What makes the best travel laptop? This is an overview of the key elements that make a great road computer such as portability, weight, battery life, and hardware. A lot of laptop reviews get bogged down in the hardware specs like memory and processing power. However, factors like portability, weight, and functionality are important when traveling.
We couldn’t imagine traveling without laptops. While not every traveler may need the best travel laptop there are those of us digital nomads who work on the road. Answering emails, conducting business, editing photos, and maintaining our business cannot be done from our smartphones. It’s not all about Instagram and Facebook as a blogger!
The right laptop for travel should be light, powerful, and have a long battery life. All of the following laptops are the best options for frequent travelers or anyone that requires a portable device.
- Best Travel Laptops
- How To Pick A Travel Laptop
Best Travel Laptops
Budget Travel Laptops
These laptops are perfect for travelers in need of a simple and cheap laptop.
Acer Chromebook R13
If you’re looking to get straight to the point then a Chromebook is a fantastic option. The small computers aren’t heavy on processing power, but if you know what you need they will get the job done. These cheaper laptops do not run full operating systems like Windows, Linux, or MAC OS, but a simple one designed around the Chrome web browser. They’re terrific computers for writing, answering emails, and using Google Docs.
However, for many digital nomads and online workers deal with images, video files, and graphic design that require programs like Adobe Photoshop or Premiere it’s not going to cut it. These come with 2GB of ram and only 16 GB of internal storage so don’t expect too much. They’re a solid choice if you plan to answer a few emails, edit some word docs, and read great travel blogs (like ours!). Build design is just “decent,” but the computer only retails for less than $200!
Acer does manage to make a great value product. The computer has a bright screen, a decent battery, and even an SD card reader which is great for backing up your camera to the cloud! It also features a 720p webcam that is good for video chat back home with apps like Skype or Google Hangouts. It’s pretty impressive given the price that the screen is a touchscreen with a 360 hinge. Thus the computer becomes a tablet perfect for watching a video or flipping through a guidebook. To top it all off the battery on the laptop can last 9-12 hours.
For those not familiar with Chrome it’s one of the best web browsers on the market. We also make full use of the Google apps such as Doc, Sheets, and the calendar as they operate in the cloud and make workflow across multiple devices seamless. If you do opt for a budget-friendly Chromebook for travel I’d recommend picking up a USB stick too. External memory is cheap these days and you’ll be able to dump all your photos from the day on a thumb drive to ensure their safekeeping.
Samsung’s Chromebook steals a number of tricks from their top of the line smartphones to develop a solid travel laptop. It’s a great travel laptop and is perfect for the right user. The 4GB model comes with enough RAM to surf the internet, work on a word doc, and play music. If you’re not pushing the computer it’s super snappy and operate smoothly. The screen isn’t going to knock your socks off, but it gets the job done. It does have a surprisingly good build that is lightweight and contains a long-lasting battery.
It does come with a very limited storage at 16GB, but when combined with Google Drive it won’t hold you back. What this computer excels at is the affordability, it’s under $200! I would highly recommend this to anyone that is seeking a travel laptop that is affordable, easy to use, and just a bit more than a tablet. Another big plus, if you lose this thing while traveling, drop it, or have stolen you aren’t going to sweat it too much (especially if all your files are saved on Google Drive).
Ultrabook Travel Laptops
Top of line laptops for heavy users that care about weight and not price.
We’re big fans of Apple. If you’re a creative who works with digital media then it’s likely you’ve already considered a Macbook Pro. The computer packs a lot of punch in a small package. We push our Macbooks daily by using resource heavy programs like Lightroom and Premiere and they have held up for years. For average users, the portable ultrabook the 13″ model is perfect, but as video editors, we opted for the 15″ Macbook Pro.
Design wise it’s impossible to find a better-looking laptop than the Unibody Macbook laptops. Apple’s unibody design has been around for years now, but it seems a competitor has yet to deliver a comparable product. The operating system is intuitive and fast. While, the “retina screen” on the Macbook pro is probably the best laptop screen on the market at 2500 x 1600px. The 13″ model has a long lasting battery and it’s lightweight at only 3 pounds.
