Buying a laptop as a gift is a great way of showing you care, but choosing the right one requires some thought, especially if you’re not the one who’s going to be using it.
Of course, you can always just write ‘IOU a laptop’ in a Christmas card, but that may not put the same gleam in someone’s eye as tearing open the wrapping on the perfect device – especially if you’re buying for a child.
If you don’t think the mere promise of a laptop is the right way to go, follow our advice to ensure your recipient gets the most out of your generosity.
Looking for inspiration? Check our expert pick of the best laptops.
1. Don’t underspend
This is crucial. If you realise your budget won’t stretch to the type of laptop that’s required, don’t just max out your budget and hope for the best, as it could leave your loved one feeling more disappointed than delighted.
While there are good laptops at all price ranges, it’s fair to say that – typically – the less you spend, the slower the laptop. That may be fine for those who only need a laptop for the basics, but it won’t work for everybody.
If you don’t have the budget to buy a laptop that will do everything the recipient needs it to, consider teaming up with someone else for a joint gift. Alternatively, you may need to resort to that IOU, for a contribution towards a new laptop.
And, if you’re a Which? member, you can make use of your insider knowledge to recommend the laptops that will give them most bang for their buck, based on our expert tests; it’s not always the priciest laptops that pack the biggest punch. If you’re not yet a Which? member, why not treat yourself to an early Christmas present and give Which? a try?
2. Are you buying a laptop for a child?
Coronavirus restrictions continue to see online learning playing a huge role in education, and the possibility of schools in some areas closing completely for the time being. This may have prompted you to think about equipping your child with their own laptop.
If you’re buying a laptop for a child, consider the size and weight of the device. Even if it’s only intended to be carried around the house, you don’t want a laptop that’s heavier than your child can comfortably handle. And if it might be carried to and from school, they won’t appreciate their backpack being filled with a hulking device that doesn’t even leave room for a pencil case, let alone snacks.
For a young child, go for a laptop with a 10-12-inch screen. This will make it small enough to slide into most bags, and it should also weigh less than 1.2kg. Laptops this light and compact aren’t the fastest, but they’re typically cheaper, and should be fine for school work and watching the odd video.
Larger laptops are typically heavier (there are some exceptions), so aren’t ideal for lugging about. That said, if your child will mostly be using their laptop in a single spot, you can safely opt for a laptop up to 17 inches in size.
3. What does the recipient need the laptop for?
If your recipient will be doing more than the basics (such as web browsing, using office documents or watching videos), consider how powerful a laptop they need.
The price range indicators below, taken from our detailed guide on how to buy the best laptop, should help you understand what your money can get you.
- Less than £200 – Fine for very light note taking and browsing the internet, but may lack speed. Intel Celeron or Atom processors, 2GB of Ram and 32GB of storage.
- Less than £300 – Not hugely fast but likely to make simple tasks run more smoothly. Newer Intel Celeron processors, 4GB of Ram and up to 64GB of storage.
- Less than £450 – Fast enough for web browsing and research. Aim for a Full HD screen and a solid-state drive (SSD) if you can. Intel Pentium, Core i3, AMD Ryzen 3 and 4GB Ram.
- Less than £600 – Usually good enough for photo editing and some light video work. Seek out a Full HD screen and an SSD. Intel Core i5, i7, AMD Ryzen 5, 7 and 8GB of Ram.
- Less than £800 – Similar specs to in the price band above, but in increasingly high-end designs. Look for great battery life on premium ultrabooks.
- More than £800 – High-end laptops will suit more intensive tasks, such as video editing or playing games, and combine power with stylish designs, great screens and good speakers.
Also consider whether they’re going to need a laptop that can run specific software. This is particularly true for university students and other adults, as by this stage they may have be using software that is specific to their career or hobbies. Read more about laptops for students in our guide.
There is no hard and fast rule for this, though, so you might need to weed out the details from them without giving away that you’re buying a laptop for them. The three main choices are MacBooks, Windows laptops and Chromebooks. Read our guide on how to choose between them for a bit more information.
