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Beyond the usual considerations, finding the best mid-sized laptop is largely a matter of balancing portability with screen size. In the 14- to 16-inch range, mid-sized machines give you plenty of display real estate without being quite as cumbersome as the best 17-inch laptops (or even approaching the sheer bulk of the modern "musclebook").
Of course, all the standard considerations for laptop shopping still apply. You want top performance balanced either towards productivity, gaming, or creative tools, a sharp, color-accurate display, and great sound and thermals, ideally at a price that doesn't necessitate a second mortgage. Sound like a lot of research? Don't worry, we've done all the boring homework for you and found the best mid-sized laptops for a big range of potential use cases, to save you some of the more tedious legwork.
Big 15.6-inch screen
8th gen processor
Display is a little dim
The Acer Aspire E 15 guarantees the most bang for your buck, especially when you look at its hardware. It features an 8th generation Intel Core i3 processor, 3.4GHz Turbo Boost, 6GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. It also contains an Intel UHD 620 graphics card, capable of supporting most games with a lag-free connection. The 15.6-inch screen features full HD resolution and good color accuracy, although the brightness is a bit low. Still, the laptop compensates well with surround-sound audio from its built-in speakers.
For movie buffs, the visuals may be a deal-breaker. But ultimately, the Acer Aspire E 15 is built for productivity. It comes with port space for USB 3.0, 2.0, and Type-C, Ethernet, HDMI, along with an SD card reader and a DVD slot. The keyboard even comes with a full numeric keypad, which business professionals will surely appreciate. The battery also lasts for a good 13.5 hours and only takes two hours to fully charge. In his review, Jeremy praised the E 15's best-in-class performance at this (very low) price range.
"The Acer Aspire E 15 hits almost all the right notes while keeping the price way, way down." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester
Crisp FHD IPS display
Only 8GB of RAM
Released at the tail end of 2016, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Ultrabook is a shining example of everything you can want in a 14-inch laptop. Powered by a 2.6GHz Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, there’s plenty of power under the hood for business tasks during the day and personal ones at night. The 14-inch 1920 x 1800 FHD IPS display offers excellent colors and great viewing angles for both browsing and videos. At just 2.6 pounds, the combination of fantastic performance and great display all make for a frame that’s easily portable.
The carbon fiber reinforced plastic lid and super magnesium body feel sturdy and solid in the hand and offer plenty of peace of mind that the X1 will stand up to some wear and tear. For the business user, the durable frame is complemented by added security options like a single-touch fingerprint reader that’s best utilized with Microsoft’s built-in Windows Hello login. To the left of the fingerprint reader is the ultra-responsive touchpad that pairs fantastically with Lenovo’s spill-resistant world-class keyboard. Add in nine hours of battery life and the X1 is the total package for laptop buyers looking for the best experience on the market today.
Up to 32GB of RAM
Powerful dedicated graphics card
The 15-inch MacBook Pro is a great choice for anyone who wants a good-sized screen, a sleek device, and most importantly, a ton of power. For this 2018 model, Apple has upgraded the Pro's processors and features to maintain parity with the specs offered by its PC competitors, and for the most part, they’ve done a good job.
This version of the 15-inch model comes standard with an 8th-generation, six-core Intel i5 processor, offering speeds of 2.2 GHz and a boosted speed of 4.1 GHz. Paired with 16GB of RAM, that’s amazing. But now you can choose to take that even further, to 32GB of on-board RAM, for a seriously top-of-the-line machine. Apple has also upgraded the graphics card, giving you a Radeon Pro 555X with its own dedicated 4GB of RAM. It won’t behave quite like a dedicated gaming PC, but it will get about as close as any MacBook Pro has. You can also get the laptop with upgraded SSD speeds in a 256GB or 512GB configuration.
The 2018 Pro model also includes four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports and Apple's Touch Bar feature, which replaces the top row of function keys with a touch-sensitive panel that integrates app controls into your keyboard and allows you to unlock your laptop with Touch ID. It also improves on the Retina display with new True Tone technology, which employs a sensor to measure the tone and temperature of your room’s lighting and optimizes the screen color gamut to give you a great looking screen no matter where you are.
Stylish backlit keyboard
The Acer Predator Helios is definitely not the lightest machine, but the hardware inside justifies the weight. The Helios 300 contains a 7th generation Intel Core processor (with 3.8GHz Turbo Boost) and 16GB DDR4 memory, promising some of the fastest loading speeds among its competitors. The hard drive comes with 256GB SSD, but if you need extra storage space, there’s an additional slot to fit a second 2.5-inch hard drive. The 15.6-inch screen features a full HD, widescreen display, and a stylish red backlit keyboard that also provides comfortable typing feedback and a decent amount of travel. With seven hours of battery life and a custom-engineered cooling system underneath, the Predator Helios has enough power to last through even the most intense gaming sessions. As an added bonus, the Helios is also VR-ready, so all you need is a headset and any additional accessories, and you’re ready to take your gaming to a whole new level.
