After more than 40 hours of personal research, carefully reading reviews and listening to actual user feedback, I have chosen the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro as the best laptop for coding, or for developers who are into computer programming.
I choose Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro at the top of the list because it’s very easy to carry around because it’s extremely lightweight (2.7 lb or 1.2 kg), highly rated by its users (4 out of 5stars), includes an excellent keyboard, comes with a roomy (as far as SSDs are concerned) 512 GB SSD, 8 GB of RAM, an Intel Core M-5Y71 processor the performance of which is very close to the Core i5 range (certainly above i3), 13.3 inch screen with a 3200 x 1800 resolution, and a battery life of anywhere between 5 1/2 hours to 6+ hours, depending on your settings. And yes, it runs Windows 8.1 by default, but you can (and should) upgrade to Windows 10.
Please remember that, I don’t have a ‘top 10’ list for you, because I believe a good researcher should be able to look at things from his users (buyers) perspective and find at least 3 good products that address their requirements, from otherwise an intriguing but a possibly misleading set of choices. That’s what I have for you.
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is at the top of the list, and there are two others. The second laptop is for coders or developers with a tight budget, and the last one is for developers who want the maximum workspace but willing to sacrifice the portability a bit. Nonetheless, they’re all capable machines, that address, although very much related, slightly different user requirements.
Before moving into the actual products, let’s first briefly consider the two main factors that you as a computer programmer should consider before purchasing a laptop. They’re the Data Input, & Computational Power.
Table of Contents
You should think about your comfort as a user when considering Data Input. As such, I generally advice all my readers to carefully consider the display screen & the keyboard, before considering other hardware devices that contribute to computational power such as the HDD, RAM or the CPU. This is because the screen and the keyboard are the two main interfaces that you’ll be utilizing to interact, or to input data, to the laptop.
Some programmers, such as web developers, usually run their code editor alongside the web browser. Therefore, having a large workspace is important to them. But since you need a laptop, a computer that is portable, your options are somewhat limited as far as the workspace size is concerned.
That said, most developers prefer laptop screens with high pixel densities thinking that they’ll give them more workspace. But that’s not necessarily the case (I’ll explain it in a minute), and if workspace is of the utmost importance for you, then purchase a laptop with a large display screen (17” or more) that has more pixels per inch, rather than buying a small screen with lots of pixels.
If portability is important to you, then I recommend choosing a laptop with a screen size of 13.3” – 15.6”, because the more bigger the display the more heavier the laptop. It’ll also shorten the battery life significantly as well. Laptops with large screens are mostly preferable for those who travel less and work mostly from home, or inside an office.
Pixel Density (Pixels Per Inch)
This is a very popular topic nowadays because these days, display screens come with various different pixel densities. Some users buy laptops (or monitors) with high pixel densities because they think the purpose of adding more pixels without changing the physical size of a display screen is to add more workspace.
While this could be in accordance with their daily experience with these new computer screens, but those are the undesired side effects of old applications trying to correctly scale themselves on these new display screens. And this happens when the operating system fails to correctly re-scale them on a display screen with high pixel densities.
For instance, a letter of a certain font has to have a certain size in order for a computer user to see it from a certain distance. And thus, if we assume that the distance from the screen to the user’s eyes hasn’t changed, then no matter what the screen size or the resolution or the pixel densities etc are, that letter should almost always be displayed in the same size for it to be readable. So it shouldn’t matter at all, whether you have an older monitor with 100 pixels per inch or a newer one with 200 pixels per inch. That letter, should always have the same physical size, because even though technology has advanced, the capability of the human eye is pretty much the same.
Therefore, buying a new display screen that has more pixels per inch, but remains the same in size compared to your old one, won’t be able to give you more workspace. You only get a spacious workspace when these applications fail to correctly scale themselves thus appearing too small and hard to read, which is not a desirable effect. The advantage of a high pixel density screen is that it increases the sharpness greatly of what’s being displayed. But to take advantage of that, software applications have to be updated.
The reason I mentioned this here is because not all popular software tools used by computer programmers are updated so that they can retain the proper readability (size) among display screens that have various pixel densities. Some do scale reasonably well, but some do not. And these days, almost all capable laptops come with display screens with high pixel densities.
