Walking into a crowded retail store showroom, the shelves lined with laptops, can be a daunting experience. Even in the relatively well-curated world of the Apple Store, that company now has five distinct laptop models (and systems in two sizes each, plus the ).
Sometimes you just want to know what the best current laptops are, or at least the ones I'm most likely to recommend for someone looking to buy right now. As most PCs are built around the same small collection of core components, from CPUs to storage drives to graphics cards, it's about much more than just specs and test scores, it's also about design, feel, portability and overall value.
This list represents where I'd point a new laptop shopper to start, from budget-priced hybrids to upscale ultraportables, to the very first laptops to add amazing-looking OLED displays.
1. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (OLED)
Thanks to its retracting keyboard in tablet mode, the ThinkPad version of Lenovo's Yoga hybrid has always been the all-around best. Now the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga adds an OLED display, the same as found on the very best big screen televisions, to stunning effect. Yes, it has a rugged body, great keyboard and a built-in stylus, but the key point is, once you try out an OLED screen, it's hard to go back to plain old LCD.
2. Dell Inspiron 7000 2-in-1
Dell seems to have cracked the code for getting you the most laptop possible for the least money. These 13- and 15-inch laptops, called the Inspiron 7000 2-in-1 series, have metal bodies, face-recognizing cameras, very good IPS high-res displays and Core i5 CPUs, plus hybrid hinges, all for about $750.
3. Dell XPS 15
This is a high-end machine that looks and feels much like a 15-inch MacBook Pro, but the Dell XPS 15 also outdoes the Apple version in many areas, from its nearly bezel-free design to its stunning 4K screen resolution. The 13-inch XPS 13 version is likewise impressive if you're looking for something smaller.
4. HP EliteBook Folio G1
It's the best ultra-thin Windows laptop available right now. The HP EliteBook Folio G1 evokes the 12-inch MacBook, but adds a high-res touchscreen and extra USB-C ports. For a sleeker-looking version, the 13-inch HP Spectre loses the touch screen but adds a better processor and is even thinner.
5. Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch)
The first choice for no-compromise powerful, productive laptops. The design of the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro hasn't changed much in a few years, but it still beats out newer laptops for design, display, and Apple's best-in-class keyboard-touchpad combo. There are no guarantees, but there's a reasonable chance we'll see a new version before the end of 2016.
6. Microsoft Surface Pro 4
The overall best full-power Windows hybrid is Microsoft's Surface Pro 4. It has a great stylus, higher-res screen than previous versions, a flexible, easy-to-use kickstand and a clever keyboard cover that's a miracle of modern product design. But it'll be a year old in October -- which means a Surface Pro 5 could be on deck very soon.
7. Razer Blade Stealth
As slim as a MacBook Air, but with an optional 4K touchscreen and a fun Chroma backlit keyboard for millions of glowing and pulsing color combinations, all starting at a very competitive price. Note that the Razer Blade Stealth is not a gaming laptop on its own, but if you hook up its companion external graphics box and a desktop GPU, it's even ready for virtual reality.
8. Apple MacBook
With its strictly enforced minimalism and single USB-C port, this isn't the laptop for everyone. But, the 12-inch Apple MacBook is the hands-down best lightweight laptop I've used for easy travel and on-the-go computing. I'd go for this over the increasingly dated-feeling MacBook Air.
9. Acer Predator 15
A very rare gaming laptop that fits the current top-end Nvidia GeForce 980M graphics card into a smaller 15-inch body, not a back-breaking 17-inch one. The Acer Predator 15 is one of the best-performing gaming laptops we've ever tested, but if you want VR support, you'll need something like the Origin PC Eon17-X, which crams a desktop GPU into an oversized laptop chassis.
10. Samsung TabPro S
This Surface-like hybrid isn't as powerful or sharply designed as Microsoft's version, but it has a great AMOLED display, costs less, and includes the must-have keyboard cover in the box, rather than forcing you to buy it separately. The Samsung TabPro S is a really great overall value. For a traditional clamshell laptop that offers a lot of value, check out the Lenovo ThinkPad 13.
11. Alienware 13 (OLED)
The OLED display on this 13-inch gaming laptop is amazing to see in person, with extra-bright colors and nearly flawless black levels. The Alienware 13 with its optional OLED screen is something truly different and eye-catching, and makes games really pop, all without charging too much of a premium.
Many more laptop, tablet and hybrid reviews are available in our laptop reviews section.
Editor's note: This article was originally published July 22, 2016, and is regularly refreshed with new products.