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PC demand skyrocketed in 2020, as COVID-19 forced people to work remotely and upgrade their home offices. Laptop shipments alone topped 218 million in 2020, up from 173 million units the year before, according to IDC. Tablets also saw 19.5% year-over-year growth.
If you’re still in the market for a laptop or tablet, you’ll want one from a reliable, trustworthy, and high-value brand. And for that, you can turn to PCMag readers, who rated the portable tech they use most to help us pick this year’s Readers’ Choice Award winners for laptops and tablets.
Readers’ Choice Laptop Brands for 2021
When it comes to favorite laptop brands, it’s Apple’s game to lose. AppleApple has won the PCMag Readers’ Choice award for laptops and notebooks for at least 15 years running, and it almost always leads with a score of 9.1 or higher out of 10.
It has only dropped below 9.1 twice since 2006—in 2018 and 2019—and even then, it was at a still-incredible 8.9. This year in particular, Apple shines when it comes to setup, reliability, and screen quality. It only stumbles when it comes to repairs (8.2) and cost, where it earns a somewhat dismal 7.4. But that’s not surprising because you pay a lot for a MacBook compared to other laptops.
We always pick an “other” laptop brand—one that runs Windows or Chrome OS. This year, that award has a clear winner in MSIMSI. The smaller PC company doesn’t have as robust a user base as the big guys like Microsoft, Dell, Acer, or HP, but when it makes the cut in our surveys, it tends to win big. This is the third time MSI has won the Readers’ Choice award, with ease-of-use scores that top Apple. It is, however, the worst among the lot for battery life. (Scroll through the chart below for each manufacturer’s rating on all criteria.)
Microsoft has shared the overall Readers’ Choice laptop award with Apple several times in the last few years, but it only beat MSI on battery life and size and weight this time around. That said, Microsoft’s scores are still fantastic, a step above the many other Windows-based laptops on the list, even gaming-specific brand like Dell’s Alienware. (Alienware last snagged the Readers’ Choice award in 2011.) None of the other brands here are outright terrible, in theory. Lowest-scorer HP nabbed an 8.2 overall score, which is a solid B-.
It’s worth your time to look at individual scores for the laptop aspects you find most important. For example, HP’s low scores for tech support and repairs don’t bode well if you’re prone to breaking your laptop. Microsoft scored even worse for repairs (6.1) but higher for support (7.9). And people seem to actively hate the touch screens on Alienware laptops, which scored a truly bleak 4.6 out of 10.
For more, read The Best Laptops for 2021The Best Laptops for 2021.
Readers’ Choice 2-in-1 Laptop Brands for 2021
Also known as the 2-in-1, the hybrid laptop is the kind of notebook PC that transforms from clamshell to tablet to tent. Since 2015, we’ve asked readers to specify the kind of laptop they have, so we can rate hybrids separately. In those seven surveys, Microsoft has won six of them, including this year, with an overall score of 8.9 out of 10.
Taking the standard laptops from the Microsoft Surface lineup out of the running upped Microsoft’s score, but it still has problems with cost (7.4) and repairs (5.5). Only four brands made the list for hybrids, the others being from major US laptop makers Lenovo, HP, and Dell—which tend to make all the laptop lists thanks to their huge number of users. They aren’t lagging too far behind Microsoft, and they sometimes handily beat the Surface hybrids on some measures. But Microsoft’s lead in satisfaction, reliability, screen size, and quality keep it on top.
One interesting thing we haven’t seen before: all four brands get a 9.0 for ease of use. Which probably also says something for Microsoft and Windows 10, since that can frequently come down to how people feel about their OS.
For more, read The Best 2-in-1 Hybrid/Convertible Laptops for 2021The Best 2-in-1 Hybrid/Convertible Laptops for 2021.
Readers’ Choice Gaming Laptop Brands for 2021
This is the first year we asked people to tell us if they use their laptop primarily for gaming. Oddly enough, that forced out some brands that you’d expect to see. MSI and Alienware, for example, already had a low number of responses but enough to make the overall list above. But the only companies represented here are big-name laptop vendors like Dell, HP, and Lenovo. Still, our first-ever gaming laptop Readers’ Choice award goes to AsusAsus.
Asus, which makes the Republic of Gamers (ROG) line of gaming products, earns an overall score of 8.7 out of 10, but that’s not much above the 8.6 for Dell and Lenovo. Asus’s lead in other categories is slim, like likelihood to recommend, and non-existent in a few (such as cost, ease of use, size and weight, screen quality). This is a win for Asus by the slimmest of margins.
If one of the major gaming-focused brands like Alienware, HP Omen, or Razer had made the cut here this year, it perhaps could have topped Asus. But as any gamer knows, that’s how things go sometimes in head-to-head, battle-royale combat. We are already excited to see who is king of the hill in 2022.
For more, read The Best Gaming Laptops for 2021The Best Gaming Laptops for 2021.
Readers’ Choice Tablet Brands for 2021
What makes a tablet a tablet? For our purposes, it is a slab-style device without a keyboard that runs an OS primarily designed for screen input—such as Android, Fire OS, or iPadOS—but can also include Windows 10. Because of that and the proliferation of hybrid/convertibles, the demarcation between laptops and tablets grows fuzzier each year.
For now, we can still say that models from some vendors are always going to be categorized as tablets. Think Apple’s iPadsApple’s iPads, which are more like large iPhones than smaller MacBooks.
We haven’t consistently rated tablets for a Readers’ Choice award, but since 2011, across nine surveys, Apple iPads have won eight times. The overall satisfaction score for Apple has dropped from a high of 9.1 in 2019 to 8.9 this year, but it’s fluctuated over the years (it’s gone as low as a still-impressive 8.6) and is still higher than the competition.
In previous years, only Samsung and Amazon had enough response to show up in our results, but for 2021 we saw a nice showing from Microsoft and Lenovo tablets. The Microsoft Surface line shows signs it could someday outdo even Apple. The Surface tied iPads for ease of use, size, and weight; it bested iPads for tech support; and came within striking distance of the top scores for screen quality and likelihood to be recommended to a friend.
However, the other brands crushed both Microsoft and Apple for satisfaction with cost. People do tend to rate their expensive equipment highly in other measures, though, because satisfaction is not cheap.
For more, read The Best Tablets for 2021The Best Tablets for 2021.
The PCMag Readers’ Choice survey for Laptops and Tablets was in the field from January 11, 2021, to February 1, 2021. For more information on how our surveys are conducted, read the survey methodology.
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