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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Travel Laptops in 2020 – Thin, Light and Powerful

Mac or Windows? Tight on a budget? Whether you’re a traveller or just someone who’s always on the go, here are 2020’s best travel laptops.

I’ve always been a computer geek, but even I admit that looking for a laptop sucks. Between the hundreds of brands, deals, and complicated specs, searching for one that suits your needs is like finding a needle in a haystack.

Carrying laptop in an airport

Photo credit: Anete Lusina via Unsplash

Unfortunately for us content creators, good travel laptops are hard to come by — even in 2020. We’re usually forced to choose between backbreaking, powerful machines or portable (but slower) options.

Read more: The Secret to Packing Lighter — 7 Travel Essentials for the Smart Traveller

While there’s no travel laptop that’s capable of everything, it’s still possible to find the “perfect” device for yourself. Certain laptops are much better for specific jobs like writing or video editing, so it all depends on what type of traveller you are!

How to choose the perfect travel laptop — Performance, build and budget

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It’s extremely hard to explain laptops in just a few words, but we’ll try :). Feel free to skip ahead if you already know what you’re looking for.

Leisure TravellersTravel WritersStudentsVideo Editors
WindowsMicrosoft Surface Pro 7 ($1,788)Dell XPS 13 (S$2,999)LG gram 14 (S$1,899)Dell XPS 15 (S$3,199)
Apple12.9″ iPad Pro
($1,719)
13-inch MacBook Pro (S$2,999)MacBook Air (S$1,299)16-inch MacBook Pro (S$3,999)
Budget Alternative Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 5 14″ (S$1,398)Acer Swift 3 (S$1,098)Aftershock Forge 15X (S$1,985)

Performance

A laptop’s performance mostly comes down to three components: CPU, RAM and graphics card (GPU).

Often dubbed “the brain”, the CPU is the most important part of any computer. Slower CPUs like Intel Core i3s are fine for basic tasks like browsing the web, but anything more intense like photo editing and coding will require at least an Intel Core i5 or an AMD equivalent.

Random-access memory, or RAM, is pretty simple. Any travel laptop in 2020 should have a minimum of 8GB. Content creators should start with 16GB, and upgrade to 32GB only when you need it.

Lastly, good GPUs are important for video editors because they significantly boost performance in video editing apps. Photo editors can skimp here because while GPUs help, they aren’t used as much in apps like Lightroom.

Packing laptop into bag

Photo credit: Andrew Neel via Unsplash

Build

Other than basic features like the keyboard and design, content creators should pay special attention to displays. Laptop screens vary a lot, but you’ll want nothing less than 300 nits in brightness and at least 80% sRGB and 70% AdobeRGB for colour accuracy.

Mac vs Windows

MacBook users have the added option of Final Cut Pro for video editing, while Windows laptops are normally cheaper (for the same specs). Other than that, the age-old debate mostly comes down to personal preference. Well, whether you’re #teamwindows or #teammac, we’ve got a travel laptop for you.

Budget

Not everyone can afford the S$3,999 MacBook Pro, and that’s okay! The “sweet spot” for good quality travel laptops is actually between S$1.5k–S$2k.

Some options like the XPS 15 even have upgradable components, so you can opt for cheaper configurations first and upgrade them down the line.

The Best Travel Laptops of 2020

Best Windows Laptop for Leisure Travellers — Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 - Best Windows Tablet for Leisure Travellers

Photo credit: Microsoft

CPU: Intel Core i5-1035G4 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 12.3″ (2736 x 1824) | Storage: 256GB SSD | Price: ~S$1,788

The Good: The Surface Pro is a full-fledged computer that transforms into a tablet with a simple flip of its keyboard. You get the power and functionality of a normal laptop combined with the convenience and portability of a tablet.

The Bad: The detachable keyboard is sold separately so you’ll have to fork out another S$200. And no, you can’t skip it since it loses its laptop functionality without the keyboard — capitalism, amirite?

Although possible, you shouldn’t get this device for video editing because it lacks a discrete graphics card. The Surface Pro is a better fit for simple tasks like web browsing, typing up emails and light photo editing.

