Once you get close to making up your mind as to what laptop you would like to buy, you may find yourself having to choose between two very similar machines, with similar technical and design characteristics, but which have been constructed by two different manufacturers.
Is there really any difference between brands?
Even if from one manufacturer to another, a computer’s components might come from the same supplier, the laptop’s brand is its most distinctive element and what will be important to you in making your decision.
It is similar to what happens with cars: two brands of cars, built with parts coming from the same suppliers, only really distinguish themselves from each other by their brand, which is what represents the manufacturer’s standards and reputation, the level of styling and finishing, as well as the quality of the after-sales service.
What are the best laptop brands? Which ones are the worst?
The reliability of brands is a highly controversial subject. Oftentimes, a brand’s perceived reputation is polluted by anecdotal accounts which fill up certain online forums with raging rants, and it becomes hard to determine whether these negative opinions are really statistically representative of an actual lack of quality.
For this reason, we have worked long and hard to compile a list of independent, objective, and representative sources concerning the build-quality of the laptops offered by various brands. We have cross-referenced studies conducted on customer satisfaction with statistics released by insurance companies and repair services as well as with specialized articles and other factual and objective sources.
Something which reassured us was that the cross-referencing of all these sources of information produced generally coherent results. In the end, this classification is the summary of our opinions.
The decision to buy a Mac is one which does not simply involve a perception of its relative quality: they are more expensive, run a completely proprietary operating system and are less flexible than PCs. Macs are often loved or hated for reasons which are not always rational.
If all these elements are debatable, one thing however is undeniable: the level of finishing of the Apple products goes far beyond the average. Their customer service is also one of the most effective ones around, often winning awards. The call center support is decent, even if for somewhat more complicated problems it can take a long time to speak with a competent technician. If you happen to live near an Apple Store, you would be able to make an appointment for a free consultation at the store’s Genius bar, in order to take receive assistance from a technician.
Mac laptops only come in two varieties, the MacBook Air (available in 11 or 13 inches) and the MacBook Pro (in 13 or 15 inches). Each product line is then subdivided in terms of the amount of storage space, from 128 to 512 GB. Be forewarned however that the price quickly rises with an increase in storage space…
Overall, Apple is an upscale brand: reliable and expensive, with an efficient customer service for dealing with commonplace problems. However, the decision to purchase a Mac depends on your individual constraints and priorities.
Acer / Gateway
Founded in 1976, under the brand name Multitech, Acer is today one of the oldest computer manufacturers still in operation. Gateway was acquired by Acer in 2007. Gateway still uses its trademark name and has many points in common with Acer.
Acer is reputed for its aggressive pricing, but its perceived quality is low and its design quality is rather poor. With its low priced, yet technically capable machines, Acer offers a good price to performance ratio, however its computers suffer from long-term reliability issues.
If you are looking to spend little money, but would like a powerful computer, Acer would be a good choice for you. Keep in mind however that you will not be buying the most reliable machine around. You could also check out the products available from Acer’s rival: MSI, which occupies a similar place in the market.
Asus is a Taiwanese manufacturer which is very active in many high-tech markets (computer components, desktop and laptop, telephones, tablets, etc.) It is most notably the world’s foremost motherboard provider.
In terms of laptops, Asus offers many lines of affordable machines: Zenbooks which are lightweight and thin, Vivobooks geared towards the public at large, and gaming machines under the banner of the Republic of Gamers series. This manufacturer also offers models which can be converted from PC to tablet, such as the Transformer or the peculiar Taichi, which has two displays.
Asus has the reputation of being a reliable manufacturer. By cross-referencing several independent studies, the Taiwanese brand consistently ends up being considered one of the two brands having the lowest failure rates. Their guarantee is for 2 years, whereas most of their competitors only offer 1 year guarantees.
Lastly, the quality to price ration of Asus devices is often very good. If you are looking for a durable laptop, an Asus product would be an excellent choice.
After years of growth, this American company has suffered a little lately from a low customer return rate. Nevertheless, Dell remains one of the most important brands on the market, and distinguishes itself by offering the unique ability of customizing every aspect of the computer that one is ordering from them.
It’s main product line – geared towards the general public – is the Inspiron, which ranges in size from 11 to 17 inches. Dell also has an ultrabook series, the XPS – thinner and more lightweight without much of a performance loss.
