[Review] The Best Windows Ultrabook

Ultrabooks are marvels of engineering: powerful laptops with long battery life wrapped up in thin and light packages. Even though almost all ultrabooks are good nowadays, only a few are great. After more than 95 hours of research and testing since 2015, we think that the Dell XPS 13 is still the best Windows ultrabook for most people, though it’s no longer the obvious pick it once was. Still, despite the competition catching up, the XPS 13’s long battery life, compact, light body, and good keyboard and trackpad continue to make it the best option.

Our favorite model doesn’t have a touchscreen and its webcam is poorly placed. If those are dealbreakers for you, we have a convertible pick with a touchscreen, an excellent budget recommendation, and options with higher-resolution screens, too.

Our pick

Dell XPS 13

The Dell XPS 13 has among the longest battery life of any Windows ultrabook; a great screen, keyboard, and trackpad; and a thin, light chassis.

The XPS 13 configuration we recommend costs around $1,100 and has a seventh-generation Intel Core i5-7200U processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB solid-state drive, a fingerprint reader, a Thunderbolt 3 port, and a 13.3-inch 1080p display. Dell packed all this into a 12-inch chassis by shrinking the bezel around the screen to a teensy 5 millimeters—a couple years ago this was revolutionary, but it’s become the standard as other manufacturers have ditched the bezel to make smaller, lighter laptops. But the XPS 13’s tiny bezel shunts the webcam to the left corner beneath the screen, so you should be prepared for some unflattering nostril and chin angles during video calls. (Our runner-up also has a skinny bezel but keeps the webcam in the top center, so if you use a webcam all the time, skip ahead.) That minor flaw aside, the Dell XPS 13’s excellent battery life, comfortable keyboard, good trackpad, and reasonable price make it the best ultrabook for getting work done in the office or on the go.

Runner-up

HP Spectre x360

The HP Spectre x360 is the best convertible ultrabook. It’s a bit less expensive than our top pick, but it has shorter battery life and is a bit larger and heavier.

If you want a convertible laptop—one with a 360-degree hinge that allows you to flip the screen around to use the laptop like a tablet, or in any intermediate position—and don’t mind sacrificing some battery life and carrying a larger, slightly heavier laptop, you should get the HP Spectre x360. Specifically, we recommend the model with a 1080p touchscreen, an Intel Core i5-7200U processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB solid-state drive. The Spectre x360 typically costs a bit less than the XPS 13 for similar specs and build quality, plus its webcam is in the right place. Its keyboard, trackpad, and screen are all as good as the XPS 13’s, but the x360’s shorter battery life—6 hours, 27 minutes in our test, about an hour short of the Dell XPS 13—and slightly larger, heavier body keep it from being our top pick for most people.

Budget pick

Asus ZenBook UX330UA

A ridiculously good inexpensive laptop, but it’s larger than our other picks, has a less reliable trackpad, and lacks Thunderbolt 3.

If you’re on a budget but still need a quality ultrabook, the Asus ZenBook UX330UA is fantastic for its price. Slim and light, it has great battery life, a good backlit keyboard, and a fingerprint reader. Its specs are nearly identical to those of our top pick—except for a slower solid-state drive—but it costs about $350 less. The only things holding the ZenBook back from being our top pick are its less reliable trackpad, larger size, and lack of Thunderbolt 3. But if those features aren’t worth several hundred dollars to you, you should get the ZenBook.

If you don’t mind paying more in cash and battery life for a higher-resolution screen, skip ahead to our upgrade options section to check out our recommendations. Whichever model you get, be sure to get enough RAM and memory at the start, because you can’t upgrade most ultrabooks later.

Why you should trust us

I’ve tested, lived with, and reviewed hundreds of laptops (including around 40 Windows ultrabooks) in my career, and I’ve spent hands-on time with countless other models while covering the CES trade show, attending events, and visiting stores. I covered Asus’s ZenBook announcement back in October 2011, when some of the very first Windows ultrabooks were officially announced, and I’ve followed the category closely since.

Who this is for

Ultrabooks are for people who need a super-portable laptop with good performance and a long-lasting battery to get work done, and who don’t mind paying a premium for it. The ideal ultrabook has enough processing power to plow through work and sufficient battery life to survive a cross-country flight, and is still slim and light enough to take anywhere. But ultrabooks also cost more than your typical laptop: Expect to pay between $700 and $1,500; the sweet spot is roughly $1,100 to $1,200.

