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6 Dec 2021

3 reasons why you shouldn't buy anyone a laptop for Christmas

Laptops can make great gifts but there are some things you need to bear in mind to avoid your well-meaning pressie ruining someone's Christmas.
Man unhappy at Christmas

Buying someone a laptop is, in theory, an incredibly thoughtful gift. However, laptops are a very personal choice and there are plenty of ways to get it wrong - even if they've dropped countless hints.

What the recipient needs it for will determine what sort of laptop you'll want to focus your search on. Getting it wrong could mean it's unsuitable for their needs and result in you having to go through a world of pain getting a refund. Or, worse, navigate that awkward moment when your loved one pretends your gift is absolutely fine but you know it's not.

So to avoid the disappointed look on someone's face when you've been ready to step up and receive the 'best Christmas present' award, here's three reasons why you should think again.

For our expert advice on all you need to know about buying a laptop, plus our pick of the best models for all budgets, go to our pick of the best laptops.

1. Laptop size

Man hunching over laptop

Get this wrong and the (un)lucky recipient will end up struggling around with a heavy model, which isn't great if they need to commute with their laptop.

If this is the case, you'll want one that weighs less than 1.5kg and an 11-, 12- or 13-inch display.

However, don't assume the lighter the better, as there are pitfalls on ultra-thin and light models. Namely poor battery life and insufficient ports. Make sure you check our four reasons why a lightweight laptop might not be right for you.

Conversely, if it's for someone who only works from home, they won't thank you if they've got to put up with a tiny screen and a cramped keyboard. If it will mostly be staying put in one place, a larger screen size of 15.6 inches up to 17.3 inches will be best, with weight likely increasing to around 2kg to 3kg.

Alternatively, they might be better off reading up on a desktop PC. These get you more performance for your money and often work out better as a longer-term investment, as you can upgrade a desktop to improve the specs.

Point them in the direction of our independent advice on how to buy the best desktop PC.

What's the best laptop for a child?

For kids, you don't want a laptop that's heavier than they can comfortably handle, particularly if there's a chance they will ever need to take it to school with them.

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.

Otherwise, for a younger child, go for a laptop with a 10 to 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 schoolwork and watching the odd video. Larger laptops are typically heavier (there are some exceptions), so aren't ideal for lugging about.

See our expert round-up of the best cheap laptops.

2. Laptop performance

Stressed by laptop speed

The more powerful a laptop, the faster it is. And the more expensive. But there's no point wasting your money if the recipient only needs it for surfing the net and writing up the occasional document.

Equally, you don't want to buy someone a laptop that can't do what they want if you're on a tight budget. As your money could either go towards a laptop, or they could get more for their money by buying a refurbished or second-hand model - see how to buy a second-hand or refurbished laptop.

If your recipient is a gamer or they're planning to use the laptop for photo or video editing, you may need to resort to an IOU in a Christmas card. These high-performance laptops are much more expensive than standard laptops.

Also, for gamers, what you buy affects the type of games that can be played, and how well they will run. A gaming enthusiast is likely to want a big say in the laptop they use.

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In a nutshell:

  • If the laptop is for light use and the occasional document, look for an Intel Pentium processor or Intel Core i3 and at least 4GB of Ram.
  • Go for Intel Core i5 and i7 and AMD Ryzen 5 and 7 and at least 8GB of Ram if it's for lots of multi-tasking or photo-editing.
  • If the laptop is for video editing or a gaming enthusiast, look for a dedicated graphics card that will assist with video editing and make games run more smoothly. Our guide to AMD, Intel and Nvidia explains what to expect from each brand.

Feeling flush and you've been asked for a MacBook? Our Apple MacBook reviews will help you pick the right model.

3. Laptop ports

Not many laptop ports

A bugbear for many - but laptops often have fewer ports nowadays and not all have the ones users have come to depend on.

Every laptop we tested back in 2014 had at least two full-size USB-A ports. Now almost a third of laptops have either just one or none. A similar proportion have ditched HDMI ports, too.

Yes, a USB-C adaptor will provide both, but your lucky giftee may have a particular set-up and have a reason to want them there in the first place.

Don't leave them pulling their hair out and having to shop for docks or adaptors to transform your well-meaning gift into what they actually need.

Should you decide to go ahead

If you do go ahead and buy someone a laptop, don't feel pressured to buy during the sales and end up rushing your decision. Choosing a laptop should take time, so do your research and make sure you shop around. Take a look at our laptop reviews to help point you in the right direction.

The big manufacturers launch their new range of laptops on an annual basis, even before last year's stock has fully sold out. This, plus heavy competition between brands and retailers, means there are always deals to be had.

Read our hand-picked selection of the best laptop deals in the sales.