Plenty of people look forward to the end of a year because it means the holiday season is approaching. With this, come fun times with family and friends. But for lots of people, the approaching holiday season means buying gifts — and likely, overspending their budgets.
We’ve been there, and despite the joy you can get from giving a gift, the stress that comes with overspending your budget is real. Laptops, in particular, can be expensive. And with lots of people working from home and lots of kids doing their schoolwork virtually, they have become a hot item.
While we can’t promise to remove all of your holiday stress, we can help you find a great deal on a newish laptop. Keep reading to learn more about the laptops we recommend.
When it comes to buying a laptop you have a few starting points, get a MacBook with macOS, a Chromebook with ChromeOS, or a model that runs Windows. The MacBook line splits into the MacBook Air and Pro. And while there are plenty of Chromebooks available, we recommend the Pixelbook or Pixelbook Go, which are both from Google. As far as Windows goes, you’ll find countless options, but similar to getting the Google version of a Chromebook, we suggest getting a Windows laptop that is made by Microsoft, in part, because the Surface lineup is built really well.
Essentially, our recommendations boil down to a MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Google Pixelbook, Google Pixelbook Go, Microsoft Surface Pro, or a Microsoft Surface Laptop. These models cover all the basics, and each is available at different price points, which should make things easier if you are shopping on a budget. The tricky part is that these are all equally good laptops. It is just that they are good for different reasons. But don’t worry because we are about to break this down into an easy-to-understand gift guide.
We don’t have an official laptop of Swappa, but we do have a fair amount of Swappa employees who use a MacBook — so the Apple laptop lineup seems like a great place to start. Apple tends to support their laptops for long periods of time, which means you have the option to pick up an older model, spend less money, and still get the latest version of macOS.
The latest version of macOS is Big Sur and it will run on the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models dating back to 2013. Of course, in order to be able to use the laptop for long into the future, we recommend buying the newest model that fits within your budget. Not to mention, while the design and size of the Air and Pro remain pretty consistent from year-to-year, the internal hardware such as the processors do improve. A newer model means better performance and better battery life.
Of the two models, the Air and the Pro, the Air is likely the better option for regular day-to-day usage such as web browsing, email, watching streaming videos, and editing images. The Air is also often the lower-priced model. The MacBook Air is also a bit lighter in weight, has a slimmer exterior design, and has a bit better battery life as compared to the MacBook Pro.
On the other hand, the MacBook Pro often has better specs, such as a faster processor, and options for more RAM and more internal storage space. The newer MacBook Pro models also have a Touch Bar, which allows for custom controls based on the app you are running or the task you are performing.
As the names suggest, the Pro model is the higher-end Apple laptop. Having better specs means you should be able to use the laptop for longer into the future — it also means spending a bit more on the purchase. But the bottom line is that the MacBook Air is likely the better option for most people, provided they are not looking to handle processor-intensive tasks such as editing large 4k video files.
Apple generally releases a new model of the Air and Pro lineups each year. We’re big believers in not needing the newest model, so we would recommend checking out the few years prior, from 2017, 2018, and 2019. These three models are very similar in hardware specs, and they all run the latest version of macOS, so we recommend browsing for the newest model of the bunch that fits in your budget. Similarly, the MacBook Pro models from 2017, 2018, and 2019 are all solid options to consider purchasing in 2020.
If you are still hoping to spend a bit less on your MacBook, you can safely go back another year or two depending on your budget needs. Even going back to the 2015 model year, you will still be getting the latest version of macOS.
Our top two recommendations from Microsoft include the Surface Pro and the Surface Laptop. Microsoft has been making each of these models for several years, which means you should be able to find a model that fits your needs — and your budget. As a starting point, these are both Windows laptops that run Windows 10. The Surface Pro is a two-in-one with a detachable keyboard, and the Surface Laptop is a more traditional laptop with a fixed keyboard.
The Surface Pro is currently on version 7 and dubbed the Surface Pro 7. The Surface Laptop is on version 3 and dubbed the Surface Laptop 3. Buying an older model means spending a bit less, but we recommend not going back too far into the past. The Surface Pro 5 was released in 2017, and the first Surface Laptop was also released in 2017. These would both make excellent laptops today, even in 2020.
Stepping up to the Surface Pro 6 or Pro 7, or the Laptop 2 or Laptop 3 would mean getting a bit newer, and a more powerful laptop. But of course, that also means spending a bit more money. Basically, the key deciding factor here is whether you want a two-in-one style or a traditional laptop-style. From there, we recommend looking at the newest model that fits within your budget.
Best budget Microsoft laptop
The Surface Go is similar to the Surface Pro, just smaller in size. The Surface Go is a two-in-one computer with a detachable keyboard, which means it functions as a tablet or traditional laptop computer. Features of the Surface Go include a 10.5-inch touchscreen display, Intel processors, and options for 4GB or 8GB of RAM, and 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB of SSD storage.
Finally, we come to the Chrome OS laptops. The key advantage Chrome OS has over other laptops is simplicity. The operating system removes the need to manage the laptop and allows you to just use the laptop. You’ll find Chrome OS laptops from a variety of manufacturers, but our key recommendations are two models from Google; the Pixelbook Go and the Pixelbook.
There are some similarities and differences between these two laptops. The Pixelbook is a bit older. It was originally released in 2017, whereas the Pixelbook Go was first released in 2019. Essentially, this means that the Pixelbook is powered by 7th generation Intel processors, and the Pixelbook Go is powered by 8th generation Intel processors. That said, each of these processors will meet day-to-day usage needs with relative ease.
The display is a bit smaller on the Pixelbook, at 12.3-inches (2400 x 1600), as compared to the 13.3-inch (1920 x 1080) display on the Pixelbook Go. But otherwise, both models have options for 8GB or 16GB of RAM and options for 128GB or 256GB of storage space. The Pixelbook also had an option for 512GB of storage, and the Pixelbook Go also had an option for 64GB of storage.
A key difference is in the look. The Pixelbook Go has a black outer shell, and the Pixelbook has a sleeker-looking silver and white exterior. Pricing is also similar for each of these models and with similar hardware specs, the decision-making point could come down to the exterior look (color). We tend to favor the look of the Pixelbook, but the Pixelbook Go is a bit newer and therefore, it is likely to get software updates further into the future.
Best budget Chrome OS laptop
Along with the Google-made Chromebooks, Samsung also has some really good Chrome OS laptops. One of the best budget-priced models from Samsung is the Chromebook Plus. This model features a 12.3-inch (2400 x 1600) display, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage space. The Chromebook Plus display also flips around so the laptop can be used in a tent mode or tablet mode.
Swappa’s Quick Picks
We realize it isn’t always easy to decide, so here are a few quick picks based on items we (Swappa staff members) would buy for our loved ones.
- Best MacBook for most users: MacBook Air family
- Best MacBook for power users: MacBook Pro family
- Best laptop for double-duty (laptop and tablet): Microsoft Surface Pro family
- Best Chromebook: Google Pixelbook Go
We don’t allow any junk in our marketplace, nor do we allow any jerks to use Swappa, which means the Swappa marketplace is a safe place to shop. Listings are reviewed by our moderation team before they are approved for sale in the marketplace, and every item that is listed for sale must meet our strict listing criteria. Regardless of which model laptop you choose — you can take comfort in knowing that you’ll get the best deal on Swappa.