You shouldn’t buy an ultrabook if you need discrete graphics for gaming or video editing work, if you need a business-class workhorse with lots of ports and a removable battery, or if you’re on a tight budget. (If you prefer Macs, you should probably get a 13-inch MacBook Pro. If you prefer Windows, you’re in the right place.) You also shouldn’t get an ultrabook if upgradeability is important to you. Though some laptops have user-upgradeable SSD and RAM, most ultrabooks don’t.

Check out our “What laptop should I buy?” guide if you’re not sure which laptop is best for your needs.

Should you upgrade?

If you’re happy with your current laptop, you don’t need to upgrade. But if your computer is nearing the end of its life span—applications load slowly, the computer takes forever to boot, and the battery doesn’t last more than a few hours on a full charge—you’re probably considering your options. In most cases you can improve loading and boot times by upgrading from a mechanical hard drive to a solid-state drive and adding more RAM, but if these aren’t options, and a fresh install of Windows doesn’t help things, it’s time for a new laptop.

A good laptop should last at least four years. If you bought an ultrabook in the past few years, with a fourth-, fifth-, or sixth-generation processor (Haswell, Broadwell, or Skylake, respectively), you probably don’t need to upgrade yet. Intel’s Kaby Lake processors—used in our top picks—offer a very small increase in performance and battery life over the previous generation, Skylake. (That generation was a larger upgrade over its predecessor, Broadwell, but not an earth-shattering improvement.) You may gain a few hours of battery life, but that isn’t worth the cost of a brand-new laptop, and you won’t see a big increase in performance. If you have an ultrabook from 2012 or earlier, you’ll get only a bit more processing power, but the bigger SSD and far better battery life of a new laptop still might make upgrading worthwhile.

What makes a good ultrabook

windowsultrabooks-lowres-7712

A great ultrabook should be powerful enough for everyday work, but it also must be thin, light, and efficient enough to use on the go. Photo: Michael Hession

The minimum specs for a great ultrabook in early 2017 are a seventh-generation (Kaby Lake) Intel processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB of solid-state storage, and six hours of battery life per charge. It should have a 12- to 14-inch screen with a resolution of 1920×1080 or higher. Though a touchscreen is nice to have, it isn’t necessary.

An ultrabook should be as thin and light as possible—these things are supposed to be ultraportable, after all—but a well-built, slightly thicker laptop is better than a thin ultrabook that feels flimsy, or that has poor battery life. A good keyboard and trackpad are also crucial, and an ultrabook should have decent speakers and shouldn’t get too hot or too loud. You can get a great ultrabook for less than $1,300, and you should never pay more than $1,500 for one. If you’re spending $1,500 or more, you’re getting into the realm of a MacBook Pro or a gaming laptop.

In 2017, an Intel Core i5-6200U or i5-7200U processor or better should be powerful enough for most work. You’ll see some ultrabooks with Intel’s ultra-low-voltage (ULV) processors, with model names like Intel Core i5-7Y54—look for the Y in place of a number. (These chips used to be part of Intel’s Core M line, but Intel rebranded them as Core i processors, just to make things more confusing.) These ULV processors—designed for laptops, tablets, and two-in-one devices—aren’t as powerful as Intel’s traditional Core processors, but they are more battery efficient and don’t require cooling fans, unlike standard laptop processors. In the past, ULV machines were too slow for us to recommend, but this year we’ve tested some that are quick enough for routine laptop work.

An ultrabook needs a 12- to 14-inch screen—large enough for you to do your work, but small enough for the machine to remain ultraportable—with a resolution of at least 1920×1080.  That screen should be IPS, not TN, because IPS offers much better viewing angles and is more color-accurate. Higher-resolution screens—think 4K—are now commonplace, but they’re not necessarily ideal for ultrabooks: A higher resolution means a sharper picture, but in an ultraportable with a 13-inch screen, that benefit is hard to see and probably isn’t worth the reduced battery life.

Touchscreens are common on Windows laptops nowadays, but those systems come with trade-offs, including more glare (because of the glossier touchscreen glass) and reduced battery life. For these reasons, and because Microsoft has de-emphasized touch controls, we don’t think a touchscreen is necessary on an ultrabook.

Our pick: Dell XPS 13

windowsultrabooks-lowres-7611

The Dell XPS 13 (non-touch) is the best Windows ultrabook for most people. Photo: Michael Hession

Our pick

Dell XPS 13

The Dell XPS 13 has among the longest battery life of any Windows ultrabook; a great screen, keyboard, and trackpad; and a thin, light chassis.