So my advice to you, before purchasing a laptop, if you already know what kind of applications you’ll mostly be using in it for coding, try to find out whether they can handle these high pixel densities or not. You can do this by mostly searching in forums or if they have one, then it should be noted usually in the FAQ section of its official product page. The best way however, if you’re serious about your programming (I hope so), is to directly contact the developers of that software applications and ask about it from them.
Matte or Glossy
Basically, Glossy screens provide the best color accuracy & brightness. But they easily reflect your surroundings. They’re most suited if you’ll be doing most of your work inside. Matte displays are most suited if you’ll be working in the outside. But their color accuracy & brightness level are not as high as in glossy screens. Personally, I prefer matte screens because then I know I can work from anywhere.
When choosing a keyboard, the first thing you should consider is how comfortable it is to use. Make sure the keys aren’t too small & aren’t cranked up against each other. Your fingers should be able to distinguish each key easily. A good keyboard should have about 18 mm – 19 mm distance from the center of each key, both horizontally & vertically. This’ll enhance the discoverability of each key. They should also be slightly curved (this enhances the landing accuracy of your fingertips because the curve ‘glides’ your fingers towards their middle) and should go down about 2 mm, at least.
Secondly, there are certain keys that programmers use a lot. So making sure that they’re easily accessible is also very beneficial. Now I’m not a professional computer programmer, but I’m a RedHat Certified Engineer and from time to time I write simple scripts, and I use ‘vim’ (a command-line editor) while editing.
I use the Esc, Ctrl, Shift, Backspace, Pg Up/Down, Delete, Home & End and the Arrow keys a lot. So ensuring they’re easily accessible is important to me. Personally I don’t like to use keyboards that force you to use the Fn key for activating Pg Up/Down, Home and End keys etc. I find them annoying. Unfortunately, most laptop keyboards are setup that way. Lenovo is known for manufacturing excellent keyboards, and unsurprisingly, most their laptops have dedicated keys for those functions.
But remember that, when it comes to laptops and keyboards, you won’t find one that has all these features. But ensuring that it’s at least comfortable to type on, is a must. If you’re buying a laptop with a screen size of 13.3”, avoid keyboards with number pads. These keyboards have cranked up keys (to make up for the space occupied by the number pad) that you won’t enjoy while typing.
It’s inside of the CPU where most the computations take place. But the data has to reach the CPU first. They’re (data) first copied from the Hard Disk Drive (the slowest) to the RAM (very fast), and then into the cache memory (fastest) of the CPU.
HDD or SSD?
As explained above, the hard disk drive is the main storage from which your files are first copied, but it’s also the most slowest. Since all others storages are more faster, by choosing a fast main storage device, you can greatly improve the overall performance of the laptop. If you want the laptop to boot fast & to open large programs faster, then go for an SSD. These are few times faster compared to the conventional rotational hard disk drives (HDDs). The downside of an SSD is that, they’re little pricey, thus come in somewhat small capacities compared to HDDs.
HDDs however, are much cheaper and have lots of room to store your data. Although they’re a bit slow compared to SSDs, you can always minimize their negative effect on the overall performance of the laptop by making sure there’s an ample amount of RAM.
Hard drives are also easy to replace. If your laptop have a HDD & you want to make the laptop run a little faster, then you should be able to replace it with an SSD easily.
RAM (Random Access Memory)
Nowadays the life of a computer programmer is more complicated. There are lots of operating systems and they run on different types of hardware devices (desktops, mobile phones, tablets etc) etc thus, it’s not unusual for a programmer to code inside a certain operating system, but required to test the program on a different one. This can be done by using emulators or virtual machines, but they’re very resource intensive software utilities. Thus having large amount of RAM is essential. I would say that you should make sure the laptop has at least 8 GB of RAM, going below that is not advisable.
Unless you’ll be compiling millions lines of code daily, you don’t have to get the fastest processor out there. Even a mid-powerful one should do. But all the laptops that I’ve chosen here have quite capable CPUs.
GPU (Graphical Processing Unit)
As a programmer, you don’t have to worry too much about having a powerful ‘VGA card’ (the conventional technical term for a GPU). Nowadays, almost all CPUs come with a GPU embedded into them. Such a CPU is called APU (Accelerated Processing Unit). And even the most lowest GPU nowadays can handle things like HD or Blu-ray video decoding.