The new Touch Bar, introduced in 2016, across the top of the keyboard and replaces the old key row and is a bit of a hit and miss. It’s not that I don’t like it, but that few 3rd party apps have really taken advantage of the feature. It allows for fingerprint login, instant access to volume and brightness controls, the MacOS version of Siri and special touch features in different software apps. It’s the same size in both the 13-inch and 15-inch models, measuring 2,170 pixels across and 60 pixels high.
The computer comes in two versions – base model and the high end version with a customizable touch bar. The base Macbook Pro is modest in value, and the top of the line Macbook Pro costs a whopping $2,899 for the 13″ model. USB-C ports are the only on the computer which makes for a high end feature. However, it lacks in practicality as it requires several adapter cables for everyday compatibility until all consumer electronics adapt. They even ditched the SD card readers which seems silly for anyone who wants to access photos from their camera, which would be most travelers.
Apple’s touchpad operates better than any other on the market and the massive one on the latest model will be sure to keep anyone happy. I also love the multi gesture movements on OS operating systems. The price tag is high, but keep in mind Apple laptops are extraordinarily good at holding value for reselling. If you’re looking to go top of the line than the Macbook Pro is the answer.
If you’re an IOS user, but don’t want to shell out the money for a Macbook Pro or carry the weight the MacBook Air is a clear winner. I traveled with this laptop for three years and it’s still running strong. Apple laptops are known for their reliability, longevity, and ease of use all of which can be found with the MacBook Air. As with many Mac laptops, it has a fantastic trackpad and keyboard that are responsive and tactile.
It does have some downsides, for the price you could get a robust PC based laptop, like the Asus Zenbook. It’s limited in it’s ability to edit photos and will only frustrate those who work in graphic design or video editing. On the flipside, it a premium Apple product under $1,000.
You have several options for storage size on the laptop ranging from 128 to 512gb. In my opinion, the Air’s strength lies in it affordability and upgrading the disk drive space is a poor value compared to the more robust Macbook Pro or Asus Zenbook. As a travel laptop the Macbook Air excels at word docs, internet browsing, and the occasional light photo edit, this is no work horse.
Asus ZenBook UX330UA
This powerful ultrabook comes in considerably less than its closest competitor. The Zenbook is a great laptop that is sleek looking too. It’s a well designed laptop that retails for less than $700.
The model listed here comes with 8GB of memory and a 256 GB solid state drive. That should be more than enough for plenty of tasks that you can throw at a laptop, like photo editing. It provides an exceptional battery life at 9-12 hours.
At only half inch wide it will be sure to fit comfortably in your carry on backpack. Don’t worry about the laptop weighing your bag either as it only weighs three pounds.
It has some useful hardware and ports that will be sure to make your life easier on the road. I love that it has a USB-C port, two standard USB ports, an SD cart slot, and a micro HDMI. The micro HDMI will make it a breeze to hook your computer up to any TV screen or projector for presentations or video editing. I find a lot of business hotels these days provide a hard wired HDMI port to connect your laptop to the TV right from the desk, just make sure to bring a cable.
It has a 13″‘ HD screen, nice speakers, and fingerprint sensor. The fingerprint sensor will make remembering passwords a breeze. The keyboard and usability receive consistently good reviews from users.
As strong as the computer is, it does come with drawbacks. Just like Macbooks, you can’t upgrade these computers with your own hardware. It would also be great if the USB-C port was capable of running a monitor like the Macbooks thunderbolt ports, but it’s hard to care when the price is so low.
If you’re looking for one of the best travel laptops for value on this list the Asus Zenbook UX330UA would get my vote.
Best Convertible Laptops
HP Spectre x360
When I started my initial research on convertible laptops the HP Spectre X360 topped almost every “best travel laptops” list. I spent a while testing out the HP Spectre X360 and it was easily one of may favorite devices to use. I could easily find myself having a bit of work and play on the laptop.
The HD model has a 1080 HD touchscreen that is bright and beautiful. I found the colors, contrast, and luminance superb and it’s a beautiful device to use. Even those who use the travel laptop for work might find themselves playing a few time wasting games on the computer.
There’s also the option to pick up a 4k model screen. Granted this will come at a higher price point and will cost a lot of battery life.