The 2016 non-touchscreen Dell XPS 13 is the best Windows ultrabook for most people because it’s thin and light; its battery life is among the longest we’ve seen; and it has a great screen, a good keyboard and trackpad, and a healthy mix of new and old ports. Previous versions of the XPS 13 have been our top pick since early 2015, but other laptops have gotten better while the XPS 13’s design has stood still—it’s not as far ahead of the pack as it once was, but it’s still the best Windows ultrabook for most people’s needs.

It packs a 13.3-inch 1080p screen into a 12-inch body, and the configuration we recommend has an Intel Core i5-7200U processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB PCIe solid-state drive. We also recommend spending $25 extra to get a fingerprint reader. Most people should get the non-touchscreen XPS 13, but you can get a touch model if you don’t mind spending more and getting shorter battery life. Both XPS 13 models are available in rose gold instead of the default silver for $50 more.

windowsultrabooks-lowres-7693

The Dell XPS 13 (top) is the most compact of our picks. Photo: Michael Hession

The Dell XPS 13 weighs just 2.7 pounds and measures 12 by 7.9 by 0.6 inches, which was impressive in early 2015—it had a more compact body and weighed less than the 3-pound MacBook Air with the same screen size. But now a handful of other ultrabooks are even thinner or lighter: the Acer Swift 7, HP Spectre, 12-inch MacBook, and Asus ZenBook 3 (to name a few) all have the XPS 13 beat. But most of these thinner and lighter laptops lag far behind the XPS 13 in battery life.

The non-touch XPS 13’s battery life is still among the best you’ll find in a Windows ultrabook, but other laptops are catching up here, too. The late-2016 model lasted 7 hours, 21 minutes in our Web-browsing battery tests. The Lenovo Yoga 910 and Asus ZenBook UX330UA both had better battery life, but the HP Spectre x360 lagged behind by about an hour. The thinner, lighter options mentioned above (with the exception of the 12-inch MacBook and ZenBook 3) didn’t even last 5 hours in the same test. In our latest round of testing, battery life was the biggest differentiator.

windowsultrabook-lowres-3603

The XPS 13’s trackpad is comfortable and responsive. Photo: Michael Hession

Our pick’s trackpad is accurate and responsive, with precise tap-to-click and a satisfying (but not too loud) physical click. The trackpad never dropped swipes in my testing, and worked well for two- and three-finger gestures. It still isn’t the best I’ve used, but it’s comparable to most good current Windows trackpads. I never caught myself reaching for a mouse out of frustration, and that’s as good as it gets.
windowsultrabooks-lowres-7642

The XPS 13’s brilliant screen is surrounded by a teensy bezel. Photo: Michael Hession

The Dell’s 13.3-inch IPS screen is brilliant, with good color reproduction and fantastic viewing angles. It has a matte coating that prevents glare without being distracting. The 1080p screen is particularly immersive because of its teeny-tiny 5.2 mm bezel, a trend that other laptop makers have finally caught up on. The screen is great for getting work done and watching movies, but the narrow bezel pushes the webcam to an inconvenient location.
windowsultrabooks-lowres-7654

The soft-touch coating on the palm rest is particularly comfy. Photo: Michael Hession

The Dell XPS 13’s aluminum body is sleek and sturdy, and the lid has minimal flex. Its carbon-fiber–composite palm rest is coated in textured, soft-touch, black paint, which makes for a comfortable, non-sweaty surface. (We haven’t encountered any issues with flaking paint or scratching on any of XPS 13 models we’ve tested in the past two years, and we haven’t seen any complaints online.) The middle of the keyboard flexes a little under heavy pressure, but overall, the Dell looks and feels like the premium laptop it is.

Who else likes our pick

The Dell XPS 13 is unanimously well-liked, and most reviewers also prefer the 1080p model over the QHD touchscreen configuration.

Laptop Mag named the 2016 Dell XPS 13 the best laptop of 2016 and gave it an Editors’ Choice award. The full review concludes, “The big trend in laptops right now is making your system as thin and light as possible but at the expense of shorter battery life and too few ports. The XPS 13 doesn’t cave to that peer pressure, and instead gives you nearly 14 hours of endurance and all the connection options you need in a design that’s plenty light and compact for travel. […] Yes, the webcam is still in a weird place, but overall, the XPS 13 remains the laptop to beat.”