It’s also awkward to use the Surface Pro on your lap or plane tray tables because of its kickstand.

Overall: If you need a small travel laptop for occasionally getting work done overseas, then the Surface Pro is a really good option. Its tablet function is also convenient for watching movies and reading documents on the road.

Best Apple Alternative for Leisure Travellers— 12.9-inch iPad Pro

12.9 inch iPad Pro - Best Apple Tablet for Leisure Travellers

Photo credit: Apple

The Good: As a tablet, the iPad Pro is surprisingly capable of completing “laptop” tasks. Video and photo editing functions are covered by capable apps like LumaFusion and Affinity Photo, and the attachable Magic Keyboard makes replying full-length emails easier.

It also has a USB C port so you can transfer photos and videos straight from your camera with the right dongle.

The Bad: The iPad Pro is plenty capable but still limited as a computer. If you’re editing high-resolution videos or tons of photos, a traditional laptop will suit you better. The Magic Keyboard is also sold separately, possibly adding another S$299 onto its hefty price tag.

Overall: If you’re not a hardcore computer user, the iPad Pro hits a sweet spot between phones and computers. It’s much better than lugging a laptop around and is still great for editing itineraries and curating Instagram feeds on the go.

Read also: The Ultimate Pre-Trip Planning Checklist — 12 Things to do Before Your Next Trip

Best Windows Laptop for Travel Writers — Dell XPS 13 (9300)

Dell XPS 13 9300 - Best Windows Laptop for Travel Writers

Photo credit: Dell

CPU: Intel Core i7-1065G7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 13.4” Touchscreen (3840 x 2400) 108% sRGB, 500 nits | Storage: 512GB SSD | Price: S$2,999

The Good: At just 1.2kg with an exceptionally small footprint, the XPS 13 packs a lot of machine into a small package. You get an extremely comfortable typing experience thanks to its unique carbon fibre deck and edge-to-edge keyboard. If you need photos for Instagram, the laptop also comes with one of the best displays on the market that’ll make editing a breeze.

The Bad: It’s pretty obvious that you’re not getting a video editing powerhouse at this size. But if you ever need to edit a video or two, the Irus Plus Graphics still handles 1080p footage well.

Overall: The Dell XPS 13 is the ultimate travel laptop for writers. Its best-in-class design is a joy to use and packs a surprising amount of power, all while hardly weighing down your bag.

Best MacBook for Travel Writers — 13-inch MacBook Pro (Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)

MacBook Pro 13 Inch 4 Thunderbolt 3 - Best MacBook for Travel Writers

Photo credit: Apple

CPU: 10th-gen Intel Core i7| Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 13″ Retina Display (2560×1600) | Storage: 512GB SSD | Price: S$2,999

The Good: 2020’s MacBook Pro is worlds better for typists than its previous iterations. Ditching the oh-so-problematic Butterfly Keyboards, this model adopts the Magic Keyboard. Its new design is more reliable and has a nice tactile feel that’ll get you typing faster and longer.

The Bad: Similar to the XPS 13, you wouldn’t want to be editing massive 4K projects on this machine.

Overall: Albeit slightly bigger than the XPS 13, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is a great option for any writer that’s constantly on the road. For macOS fans, this is Apple’s best blend of portability and power.

Budget Alternative for Writers — Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 5 14″

Lenovo IdeaPad 5 14 inch - Best Alternative for Travel Writers

Photo credit: Lenovo

CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 4700U | Graphics: AMD Radeon Graphics | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 14” (1920 x 1080) 300 nits, 65% sRGB, 50% AdobeRGB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Price: S$1,398

The Good: Priced less than half of what the XPS 13 and 13-inch MacBook Pro cost, the IdeaPad is super value for money. It has a portable chassis similar to the MacBook, and get this: is the most powerful laptop of the three. It also comes with a full-sized SD card reader that makes importing photos fuss-free.

The Bad: There’s always a catch when something sounds too good to be true. In this case, it’s the screen. Rated 65% sRGB and 50% AdobeRGB, the display’s mediocre colour accuracy could be a deal-breaker if you do colour-critical work.

