We've told you about the best tablets, the best cameras, the best gaming gear and a few more, and today our attention turns to gadgets that can help with both work and play: laptops. If you're thinking of buying a new laptop this holiday season, whether for a family member, a friend or yourself, you'll want to consider one of the choices below. (Also, don't forget to consider all our laptop buying tips.)
Not everyone needs a super-powerful computer with all the bells and whistles. If all you want to do with your laptop is surf the web and only surf the web, there's the Samsung Chromebook. This laptop runs Google's Chrome OS, which means it is really just a Web browser. But that means you'll be able to check your email, watch YouTube, monitor your Facebook feed and work in Google Docs for a good part of the day before having to reach for a charger. And even better it's only $249. Remember, though, you only get a browser here - no downloadable apps, no Microsoft Word, etc. ($249, Amazon)
HP Pavilion G6
If you're looking for those Microsoft programs and full-on Windows, HP's Pavilion g6 is one of the best budget laptops out there. You won't get a touchscreen with it, but you will get a comfortable keyboard, decent track pad, dual-core AMD processor and 4GB of RAM for $499. The mostly plastic build isn't going to be as stellar as the next group of laptops we take you through, but it's a good, inexpensive machine to share with the kids and family. ($479, HP)
With Windows 8 came a new operating system based on touch, and with that came a number of new laptop/tablet hybrid machines. Here are three good choices if you are considering a convertible.
Acer Aspire V5
Most of the laptops with touchscreens will cost you more than $900, but not Acer's $730 Aspire V5. The laptop's exterior isn't as well built as the others we list below, but you get a lot internally, with a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. The 15-inch edge-to-edge glass display has a touchscreen but it also has a wide track pad and backlit keyboard. ($730, Amazon)
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga
Now we're getting into the fun. The IdeaPad Yoga is a laptop, but it also flips around into a tablet. Push the back of the 13.3-inch screen and you can fold the laptop into a tent and then into tablet. Get the yoga part now? The touchscreen is very responsive when navigating Windows 8, but even when you aren't using it as a tablet it has a comfortable keyboard and touch pad. For $999 you get a Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and a fast 128GB solid state drive. ($999, Lenovo)
Dell XPS 12
Lenovo's not the only one that provides some fun. Dell's XPS 12 is based on a similar idea - the laptop's 12-inch screen flips around in its frame. Flip it and then push it down over the keyboard and you've got a tablet. The XPS 12 has similar internals to the Lenovo with a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB solid state drive. It's a bit heavier than the Lenovo and the track pad isn't as good, but it's got a backlit keyboard and a higher resolution screen. ($1,199, Dell)
For those looking for something a bit more traditional there are the good old very thin and light laptops.
The MacBook Air is the best thin and light laptop money can buy. It has a strong aluminum unibody design, backlit keyboard and the best track pad of any laptop on the market. Apple's offers the 11-inch version for $999 with a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 64GB solid state drive, but most will be better off with the bigger 13-inch screen, which starts at $1,199 and has more storage. It might seem pricey, but it's a laptop that will last. Those who need more power should look at the new 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display. ($999, Apple)
ThinkPad X1 Carbon
The Air is the best blend of portability, design and ergonomics, but those who prefer Windows should go for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The laptop is a ThinkPad through and through, with a sturdy black build, new backlit keyboard, smooth track pad and Lenovo's trademark red pointing stick. Lenovo is also offering it now with a 14-inch touch screen. The 2.9-pound Windows 8 laptop is powered by a Core i5 processor, up to 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of solid state storage space. ($1,249, Lenovo)