Ars Technica’s Peter Bright gives the XPS 13 a mostly positive review, but laments the laptop’s stagnant design: “The XPS 13 has had a reign of almost two years during which it was arguably the best all-round conventional PC laptop available. It’s still an attractive, desirable system, but it’s no longer the obvious winner that it once was. The fact is, the design has stood still; while the Skylake refresh added Thunderbolt 3, Dell’s failure to do anything about the webcam rankles. […] The XPS 13 hasn’t become worse; it’s just that it hasn’t improved—and at a time that its competition has.”

PCWorld’s review calls the latest XPS 13 “arguably one of the best if not the best laptop available” but cautions, “Not that anyone should be resting on their laurels, because the competition isn’t going to sit still for much longer. For now though, it would be hard to beat the XPS 13.”

PCMag gave the high-res Touch model an Editors’ Choice award, concluding, “With powerful hardware, a high-resolution screen, and both USB 3.0 and USB-C ports, the Dell XPS 13 Touch is the best ultraportable laptop for power users right now.”

The VergeLaptop MagArs Technica, and PCMag all loved the late-2015 model—with its smaller battery, Intel’s previous-generation processors, and different Wi-Fi card—as well.


Runner-up with a 360-degree hinge: HP Spectre x360

windowsultrabooks-lowres-7622
The HP Spectre x360 is the best option if you want a 360-degree hinge. Photo: Michael Hession

Runner-up

HP Spectre x360

The HP Spectre x360 is the best convertible ultrabook. It’s a bit less expensive than our top pick, but it has shorter battery life and is a bit larger and heavier.

If you want a 360-degree hinge and don’t mind sacrificing some battery life and carrying a slightly larger and heavier laptop, you should get the HP Spectre x360. The 2016 model fixes nearly all of the minor issues we’ve had with previous models: HP shrunk the screen bezel without moving the webcam from the top-center of the screen, and reduced the size and weight of the laptop without sacrificing any battery life. The Spectre x360 is now comparable to the Dell XPS 13, with fast, PCIe solid-state storage, a USB-A port for older devices, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports (one more than the Dell). It’s our favorite convertible laptop, but the x360’s shorter battery life and slightly larger body keep it from being our top laptop pick for most people.

The Spectre x360 typically costs less than the XPS 13 for similar specs, but it includes a touchscreen and a hinge that lets you flip the screen all the way around to use the laptop like an ungainly tablet (or in any intermediate position). We recommend the configuration with a 1080p touchscreen, an Intel Core i5-7200U processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB solid-state drive. For around $150 more you can get a Core i7-7500U processor and 16 GB of RAM if you really need it.
windowsultrabooks-lowres-7657

The HP Spectre x360 has shorter battery life than our top pick but will still last you a full workday. Photo: Michael Hession

Again, the HP Spectre x360 doesn’t match the XPS 13 in battery life, but it comes close enough. In our testing of the 2016 models, the Spectre x360 lasted 6 hours, 27 minutes, and the non-touch Dell XPS 13 lasted 7 hours, 21 minutes. That’s long enough to last a full work day, unlike the ultrabooks we tested that clocked in under 5 hours on our battery test.
windowsultrabooks-lowres-7625

The HP’s 360-degree hinge allows the laptop to flip around into tent mode, and its skinny bezels make the screen look larger. Photo: Michael Hession

The Spectre x360 has a 13.3-inch, 1920×1080 IPS display just like our top pick, but with the added bonus of a touchscreen and 360-degree hinge. The newest version of the x360 has a much skinnier bezel than previous models—this makes the laptop a bit harder to grip in tablet mode, but in exchange makes the body smaller and lighter and the screen look more immersive. We’re happy that HP managed to shrink the x360’s bezels without moving the webcam from the top middle where it belongs. If you do frequent video calls, the x360 may be a better option than the XPS 13.
windowsultrabooks-lowres-7673

The Spectre x360 keeps one USB-A port for existing accessories. Photo: Michael Hession

The HP has a power button on the left side and a volume rocker the right. These buttons are intended for use in tablet mode, but the power button in particular is inconvenient because you can press it by mistake when picking up the laptop. The Spectre x360 supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2, and HP includes a one-year limited warranty with one year of chat support and 90 days of phone support.
windowsultrabooks-lowres-7733

During the day the lettering is harder to see with the backlight on. Photo: Michael Hession

But because the keyboard is silver, the keyboard backlight makes the dark lettering more difficult to see during the day by creating a silver-on-silver effect. The backlight is also unevenly distributed, making some keys—like the { key on our review unit—appear brighter than all the rest, and the backlight behind others, like Caps Lock, fades in and out across the key. At least the backlight toggle function key is no longer permanently lit, like it was on previous versions of the x360.


