I’m surprised by how often I’m asked for advice on the best laptops for freelancers.
To be completely honest, it’s not a question I’ve ever particularly enjoyed answering. Over years of doing IT consultancy work, I have been asked “which laptop should I buy?” literally hundreds of times.
It’s a WAY more complicated question than most people seem to realise. It’s like asking “what car should I buy?” without telling me anything about how much you have to spend, how many miles you plan to drive, or even how many seats you need!
Despite this, I’ve decided to try to suggest some of the best laptops for freelancers in this article. Let’s start with a TL;DR for those who don’t want to read the entire article:
Generally speaking, based on my own experiences, these are my main recommendations:
- The best Windows laptop for freelancers is the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2.
- The best Apple laptop for freelancers is the new, 2019 Macbook Air.
If you read the rest of the article, you can find out exactly why I’ve chosen these particular laptops, and find some other specific recommendations and alternatives.
People get very passionate about which laptops are the best, especially when it comes to the choice between Windows and Mac. Let’s start off with a discussion about that:
Windows vs. Mac: Which is Best for Freelancers?
The choice between Apple and Microsoft is one that fiercely divides opinion. I’m going to put it straight out there that I am a Mac user nowadays, but for many years I was firmly committed to Windows.
I’d also like to make clear that I think I can be properly subjective about this. I have technical qualifications from both Microsoft and Apple, and although a Macbook Pro is my “daily driver,” I recently spent several weeks using Windows entirely, and I did so with a completely open mind.
The first point, and it’s an important one, is that it’s pretty unlikely that any freelance work will require you to choose one platform over the other. File compatibility is rarely a problem nowadays, a lot of software is in the cloud anyway, and even Microsoft’s own Office 365 is fully compatible with both platforms.
As such, it really does come down to personal preference, and a lot of this will be around which operating system you are most used to: Windows or MacOS. They both do various things in different ways, and switching between the two involves a learning curve. If you already feel you are a “power user” of either operating system, switching to the other WILL slow you down until you adapt.
One thing Windows fans frequently cite as a reason to criticise Apple is pricing. Apple’s products are not cheap, and it’s definitely possible to buy Windows computers for less money. That said, the laptops at the “budget” end of the scale typically have a distinctly “budget” feel about them.
Graduate to the more desirable Windows laptops and you’ll soon see prices that are a lot closer to Apple’s for equivalent specifications.
Another thing to take note of is that Apple laptops typically hold their value very well. It’s quite feasible to expect to get a considerable amount of money back if you resell and upgrade after three or four years. Windows machines simply don’t hold their value in the same way.
As this article is about the best laptops for freelancers, I don’t want to turn this into an endless Microsoft vs. Apple debate. Instead, I’m just going to finish up this section with my general thoughts on the pros and cons of each platform.
- Far more choice – both in models and manufacturers.
- More economical options.
- The Windows operating system is more familiar to many.
- Some Windows laptops are user-upgradable (although many no longer are nowadays).
- Lots of scope for custom configurations – Windows tends to let you do things how YOU want.
- The operating system is less stable and refined – things DO crash more often.
- More issues with security / privacy / viruses. (Macs are not immune, but Windows machines are more of a target).
- Integration with mobile devices is much less refined.
Apple Mac Laptops
- Generally excellent build quality (although there have been significant recent issues with keyboards).
- Second-hand Macbooks hold their value.
- Macs tend to “just work” – so long as you’re willing to do things “the Apple way.”
- An overall feeling of quality: Apple products FEEL premium, and their screens, touchpads and other components are often best in class.
- Great integration with iPhones, iPads etc. making it seamless to work across multiple devices.
- Generally good customer care and support, especially if you’re near an Apple store.
- Add-ons are expensive too – everything from extra memory to AppleCare extended warranties.
- Recent hardware issues – particularly with unreliable keyboards (more on that below).
As you can see from the list above, choosing between Windows and Mac is very much an individual thing, and far from black and white. For what it’s worth, when my main job was fixing computers and doing heavily techie stuff, Windows suited me more. Since I’ve been using computers for more creative pursuits, Apple is a better fit for me. Your milage may vary.
The Best Laptops for Freelancers: What to Consider
Generally speaking, it’s easy to get FAR too hung up On GBs and Ghzs. Unless you’re digging right down into the very cheapest laptops out there, you’ll struggle to find a mid-range machine that won’t do everything you need to as a general freelancer.
But what do I mean by “general freelancer?” Really I mean anything other than a programmer, professional photographer, or video editor. Essentially, if you’re in an industry where you need more of a “performance” laptop, the chances are you will know what kind of specification you need to be aiming for. That said, if these are areas you plan to move into as part of your future career, it can make good sense to go for something more “high end” in order to future-proof your setup.
Generally speaking, these are the three key things I would aim for:
MEMORY (RAM): Go for 8GB as a minimum. 16GB is a bit of a luxury if you’re just doing “general” work, but it will make the laptop feel more fast and “snappy.”
STORAGE: Although most manufacturers sell base-level laptops with 128GB of storage, I would personally not suggest less than 256GB. (You can always total up the data on your existing machine – I have over 100GB in music alone).
SSD: More expensive laptops come with solid state disks (SSDs), but some budget models still come with cheaper hard drives. These have moving parts, and are considerably cheaper, however they are MUCH slower. If you’re used to using a laptop with a conventional hard drive, moving to something with an SSD feels like a huge upgrade.
