The term 'laptop' has become a wide-ranging one -- it covers a variety of portable rigs that vary in their specs. This is great in terms of the amount of options out there, but can be confusing if you're not quite sure what to get.
When it comes to down to it, size really does matter, and it should be at the centre of your decision making process.
Gizmodo's Back To Work & Uni Laptop Buying Guide is brought to you by the HP Spectre x360. Meticulously crafted from the inside out, the Spectre x360 redefines what you expect from technology with four unique modes, and over 8 million pixels on the thinnest convertible PC HP has ever made.
To determine what kind of machine you want to get, you'll need to look at its dimensions. They refer to the screen size and they're measured in inches. They can also get categorised into a few different laptops types.
Of course, there are always exceptions to these rules. Some manufacturers will categorise their machines by processing power rather than size, so there'll be crossover. But in general, these are what you'll find.
11 To 13 Inches: Ultra-Portable Notebooks
These are what you want if you're after a machine on the lighter side. If you travel a lot or need something that won't weigh down your daily commute, a notebook in the 13-inch range or smaller may be the way to go.
On the lower end of the spectrum this may mean forgoing some functionality such as a lower-powered CPU, or fewer ports. This isn't a problem if you prioritise portability over power, or if your needs are relatively basic. That being said, there's still plenty you can do on these machines, including gaming.
The notebook range is increasingly the norm for many buyers. And not all of them sit on the lower end of the spec scale. In fact, the vast majority of our top thin and light picks fall into this range. If you want something that is likely to pack a punch without breaking your back, this is where you should be looking.
If you're looking for something with more grunt in the specs department, or if you need a bigger screen, you may want to consider something on the higher end. This could set you back anywhere from $1500 and more.
Consider a 2-in-1 laptop, too
If you're after something with more versatility, you might want to consider a 2-in-1. They are one of the fastest growing segments in the PC world as a whole, not just laptops. It's easy to see why: the term describes machines that can convert from a laptop into a tablet, with all the functionality of both.
There are two main types of 2-in-1s. Some have detachable keyboards, allowing for them to be put into tablet mode. Others will have flexible hinges that enable the laptop to be bent back 360 degrees and switch between the different modes.
Most hinged 2-in-1s even ship with different standing modes to suit its various uses. Need to get some work done? Use it like a regular laptop. Need some Netflix time? Fold it into stand mode so the keyboard is tucked away at the back. Keen for some touch screen gaming? Pop it into tent mode.
Ranging from 10 and 15 inches, you can easily find a 2-in-1 size best suited to your work or lifestyle needs. You'll find that most all-purpose hybrids range from 11-13 inches.
But if you're more concerned with mobility and the flexibility of a table, you'll want a detachable 2-in-1. These could range from a few hundred dollars to $1300 and above, depending on the hardware.
13 To 15 Inches: Traditional Laptops
This is where you'll find the 'normal' laptops that most of us have grown accustomed to using. They're bigger than ultra-portable notebooks, but not as large and powerful as the monsters at the other end of the spectrum. They tend to sit firmly in the middle in both size and specs.
The great news is that you don't actually have to sacrifice a whole lot of power if you're happy to invest in a good machine. Most major manufacturers have released 13- to 15-inch laptops with plenty of storage space, RAM and relatively powerful CPUs.
In general, you'll get the best balance between portability and functionality with the 13-14 inch machines. That being said, more 15 inch rigs are starting to err on the lighter side compared to previous models. This could be handy if you require the added screen space but don't want the usual inconvenience associated with it.
If you require something familiar, comfortable and capable of handling most tasks you throw at it, this may be the category for you.
As mentioned above, plenty of hybrid 2-in-1 machines also fall into this dimension range if you're looking for that added level of versatility.
15 To 18 Inches: Gaming And Performance Laptops
Also known as desktop replacements, these generally range between 15 and 18 inches of diagonal display area. That's a pretty wide range of screen sizes, but with good reason.
15 inches aren't the largest machines on the market, but older models can be a pain to carry around. The newer, ultralight models are increasingly more portable, however, which is great for those who can't stand a small screen but don't want the hassle of a full sized dekstop.
The most recent 15-inch performance notebooks are pretty powerful, capable of handling Photoshop, sound mixing, and even some gaming on the side.
The majority of our office is actually powered by 15-inch performance laptops, but you rarely find anyone moving them. And as someone who lugged one around for long enough, these are best if your laptop will be stationary most of the time.
On the larger end of the scale you have the 17- and 18-inch monsters. For the most part, these are hardcore gaming rigs and will set you back upwards of $4000.
Sadly, this price doesn't buy you much battery life. And you won't be carrying them around on a regular basis.
You only want to venture into this territory if you are doing some heavy duty video editing, programming or gaming.