Budget pick: Asus ZenBook UX330UA

windowsultrabooks-lowres-7633
If you’re on a budget, the Asus ZenBook UX330UA is a great ultrabook. Photo: Michael Hession

Budget pick

Asus ZenBook UX330UA

A ridiculously good inexpensive laptop, but it’s larger than our other picks, has a less reliable trackpad, and lacks Thunderbolt 3.

If you want a great ultrabook but don’t have a thousand dollars to spend, we recommend the Asus ZenBook UX330UA, which sells for around $750 at the time of this writing. It’s a ridiculously good laptop for the price, and we nearly made it our top pick over the XPS 13. The ZenBook UX330UA is inexpensive, slim, and light, and it has great battery life, a good backlit keyboard, and a fingerprint reader. Its specs are nearly identical to those of our top pick—except for a slower, SATA solid-state drive—but it costs about $350 less. We recommend the UX330UA-AH54 configuration with an Intel Core i5-7200U processor, 8 GB of memory, and a 256 GB solid-state drive.

The only things holding the ZenBook back from being our top pick are its less reliable trackpad and larger body compared with the XPS 13, and its lack of Thunderbolt 3. (The ZenBook does have one USB-C port, but the laptop cannot charge via this port and it’s USB 3.1 Gen 1, which isn’t any faster than USB 3.0.) If these features aren’t worth several hundred dollars to you, then you should get the ZenBook.
windowsultrabooks-lowres-7649

The Asus ZenBook UX330 (big spoon) isn’t as compact as the Dell XPS 13 (little spoon), but it is imperceptibly lighter. Photo: Michael Hession

The ZenBook takes up more bag space than our other picks, measuring 12.7 inches wide, 8.7 inches deep, and half an inch thick. That’s nearly an inch wider than both the Dell XPS 13 and Spectre x360, and almost an inch deeper than the XPS 13. But at 2.6 pounds, the ZenBook is a bit lighter than the XPS 13 and Spectre x360, which weigh 2.7 and 2.85 pounds, respectively.

In our battery test, the Asus ZenBook UX330UA lasted 8 hours and 3 minutes, by far the longest of the Windows ultrabooks we tested in late 2016 and early 2017. Aside from our picks—the Dell XPS 13 and HP Spectre x360—most other Windows ultrabooks we tested in the past couple years don’t even come close, with the majority running dry before the six-hour mark.
ultrabooks-asus-zenbook-keyboard-backlight-630

The keyboard of the ZenBook UX330UA has backlighting, unlike previous models. GIF: Michael Hession

Asus improved upon some of the biggest flaws of our previous budget pick, the ZenBook UX305UA, by adding a keyboard backlight, improving the screen and speakers, and including a USB-C port. The UX330UA’s keyboard feels better than its predecessor’s, too, with soft, springy keys that feel only a little mushy when depressed. But unlike the keyboard on our other picks, the ZenBook’s top row is configured as standard function (F) keys, so you have to hold down Fn to alter screen brightness or volume.
windowsultrabooks-lowres-7682

The ZenBook UX330 has a fingerprint reader on the trackpad. Photo: Michael Hession

The UX330UA’s trackpad, however, is a bit of a step back. In my testing, its smooth, glossy service was almost too responsive at times, triggering two- and three-finger gestures I didn’t intend, and zooming past things I meant to click on. The physical left- and right- clicks are mushy and quiet, rather than crisp and snappy like on a good trackpad. This made it difficult to feel clicks. The trackpad works decently most of the time, but it’s a bit more frustrating to use than the trackpads on our other picks. The fingerprint reader worked quickly every time (though I haven’t yet encountered a fingerprint reader on a Windows ultrabook that doesn’t).

The ZenBook’s metal body feels solid and doesn’t flex or creak under pressure, and its lid has a snazzy concentric-circle pattern. The hinge glides open and shut smoothly, but the lid and screen can wobble a bit more than we’d like. For the price, the ZenBook UX330UA is amazingly well-made.
windowsultrabooks-lowres-7681

The UX330UA has one USB-C port, but it can’t charge the laptop. Photo: Michael Hession

The UX330UA has a mix of new and old ports, so it should be compatible with your existing peripherals as well as new ones released over the next few years. The ZenBook has one USB-C port, which we’re happy to see, but it’s USB 3.1 Gen 1 and the laptop cannot charge via this port—we’d rather Asus include a faster, more capable Thunderbolt 3 port. It also has two USB 3.0 ports, a Micro HDMI port, a combo audio jack, an SD card slot, and a proprietary charging port, and it supports current-generation 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1.