The Spectre is also super lightweight at less than 3lbs. This makes it only a little heavier than a tablet, but if you’re looking for performance the X360 packs a punch. I love the feel of this laptop in my hands. The build quality is wonderful and the screen is beautiful.
Microsoft Surface Pro
It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 makes our list of best convertible travel laptops. It has great value when compared to other convertibles and laptops. Unlike many of its competitors in the convertible market the surface has the workings of a more traditional tablet. However, with all the inner workings and processing power of many laptops.
It’s made for those like to work and play.
The keyboard is detachable and also serves as a cover and stand. Although, we would love it more if they included it in the base price as it currently costs an extra $120! I do love additional features like the surface pen that should help those who love to design or even doodle, but again you’ll have to pay that for that.
The Surface Pro is one of the lightest convertibles on the market at 1.7lbs. The ergonomics of not having the base keyboard permanently attached means the laptop/tablet feels great in your hands.
Despite coming in a small package Microsoft has managed to pack a punch. With Kaby Lake CPUs, up to 16gb of RAM, a card reader, multiple USB-A ports, and a 512 SSD. The screen is also impressive at 12.3,” 2376×1874 touch display. Its color representation and contrast are great and will likely make you happy watching a movie or editing a photo in Lightroom.
Compared to previous models Microsoft has continued to increase battery life and with the latest Surface Pro 4, you’ll likely get plenty of operational time before having to recharge.
I’m not a massive fan of the base model as it tends to lack the processing power and at the same price point you can get a cheaper machine that’s just as powerful. However, if you invest in a slightly higher configuration you’ll be pleased with the purchase. A strong consideration of the best travel laptops for those who want small and portable.
Quick Ways to Measure a Travel Laptop
We’re big believers that the perfect travel laptop or any product is out there for everybody. There may never be the perfect product out there, but there is the best fit for every traveler.
This is probably the first thing to consider before shopping. I recommend setting a budget and sticking to the plan, you need to save dollars for travel after all! Generally, you don’t need to spend more than a $1000 on a travel laptop unless you’re planning to regularly work. There are plenty of great options to pursue cheap computers like Chromebook, or mid-range convertibles.
There is, of course, the exception for Apple aficionados who will have to pay a high price for their premium laptops. If you need some help saving up to buy one of these computers we suggest you implement the same tactics we use to save for travel.
Although, we always travel with a carry on backpack to store our laptop a good durable shell never hurts. When you’re traveling the design and build quality should be an important consideration. There are dozens of cheap model laptops that are built primarily from plastic and are bulky in design that will be a burden. Generally, you get what you pay for!
If you want a cheap almost disposable laptop than a Chromebook is a great choice. That being said I prefer travel products that last as they are more eco-friendly. Natasha and I are both hardcore Apple fans as their products have never let us down and consistently rank as some of the best travel laptops.
This is one of the most important considerations when it comes to portability. If you have to be connected to a wall all the time it’s not going to cut it as a travel laptop. Batteries are constantly improving, but if I expect to be on the go a lot a great way to save battery life is to avoid high-resolution displays.
Speaking of displays it does matter how you plan to use your device. As stated previously a higher resolution display eats battery life, but for those of us that are content creators, the display can be very important.
How you plan to use your computer should have some impact on the storage. Generally, computers are moving over to SSD drives as they do not spin. This means they’re more impervious to damage and they operate at much higher speeds leading to better products. If you plan to use a lot of heavy files your computer will need some storage, but if you’re just sending emails and editing spreadsheets/word docs a small storage device like a Chromebook will do just fine.
Are you a Mac OS X user, Windows, Chrome, or Linux user? While Windows and Mac are the most popular it all really depends on what feels best for you. I personally love Apple products (and have for seven years now) and I don’t plan on making the switch anytime soon.
RAM is a quick way to determine the processing power of a machine. RAM is the memory that is designed to handle ongoing tasks. While your storage is where you save photos and files to your computer the RAM runs programs. If you’re editing photos, video, surfing the web, and streaming a video you’re going to need RAM. We edit a lot of photos and video so the best travel laptops for me pack a punch.