Adobe Premiere Pro also doesn’t support AMD’s integrated graphics, so even though you’re getting more “power” than the XPS 13, real-life performance is worse. Adobe should be fixing this soon and we will update when they do.

Overall: The IdeaPad isn’t made of carbon fibre like the XPS 13 or as polished as the MacBook, but that’s pretty much the only downside here. If you need more power for the occasional video project (or gaming session) on top of writing, the IdeaPad is a fantastic option.

Best Windows Laptop for Students — LG gram 14

Best Windows Laptop for Students

Photo credit: LG

CPU: Intel Core i5-1035G7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 14.0″ (1920×1080), sRGB 96%, 300 nits | Storage: 512GB SSD | Price: S$1,899

The Good: At just under 1kg (MacBook Air weighs 1.27kg), the LG gram is ultra-light and still fits in a whopping 72Wh all-day battery. It has a solid keyboard that’ll power you through pesky long reports and sports a nice array of HDMI and USB ports — no more panicking over dongles before presentations!

The Bad: Minor squabble, but the LG gram is made of a light magnesium alloy that feels slightly flimsy at points.

Overall: LG gram stands out for its weight and phenomenal battery life which are key for students constantly on the go. Don’t let its humble looks fool you though — the laptop has decent specs and a colour accurate screen that’s great for everything from graphic design to photo editing and binging Netflix.

Lazada is currently offering free RAM upgrade to 16GB so make sure to jump on this deal while you can!

Read more: Lightroom 101: 9 Simple Techniques That Will Instantly Improve Your Travel Photos

Best MacBook for Students — MacBook Air

MacBook Air is the best Mac for the average student

Photo credit: Apple

CPU: Intel Core i3 1000NG4 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13” Retina Display (2560 x 1600) | Storage: 256GB SSD | Price: S$1,299

The Good: A lot of the options in this price range skimp on build quality, but not the MacBook Air. You’re getting one of the best looking travel laptops on the market that’ll be a reliable workhorse till you graduate.

The Bad: At this price, the MacBook Air only comes with an Intel Core i3, making it the least powerful laptop in our list. It’s fine for browsing the web and writing essays but will slow down if you’re doing anything more.

Overall: Unless you code or like to game, the MacBook Air is a great choice for most students. Whether you’re boarding a flight or going to the next class, this slender and sturdy laptop is a treat to travel with.

*Pro-tip: Get yours at Apple’s Edu store to enjoy a 10% student discount (U.P. S$1,449)!

Best Budget Alternative for Students — Acer Swift 3

Acer Swift 3 is a great ultrabook laptop for students on a budget

Photo credit: Acer

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 4500U | Graphics: AMD Radeon Graphics | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 14″ (1920×1080) 61% sRGB, 38% AdobeRGB, 260 nits | Storage: 512GB SSD | Price: S$1,098

The Good: Just a little more than S$1k, the Acer Swift 3 beats out the LG gram in processing and graphical performance, and weighs less than the MacBook Air. Its powerful six-core processor is great for coders and does surprisingly well for gaming.

The Bad: Frankly, it comes with a horrible display. Rated at 260 nits, 61% sRGB and 38% AdobeRGB, it’s too dim and colour-inaccurate to reliably do any design or content creation work.

Overall: Carrying this around isn’t going to feel as sexy as with a shiny MacBook. But if you’re concerned with student debt, you can save hundreds on a laptop that doesn’t compromise on much. Heck, you can spend the money saved on a spanking new TV to make up for its screen and still have cash left over.

Best Windows Laptop for Video Editors — Dell XPS 15 (9500)

Dell XPS 15 9500 - travel laptops in 2020

Photo credit: Dell

CPU: Intel Core i7-10750H | Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti 4GB | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 15.6″ (1920×1200), 100% sRGB, 500 nits | Storage: 512GB SSD | Price: S$3,199

The Good: Decked out with an H-series processor and discrete graphics card, the XPS 15 is a monster at scrubbing timelines and exporting video. However, its standout feature is its screen, which makes this 15-inch laptop much smaller than normal thanks to its insanely small bezels. Videographers will also love its convenient full-size SD card reader.