Care and maintenance

If you purchase one of our picks, we recommend checking out our guide to setting up your brand-new Windows computer, where we cover everything you need to know about making sure your PC runs quickly and securely out of the box.

Basic laptop care and maintenance rules apply to ultrabooks: Wipe your screen with a soft cloth and just a bit of soapy water (applied to the cloth, not the screen), use compressed air to remove particles from your keyboard and vents, and don’t spill liquids all over the keys.

None of our picks—the Dell XPS 13, the HP Spectre x360, and the Asus ZenBook UX330UA—have upgradeable RAM. You can upgrade the solid-state drive in the Asus ZenBook, but doing so in the Dell XPS 13 or the HP Spectre x360 may void your warranty at the manufacturer’s discretion.

If you don’t have one of our picks, use Crucial’s Upgrade Advisor to figure out whether your machine’s RAM or SSD is upgradable (and check with your manufacturer to find out if making such a change will void your warranty).

What to look forward to

At the Computex Taipei trade show in May 2017, Samsung debuted the Notebook 9 Pro. The 13.3-inch Notebook 9 Pro has a seventh-generation Intel Core processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD, and support for Samsung’s S Pen. Samsung hasn’t released availability or pricing information for the Notebook 9 Pro, but we’ll update this guide when it does.

Also at Computex, Asus announced the ZenBook 3 Deluxe, an ultrabook with a 14-inch Full HD display. Although we don’t have availability information yet, we do know that the ZenBook 3 Deluxe will have a starting price of $1,200 and will be available with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD.

In addition, Asus introduced its thinnest two-in-one convertible, the Flip S, which has a 13.3-inch 4K display. Asus claims that the Flip S has 11.5 hours of battery life, but we’ll have to test that for ourselves. It will cost $1,100 when it ships in September.

Asus has also announced the release of its ZenBook UX430UA ultrabook, a light and compact 13-inch model with a 14-inch antiglare display. At just under 16 mm thick, this Asus machine promises a better all-around experience with the combination of Windows 10, a seventh-generation Intel Core i7 processor, and up to 16 GB of storage. Its dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi supposedly allows it to connect to the Internet six times faster than ultrabooks with 802.11n Wi-Fi cards. We’re looking forward to putting the nine hours of battery life—and the Bluetooth 4.1 technology, which connects to devices without draining it—to the test. Asus has not issued specific pricing or US release date information.

In May 2017, Lenovo announced the thin and light IdeaPad 320S and 720S. Both IdeaPads offer a 14-inch, 1080p IPS display, as well as a seventh-generation Intel Core processor. The 320S has a plastic body and up to 8 GB of RAM, while the aluminum 720S offers the option of 16 GB. The 720S will also have a dedicated graphics card and USB-C with Thunderbolt. The 320S and 720S will cost $740 and $970, respectively, when they go on sale in June.

Microsoft announced the Surface Laptop, a 13.5-inch ultrabook that runs Windows 10 S, a lighter version of the operating system that runs only apps from the Windows Store. (Owners can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro at any point for an additional $50.) The Surface laptop starts at $1,000 but costs $1,300 with our recommended specs. We’ll watch for it when it starts shipping in mid-June.

Razer released an updated version of its Blade Stealth laptop this summer. According to The Verge, the revised model features significant hardware upgrades, including more RAM and a better trackpad. The 13.3-inch laptop also has a much thinner bezel than the one we tested in 2016. We’re currently working on calling a new Blade Stealth in for testing, and we will include our thoughts in the next update to this guide.

Acer announced the Swift 3 at its April 2017 press conference. Although the new model is a little heavy at 3.3 pounds, we’ll keep an eye on the Swift 3 as a potential contender to test against our current budget pick for the next update. It will be available in June for around $600.

At CES 2017, HP announced that it would add a 4K option to our runner-up, the 13-inch HP Spectre x360. We’ll update our upgrade options section when that option is available. HP will also add active pen support to both the 1080p and 4K models of the Spectre x360, but has not yet announced a ship date for this refresh.

Samsung refreshed the Notebook 9 with Intel’s seventh-generation processors and a smaller bezel. A Samsung representative told us at CES 2017 that the company did not make any changes to improve the Notebook 9’s battery life, so we’ll see how the updated model fares.

