Best of CES 2021: Laptop Mag’s top picks

CES 2021 wasn’t your traditional trade show. There were no booths, fancy keynotes or aching feet from walking from one conference center to the next. Every new gadget was shown virtually, a safety precaution as we ride out the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But although we missed out on all the things we love (and hate) about our annual journey to Las Vegas, the real stars of the show — the latest and greatest gadgets from the world’s largest and smallest tech companies —  made their appearance at this all-digital event. 

Laptops were particularly prevalent at CES 2021 thanks to the release of AMD Ryzen 5000-series CPUs, 11th Gen Intel Core vPro processors and Nvidia GeForce 30-series GPUs, all of which motivated the release of new models. There were dozens of exciting devices to sift through this time around, but only a few could make our Best in Show list for 2021.

Packed with exciting new features that will shape the tech industry for the next 12 months, these are the absolute best laptops, tablets and monitors announced at CES 2021.

Best in Show: Asus ROG Flow X13

(Image credit: Future)

It’s not the first of its kind, but it might be the best. The Asus ROG Flow X13 is the company’s first-ever convertible gaming laptop. That’s right, after several years, there’s a gaming laptop that can transform into different modes just like some of our favorite 2-in-1 notebooks. And as usual, Asus pulled out all the stops, outfitting the laptop with a show-stopping design, powerful specs such as an AMD Ryzen 9 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU. 

And I know what you’re thinking: that the 1650 GPU is far from the most powerful graphics chip on the block, but Asus has a trick up its sleeve; the X13 is bundled with the XG Mobile, one of the smallest eGPUs I’ve ever seen; it’s just a little bigger than a clutch purse. Somehow the company has managed to fit an Nvidia RTX 3080 GPU inside this tiny enclosure. And when connected to the X13 via a proprietary port, the XG Mobile transforms the laptop into a system that can stand toe-to-toe with your more traditional laptop. At this point, I’m pretty sure that the folks over at Asus are a bunch of wizards and I can’t wait to see what other magic the company has in store for the rest of the year.  — Sherri L. Smith

Best Laptop: HP Elite Dragonfly Max 

(Image credit: Future)

Take everything that made the Elite Dragonfly great and make it even better. That’s what HP did with the Elite Dragonfly Max. Continuing to toe the line between business and premium, the Dragonfly Max is slim, beautiful and hella durable to the tune of enduring 19 MIL-SPEC 810H tests. The 12 x 7.8 x 0.6-inch magnesium chassis is available in Sparkling Black or Dragonfly Blue and only weighs 2.5 pounds. It’s truly a sight to behold. 

But outside of its looks, this is a serious contender for the best business laptop of the year. Yeah, I know it’s early, but if the Dragonfly Max holds up to our testing, it can make a strong claim to the crown. It’s got a host of security features including a fingerprint reader, integrated Tile and TPM 2.0. It’s outfitted with an 11th Gen Intel Tiger Lake processor and integrated graphics. Plus, you get a lovely 1080p HP Sure View, 1,000-nit panel. And lest we forget that its 360-degree hinges allow the laptop to transition from traditional clamshell to tablet and back. So HP has a winner on its hands, you just wait and see. — Sherri L. Smith

Best Innovation: Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2

(Image credit: Future)

The Lenovo ThinkBook Plus grabbed our attention at CES 2020 with its e-ink touch screen on the cover, but it definitely had the feel of a concept rather than a finished product. With the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2, the company has taken that fledgling effort and produced a laptop that could be a unique and compelling option for the right users.

The e-ink panel got a significant size and resolution bump, now mirroring the 2560 x 1600-pixel resolution of the internal 13.3-inch touchscreen. The pen that hung awkwardly on the side of the laptop with magnets last year now has a dedicated silo to ensure that you always have it with you. Performance and battery life also got a boost thanks to the new Intel 11th Gen Tiger Lake processor. All this while the laptop slimmed down considerably to just 0.5 inches thick and 2.9 pounds. 

This is still a niche product, but for users who read a considerable amount of content or take notes and want to avoid eye strain, it’s a solid 2-in-1 that basically throws in something akin to a Remarkable 2 tablet without the need to manage multiple devices. — Sean Riley

Best Chromebook: Acer Chromebook Spin 514

(Image credit: Acer)

Dubbed as one of the most powerful and speedy Chromebooks ever, the Acer Chromebook Spin 514, featuring AMD Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 3000 CPUs and up to 16GB of RAM, is not a toy or some underpowered “why would I buy a Chromebook,” laptop. With a base model priced at $479 and upgrades bringing it up to $749 for the Enterprise version, Acer wants consumers to take the Spin 514 seriously. 