Other things that matter
You buy a laptop because it’s portable. Except the things that I’ve already described to you, the other two main characteristics that define the portability of a computer is the weight & the battery life. Unless you’re going to purchase a laptop with a large screen (17” or more), make sure the weight stays 2.2 kg or lower, and it should be able to provide you with at least 5 hours of battery life, it’s useless otherwise.
This is actually an entire subject. Because Linux is a special operating system and there are few things that you should consider when buying a laptop that can comfortably run Linux. According to a recent survey carried out by stackoverflow.com, Linux is becoming an increasingly popular operating system among developers as well. Therefore, I recommend that you read my Best Ultrabook for Linux article to find out the type of hardware features of a laptop or of an Ultrabook you should consider, if you’re planning to run Linux on it.
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro – The Best All rounder (2.7 lbs, 13″ x 9″ x 0.5″ inches)
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro has a gorgeous 13.3” inch, 10-point multi-touch display (IPS) screen with 3200 x 1800 pixels with a pixel density of 276 pixels per inch.The viewing angles are great, colors look great (of course, it’s an IPS), brightness levels are also quite high, and it’s protected by a gorilla glass.
But yes, it’s a glossy screen, and being one it does reflect the surroundings, not a deal-breaker though. You can counteract this (to a certain degree) by increasing the brightness, but that’ll drain the battery more quickly. Speaking of which, the battery life as mentioned in the beginning, lasts about 5 to 6 hours only (or 6.5 hours, depending on your settings – brightness levels, doing CPU intensive tasks etc).
The screen can also be folded all the way around to the back, converting it into a tablet. The hinge that connects the screen to the body is made out of aluminum (including the outer body of the laptop in general) and has a strong hold in whatever position you put it as well. This is the latest 2016 model from Lenovo and it comes with a more roomy 512 GB SSD, an Intel Core M 5Y71 (a minor updated version) and compared to the previous release, it’s about tenth of a pound heavier. Otherwise, they’re both pretty much identical.
The (backlit) keyboard in Yoga 3 Pro is really comfortable to type on (yes I visited the Lenovo site to get a closer look, and watched a few reviews just to confirm this). I have a Dell laptop that has a nice keyboard, but I really like the shape of the keys on the Yoga 3 Pro. They have more vertical height and they’re more rounded at the bottom, compared Dell keys.
I’ve used a very similar looking keyboard on a slightly older Lenovo laptop, and I loved typing on it. My fingers were able easily ‘discover’ those keys, and I didn’t make a lot of mistakes when tying at high speeds (I’m no champion, I can barely go beyond 90 wpm at full throttle) as much as I would when using my Dell laptop.
Those maybe small enhances, but their influence is far greater. There are individual keys for Page Up and Down, but you’ll have to press the Function key for accessing the Home and the End keys. But Lenovo at least is cleaver enough to attach them to the Page Up & Down keys. The arrow keys are also quite spacious, and the palm rest area (or the inside of the laptop in general) is made out of rubberized plastic material that is very comfortable for resting the palms, and it also makes it easy to grip when using as a tablet as well.
The Delete key however is located near the Backspace key, which could be problematic to some users. But all in all, being a Lenovo, the keyboard is really good and a comfortable one to use. According to many users and reviewers, the track-pad is too is very comfortable to use, despite of having a ‘rocker-style’ button.
I was actually going to recommend the extremely popular Dell XPS 13 at first, but as soon as I saw its keyboard, I changed my mind. Its arrow keys are too narrow, and Page Up/Down, Home and End keys are associated with those narrow keys, and the shape of the keys in general are not as optimized as how they’re under the Yoga 3 Pro either. This is actually the main reason why I didn’t recommend the XPS 13 in the first place, that and, Lenovo is actually 77% more lightweight. Otherwise, XPS 13 an excellent machine too.
Yoga 3 Pro has 8 GB of RAM. It’s nothing impressive, but when coupled with the large SSD (512 GB) and the new Intel Core M processor, you should be able to run resources intensive software tools such as Virtualbox or VMware, along side your programming editor or the environment without any difficulty. The new Core M processor is more power efficient, quite capable and even under load it still runs without getting too hot. However, compared to the Core i5 processor of Dell XPS 13, it’s about 17% less powerful. That said, performance wise, it easily surpasses Core i3 processors, and some older i5 models as well.
