What makes a good laptop?

One of the things about this job is that everyone in your life — from friends to relatives to distant acquaintances and strangers on the internet — asks you questions about laptops all the time. A very common one I hear is also one of the harder ones to answer: “What makes a good laptop?”

Unfortunately, my dear question asker, that answer — as is the case with so many answers in life — is subjective. Sometimes I will hate a laptop that my fellow reviewers love, and vice versa. (I’m always the one who’s right, of course. Don’t listen to them.)

But this question has prompted me to step back and do a bit of introspection (as one does). What distinguishes a laptop that I like from a laptop that is good?

First off, it’s much easier to think of what makes a laptop not good. One hour of battery life? Not good. One USB-C port, and that’s it? Not good. Takes 12 minutes to boot up? Not good. Costs $8,000? Probably not good unless it comes with a free car or something. And that’s just from the top of my head — I could rattle these off all day.

But the question of what is good is much harder, I think, because so many devices cater to very different audiences and use cases. A seven-hour battery lifespan might be a requirement for a good ultraportable, but not for a good gaming rig. A discrete GPU is probably required for a good gaming laptop but certainly not for a business-oriented convertible.

There are many features (specific ports, screen resolutions and refresh rates, the keyboard feel, the bezel size) that people will reasonably disagree on the value of. But I do think there is a set of things that a general-purpose laptop (like anything that looks remotely like a MacBook Air) should have in order to be “good.” I will be hesitant to recommend an ultrabook that doesn’t meet these requirements, and other reviewers should be, too. If you’re shopping for a general-purpose laptop, you should be making sure you’re buying one that meets these criteria, regardless of other preferences you may have.