The Bad: The XPS 15 isn’t as powerful as the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Considering how much smaller this laptop is though, it’s hard to complain.

Overall: The price is pretty steep, but it’s worth every penny for serious content creators that need the best of power and portability. If you’re an editor that needs more oomph and doesn’t mind a bigger laptop, check out the Dell XPS 17.

Best MacBook for Video Editors — 16-inch MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro 16 Inch 2019 - Travel laptops in 2020

Photo credit: Apple

CPU: 2.3GHz 8-core Intel Core i9 | Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 5500M 4GB | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 16″ Retina (3072×1920), 100% sRGB, 91% AdobeRGB, 500 nits | Storage: 1TB SSD | Price: S$3,999

The Good: Short of 4K RED raw footage, the 16-inch MacBook Pro can handle any video project you throw at it. Its performance is also backed by Apple’s renowned build quality in its trackpad, speakers and colour accurate Retina Display.

The Bad: With great power comes a great price tag… Significantly larger than the XPS 15, some may also find the 16-inch MacBook Pro too big to travel with.

Overall: If you’re a videographer that prefers macOS or uses Final Cut Pro, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is an easy choice. Its dedicated graphics card and eight-core processor will crush through tasks like rendering and exporting.

Best Budget Alternative for Video Editors — Aftershock Forge 15X

Aftershock Forge 15X - travel laptops in 2020

Photo credit: Aftershock

CPU: Intel Core i7-10875H Processor | Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 15.6″ (1920×1080), 97% sRGB, 74% AdobeRGB, 311 nits | Storage: 512GB SSD | Price: S$1,985

The Good: The Forge 15X can be bought for a fraction of the other video editing laptops here and doesn’t slack on performance. It packs a more powerful CPU than the XPS 15 and has the strongest graphics of the bunch. You’re not getting a cutting-edge display like the XPS 15 and 16-inch MacBook Pro, but it’s still good enough to reliably colour grade footage.

The Bad: The Forge 15X is a gaming laptop that’s not really designed for travel. It has a measly 49Wh battery which means you won’t get more than ~3hrs of use away from an outlet. Measuring 2.8cm thick and weighing 2.2kg, it’s also quite chunky and isn’t the best to carry around.

Overall: At this low price point, you’re mainly sacrificing portability. But this laptop will still perform the same (or better) than the XPS 15 and 16-inch MacBook and get the job done.

Flat lay of travel gear like cameras and laptop - Travel laptops in 2020

Photo credit: Andrew Neel via Unsplash

Travel Laptops in 2020, and 2021, and 2022…

Much like our cameras, lenses and other tech, the mantra “the best gear is the one you have with you” rings true for laptops too.

Just get a laptop you’re comfortable travelling with. Research is still important — you obviously want to get your money’s worth! But newer and better models are going to keep coming out every year, so don’t stress too much over finding the best possible device.

(Table below might appear cropped on iPhones)

PerformanceBattery LifePortabilityDisplayPrice (SGD)Good fit for:
LG gram 14$1,899-Students
-Writers
-Photo editors
MacBook Air$1,299-Students
-Writers
-Photo editors
Acer Swift 3$1,098-Students
-Writers
XPS 15$3,199-Video editors
-Photo editors
MBP 16$3,999-Video editors
-Photo editors
Forge 15X$1,985-Video editors
-Photo editors
XPS 13 $2,999-Writers
-Photo editors
MBP 13 $2,999-Writers
-Photo editors
IdeaPad 5$1,899-Students
-Writers
Surface Pro 7$1,788-Students
-Writers
-Photo editors
-Leisure travellers
iPad Pro$1,719-Leisure travellers

Read more: 13 Travel Gifts Any Jetsetter Will Love — Starting From Under S$15

We hope you found this travel laptop guide useful! Did your favourite 2020 laptop make it on this list? Let us know in the comments below!


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How To Make Travel Videos | The Travel Intern

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