Slim and sleek
Solid Core i7 CPU
Fantastic OLED display
At just 2.8 pounds, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga 2-in-1 is an outstanding choice for business travelers that offers both laptop and tablet mode in a 14-inch package that’s just .67 inches thin. The full-size back-lit keyboard is spill resistant and retracts automatically into the hardware when not in use as a laptop, so it remains unexposed to any desk or desktop surface. Additionally, the X1 Yoga is tested against military specifications, which make it the world’s most durable, thinnest and lightest business-focused laptop.
Powered by a 2.6GHz Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage space, the X1 Yoga offers four different usage modes for work, presenting, creating and connecting. The 14-inch 2K (2560 x 1440) touchscreen display pairs with OLED technology for accurate colors and sharper contrast. A dockable stylus pen can recharge in just 15 seconds and offers 100 minutes of use for drawing and annotating notes or documents. Lightweight, powerful and with more than eight hours of battery life, the X1 Yoga is a business-focused dream machine.
Fastest Surface Book thus far
Beautiful high-res screen
Since its initial release in late 2017, the Microsoft Surface Book 2 has managed to snag top slots on plenty of reviewers’ lists, including several of our own. The latest model features an 8th generation Intel Quad-core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage space. Additionally, it holds a powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card which can handle highly demanding games and programs.
Graphic artists especially love the Surface Book 2 — the 15-inch screen features a PixelSense Display with 3,260 x 2,160 resolution and brilliant colors. Microsoft offers a range of accessories to complement the device like the Surface Pen, Surface Dial, and the Precision Mouse. This 2-in-1 is lightweight at only 4.2 pounds. It's also highly adaptable, able to switch between four versatile modes: laptop, tablet, studio, and view. For a product that doesn’t compromise on high-speed performance for portability, the Surface Book 2 is a no-brainer.
Excellent battery life
This 2018 model of the Acer Chromebook is faster and stronger than its predecessors. It contains a high-speed 2.4GHz Intel Celeron processor with 4GB LPDDR3 RAM, 32 GB of solid-state storage, and a respectable 12-hour battery life. It features a 14-inch full HD widescreen, LED-backlit anti-glare display for easy browsing without the eye strain. The device also carries an HD web-camera, one HDMI input, two USB 3.0 ports, Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity, and a Kensington lock slot. Weighing just under four pounds and very affordably priced, the Chromebook is both cheap and portable, making it the perfect choice for students especially.
Awesome 13-hour battery life
Excellent viewing angles
Great stereo speakers
Limited RAM capacity
If it’s battery life you want, take a look at the Acer Swift 5 14-inch laptop, which has a long 13-hour battery life. It's powered by a 7th generation 2.7GHz Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GBs of storage space. The 14-inch Full HD IPS Widescreen 1920 x 1080 display offers excellent viewing angles along with Acer’s TrueHarmony technology that adds stereo speakers for boosted sound. Additionally, the inclusion of 802.11ac connectivity with MU-MIMO technology offers a future-proofed network experience three times the wireless performance of previous generation technology.
The all-aluminum body is cool to the touch and just .57 inches thin, making it one of the thinnest notebooks in its class. Fortunately, the Swift 5 weighs just 2.87 pounds which make, the incredible 13 hours of battery life worth the price tag. An embedded fingerprint reader adds an extra layer of security that works with Windows Hello, so you can verify and log into your Windows 10 account within a few seconds.
If you're looking for a great all-around package at an exceptionally low price, the Acer E 15 is a perennial favorite, blending a solid display and performance with some nice expandability options. If you're willing to spend a little more, however, consider our pick for the best overall mid-sized laptop on the market, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1, which packs some killer specs and a beautiful IPS display all in a sturdy, durable magnesium chassis.
When testing these laptops our experts use a variety of tools to see how they perform at the very edge of their performance envelope. Free tools like Cinebench allow them to stress test a laptop's CPU and how well it can operate under overclock conditions, as well as using 3DMark to examine how well the laptop handles rendering environments. They also look at the form-factor and portability, because nobody wants to take a 15-pound laptop anywhere, as well as things like speaker performance and webcam placement.
David Beren has been covering the tech industry for more than a decade and has accumulated extensive experience in PC, laptop, and mobile tech. He's written for a number of top tech sites and also managed content for lead mobile companies like Sprint and T-Mobile.
Jeremy Laukkonen is a tech journalist with a knack for making complex subjects easily digestible. He specializes in laptop and PC technology, and also runs his own automotive blog.
Price - A new laptop can be a big investment, but it doesn’t have to be. Budget options abound, with models as inexpensive as $300. A cheaper laptop will likely have a sub-par display or slightly slower processing speeds, but in most cases you’ll hardly notice unless you plan to do massive multi-tasking.
Operating system - Does every device you own start with an “i”? Or are you a dedicated PC user? These days it’s simple enough to switch between operating systems, but people still tend to like to stick to what they know. Both MacOS and Windows have their advantages — with Mac being more intuitive and design-friendly and Windows being more secure and business savvy — but the choice is yours and yours alone.
Processor - When it comes to doing heavy duty work, take note of the processor, or CPU. If money is no obstacle, look at the number of cores it has. More cores mean a faster and more efficient processor. The high-end options out there pack up to eight cores.