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The ultimate laptop holiday gift guide

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Apple MacBook Pro.
It should come as no surprise that Apple’s MacBook Pro is one of the best laptops of the year.

Buying a new laptop for someone during the holiday season seems like a quick and easy proposition. Just march into your nearest big-box retailer, or more likely hop on Amazon (AMZN), and grab the first laptop you see that’s on sale.

And that’s where things go off the rails. See, buying a laptop is kind of like buying a car. You wouldn’t buy a subcompact if you need to haul heavy-duty equipment, nor would you get a reasonable people mover if you were a 55-year-old man in the midst of a mid-life crisis (you’d get a Porsche).

In other words, if you’re buying a laptop for someone who does a lot of video and photo editing, you’re going to want to get them a powerful machine. If they’re just browsing the web, then something less expensive will do.

So to make your laptop shopping a bit easier this holiday season, I’ve put together this list of the best options for the people on your shopping list.

For the casual web surfer

Acer Chromebook.
Acer’s Chromebook 15 is a great laptop for folks who simply want to browse the web and check email.

If you’re looking for a laptop for someone who simply wants to check their email and surf the web — do people even say that anymore? — there’s no reason to empty your bank account on a high-powered notebook. Instead, you might want to check out one of the many Google (GOOG, GOOGL) Chromebooks on the market.

Chromebooks are laptops that run on Google’s Chrome operating system and are primarily used for visiting websites, checking email and using Chrome and, for a limited number of models, Android apps.

If you want a big-screen laptop, Acer’s 15-inch Chromebook 15, available for $240 on Amazon, is a solid choice. As long as you don’t mind slightly homely-looking devices, that is. Make sure you go for the version with 4GB of RAM, though, as running a Chromebook with just 2GB is just asking for lag and slowdown.

For a slightly smaller option, you might want to check out Dell’s Chromebook 13, whichThe Wirecutter calls the best Chromebook around thanks to its excellent keyboard and performance. Laptopmag.com, meanwhile, says the Chromebook 13 has the longest-lasting battery life of all major Chrome-powered notebooks. The non-touch screen model costs $430 through Dell.

A low-cost laptop for students and business

Lenovo ThinkPad 13
Lenovo’s ThinkPad 13 is a great devices for students.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad laptops are legendary for their business performance and top-notch keyboards. But they can also be on the pricey side. The company’s ThinkPad 13, however, combines the company’s well-known craftsmanship in a device that costs just $454. Laptopmag.com says the ThinkPad 13 is a “productivity powerhouse at an affordable price,” while PCMag calls it a “fine choice for a college student or a small business.”

Inside, you get an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. You can also boost the processor to a Core i5 chip and push the RAM to 6GB for an extra $190 to get a laptop that’s still affordable and packs a punch.

For the traveler who needs power

Dell XPS 13 laptops.
Dell’s XPS 13 is lightweight and plenty powerful.

Want a super-thin, super-powerful laptop that’s relatively easy on the wallet? Then Dell’s XPS 13 is the laptop for you. Starting at $800, the XPS packs a Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. That’s a decent notebook, but it’s the $1,000 model with its Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB SSD that’s really worth your cash. It doesn’t hurt that the XPS 13 is also exceedingly thin and attractive. Heck, I like the XPS so much I got one for my mom. Okay, I recommended it and she bought it, but still.

 

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