A Word on False Economies
As a freelancer, it’s quite likely that a laptop is the main tool of your trade. As such, I firmly believe it’s not something to skimp on.
Yes, I know there are lots of tempting-looking laptops out there for just a few hundred Dollars / Pounds, but I’ll tell you what’s usually wrong with them:
- Poor quality keyboards, touchpads, screens.
- Nasty plastic build quality.
- A lack of durability.
- Usually the worst possible warranty provision (that can leave you without a machine if anything goes wrong).
- “Home” versions of Windows, which lack professional features like full disk encryption.
- Lots of unnecessary pre-installed software that slows them down.
Cut back on premium coffee, get a 0% finance deal, or simply save some money – and buy a DECENT laptop. The best laptops for freelancers do cost a little more, but it’s a huge false economy to try to run a business using something cheap and nasty.
The Best Apple Laptop for Freelancers:
Apple Macbook Air 2019
The best laptop for freelancers who wish to use the Apple MacOS platform is the 2019 Macbook Air.
This MacBook isn’t without its faults. It features Apple’s unpopular and often-unreliable “butterfly” keyboard. I’ve personally had one of these fail (discussed here) and it caused me a lot of hassle. However, as all current-generation Apple laptops have these keyboards, they are – for now at least – a necessary evil if you want an Apple laptop. At least Apple has acknowledged the problem and launched a replacement program, so you know that – warranty or no warranty – you will be able to have yours replaced if it goes wrong.
More to the point with this laptop is everything that’s RIGHT: It’s fast, it’s reliable, it’s light and, let’s be honest, it’s very pretty. Also, since the 2019 specification refresh, it’s much more affordable for the recommended 8GB/256GB model.
If you like Apple products, I can’t imagine you being unhappy with this. It’s the laptop my wife uses every single day, and she’s very content with it.
The Best Windows Laptop for Freelancers:
It’s much harder to choose the best laptop for freelancers when it comes to Windows. There are tons of different manufacturers making them, including the giants like Dell and HP.
My Windows recommendation is actually a machine made by Microsoft themselves: The Surface Laptop 2.
In fact. having used one of these for an extended period early this year, there are actually ways in which Microsoft has “out-Appled Apple.” The screen is really bright and glossy, and I may even prefer it to the one on my Macbook Pro. The keyboard is fantastic, with lots of travel, making it great for writers and anyone else with a lot to type. Best of all, its surrounded by a unique and luxurious alcantara material.
Haters will no doubt point out that you can get the same kind of spec for less money from other manufacturers. However, this isn’t only about spec – it’s about build quality, and about having a machine that you just WANT to pick up and be productive on. It’s good to see Windows machines starting to tick this box.
The Best Budget Laptop for Freelancers
Lenovo is a much-loved brand for many techies, especially because they produce the (formerly IBM) Thinkpad range. This 320S is a decent budget choice.
In fact, performance-wise, you probably wouldn’t notice much difference between this and the base-level Microsoft Surface Laptop. Where the differences really do show is in things like the clarity of the screen and the overall build quality. Like all cheaper laptops, it’s considerably heavier too.
Even so, it’s not a bad option. It’s affordable and it doesn’t look too cheap – so it’s well worth a look.
High Performance Laptops
As discussed above, if you need a high-performance (i.e. more expensive) laptop, you will probably already know. All the laptops above will handle email, web browsing, social media and basic entertainment without breaking a sweat. However, if you throw heavy video editing at them, or try to edit lots of huge photo files, they will start to stutter and struggle.
With that in mind, here are the best laptops for freelancers who need a bit of extra performance.
Nobody would even pretend that Apple’s Pro laptops are cheap. However, Apple has recently started to be a little less greedy about the cost of specification upgrades.
The current generation’s Macbook Pro may not be Apple’s finest hour, but the machines remain an incredible piece of engineering. They can cope with very demanding tasks, and deliver that quality feel that Apple is rightly famous for.
The first time I saw a Dell XPS 13, it was because I was called in to set one up for a client. At the time I was a committed Mac user, and it was the first Windows laptop to turn my head in a long time. That was now several years ago, and the XPS 13 range has gone from strength to strength.
I know several true “power users” who have chosen these as their weapon of choice. They’re truly attractive and well-built machines – far away from those “workaday” Dells you may remember from an old office job. It’s also fair to say that Dell manages to significantly undercut Apple’s prices for equivalent specs.
I have provided links to the best laptops for freelancers that I recommend, and these will take you through to Amazon. Please remember, however, that laptop models frequently change and that the links could become invalid. If you choose to purchase, make sure you carefully check specifications and prices.
Warranties and “Plan Bs”
Choosing a laptop isn’t only about selecting hardware and specifications. It’s also important to look at what kind of warranty you get.
Usually, an initial warranty will last for a year, and will often be a “return to base” guarantee. This means sending the laptop in or taking it to a store if something goes wrong. This can be hugely inconvenient if it happens when you have a deadline to meet.
As such there are several things you should to consider:
- Upgrading your warranty to something longer (usually three years), using AppleCare or similar.
- Upgrading to an “on-site” warranty, so somebody can come to you (if available).
- Having a second machine that you can easily switch to if your main one is out of action. This could be an older computer. The key thing is that it works, and that you have a means to start working on it quickly if necessary.
These things are really important – so please don’t forget them in the excitement of buying a shiny new laptop!
Did you enjoy this best laptops for freelancers feature? If so, have a look at computer fundamentals for freelancers while you’re here.