now, we probably wouldn’t bother spending more on the HP Spectre 360, as there is very little difference in what it can do.
Lisa has the 13-inch version of the HP Envy X360. This is a little lighter than my MacBook Pro, and has a thinner and sleeker feel. I’m not so keen on its keyboard ergonomics, but many other reviewers have begged to differ, so that may come down to personal preference! I wouldn’t mark it down too heavily for that.View prices on Amazon
5. Dell XPS 13
- Processor: 10th Generation Intel Core i3-1005G1 +
- RAM: 4GB +
- Weight: 1.23kg
- Battery life: 12 hours
- Pros: super lightweight, touch screen, high-quality Infinity display
- Cons: limited port selection
The Dell XPS 13 is probably the best MacBook alternative for Windows users. Its elegant minimalistic design is up there with Apple’s gold standard. What’s more, it is lighter, just as powerful, and doesn’t cost as much.
The Dell XPS 13 also comes with a whole swath of options in terms of performance, from Intel Core i3 to i7, and from 4GB to 16GB RAM, giving you plenty of flexibility with budget.
One drawback of the Dell XPS 13 is that its pretty design is compromised practically with limited port options, so you may need to invest in adaptors for the connectivity you need. That’s hardly a dealbreaker though. If I were to diverge from Apple on my next remote working laptop purchase, this would probably be my choice.View prices on Amazon
6. ASUS Zenbook 13
- Processor: 3.9GHz Intel Core i5-8265U
- RAM: 8GB
- Weight: 1.14kg
- Battery life: 10 hours
- Pros: super lightweight, reliable, solid performance, strong battery life
- Cons: slightly cramped keyboard design, display quality is not the best
The ASUS Zenbook 13 is the cheapest of the premium laptops we highlight here. It’s a good value-for-money option if you don’t want to fork out for a MacBook, HP Envy or Dell XPS. We have used ASUS laptops a lot in the past, and always been impressed by their reliability; this model is no different.
The processing capabilities of the ASUS Zenbook 13 are more than adequate for multitasking between a range of everyday work. It’s also the lightest of the laptops in our list, and so it’s a doozy for taking on working trips, or moving around frequently on the job.
In terms of connectivity the machine offers different USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, a HDMI port and headphone jack, although there are no Thunderbolt ports.
The ASUS Zenbook 13 is a solid all-round laptop that ticks all the boxes for working remotely, especially if you like to switch up your working environment a lot. The battery life is impressive, it’s light and compact, and it does the job.View prices on Amazon
7. Acer Aspire 7
- Processor: 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H
- RAM: 8GB / 16GB
- Weight: 2.15kg
- Battery life: 8.5 hours
- Pros: fast, good processor performance, robust, reliable
- Cons: heavier than other options in this list, less battery life, no SD slot
We have used Acer computers a lot over the years, and they are generally very reliable machines. The Acer Aspire 7 is the latest in a long line of models that provides a solid, sturdy, no-frills laptop that performs strongly.
What you won’t get with Acer is a slick and elegant design – their laptops do have a bit of a dinosaur look about them. This is also the heaviest machine on our list and has the shortest battery life, which makes it more suitable as a laptop for working from home than for moving around constantly.
But for the money, this is a very solid buy. It’s fast, reliable and likely to last you a good long while. So, if you are on a bit of a tighter budget and your remote work is in a fairly fixed location, the Acer Aspire 7 is not a bad shout at all.View prices on Amazon
Best laptops for working remotely: quick comparison table
Short of time? Here’s a quick comparison details showing the regular specs of the laptops we’ve highlighted in this article.
|MacBook Pro||1.4 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 +||8GB / 16GB||1.37kg||10 hours||View on Amazon|
|MacBook Air||Apple M1 chip with 8-core CPU||8GB / 16GB||1.27kg||11 hours||View on Amazon|
|Microsoft Surface Book 3||10th Generation Intel Core i7-1065G7||8GB / 16GB / 32GB||1.53kg||17.5 hours||View on Amazon|
|HP Envy X360||AMD Ryzen 7 2700U with 2.2 GHz +||8GB||1.32kg||13 hours||View on Amazon|
|Dell XPS 13||10th Generation Intel Core i3 / i5 / i7||4GB / 8GB / 16GB||1.23kg||12 hours||View on Amazon|
|ASUS Zenbook 13||3.9GHz Intel Core i5-8265U||8GB||1.14kg||10 hours||View on Amazon|
|Acer Aspire 7||2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H||8GB / 16GB||2.15kg||8.5 hours||View on Amazon|
Have you used any of these laptops for working remotely? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.
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