NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Millions of people may have turned to tablets to surf the Web, read e-books, watch videos, answer email and handle basic computing tasks. Yet on a daily basis, millions of others still depend on laptops and notebooks for their computing needs.
Laptops have larger screens, more memory, more powerful processors, hardware keyboards and can handle more complex computations than tablets. They run either Microsoft (MSFT) Windows, Apple's (AAPL) OS X or Google's (GOOG) Linux-based Chrome operating system. Screen sizes range from 11 to more than 15 inches. Some have touchscreens, but most do not. They all have Intel (INTC) inside.
Here are our choices for the 10 best laptops you can buy this holiday season. They range in price from around $200 (sometimes a lot less) all the way up to $2,000. Any of these laptops should please the person lucky enough to get it from Santa.
10 - HP Stream 13 Signature Edition
Hewlett Packard's (HPQ) new inexpensive Stream laptops are part of a new breed of Windows-based computers with amazingly low price tags. They're obviously designed to go head to head with inexpensive Chromebook computers running what is essentially a Web browser.
Colorful Stream laptops come with either an 11-inch or 13-inch screen. We're focusing on the larger model because it offers more bang for the buck.
The screen actually measures 13.3 inches and is capable of presenting high-definition video quality of 1366 by 768 pixels. That means 720p videos look terrific. Like the similar Asus EeePC, there is no touch control of the display. The Stream runs on a 2.16 GHz Intel INTC Celeron processor with 2 GB of RAM. It offers 32 GB of flash storage, a 720p Webcam and lots more. It weighs 3.4 pounds, runs a full 64-bit version of Windows 8.1 and comes with a year's worth of Office 365 Personal.
We're saving the best feature for last: HP's Stream 13 retails for only $229. A full review is forthcoming.
9 - Asus EeePC X205
This is Asus' answer to the smaller HP Stream 11-inch laptop. The X205 is another one of the new lightweight, powerful Windows computers that are designed to offer more value than Chromebooks at the same price points (or lower).
The new EeePC has an 11.6-inch screen, which, like HP's Stream 13, offers 1366 by 768 pixels (and up to 720p video resolution). There's a quad-core, 1.33 GHz Intel Atom processor, 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage and a microSD card expansion slot. It comes with two years of 500 GB free cloud storage from Asus plus another 15 GB of perpetual storage and 500 GB for two years from Microsoft. It runs Windows 8.1 with Bing, a full 32-bit version of Windows. It weighs only 2.16 pounds.
The EeePC X205 retails for around $200 from online and bricks-and-mortar stores, but there have been some amazing sales this holiday season, and one retailer had a $99 price tag on this computer on Black Friday. It's a terrific little machine at any price.
8 - Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series 2-in-1
This computer's name tells it all. This Dell Inspiron model has an 11-inch touchscreen, which means that it can be used as a laptop or a tablet. It's similar in many ways to Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 except the keyboard doesn't snap off.
The Inspiron 11 comes in three configurations differentiated by the Intel processor you choose. You have your choice of dual-core Celeron, quad-core Pentium or fourth-generation Core i3. These devices all have 4 GB of RAM, 500 GB hard drives, run Windows 8.1 and weigh in at a hair more than three pounds.
Unlike the Surface Pro, the Dells are a lot more affordable. They range in price from $380 (Celeron model) to $430 (Pentium) to $550 for the Core i3.
7 - Toshiba Chromebook 2
The list of companies making computers that run on Google's Chrome operating system continues to grow. There are small desktops and all sorts of laptop designs, some with regular screens and some with touchscreens. Manufacturers include Acer, Asus, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, LG and Samsung (SSNLF) . Short of shelling out more than a grand for a Google-branded Chromebook Pixel (review link below) there is another model that is creating a lot of buzz: Toshiba's Chromebook 2.
Actually there are two new Toshiba Chromebook 2s. One offers a standard-definition (1366 by 768 pixels) 13.3-inch screen, 2 GB of RAM and up to 11.5 hours of battery life. The other has a 13.3-inch display with full 1920 by 1080 pixels HD, 4 GB of RAM and as much as 9 hours of battery life. Inside both models is a dual-core Intel Atom processor, 16 GB of flash storage and a sound system from Skullcandy.
The standard-definition version retails for $250, and the HD model for $330. We think the pricier Chromebook 2 with it's better screen and double the RAM is a much better bargain.
6 - Acer Aspire V Nitro
This is one hot laptop. Not hot in the sense of being warm to the touch but hot because it's one device that looks as good as it performs.
The Acer Aspire V Nitro laptops all run Windows 8.1, use top-of-the-line Intel Core i7 and Nvidia (NVDA) GeForce graphics processors and full 1080p/HD screens. They differ in screen size, memory, storage configurations and, of course, price. $1,099 gets you a Nitro with a 15.6-inch screen, 8 GB of RAM and a 1 TB hard drive. $200 more gets you a larger, 17.3-inch screen and 16 GB of RAM. For $1,399 you get the an additional 256 GB solid-state drive, and for $1,499 the DVD-writing drive changes to a BluRay writer.