The Spin 514 arrives on the scene with a large 14-inch, FHD touchscreen panel that you can flip over to use in tablet mode or in tent mode if you want to set it up to watch content. Being a Chromebook, you have access to the ever-growing Google suite of productivity software, and the ability to run most of the apps available in the Google Play Store. 

Measuring 12.7 x 8.9 x 0.7 inches and weighing 3.4 pounds, the Spin 514 is stocky for a Chromebook. However, that’s probably why it earned MIL-STD 810H certification. And thanks to its larger-than-average size, you get a comfy keyboard for when you’re pushing out all those Google Docs; it’s clear the Acer Spin 514 is meant to be a productivity monster. — Mark Anthony Ramirez

Best Business Laptop: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga

(Image credit: Lenovo)

You know the saying: if it ain’t broke, make it even better. That’s what Lenovo did with the ThinkPad X1 Titanium, a super-lightweight spin-off of our favorite convertible business laptop. Sure it sounds cool, but there are some genuine benefits to using Titanium. For one, it’s a durable material, capable of withstanding knocks and bumps. But the headline-grabbing benefit is that the X1 Titanium Yoga weighs 2.5 pounds and measures only 0.4 inches thick, making it the thinnest ThinkPad ever. 

The highlights don’t end there. As you’d expect from a ThinkPad X1-series laptop, the Titanium comes with the latest components and features, including the new Intel 11th Gen vPro CPUs, 5G support, a fingerprint sensor and an IR camera for Windows Hello login. I’m especially eager to see the 13.5-inch, 2256 x 1504-pixel display, which covers 100% of the sRGB color gamut and reaches 450 nits. If it reaches the claimed 11 hours of battery life, the X1 Titanium Yoga will be a real winner among business laptops. — Phillip Tracy

Best Gaming Laptop: Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 SE

(Image credit: Asus)

I’ve been a fan of Asus’ dual-screen plans, especially when it comes to gaming laptops. I don’t know, I’m just a bells and whistles kinda girl. So I’m really excited about the Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 SE, the update to the ROG Zephyrus Duo. Not only is the laptop getting Nvidia’s 30-series Ampere chips, but it’s also getting a display boost. While both displays were already 4K panels, the main 15.6-inch panel gets a refresh rate boost to a silky-smooth 120Hz. 

But Asus didn’t stop there. The ROG Zephyrus Duo is embracing AMD and its new 5000-series processor with its powerful Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU and 32GB of RAM. And I can’t ignore the dual NVMe PCIe x4 SSDs in RAID 0 configuration. It’s all but guaranteed to be a juggernaut in the competitive gaming laptop field.  — Sherri L. Smith

Best Budget Gaming Laptop: Lenovo Legion 5

(Image credit: Rami Tabari)

It might be tough to get excited about budget gaming laptops, but the Lenovo Legion 5 has huge potential. If it succeeds on its benchmarks, it could be one of the best cheap gaming laptops around. For the low starting price of $769, you might get stuck with a less exciting GPU, but you’re still getting a gorgeous Phantom Blue chassis and 60Hz display that can get up to 100% sRGB and 300 nits of brightness. Getting optimal color and brightness in a budget gaming notebook is rare. 

Additionally, the keyboard is inching closer to a ThinkPad experience, which makes it one of the better ones out there for the price. And if that’s not enough to suck you in, the projected 7 to 8 hours of battery life might. Sure, that could not be very realistic, but if it comes true in our testing, the Lenovo Legion 5 could be a big winner. — Rami Tabari

Best 2-in-1 Laptop: Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Microsoft might have released a new 2-in-1 tablet for business users but it was the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable that caught our attention. This sleek 2-in-1 device takes the best qualities of the ThinkPad line — a lightweight yet durable design, loads of security features and fast performance — and packs it into a 12.3-inch tablet. 

Among the many highlights of this device is the 12.3-inch, FHD+ touchscreen panel, which exuded vivid colors and got plenty bright in our hands-on testing. When you need to get work done, the X12 Detachable comes with a slim keyboard attachment, outfitted with signature ThinkPad features including clicky keys, a pointing stick and even a fingerprint scanner. The keyboard transforms the X12 Detachable into a true laptop more so than any other accessory available to rival 2-in-1 devices. 

With Intel 11th Gen Tiger Lake CPUs, up to a 1TB SSD and an estimated 10 hours of battery life, the X12 Detachable doesn’t make any compromises to accommodate its flexible and convenient form.  — Phillip Tracy

Best Workstation: MSI Creator 15

(Image credit: MSI)

In recent years, a new breed of workstations has hit the market, and they’re widely known as “Creator” laptops. They lean out of the business side and more toward consumers, but are still packed with power and designed to serve creative professionals. One of the most exciting laptops we saw at CES 2021 was the MSI Creator 15, which is an incredibly lightweight, slim laptop packing up to an Intel Core i7-10870H CPU and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Max Q GPU.

