What is the best laptop of 2020? With a huge shift to working and learning from home, laptops have played a major role in keeping us all on track in 2020. In India, we've seen enormous demand across all segments for most of this year, leading to shortages of some popular models and significant interest in sales online. Of course there have also been plenty of new launches from every major manufacturer, and full platform refreshes from the leading CPU and GPU companies. We've seen a few companies being innovative, and of course pushing for thinner and lighter designs. There have even been a few highly experimental concepts, with folding or bending screens.
Here's a look back at the most important developments in the laptop market over the course of 2020, both in India and on the global stage. These picks include some of the most interesting designs and groundbreaking hardware that will shape our expectations for the future, as well as products that had the potential to make a splash in the market.
Kicking off 2020, Lenovo showed off two attention-grabbing concepts at the CES trade show in January. The ThinkPad X1 Fold was right on the cusp of current trends, with a 13.3-inch folding OLED screen and a then-unannounced Intel ‘Lakefield' hybrid processor. It runs Windows 10 and you can use it in various positions with a snap on a keyboard or a stylus. The ThinkPad X1 Fold isn't just a concept anymore; it's available for purchase right now in some parts on the world.
Lenovo also showed off the ThinkBook Plus which has an e-ink screen on the lid which lets you read books, scribble notes, and check up on notifications without opening the lid. It consumes relatively little power but adds a whole new dimension to your everyday laptop. This model is on sale in India already.
Also at CES 2020, Dell had its own experimental devices on display. The Concept Ori had a folding 13-inch screen while the Concept Duet opens up to reveal a second screen in place of the keyboard and trackpad. No specifications were disclosed, and neither of these devices has turned into something commercially viable over the course of 2020. Of course, who knows what Dell might have in store for 2021.
One of the most radical folding laptop concepts of 2020, Intel's Horseshoe Bend prototype has a huge 17.3-inch screen and a kickstand. With a gentle curve, the screen feels like a single flowing surface even when bent. It can be propped up in landscape mode or used partially bent like a laptop. The body is 7mm thin and the ‘Tiger Lake' architecture-based CPU does not require active cooling. None of Intel's partners have so far introduced devices that look or feel anything like this, but it could still happen.
Asus took its 2019 ZenBook Duo with its massive secondary screen and adapted it for gaming laptops, producing the ROG Zephyrus Duo. It has the same arrangement of two screens, but the lower one is now hinged to allow for better airflow and more useful positioning. With a 10th Gen Intel Core i9 CPU and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super GPU, optional 300Hz screen, and dual NVMe SSDs in RAID 0, this model sits right at the top of Asus' gaming portfolio.
The ROG Zephyrus G14 debuted at CES 2020 and went on sale in India a few months later. This model is relatively light and compact but features a unique ‘AniMe' lid, with over a thousand white mini-LEDs. You can display custom artwork and animations, as well as useful information. It features a custom-tuned AMD Ryzen 4000-series CPU and up to an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU. Other than the unique lid, the Zephyrus G14 has grabbed attention for its trim size and low weight.
Xiaomi already had a huge presence in the Indian smartphone and TV markets when it launched its first notebooks here this year. The Mi Notebook 14 (Review) and Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition (Review) are stylish slim-and-light models, and true to the brand's usual reputation, offer pretty good value for money.
The company tried to set a design trend by ditching webcams in favour of slim screen borders, but soon realised this wasn't right for the Indian market, especially with video conferencing becoming more important than ever in 2020. Here's hoping that Xiaomi brings more of its international models to India next year.
Although the Nokia brand of today has little to do with the mobile phone giant of years past, the name is still highly recognised and valued in India. Flipkart has introduced appliances and laptops with the Nokia name, and the new Nokia Purebook X14 is already getting a lot of attention online. With modern, premium specifications and a striking matte black body, this ultraportable 1.1kg laptop could be a big success for the e-commerce platform. Interestingly, Flipkart's house brand MarQ also launched its own laptop, the MarQ Falkon Aerbook, earlier this year, to much less fanfare.
With its latest generation of laptop processors, Intel is pushing power efficiency and battery life, as well as performance when running on battery power. The 11th Gen Core models, codenamed ‘Tiger Lake' are based on an updated 10nm process and most models also get Intel's brand new Xe integrated graphics. Performance is said to be “more than a generational increase”, and the addition of AI acceleration should help in tasks that are now becoming more commonplace.
Also this year, Intel unveiled its hybrid ‘Lakefield' CPUs, which combine one high-power and four high-efficiency CPU cores along with other logic in a 3D stacked package. They're aimed at foldable and ultra-slim PCs as well as emerging form factors. They're already available as part of the 10th Gen Core lineup, with the nondescript tag “Intel Core processors with Intel Hybrid Technology”.
For years, AMD processors were only found in ultra-low-cost laptops and were not associated with great performance. That's been changing steadily since the launch of the Ryzen CPU series, and the Ryzen 4000 series for laptops can take on Intel's top-end offerings today. The Ryzen 4000 U-series for slim laptops and H-series for gaming and high-performance models have been used by all major brands including Dell, HP, Acer, Asus, and Lenovo. As AMD's market share has risen, and multiple models have been launched even in India, where supplies have been tight due to high demand.
Of course Apple's shift to using in-house processors will go down as one of the biggest tech stories of 2020. It was a poorly kept secret, but Apple still managed to impress us with how smoothly the product introduction went – macOS, Apple's own apps, and even plenty of third-party software was ready at launch time, and compatibility has not been a problem for anyone with everyday requirements. In fact, many people won't even know that anything different is going on under the hood.
Behind the scenes, this is the result of an absolutely massive engineering effort, and will reshape the entire PC space in the years to come. Qualcomm has tried for years to make a dent in Intel and AMD's market, but it takes a juggernaut like Apple to really get the ball rolling. Judging by the responsiveness, battery life, and raw performance that these new MacBooks offer, it seems likely that other companies will renew their interest in ARM-based laptops.
Originally revealed in late 2019, the Microsoft Surface Neo was a surprise announcement at an already packed hardware event. This dual-screen folding device was supposed to usher in a new wave of flexible PC form factors, and it was also supposed to run Windows 10X, a special version of the operating system with a whole new UI optimised for this kind of use case. The two 9-inch screens, stylus, snap-on keyboard, and 360-degree hinge were meant to allow for productivity on the go. A hybrid Intel ‘Lakefield' CPU was selected for its low-power optimisations.
Unfortunately, the “Holiday 2020” launch window has now passed, and Microsoft has officially “paused” development of the Surface Neo. We don't know exactly what went wrong; if it was because of Corona affecting development schedules, or whether Microsoft will ever ship some version of this vision, but it stands out as an ambitious idea, at least.