Performance is top notch, and the prices are reasonable for the value being offered.
5 - Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Black Ultrabook
Mention "ThinkPad," and people will know you're talking about quality. It's been that way for decades, and the latest X1 Carbon Black model is no exception.
It has the specifications you would expect from a high-end device: Intel i5 or i7 processors, 64-bit Windows operating system, a 14-inch, full HD display (2560 by 1440 pixels), 4GB-to-8GB of RAM, hard drives and solid-state drives and weight starting at less than 3 pounds. What sets this ThinkPad apart from the crowd is its carbon-fiber outer shell, which is thin, lightweight and incredibly durable. Add that to the ThinkPads' long-term record of quality and you have a real contender.
X1 Carbon models start at the odd price of $1,124.10 for an Intel i5 and 4GB of RAM and range to $1,949 for an i7 processor and 8 GB of RAM.
4 - Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 made it onto our Top 10 Tablet list and deserves a place on our laptop list as well.
This third-generation Windows 8.1 device (none of that Windows RT stuff to be found here) sports a fourth-generation Intel i3, i5 or i7 processor, your choice of 4 GB or 8 GB of RAM, and either 64, 128, 256 or 512 GB of solid-state storage. The high-definition touchscreen measures 2160 by 1440 pixels (for a 3:2 aspect ratio), and there are 5-megapixel cameras front and back.
The Pro 3 also comes with a stylus, which also sets it apart from most (but not all) other laptops. Keyboards are optional but necessary when comparing to other notebook computers. Consider one of the colorful "Touch" keyboard/covers that retail for $130.
Surface Pro 3 ricing depends on exactly what's inside. You have many choices. The base model with a 1.5 GHz Intel i3 and 64 GB of storage goes for $799. A 1.9 GHz Intel i5 with 128 GB retails for $999. Add $300 for an i5 with 256 GB. 1.7 GHz i7 models sell for $1,549 (256 GB) and $1,949 (512 GB).
3 - Apple MacBook Air
Small, smart, lightweight, priced just right. Apple's latest MacBook Air continues to lead the industry in design and useability.
There are two MacBook Air models: one with an 11.6-inch screen and the other with a 13.3-inch display. There are choices of Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, either 4 or 8 GB of RAM and as much as 500 GB of solid-state storage.
What you can't change -- and you wouldn't want to -- is the size and usability. First, these are among the thinnest (0.11-to-0.68 inches) and lightest (2.38-to-2.96 pound) computers on the planet. As for ease of use, they run Apple's OS X. That's all you need to know.
The latest 11-inch model starts at $899 and the 13-incher starts at $999. They're only surpassed by their larger MacBook Pro cousins.
2 - Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro
It's not a ThinkPad, but it is one of the most innovative 64-bit Windows 8.1 laptops you can find. Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro is a premium-quality two-in-one computer: half laptop and half tablet.
There are two things that makes this computer worthy of your attention. First, look at what's inside. It has one of Intel's new Core M processors that stress long battery life as well as performance. Match that to 8GB of RAM, a 13.3-inch QHD touchscreen (3200 by 1800 pixels) and you have a top performer. It weighs 2.6 pounds and measures 0.5 thick.
The other new feature is the hinge. Lenovo reinvented the usually overlooked part that attaches the keyboard to the screen. This new hinge is made of 813 indiviudual pieces of aluminum and steel. Lenovo says the design was inspired by a watchband. In real life it's a thing of beauty and allows the Yoga 3 Pro to rotate to any angle, and stay open exactly the way you want.
It comes in three colors (Golden, Light Silver and Clementine Orange), and prices range from $1,200 to $1,400 depending on your storage needs.
1 - Apple MacBook Pro
Many consider these to be the top laptops money can buy. The MacBook Pro laptops are the best portable computers Apple manufactures and sells.
There are three models. One has a 13.3-inch LED display and starts at $1,099. One has Apple's premium 13.3-inch Retina display and starts at $1,299, and the big one has a 15.4-inch Retina display and a quad-core Intel i7 processor (the others have dual-core chips) starting at $1,999. The 15-inch models comes with 16 GB of RAM. You have your choice of 4 GB or 8 GB for the others. Internal storage options range from 512 GB of solid-state drives to 1 TB of either hard drive or SSD. The models with Retina displays are thinner and sometimes lighter in weight than the 13-inch model.
To all this premium hardware add Apple's OS X Yosemite and you have an amazingly synergistic combination. These are among a handful of premium laptops available today that will keep you happy for years.
-- Written by Gary Krakow in New York.
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