If you’re video editing or photo editing, a MacBook Pro may seem desirable, but the MSI Creator 15 not only boasts a more powerful GPU, but its 15.6-inch display features 4K resolution and covers 100% of the Adobe RGB color gamut. Additionally, this machine is toting around a massive 99.9Whr battery, so it’s bound to get decent battery life. Of course, we won’t know for sure until we get this machine in for testing; regardless, the MSI Creator 15 seems promising so far, and may very well be one of the best workstations and best video-editing laptops around. — Rami Tabari

Best Design: HP Elite Folio

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The HP Elite Folio isn’t your typical 2-in-1 laptop. The Elite Folio says, “All you other boring convertibles have that overused 360-degree rotation feature. Yawn! I, on the other hand, offer something unique.” The Elite Folio stood out of the crowd at CES 2021 with its eye-catching pull-forward mechanism, which allows users to pull its screen toward them and rest it behind the touchpad. The pull-forward mode is ideal for watching movies and videoconferencing. 

With the display tilting at an optimal angle, users can scribble and draw on the screen as if it were an easel. Speaking of doodling, the Elite Folio also comes with a stylus, which rests in a silo right above the keyboard. To top it all off, the Elite Folio’s exterior is wrapped in vegan leather. The HP Folio is an environmentally conscious, ultra-slim laptop that can transform into a digital easel. What’s not to love? — Kimberly Gedeon

Best Tablet: TCL NXTPAPER

(Image credit: TCL)

There were only a handful of tablets released at CES 2021, but one of them grabbed headlines with its innovative display. Created by TCL, the NXTPAPER has an 8.8-inch, 1440 x 1080-pixel full-color display that doesn’t use backlighting. Instead, this magic panel “reuses natural light” to prevent flickering and operate without harmful blue light. You can think of it as an E-ink display but with color. 

This is important because the hours we spend staring at LCD panels causes eye fatigue and can have long-term consequences to your vision. But the benefits of the NXTPAPER don’t end there. TCL claims the screen is 65% more power-efficient and 36% thinner than a traditional tablet. Understandably, there are compromises to using this panel (it requires a light source), but TCL says it has higher contrast than most LCDs. — Phillip Tracy

Best Monitor: Dell Ultrasharp 40-inch curved 5K monitor – U4021QW 

It’s hard not to be impressed by the Dell U4021QW’s massive 40-inch curved 5K panel. This is the first of its kind with over 35% more space than a typical 32-inch, 4K monitor. In practice, it can take the place of two high-quality monitors for most users. While gamers won’t be interested in the 60Hz refresh rate, the Dell Ultrasharp 40-inch monitor will be a compelling option for productivity and creators with its 5K resolution and 100% sRGB and 98% DCI-P3 color coverage.

It can also serve as a reasonable USB Type-C hub replacement given the  Thunderbolt 3, DP 1.4, HDMI 2.0, RJ45 Ethernet and a 10Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A port. You can connect two laptops to the monitor as well with picture-in-picture or picture-by-picture modes to handle the dual PCs. Window management is going to be important on a 40-inch panel, so Dell added 38 pre-set options for up to five simultaneous windows. This monstrous monitor will definitely dominate any desk, but it will also be the only monitor you need. — Sean Riley

Best Enabling Tech: AMD Ryzen 5000 series

(Image credit: CES)

AMD became a force to be reckoned with in the laptops industry when it launched its Ryzen 4000 mobile CPUs. At CES 2021, the company introduced the follow-up to those capable chips with its Ryzen 5000 chip. The pitch is simple. They’re faster, more efficient, and ready to take down Intel’s 11th Gen options.

Among these new 7-nanometer processors is what AMD claims to be the only 8-core x86 processor available for ultra-thin notebooks. So far, performance and battery life claims made by AMD have us on the edge of our seats. 

More specifically, the new Ryzen 7 chip is said to outperform an 11th Gen Intel Core i7 CPU by 44% in the Adobe Premiere video encoding test and by 39% in Blender 3D Ray Tracing. The Ryzen 9 5900HX will supposedly deliver 35% better overall performance than its Intel counterpart and is capable of running Horizon: Zero Dawn at 1080p resolution at 100 frames per second. When it comes to battery life, the Ryzen 7 5800U is efficient enough to enable runtimes of up to 21 hours. 

Available in both U-series for ultra-thin laptops and H-series for gaming rigs, the Ryzen 5000 mobile CPUs will make their way to more than 150 laptops, with the first models arriving in February. 

We’d be remiss to not give Nvidia a shoutout for launching its exciting GeForce RTX 30-series mobile GPUs, but who doesn’t like an underdog? — Phillip Tracy



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