I feel like I was born to write this article. I’ve been a writer for 25 years. I’ve tested hundreds of laptops as a tech journalist. There can’t be many people with a better CV for identifying the best laptop for a writer…
In this guide, I’m going to give you some specific tips on what to look for in a laptop for a writer, before recommending a few models.
Best laptop for a writer: key things to look for
There are things a writer should look for in a laptop that might not be as important to other types of user. Here are the things you should definitely pay attention to.
Many laptop reviews barely mention the keyboard. For writers, however, the keyboard is everything. Even if you plan to use your laptop at a desk with an external keyboard much of the time, there will be occasions when you’ll want to type on the laptop itself and there’s nothing more soul destroying for a writer than a duff keyboard. (Well, apart from the rejection letters for your novel.)
There are three brands I would recommend above all others when it comes to laptop keyboards: Lenovo ThinkPad, Apple MacBook and Google’s own Pixelbook Chromebooks. With the odd exception, these can generally be relied upon to have superb keyboards that any writer would be happy to bash out thousands of words on each day.
That’s not to say you won’t find decent keyboards elsewhere. But, if possible, I’d highly recommend trying to visit a store and getting your hands on a keyboard first, just to make sure it feels good under your fingers. It will make a massive difference to your job satisfaction.
There are a few general things to watch for on laptop keyboards:
- Avoid small or half-height Enter keys – unless your touch typing is absolutely precise, a small Enter key will drive you insane.
- Off-centre layouts – some larger laptops have a numberpad on the right-hand side, which shifts the main keyboard off-centre. I find these awkward to use.
- Backlighting – a backlight can be essential if you need to type in a dimly lit plane seat or train carriage. Cheap laptops often omit the backlighting.
If you’re a writer, you’re going to spend an awful long time staring at the screen, trying to force the words out. Or wondering who it was who wrote that appalling, clichéd paragraph at the top of the screen. If you’re going to put yourself through this agony, you might as well do it with a screen that’s easier on the eye than your prose.
Seriously, though, you need a screen that’s both a decent size and sharp. There are lots of cheap 15in laptops out there, but some of them still don’t have Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) screens, meaning you’re going to see every pixel of every letter you type. And it will annoy you.
If you’re planning to write in the garden, or the conservatory, or any other bright surrounding, you’re going to need a screen that hits decent levels of brightness. It’s hard to be too prescriptive here, because different screen technologies vary, but I’d want a minimum of 400cd/m2 brightness from a laptop screen. The tech specs or reviews in decent magazines such as PC Pro (for whom I work) should betray this information.
Writing isn’t a taxing activity for a laptop. You don’t need a machine with the fastest processor, a ton of RAM and Nvidia’s thumpiest graphics card in it. You do need a laptop that’s not going to scream to be plugged in after a couple of hours, though, especially if you often find yourself working away from home.
Look for laptops that will last all day. MacBooks based on Apple’s own processors (look for M1 or M2 in the spec sheet) are ridiculously energy efficient and the battery should comfortably last all day for word processing. Chromebooks, too, are normally lean runners.
It’s a little out of scope for this article, but iPads and Android tablets are also worth considering for writers. What holds them back is that their keyboard options aren’t as good as a top-rate laptop keyboard.
Three laptops that would suit writers
The cheapest MacBook Air – which costs £999 – is plenty fast enough for writers. It has a deliciously sharp screen, a battery that will run and run, and one of the best laptop keyboards out there. My only reservation about the base model is the stingy 256GB of storage. That’s plenty for word processing alone, but not a huge amount of storage space if you want to install a few games, house a large photo collection or do any kind of video work.
The keyboard on the original Google Pixelbook remains my favourite laptop keyboard of all time. The one on the Pixelbook Go is just as good, and it’s a lot cheaper. The Go starts at £629, although the cheapest model is currently out of stock at Google – you may have more luck with other stores. It’s a Chromebook, so it largely relies on a web connection and cloud storage, although you can use Android apps such as Microsoft Word offline. The screen is bright and sharp, battery life won’t be a problem and Chromebooks are exceedingly low maintenance, letting you get on with hammering out words.
I had my hands on this laptop at the recent CES tech show in Las Vegas, and LG are lucky they had beefy security guards on the stand, or else they’d have been a laptop down. If you’re looking for a bigger 16in screen to stretch out with, a screen that will easily cope with two open windows side by side, the LG Gram 16 is a fine choice. Despite that sweeping display, it’s still light at just over 1kg, and it packs a hefty battery. It does break two of my keyboard rules, with a single-height enter key and a numberpad, but the numberpad is slender and doesn’t knock everything out of whack, and the typing action is lovely. It’s a step up in price at £1,120, but much cheaper than the equivalent-sized MacBook Pro.