PC demand skyrocketed in 2020, as COVID-19 forced people to work remotely and upgrade their home offices. Laptop shipments alone topped 218 million in 2020, up from 173 million units the year before, according to IDC. Tablets also saw 19.5% year-over-year growth.
If you're still in the market for a laptop or tablet, you'll want one from a reliable, trustworthy, and high-value brand. And for that, you can turn to PCMag readers, who rated the portable tech they use most to help us pick this year's Readers' Choice Award winners for laptops and tablets.
Readers' Choice Laptop Brands for 2021
When it comes to favorite laptop brands, it's Apple's game to lose. Apple has won the PCMag Readers' Choice award for laptops and notebooks for at least 15 years running, and it almost always leads with a score of 9.1 or higher out of 10.
It has only dropped below 9.1 twice since 2006—in 2018 and 2019—and even then, it was at a still-incredible 8.9. This year in particular, Apple shines when it comes to setup, reliability, and screen quality. It only stumbles when it comes to repairs (8.2) and cost, where it earns a somewhat dismal 7.4. But that's not surprising because you pay a lot for a MacBook compared to other laptops.
We always pick an "other" laptop brand—one that runs Windows or Chrome OS. This year, that award has a clear winner in MSI. The smaller PC company doesn't have as robust a user base as the big guys like Microsoft, Dell, Acer, or HP, but when it makes the cut in our surveys, it tends to win big. This is the third time MSI has won the Readers' Choice award, with ease-of-use scores that top Apple. It is, however, the worst among the lot for battery life. (Scroll through the chart below for each manufacturer's rating on all criteria.)
Microsoft has shared the overall Readers' Choice laptop award with Apple several times in the last few years, but it only beat MSI on battery life and size and weight this time around. That said, Microsoft's scores are still fantastic, a step above the many other Windows-based laptops on the list, even gaming-specific brand like Dell's Alienware. (Alienware last snagged the Readers' Choice award in 2011.) None of the other brands here are outright terrible, in theory. Lowest-scorer HP nabbed an 8.2 overall score, which is a solid B-.
It's worth your time to look at individual scores for the laptop aspects you find most important. For example, HP's low scores for tech support and repairs don't bode well if you're prone to breaking your laptop. Microsoft scored even worse for repairs (6.1) but higher for support (7.9). And people seem to actively hate the touch screens on Alienware laptops, which scored a truly bleak 4.6 out of 10.