Some reviewers have complained about the shorter battery life when compared to Apple Macbook Air and Dell XPS 13 (with the non-touch screen). But you have to keep in mind that Yoga 3 Pro has a touch screen which consumes more power, and it’s the most lightweight one from the three, and even though XPS 13 lasts about 8 hours + on a single charge, it’s weighs 77% more.
Yoga 3 Pro also features a 720p web-cam, Intel HD (shared) Graphics 5300, 4-in-1 card reader (SD, MMC, SDXC, SDHC), Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, 2 USB 3.0 ports, single USB 2.0 port and a Micro HDMI-out. It comes with Windows 8.1 pre-installed, but includes the free Windows 10 upgrade.
Summary: If you’re looking for a laptop that’s even more lightweight (1.2 kg) than the Macbook Air, an IPS display screen with QHD resolution, excellent programmer friendly keyboard and one that packs more than enough computational capability to meet your needs, then take the Yoga 3 Pro. I grade it as the best laptop for coding in 2016
*. (Yes it’s an ‘ultrabook’, not a ‘laptop’. But who cares about naming conventions, as long as it fits your needs and budget).
Toshiba Satellite C55-C5241 – Best Budget Laptop (4.8 lbs, 10.2” x 14.96” x 0.93 inches)
Until very recently, a screen resolution of 1366 x 768 for a laptop with a 13.3” – 15.6” screen was the norm. They may not be as sharp as the high pixel densities of newer screens, but I find them still more than adequate for daily use. And the other benefit of having a relatively small pixel density on a display screen is that you’re guaranteed that old applications will be displayed with the appropriate or the optimal size.
So if you have a tight budget, and you don’t actually need a high pixel density screen but looking for something that packs a lot of power, then trust me the Toshiba Satellite C55-C5241 is a great laptop. Yes the display viewing angles are not excellent and nor the brightness levels. But you don’t have to worry whether your programming environment or the coding application is going to have those scaling issues on this one. I personally guarantee, you will not run into such issues whatsoever with this display screen. Yes I have a high pixel density monitor on my desktop computer, but I still use my old laptop that has a 1366 x 768 resolution in a 13.3 inch screen, I really like it. From new metro applications to old programs, they all look good in it.
Toshiba actually includes the same Intel Core i5 processor (and the same GPU – Intel HD 5500) as the Dell XPS 13. It has 8 GB of RAM, 1 TB of rotational hard disk drive, a DVD writer and comes with Windows 10 pre-installed. It still weighs just as much as Dell XPS 13 does, and costs only about $499, although, you can get it for an insane $299, and the only thing that changes (at least according to Amazon) is the operating system which is Windows 8.
The keyboard may not be as good as the one that’s included in Yoga 3 Pro, but being a 15.6 inch laptop, due to the available space, it also includes a number pad too, though, it’s not backlit. There are separate keys for Home, End, Page Up & Page Down. You can also use the Function key when accessing the Page Up/Down, Home & End keys through the number pad as well. The arrow keys are a little narrow though. But this is a budget laptop, so my options were limited when considering features. One user has complained a bit about the keyboard, but he has big hands (his own words). But most consider it to be a good keyboard. Not excellent, but good. The touch-pad has two separate buttons. Usually, these are the easiest to use.
Other features include a 720p web-cam, Wi-Fi 802.11bgn, 1 USB 3.0 port and 2 USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet Jack (100 Mbps), Bluetooth 4.0, SDXC card reader and the battery can last anywhere from 5 hours to 6 hours depending on your usage (again, according to actual user feedback).
Summary: If you have a tight budget and think that you’ll wait another year a two before purchasing a high pixel density display, then Toshiba Satellite C55-C5241 packs some impressive hardware specifications at a very affordable price. With a weight 2.1 kg, it shouldn’t be difficult to carry around either.
