Why my favorite laptop to use in 2022 wasn’t even from this year

I reviewed 59 laptops in 2022, ranging from low-end Chromebooks to extremely high-end creative powerhouses. Some of them were the best laptops I’ve ever used, and I observed that laptops this year represented a legitimate increase in both quality and value. Simply put, laptops got a lot better in 2022, making it a great time to purchase.

Weirdly enough, though, as I look back and pick the laptop that impressed me the most, it wasn’t introduced in 2022. Nope. It was introduced in October 2021, and that laptop is the Apple MacBook Pro 14.

Apple MacBook Pro 14 front view showing display and keyboard deck.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

I’ve already written about why I love the MacBook Pro 14. It’s fast, cool and quiet, has awesome battery life, and its display is to die for. It also has the best keyboard and touchpad on a laptop, and its build quality is second to none. Yes, it’s expensive, but like so many good things, you get what you pay for.

The contenders

HP Spectre x360 13.5 front angled view showing display and keyboard deck.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

But it’s not like there were no other contenders in 2022. Far from it, and a few other machines could have taken my top spot if the MacBook Pro 14 weren’t so awesome.

Take the HP Spectre x360 13.5, for example. To begin with, it’s drop-dead gorgeous with its slightly tamped-down gem-cut aesthetic that isn’t as in-your-face but still stands out. Its OLED display is spectacular, it enjoys excellent build quality, and it has one of the best keyboards on a Windows laptop.

The one thing that holds it back from beating the MacBook Pro 14 is its battery life, which is good but never left me feeling like it would last me a full day’s work. It just can’t beat the MacBook Pro.

The Dell XPS 13 Plus on a table outside.
Dell XPS 13 Plus

Next up is the Dell XPS 13 Plus. It’s a polarizing laptop for sure, eschewing the XPS 13’s previous tried-and-true design and aesthetic that had it leading our list of best laptops for years. But the edge-to-edge keyboard is a joy to type on, the hidden haptic touchpad is great to see on a Windows machine, and it, too, has a gorgeous OLED display option.

The three areas where this laptop just can’t compare with the MacBook Pro? It gets too warm during normal use, its battery life is lacking, and it doesn’t have an audio jack. Boo.

Lenovo Slim 9i front angled view showing display and keyboard deck.
Lenovo Slim 9i Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Lenovo’s Slim 9i was my favorite 14-inch clamshell not made by Apple, and for good reason. To begin with, it’s a lovely laptop with a curved aesthetic that’s as cohesive as the MacBook’s more simplistic design.

The Slim 9i is solidly built and sports a 4K+ OLED display that’s one of the best I’ve tested. Play a Netflix video in Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR), and you’ll revel in the details and bright colors. Finally, it’s a fast laptop, squeezing a ton of performance out of its Intel 12th-gen P-series CPU.

My complaints? The keyboard is too shallow and connectivity is at a minimum. I love the addition of HDMI and a full-size SD card slot on the MacBook Pro, and I’d take its keyboard over the Slim 9i any day.

Dell XPS 15 OLED on a table.
Dell XPS 15 9520

My favorite larger laptop was the Dell XPS 15 9520, which retained the aluminum and carbon or glass fiber mix in its design and maintained its excellent build quality. Its keyboard is superb and its huge mechanical touchpad is as good as you can get without going haptic, and its performance was great. But for a laptop made for content creators, it can’t quite keep up with the MacBook Pro 14 in terms of performance in those key applications, and that’s a big deal.

I won’t compare the battery life again, but to put it simply, that’s another area where the MacBook Pro runs circles around the XPS 15.

Its large OLED display is an extravagance, and creators have a choice of an IPS panel that’s just as colorful and accurate. But again, Apple tops it with its XDR display, which really makes HDR video pop. We’re comparing the best among the best, but the MacBook Pro is hands-down the better laptop for creators.

HP Envy 16 front angled view showing display and keyboard deck.
HP Envy 16 Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Another large-format laptop that caught my fancy in 2022 was the HP Envy 16. It’s an incredibly affordable machine considering the excellent design and build quality, and you can easily ramp up performance and display quality without breaking the bank. It also enjoys HP’s excellent keyboard, and it has a crisp and clear webcam for videoconferencing.

My complaints revolved around the smallish touchpad, and if I were a gamer, I wouldn’t like its erratic performance. But otherwise, it could easily have been my favorite machine and provided a solid value play against the MacBook Pro.

Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 front view showing dual displays and keyboard.
Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The final laptop on my list is the one I’d buy if I needed to multitask on a mobile basis. In that case, I’d go with the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 with its 17.3-inch 12:10 widescreen display that’s perfect for displaying multiple windows. Throw in the second 8-inch display to the right of the full-size keyboard and you have more screen real estate than any other mainstream laptop.

Performance was solid and the design was excellent, offering few compromises. It’s one of the few times a manufacturer experimented, and the result was a success. But sitting next to the MacBook Pro, I found myself dissatisfied with the display’s inaccurate colors and the laptop’s high price.

Even so, the MacBook was in a class by itself

No matter how hard other manufacturers tried, they couldn’t produce a 2022 laptop that beat out the 2021 MacBook Pro 14 — at least for me. Take away the MacBook, and I’d be hard-pressed to choose between these contenders. When forced to choose, I’d likely choose the HP Spectre x360 13.5 simply because of its flexibility and great looks. (Even though the extreme portability of the innovative Dell XPS 13 Plus would have tugged at my heartstrings as well.)

In every case, though, these contenders missed out on something the MacBook Pro 14 offered, and it’s looking like 2023 before Apple will make something even better. We’ll have to see if Windows-based laptops can make a serious comeback in 2023 or if Apple will continue to keep its lead.

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