LG announced new models of the Gram laptop at CES 2017. The 13.3-inch, non-touch LG Gram 13Z970 costs $1,000, while its touchscreen counterpart costs $100 more. Both come with Intel Core i5 processors, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of solid-state storage.

LG also has two 14-inch touch 14Z970 models: one with an Intel Core i5, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage, and the other with an i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. They cost $1,200 and $1,500, respectively. Previous models received poor reviews from numerous publications: Laptop Mag cites the laptop’s “short battery life and hollow keyboard,” and CNET writes, “Battery life is unimpressive, and the body on our review unit was creaky.”

We are currently considering Huawei’s slim ultrabook, the MateBook X, which comes in 256 GB and 512 GB versions (for about $1,000 and $1,200, respectively). Like the MacBook, the MateBook X has limited inputs (though Huawei does provide two USB-C ports). But according to Engadget, “Huawei had the courtesy to include a dongle with USB-A, USB-C, HDMI and VGA access.” We’ll call a MateBook X in for testing if initial reviews are promising.

The competition

The fifth-generation Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a wonderful laptop that felt like silk beneath my fingers. Thin and light, it offers battery life on a par with that of the Dell XPS 13. It also sports a great screen, keyboard, and trackpad, and it’s packed with plenty of new and legacy ports. (We experienced some trackpad issues, but we solved them by disabling “edge tap filtering” in the settings.) The X1 Carbon also has a rugged chassis, a spill-resistant keyboard, TPM, and full-disk hardware encryption, all features that our top picks lack.

Unfortunately, it costs more than $1,500 with our recommended specs—a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB solid-state drive—or about as much as the 13-inch MacBook Pro with similar specs. Most people don’t need to spend that much for a laptop when an excellent one is available for $400 to $500 less. But if you love ThinkPads or are willing to pay the premium for any of the extra features, the fifth-gen X1 Carbon is the way to go.

The Lenovo Yoga 910 is a great ultrabook with long battery life, a good keyboard and trackpad, and great build quality. But it’s larger, heavier, and more expensive than our other picks, plus it lacks Thunderbolt 3, has distractingly loud fans, and sports a poorly placed webcam. All of these are minor flaws, and we strongly considered recommending the Yoga 910 for its big, beautiful screen, 360-degree hinge, and fingerprint reader. But ultimately there’s not much reason to buy the Yoga 910 over the Dell XPS 13 or HP Spectre x360.

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is also a great ultrabook with a convertible hinge and a fingerprint reader. It had nearly seven hours of battery life in our tests—about half an hour longer than the HP Spectre x360—and it weighs nearly half a pound less. But the XPS 13 2-in-1 costs a couple hundred dollars more than the x360 for a weaker, Y-series processor. (The Core i7-7Y75 processor we tested proved to be fast enough for everyday work, but there’s no reason to pay more for a weaker processor.)

Plus, the XPS 13 2-in-1 has a few annoying quirks that really add up in everyday use. When the laptop is closed, the lid is incredibly difficult to open because the screen is heavy and there’s no lip to grip and separate the screen from the keyboard. It took me and three bystanders at least 30 seconds each to open the laptop the first time. Once the lid is open, the heavy touchscreen threatens to tip the laptop backward when the screen is touched or the table shakes. And the power button on the side didn’t reliably turn the laptop on, nor is there an indicator anywhere on the face of the laptop to show that the laptop is powering on. We hope Dell will fix these issues with the next revision of the 2-in-1.

We really liked the Acer Swift 7’s thin and light chassis, comfortable keyboard, and fantastic build quality. But we can’t recommend it over our picks because it has shorter battery life—only 4 hours, 30 minutes in our test—a weaker Y-series processor, no legacy ports, and no Thunderbolt 3 ports, but costs about as much as our top picks. We also tested the convertible Acer Spin 7, which has all the same flaws and lacks a keyboard backlight.

The HP Spectre was our former runner-up thanks to its spectacular keyboard and thin and light body, but has been unseated by our new picks that have better battery life. The sixth-generation Spectre only lasted 4 hours, 41 minutes on our battery life test, while all our current picks lasted at least 6.5 hours. The Spectre has since been updated with seventh-generation processors, but we don’t expect that to have a significant impact on battery life.