Other features, such as the number of USB ports, whether the keyboard has backlit keys (making them easier to read) or a high-fidelity screen for photo editing are all found in our reviews, so give them a read (and check the tech specs) to see the details.
4. Do they want a gaming laptop?
If your recipient is a gamer, you may need to resort to that IOU in a Christmas card. Not only are gaming laptops much more expensive than standard laptops, but what you buy affects the type of games that can be played, and how well they will run.
Read our guide on how to buy a gaming laptop for more information – but the reality is that a gaming enthusiast is likely to want a big say in the laptop they use.
5. Should you set the laptop up before you give it?
Most laptops require an online account in order to be set up properly. As a minimum, you’ll need an email address registered with Microsoft (Windows), Google (Chromebooks) or Apple (MacBooks) to get started. It’s hard to set up a laptop if you don’t have this information, and you shouldn’t set up someone else’s laptop with your own details.
If it’s for a younger child, you could consider setting the laptop with your own email address, and then adding a separate user account for them; this will also mean that you can access the laptop if you need to.
However, bear in mind that opening and setting up a laptop could make it harder to return if you’re not happy with it; our next tip has more on your return rights.
6. Check return policies
Your right to return a laptop can depend on your reason for returning, how you bought it (online or in store), and the retailer in question.
If the laptop is faulty, not as described or not fit for purpose
If a laptop turns out to be faulty, not as described or not fit for purpose, you have legal rights to return it – though the definition of ‘not fit for purpose’ can be nuanced.
If there is something obviously wrong with the laptop or it clearly doesn’t match the description, you should be able to return the item and receive a quibble-free refund within the first 30 days of having received it. After the first 30 days, you may have to give the retailer the option of repairing or replacing it first.
Not fit for purpose can be less black and white, as your definition may differ from that of the retailer.
For example, if the laptop is too slow for what your recipient needs it for, the laptop is not fit for their purpose. However, if it is performing in accordance with manufacturer or retailer claims, you may struggle to argue your case. Ultimately it will depend on the retailer and how much they want your business.
If the laptop isn’t right for the recipient
If you just didn’t quite nail it, you may still be able to return the laptop. However, the length of returns periods can vary between retailers. Meanwhile some may not be willing to take a laptop back if it’s been opened, and you’ll probably be out of luck if the laptop’s been used (which would include simply setting it up).
Currys, for example, has a return policy for unwanted items bought online or in-store that says that you can open the box and touch the laptop in the same way you might use a laptop on a display in a store, but to obtain a full refund you must not start using them, install them, or input any data/software.
Your ability to change your mind and get a refund may also be more limited if, for example, the laptop has been customised to your individual requirements, rather than coming with standard specs (this may be more likely if you’ve bought from a specialist retailer). This doesn’t affect your right to return faulty products.
Read returns policies carefully before you buy and, if in doubt, speak to a member of staff or contact the store directly to check your rights.
Read our in-depth guides to returns and refunds for more details on your right to return goods in different circumstances.
The three most popular laptops last Christmas
These were the most popular laptops during December 2019, so you can get a feel for what other people have been considering during the festive period. If a particular laptop is no longer on sale, we’ve highlighted its successor.
Acer Swift 1 SF114-32
A perennially popular laptop on the Which? website, for around £400, Christmas shoppers were certainly interested in this model last year. It’s still on sale in 2020, too, although it is set to be superseded by the new SF114-33 model soon.
Read our full Acer Swift 1 SF114-32 review.
Acer Swift 3 SF314
This higher-spec thin and light laptop, also from Acer, definitely ends up on a lot of shortlists. This model is no longer on sale, but we’ve reviewed its successor, the SF314-42 – it’s available for around £499.
Read our full Acer Swift 3 SF314-42 review.
Lenovo IdeaPad S340
The popular review last year was the cut-price Chromebook, which is no longer on sale. Instead, there’s a mid-range Windows version with a sprightly Core i5 processor for around £549, which could be worth a look for someone who needs a laptop with a bit of pep but doesn’t mind too much about a svelte design.
Read our full Lenovo IdeaPad S340 review.
None of these three quite right? Take a look at our full range of expert laptop reviews to find the perfect gift.