Ever since smartphones ate the world whole, tapping and touching screens has become an expectation in new gear you buy. But tap the screen on any given laptop in your local electronics superstore, and it's a roll of the dice whether you'll get a response, or just an oily fingerprint.
At PCMag, we test hundreds of computers a year, many with touch screens, many without. Based on our in-labs testing and deep-dive reviews, we've compiled above the best touch-equipped machines that have passed through our hands. Below, let's run through the basics of laptop touch screens and why you might (or might not) want one.
First of all, some terminology. In most cases, a touch-screen-equipped laptop has a conductive digitizing layer, overlaid on the panel element, that allows for tap, pinch, or swipe input. Most modern laptops make use of what's known as capacitive touch input, in which the over-screen layer detects where you've touched with one or more fingers using the conductivity of your skin. This layer is typically a grid of ultra-fine wires, or a film; it needs to be subtle or translucent enough to not interfere with viewability.
That electrical aspect explains why touch screens don't work if you're wearing gloves. This is in contrast to the resistive touch technology you might see in other implementations of touch screens, in which the upper layer covering the screen flexes. When you write or tap on a resistive screen, that upper layer closes a circuit with another layer beneath it. (Having to press a little to, say, sign your name on a screen is an earmark of resistive touch.)
Back to capacitive, though. The capacitive touch layer maps your finger or pen input to coordinates on the screen that determine the position of your touch. Also detected are parameters such as tap speed, whether you've tapped versus swiped, or if you've executed a multi-finger touch gesture. Note that tap pressure sensitivity is not a parameter that is typically detected through simple finger touch, though certain touch implementations and stylus pens might transmit that. More on those later.
A few panels use an infrared X/Y axis-mapping technology, in which sensors in the bezel cross-reference an interruption of their beams at a specific intersecting screen location, but the employment of this tech in laptops is rare. It's usually seen only in cases where the panel is very large, or uses a display technology that is not available in a variant that can accept capacitive touch (or is cost-prohibitive).
Note that the screens in a given laptop family may come with options for touch and non-touch versions. This is the case with some mainstream and business-oriented clamshell laptops, especially ones in model lines that sell in lots of subtly different retail configurations, or that have many tweakable configuration options when sold direct. When looking at one of these machines, be very much cognizant whether or not the particular screen or screen option you are looking at supports touch.
For example, a laptop might offer a choice of a 1080p (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) touch screen or a 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) display without touch support. Or there might be both touch and non-touch options available at 1080p. Attention to detail matters here.
BUDGET CLAMSHELLS. Most low-cost machines that are straight-up laptops (that is, models that do not have 2-in-1-type hinges or tablet modes) will not have touch screens, but you'll run across the occasional exception. In under-$500 machines, a touch screen should be seen as a pleasant surprise, not a given. Exception: 2-in-1s, more about which in a moment. (For more, see our picks for the best budget laptops.)
MAINSTREAM AND BUSINESS CLAMSHELLS. You'll see the most varied mix of touch and non-touch models here. This is the category most likely to be fraught with touch versus non-touch models in the same system family. You may be able to specify one or the other type of screen at the time of purchase, or different configurations in the same line may feature different screen types. Look for this especially in product lines like Lenovo's ThinkPad or Dell's XPS. (For more, see our picks for the best business laptops.)
2-IN-1 CONVERTIBLES AND DETACHABLES. By their very nature, all 2-in-1 machines will have touch screens. When you're using a 360-degree-rotating 2-in-1 in tent or tablet mode, you don't have access to the keyboard, so touch input is essential in those modes. Likewise in a detachable 2-in-1: Remove the keyboard, and all you're left with for input is your tapping fingers or a stylus, Indeed, a key differentiator here is whether the 2-in-1 additionally supports stylus input, and if so, whether the stylus is included or costs extra. A high-profile example of the latter: the Microsoft Surface devices, which mandate $99 for their complementing Surface Pen stylus. (For more, see our picks for the best convertible laptops.)
GAMING LAPTOPS. Most gaming laptops have 15- or 17-inch screens, and very few offer touch input. PC gamers don't have much use for touch input (PC games aren't written to support it), and implementing a touch screen would reduce what is an often already-challenged battery. (For more, see our picks for the best gaming laptops.)