The Asus Zenbook 3 is a solid 12-inch MacBook competitor. I covered CES 2017 with it because it was the lightest laptop in my arsenal at just 2 pounds, and it has good battery life, lasting 6 hours, 29 minutes in our test. But we don’t recommend it for most people because of its single USB-C port—not even Thunderbolt 3—and its shallow, uncomfortable keyboard.

Compared with our picks, Razer’s Blade Stealth is pricier, has shorter battery life, and sports a smaller screen with a huge bezel. It does have better specs—a Core i7-7500U processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a 2560×1440 resolution screen—but for most people, it’s not a better ultrabook than our top picks. We are excited to test it out with the Razer Core to see how well it pairs with an external graphics docking station for gaming.

The Asus ZenBook UX305UA was our previous budget pick, but it’s worth paying more for the UX330UA to get a current-generation processor, backlit keyboard, better screen and speakers, fingerprint reader, and USB-C port.

The Asus ZenBook UX305LA was also a former budget recommendation, but now it’s hard to find and it has a worse processor. The Asus ZenBook UX305CA is imperceptibly thinner and lighter than the UX305LA, but it uses a weaker Core M processor, and in our tests it had shorter battery life. The Asus ZenBook Flip UX360 is available only with Core M processors.

The $1,000 Asus ZenBook UX306UA is too expensive to unseat our budget pick. Laptop Mag wasn’t impressed by the UX306UA’s keyboard or webcam, and their review ultimately recommends the Dell XPS 13 instead.

The fourth-generation Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a great keyboard, a solid trackpad, and decent battery life, but it’s bulkier than our picks, not to mention a couple hundred dollars more expensive. If you dig ThinkPads, it’s a great option, though it’s not as upgradable as a traditional ThinkPad.

We don’t think Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga’s 360-degree hinge makes it worth $250 more than a regular X1 Carbon.

We tested the Acer Aspire S 13 against our former budget pick, the Asus ZenBook UX305UA, but found that the ZenBook has about two hours longer battery life and better build quality. The S 13 does have a backlit keyboard and a Type-C port, but the Acer is bulkier, and its keyboard and trackpad aren’t quite as comfortable or responsive.

We tested the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 with a sixth-generation processor as a potential budget option because it has our recommended specs for less than $850, but found it had roughly an hour and a half less battery life than the ZenBook UX305UA. It’s also heavier and more expensive than our budget pick. Lenovo is updating the ThinkPad 13 in early 2017, and we’ll revisit it if it looks promising.

The Lenovo IdeaPad 710S has a great screen, keyboard, and trackpad and weighs just 2.6 pounds, but in our tests the model with a sixth-generation processor had roughly 2.5 hours less battery life than the Dell XPS 13 and the Asus ZenBook UX305UA with Skylake processors. We don’t expect battery life to improve significantly with seventh-generation processors, so neither config of the 710S is a better value than our picks.

The sixth-generation Samsung Notebook 9 looked promising—we loved its light weight (1.9 pounds), good keyboard, decent trackpad, and reasonable price—but it lasted only 4 hours, 14 minutes in our battery test. We can’t recommend the Notebook 9 due to that abysmal battery life, plus poor build quality, and slim port selection. The convertible Samsung Notebook 9 Spin had a 3200×1800 resolution screen, and even worse battery life as a result. Samsung announced an updated Notebook 9 at CES 2017, but we don’t expect any major battery life improvements.

Sources

  1. Mark SpoonauerDell XPS 13 ReviewLaptop MagNovember 28, 2016
  2. Joel Santo DomingoDell XPS 13 Touch (2016 Rose Gold Edition)PCMagNovember 7, 2016
  3. Peter BrightReview: Dell’s Kaby Lake XPS 13 isn’t quite good enough to keep its crownArs TechnicaNovember 25, 2016
  4. Gordon Mah UngDell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Review: Yes, this is the best one so farPCWorldNovember 4, 2016
  5. Sam RutherfordHP Spectre x360 ReviewLaptop MagNovember 28, 2016
  6. Dan SeifertHP Spectre x360 Review: The Best Windows Laptop of 2016The VergeDecember 12, 2016
  7. Joel Santo DomingoHP Spectre x360 13-w023dxPCMagOctober 17, 2016
  8. Sam RutherfordLenovo Yoga 910 ReviewLaptop MagNovember 28, 2016
  9. Joel Santo DomingoLenovo Yoga 910PCMagDecember 16, 2016
  10. Dieter BohnLenovo Yoga 910 Review: All the Right PiecesThe VergeNovember 28, 2016

(KIMBER STREAMS)

No Responses

Leave a Reply