Lenovo Z70 – Best Desktop Replacement (6.6 lbs, 16.5″ x 1″ x 11.1 inches)
Lenovo Z70 is a big and a heavy laptop. It has a 17.3 inch screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (HD) and it weighs 6.6 lbs (2.9 kg). Yes it’s carryable when equipped with a bag, otherwise you won’t enjoy it at all. This laptop is ideal for developers who work mostly from home. And that 1920 x 1080 on its 17.3 inch screen is no accident. I chose it carefully for a simple reason.
Yes, Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro has a gorgeous screen, but due to its high pixel density, old applications will have to be scaled at least 200% – 250% to retain their readability. And as mentioned in the beginning, this doesn’t always work well, yet. Toshiba won’t have this problem whatsoever and yes it has good screen, but it’s the least sharp one of the three. Lenovo Z70 sits right in the middle. It has a pixel density of 129.58 (pixels per inch), and yes, it’s sharp. But those old applications, even without scaling, should be readable to most people on this display. If you have ever used those netbooks that come with 12.1 inch screens with 1366 x 768 pixels, then the 17.3 inch display on the Lenovo Z70 has the same amount of pixel density.
When you run old applications on a 12.1 inch (1366 x 768) netbook, even though they’re smaller (about 34% compared to their originally intended size), they’re still readable. If the pixel density goes down even just a little bit, say the display on a 11.6 netbook with 1366 x 768 (such as Macbook Air 11) that has a pixel density of 4% more than of a 12.1 inch netbook, the eyes will find that things are difficult to read.
Also, when roughly calculated, this display will give you 20-25 % more workspace compared to the 13.3″ of that Lenovo Yoga 3 pro, although, things on that Yoga 3 Pro will have twice the sharpness. I’m not trying to sell you anything, but this is one of the benefits of this screen you’ll get.
The Z70 comes with an Intel Core i7 (5500u) processor and it’s the fastest of the three laptops. You also get 8 GB of RAM (go for the 16 GB configuration if you can), 1 TB HDD with 8 GB of SSD. That 8 GB of the fast SSD will be used to cache your frequently used data thus improving the overall performance. The Z70 also includes a mid-powerful NVIDIA GeForce GT840M GPU with 2 GB of RAM for video processing. It’s not the world’s fastest GPU, but you should be able to do some gaming on this laptop as well.
This is a laptop meant to be a desktop replacement and therefore, the keyboard has a number pad area. Since this is a 17.3 inch large laptop, you actually get four dedicated buttons for Home, End, Page Up and Page Down, although, they’re located at the top end of the keyboard so your finger will have to stretch a bit for reaching them.
However, they’re all located close to each other vertically. Plus, you can also use the Function key to access the same functions on the number pad as well. And from the user feedback, the keyboard is comfortable to type on. It’s not however, a backlit keyboard.
It has received few compliments on the touch-pad. It’s roomy, responds to touch quite well and has two separate buttons which is what I personally prefer. Although it may seem that it’s too drifted towards the left, percentage-wise, it’s pretty much where most laptops include their touch-pad. It looks as such because of that number pad. Unless you have quite big hands, this shouldn’t be an issue.
The Z70 also comes with Windows 8 pre-installed it seems. But you can freely upgrade to Windows 10. According to the users, it boots within 30 seconds (doesn’t say under which operating system though). Lenovo says the battery can last 4 hours, but 2.30 – 3 hours should be an acceptable range. This shouldn’t be a surprise because after all it’s a 17.3″ (HD) laptop that has powerful hardware.
Other features include a DVD burner, HDMI-VGA output, Wi-Fi 802.11 & Ethernet adapter, Bluetooth 4.0, 720p web-cam (I couldn’t find it on Amazon, but it’s there in Lenovo’s product page), 1 USB 3.0 port, 2 USB 2.0 ports and a 4-in-1 card reader.
Summary: As a developer, if you’re looking for something to continue your work after coming home from work, and weight and battery life are not your concerns, then Lenovo Z70 is the perfect choice for you. It’s a quite powerful laptop that has a big (but still sharp) display screen. While you can still carry it around, it’s more likely a desktop replacement.
Well, we’re actually at the end of the article. I sincerely hope that as a coder or a developer you were able to find the best laptop that suits your needs, even though, there were only three to choose from. I’m not fixed on any number, therefore, if you have suggestions, I’ll be more than happy to consider them. Thank you for reading, and good luck.