GIANT-SCREEN MACHINES. It's rare to see a laptop of any stripe with a 17-inch display that supports touch input. Touch-panel implementations at that size are pricey and simply not cost-effective. They're also not very practical: As we said, many touch-screen laptops are 2-in-1s, and a 17-inch tablet would be pretty unwieldy. The 2022 Dell XPS 17 is the rare recent 17-inch touch model. (See our favorite 17-inch laptops.)
CHROMEBOOKS. Touch screens did not feature in early Chromebook models, but we're seeing them in more and more new ones. With the emergence of 2-in-1 convertible Chromebooks (most are 360-degree-rotating designs, though a few feature detachable displays), touch is becoming more common in this class, especially as support for Android apps has become the norm on these machines. (For more, see our picks for the best Chromebooks.)
APPLE MACBOOKS. Sorry! No current Mac desktop or MacBook laptop supports touch screen input, unless you count the thin Touch Bar touch strip forward of the keyboard on a few MacBook Pro models. (The Touch Bar is merely a contextual-shortcut strip that adapts to the program at hand.) The macOS operating system isn't optimized for touch. In the Apple-sphere, full touch displays are reserved for the company's iPhones and iPads.
WILL YOU ACTUALLY USE IT? Think about how you actually work or play, day to day, before insisting on a touch panel. If your main PC activity is mincing through fine-celled spreadsheets, jabbing a touch screen with a finger might not afford the precision or utility you need for operations. If you spend most of your time tapping from YouTube vid to YouTube vid, on the other hand, touch can be a delight.
Also consider the ergonomic aspects. To use a touch panel much, you'll be reaching from keyboard to screen, which can clash with your workflow on a clamshell machine. So make sure that kind of reaching jibes with your day-to-day usage. Alternately, if you'll often be tapping at music- and movie-playback controls on the screen or poking frenetically at YouTube thumbnails, consider a 2-in-1 that you can prop up in A-frame or tent mode, in which tapping the screen makes more sense and requires less reaching.
ARE YOU GOOD WITH GLOSSY? Most touch screens have a glossy facing that extends across both the screen and its bezels (the borders surrounding the screen). Matte-finish touch screens are uncommon. The seamless bezel coverage allows for side-in swipes and prevents interruption of your tap and swipe activity near the screen's periphery. That's fine if you like glossy screens, and they can enhance the perceived vividness of the panel. But know that screens of this kind are more prone to smudging, and they tend to be afflicted by glare outdoors or under harsh indoor lighting more than matte panels are. Keep a lens cleaning cloth handy.
Separate from simple tap, swipe, and pinch actions on the screen, pen support requires a touch-capable screen. If sketching or handwritten note-taking are part of how you work, you'll want to investigate the pen options available in a given touch-screen laptop.
Windows Ink, which was introduced in a 2016 update to Windows 10, can also be a compelling reason to investigate the stylus capabilities of a given touch-enabled laptop. With the introduction of Ink came support for Sticky Notes, Sketchpad, and Screen Sketch within the OS. With Sticky Notes, you can scrawl on virtual Post-It notes and have Cortana interpret relevant information from your scribbles, such as email addresses and phone numbers, and make them actionable. Sketchpad lets you do freeform drawing with basic tools, while Screen Sketch lets you annotate onscreen images freehand, great for UI designers, developers, or others who work with graphical elements that need feedback. Other pen-enabled apps appear in the Windows Ink Workspace, a pen-centric panel that you can pop up with an icon in your taskbar.
That's where our reviews come in. Our rankings above and below line up our current-favorite clamshells, detachables, rotating 2-in-1s, and Chromebooks that support touch. Note that if you find one you like and decide to order from an e-tailer, we strongly recommend that you double-check that the specific model you're looking at (especially if it's a configurable clamshell) actually does include the touch-screen option.
In the case of a few models in our ranking, the specific model may support a touch-screen option, but we may have reviewed a non-touch version and our online pricing links may point to that. Bear that in mind if you click through to an e-tailer.
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