Is the world’s best travel laptop dead? Ten years after Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air to the world, the laptop is on Apple’s back burner – and some fear that it’s being phased out entirely.
Rather than redesigning and upgrading the hardware like all of the tech giant’s other marquee products, Apple has left the Air to collect dust, and now the MacBook and MacBook Pro are taking the spotlight. While they’re more powerful, they’re not as convenient for frequent travelers.
On the surface, the MacBook and MacBook Pro measure up to the Air. They’re comparable in terms of size and weight, though they lack the superskinny, sloping gradient design that makes the Air so easy to slide in and out of carry-ons.
But the new models lack the Air’s “chiclet” keyboard, with its silent and spacious keys. The replacement “butterfly” design has been so prone to malfunction and sticky keys that Apple recently overhauled its warranty coverage for certain MacBooks. And that’s not even taking into account these models’ smaller screens, shorter battery life, comparatively high price points, and designs that have barely changed in more than a decade.
Add it all up, and it’s no surprise that Mac-loyal warriors around the world are increasingly being seduced by lighter, sleeker, sexier, and more powerful laptops - ones that run Windows and Chrome OS.
These five MacBook replacements are guaranteed to meet your work and play needs, whether you’re bored in a business-class suite, dashing off PowerPoint slides in a hotel room, or banking on the Shinkansen.
Based on a global road test that took us from New York to Los Angeles and Tokyo to Paris, these were the best of roughly a dozen new options - all standing out for their excellent portability, keyboard comfort, battery life, and computing power.
Want efficiency? Get the Google Pixelbook
Why we like it: The supersexy, two-toned body, which features Gorilla Glass and brushed metal, won’t smudge no matter how many times you have to unpack and repack it around the airport. And at barely 1kg, you won’t feel the Pixelbook in your carry-on.
There’s top-of-the-line hardware inside this laptop, starting with an Intel Core i5 processor and scoping up to a a quad-core Core i7, partnered with 8GB or 16GB of RAM, making for ultrafast loading speeds and easy multitasking.
In just 15 minutes, you can add two hours of juice to the nine-hour battery thanks to the Pixelbook’s quick charger.
Dash off emails in laptop mode, use automatic tethering to your Pixel phone to work online sans Wi-Fi, or flip around the screen to watch movies in tablet mode. Besides the free security software, Google gives you 1TB of complimentary online storage.
Caveat: While Chrome OS has become a nimbler, more versatile operating system in recent years, non-Google-owned productivity tools such as Microsoft Office and Evernote still feel clunky on this browser-based platform. The Crossover app offers a solid workaround.
Price: from US$1,000 [via Amazon]
Want to turn heads? Get the Microsoft Surface laptop
Why we like it: Call it the first laptop to give the MacBook Air a run for its design money.
The Surface laptop comes in a bevy of sharp colors including burgundy, cobalt blue, and graphite gold, and the fabric trim around the keyboard is polished and sophisticated. (It’s also comfortable on the wrists and easy to clean.)
The battery lasts an impressive 14 hours, which means you can spend a halfway-productive week in the French countryside without needing an outlet.
But be sure to upgrade the hardware specs as you customize your model. For on-the-go professionals, the Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and 1TB solid-state drive are best.
Caveat: The default operating system, Windows 10 S, is cumbersome; it limits you to Microsoft's Edge browser and Office programs. Splurge on the Surface laptop commercial edition, which costs $700 more and ships with Windows 10 Pro instead.
Price: from $1,100
Need to work in cramped quarters? Get the Dell XPS 13
Why we like it: Sometimes, adjectives like “slim” and “lightweight” translate to a far-too-tiny screen. Not so with Dell’s redesigned XPS 13.
It’s slightly lighter, thinner and about 45 percent smaller in volume than the MacBook Air – and yet the 13.3-inch screen is identical in size, thanks to a “virtually borderless” InfinityEdge display that you can order in touchscreen 4K definition.
Despite those diminutive proportions, the XPS 13 doesn’t feel flimsy: The body is made of block-machined aluminum. And the small physical footprint means you can easily type away with the screen fully open, whether on an airplane tray table or airport shuttle bus.
Caveat: The built-in webcam is at the bottom of the screen rather than the top, which keeps the bezel thin but makes for bizarre and unflattering angles on conference calls. If you like to keep in touch with the office via video chat, be warned.
Price: from $2,100
Want maximum battery life? Get the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1
Why we like it: The sixth-generation ThinkPad Carbon X1 from Lenovo is built for business, with an unparalleled 15-hour battery life.
It also has the latest eighth-generation quad-core CPUs for faster performance, multiple inputs (USB-C, standard USB, Mini DisplayPort, and HDMI), fingerprint authentication and a sliding webcam cover, a richly hued HDR screen, and a stealthily quiet keyboard.
This is a lean, mean productivity machine - it’s even shock-resistant, temperature-proof, and vibration-resistant, should you get stuck in turbulence.
Oh, and did we mention it’s one of the first laptops to have built-in Alexa capability? That means it’ll read you the headlines or give you the local forecast while you’re packing your suitcase.
Caveat: With its signature black exterior and red TrackPoint mouse in the middle of the keyboard, the look is a little outdated.
Price: from $2,600
Want the best bang for your buck? Get the Huawei Matebook X Pro
Why we like it: Don’t overlook this Chinese manufacturer. Like its phones, Huawei Technologies' flagship laptop offers significantly better performance for less of an outlay than its rivals.
Even with the latest eighth-generation Intel Core i7 processor and a high-speed solid-state drive, the Matebook X Pro's sticker tops out at far less than its closest competition.
There’s plenty to love besides the price, including a superslim bezel, 3K-resolution touchscreen, and four Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers that offer the best audio quality on any laptop we tested. (In small hotel rooms, it’s almost like having surround sound.)
Plus, the oversize track pad makes it easy to go mouse-free, while a spill-proof, back-lit keyboard takes the stress out of ordering coffee on your red-eye.
Caveat: Forgive the generic-looking aluminum alloy construction – along with the Gorilla Glass touchscreen, it ensures durability. The improbably placed webcam, like that of the Dell XPS 11, is harder to justify.
Price: From US$1,199 [via Amazon]