While their finishing is not perfect, the reliability of Dell computers is generally very satisfactory. Their technical support is rather good and has undergone some improvements as of late. While other brands may offer more powerful models, the ability to customize one’s order is still something which Dell has going for it.
If the pre-configured computers available on the market are not what you are looking for, don’t hesitate to look into customizing your own Dell computer.
HP / Compaq
World leader in computer sales for 2017, the HP/Compaq group has worked hard to improve its product line. At the moment, the computers which they are offering are well designed and their quality to price ratio is also quite good.
Some Compaq models are still being sold by HP, but these are mostly older generation, entry-level models, so you should be careful if you are considering buying a model with this name.
In general, HPs products have a pleasant design, come well equipped and have an affordable price tag. Their main downside is in terms of their long-term reliability, or lack there of. If you are looking to buy a computer to last you a long time, HP is not currently not the most highly recommended brand for that purpose.
Ever since its purchase by the Chinese manufacturer Lenovo in 2015, IBM’s portable PC sector has certainly evolved, and the famous, professional ThinkPad line has been perfected.
Lenovo has also introduced the IdeaPad line, geared towards individuals, with a refreshing design and a price which is better suited to the general public.
The reliability of Lenovo is average. Their customer service has a good reputation. The build-quality of their products is good, with the keyboard and Touchpad being of good quality. The main point to watch out for is their limited battery autonomy, even with a battery expansion.
Manufacturing computer components for many years now, Micro Star International is somewhat of a newcomer to the laptop market. The brand is attempting to make a name for itself by proposing powerful devices with unique designs at a competitive price. However, the finishing quality of their products is sometimes lacking.
The brand is a little bit too new for us to be able to judge its long-term reliability, but based on the finishing quality of their devices, reliability will probably be average.
MSI offers a good performance to price ratio, especially in its configurations designed for 3D gaming, but reliability is somewhat lacking on some of its models. We would only recommend this brand if you are on a tight budget, but need raw power.
These days it is hard to avoid coming across a Samsung product, so omnipresent are they in the consumer electronics market. It is an industry giant and the eternal rival of Apple. However, this Korean brand has never dominated the laptop market.
Their design and finishing are impressive: most Samsung computers are robust with a beautiful profile which even rivals Apple products in terms of aesthetic appeal. Certain models, especially in the mid to high-end range, offer a good quality to price ratio.
Sony / VAIO Z
Sony is one of the most important manufacturers of high-tech devices in the world, but its place on the laptop market has never been that significant.
The brand seems now to be focusing on providing a limited selection of high-end products. While often more expensive than their competitors’, Sony’s PCs offer an excellent keyboard and Touchpad and are available in a wide variety of colors. The reliability of Sony products is significantly superior to the average. If you are looking for quality, a Sony laptop would be a good choice. Nevertheless, don’t hesitate to compare with other brands, since their price is often quite a bit higher.
Final tip, some online retailers are able to sell Sony laptops for less money than on the official Sony site, since they are selling less modern models. These retailers’ offers appear in our Compass results.
Thanks to its wide range of products, Toshiba has been able to maintain an important presence in outlet stores and online retail sites. The brand is often wrongly considered to be bottom of the line, since it offers many very low priced PCs. But Toshiba also offers very good, high-performance models.
Reliability is one of the points in Toshiba’s favor. This Japanese manufacturer does not excel in design quality, but it does deserve our attention since in offers reliable laptops at reasonably good prices.
· Toshiba and Asus are excellent choices for those looking for a solid, reliable laptop at an affordable price.
· If you have a tighter budget, Acer / Gateway and MSI are good options.
· Apple remains in a class of its own and offers a unique design, exceptional finishing quality, reliable products and good customer service. However, buying an Apple costs more and is a decision which involves factors which go beyond the quality to price ratio.
· Sony, Samsung and Lenovo offer interesting alternatives to Apple laptop, with rather high-end devices, for those looking to buy a PC, and not to abandon themselves to the Apple universe.
· HP and Dell are also good options with affordable price tags. You will however be taking a greater risk in terms of reliability. If you are looking for a very specific hardware configuration, Dell offers you the possibility of configuring the PC’s every aspect when you order through their website.