Ultrabook reviews, guides and comparisons

Best ultrabooks of 2014 and early 2015 explained – buying guide, advice and tips

By Andrei Girbea - @andreigirbea , updated on January 19, 2015

I’ve got my hands on hundreds of portable laptops in the last ten or so years that I’ve been covering technology for a living, but I can’t say there was ever a a better time to buy a compact and light laptop than today, when ultrabooks are mature and versatile products.

You’ll find out more about this type of laptops from here and in this particular post I’m going to tell you which are the best ultrabooks available these days, in the first half of 2015.

The truth is there are a lot of good ultrabooks out there that are actually worth your hard earned buck. That’s why I’ve divided the article into several different chapters, so it will be easier for you to find the ultra-portable that best suits your needs, based on size, special features, performance or budget. See the links a little down below in this post for more details.

Before we get to the actual products though, I do have to add that there’s no such thing as the perfect ultra-portable. However, base on what particular traits you fancy more on a laptop, some of the units in this list will be better for you than others. I’ll let you know what I think each of them is best suited for, and what are their potential shortcomings, so by the end of the post, you should be able to make a documented decision on what’s going to be your next ultrabook. Just take the time to go through the entire article, it’s not a short read, but I’m confident is will be a fulfilling one.

Oh, and you might see that certain parts of this list are marked as “being updated”, and that’s because I constantly work on my articles, update them and add new models as soon as they become available and I get to test them (BTW, all my detailed reviews are here, in case you’re interested).

Table of contents – best 2014/2015 ultrabooks

First of all, we’ll sort these top ultrabooks by size, and this way we have:

Most of the ultrabooks mentioned in these sections are latest generation machines, built on the latest hardware platforms and technologies. If however you’re on a limited budget, you might also want to:

And then, you can choose your ultrabooks based on several other criteria, like:

And of course, you can always have a look at my list of ultrabook alternatives as well, which are also sleek laptops, but don’t meet all the criteria imposed by Intel these days to “earn” the Ultrabook branding (they are powered by other types of hardware platforms except for the Intel ULV ones, they are just a bit thicker than the standard or lack certain features).

Anyway, check out the links above and the listings below , where we’ll get in depth with some of the top 13 inch ultrabooks of the moment. And if you have any questions, feedback or need more help picking the right device for you, don’t hesitate to make good use of the comments section at the end of the article (I’m around to reply as soon as possible).

New Gen Broadwell ultrabooks

It’s still too early to add these ultrabooks based on Intel’s next-generation hardware platforms in here, as only a few will hit the stores towards the end of this year, while most will be launched in the first half of 2015.

Intel has already released the Core-M architecture, or the so called Broadwell Y, as a successor of the Haswell Y line, meant for low-power and high-efficiency devices. The Broadwell U hardware , a followup of the Haswell U available in most current ultra-portables, will only be unveiled early next year, so there’s still some time till we’ll actually get real products based on that platform.

In the meantime, if you want to know what’s coming and what to expect, check out this list of all the announced/available Intel Core-M based ultrabooks and keep a close eye on our reviews section here on the site. I already tested a few of these new devices, and more are coming in the next weeks and months.

As of early 2015, Intel also unveiled their Broadwell U platform and that will lead to:

  • hardware updates of most popular 2014 Haswell models;
  • a spur of brand new and interesting laptops.

I’ll update this section as soon as these will be available in stores. In the meantime, here’s what you should expect from the Broadwell U Core i7 platforms in terms of performance.

The premium Haswell ultrabooks in 2014

In here you’ll find the latest premium ultrabooks available today, built on Intel’s Haswell hardware. While this platform is not significantly faster than the previous Intel Ivy Bridge, Haswell powered machines tend to run more efficient and offer more capable graphics. On top of that, the newer laptops improve and fix most of their predecessors’ issues, as manufacturers learned from their mistakes and from our feedback.

Asus Zenbook UX303 series (UX303LA and UX303LN)

Pros: solid built, nicely finished, good screens, plenty on configurations available, good connectivity, Nvidia 840M graphics on the UX303LN, excellent price, upgrade friendly
Cons: average battery life, potential screen issues (color reproduction and scaling), the UX303LN gets warm under load, heavier than other 13 inchers

The UX303 is going to be Asus’s top ultrabook series for the second half of 2014 and probably first part of 2015 as well, next to the already popular Zenbook UX301 and UX302 lines, which we’ll address a bit further below.

With the UX303 series Asus went for a simpler all-aluminum design and a slightly bulkier body (0.8″ thick, 3.3 lbs heavy) than you’d expect from a 13 inch ultrabook. But that leaves room for more ports (3 USBs on these laptops, HDMI, miniDP and a card-reader, plus VGA and LAN with the included adapters), allows more space for powerful hardware inside and helps drastically lower the price tags over last year’s UX301/UX302 lines.

As a result, the Zenbook UX303LN packs the Intel Core i5-4210U/i7-4510U processors, up to 12 GB of RAM, Nvidia 840M graphics and up to 512 GB of SSD storage, which is easily upgradeable BTW, and so is the memory. That makes this Zenbook the most graphics capable 13 inch ultrabook launched to-date, able to handle even the latest games on 19 x 10 resolutions with medium details. My detailed review will tell you more about that and all the things you need to know about this laptop.

The UX303LN is not just about power though, it also packs a good keyboard a trackpad, several screen options (among them, a non-glare IPS FHD panel) and a large enough battery. Of course, given the beefy hardware, the battery life only averages about 5-6 hours of daily use for the top-configured UX303LN, but lower end models will do better. At the same time, the UX303LN does get warm under load (not hot though, or too noisy for that matter), but this was expected when squeezing the Nvidia 840M chip into a metal-made 13 incher.

Now, you would probably expect all these to come expensive, but in fact the UX303LN will sell for between $800 to $1300. The available configurations are listed over here, and if you’re looking for some discounts and up-to-date prices, you should definitely follow this link.

The Zenbook UX302LA is the lower end version of the LN described above. The two are identical, with two exceptions: the LA does not get the Nvidia 840M graphics chip, instead relies solely on the Intel HD 4400 chip integrated within the Haswell CPUs, and the LA gets different screen options than the LN. I’ve compared the two lines in this post, if you’re interested.

The lack of the Nvidia chip will cripple this laptop’s gaming abilities, but will have a positive impact on running temperatures and autonomy, which are in fact the main reasons why you might pick the UX302LA over the LN. These, and the price.

As expected, the UX303LA is cheaper than the LN, but actually not as much cheaper as I was expecting. The UX303LA has list prices of $650 to $1150 and you might find these discounted if you’ll follow this link. As a general rule though, the UX303LA retails for 50 to 100 USD (or EUR) less than a similarly configured UX303LN, at least at launch, so unless you really don’t need the graphics or want a particular configuration that’s only available for the LA, I’d say there’s little reason to pick this model over then LN. In time though, once the UX303LA will get cheaper (and it will fairly quickly), this will change. So make sure to check the latest prices before taking any final decisions.

The Zenbook UX303 family has at least two members: the UX303LA and the UX303LN

The Zenbook UX303 family has at least two members: the UX303LA and the UX303LN

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro – my detailed review

Pros: beautiful and proper built, 2-in-1 form-factor, sharp screen, good keyboard and trackpad, cool and quiet, excellent price
Cons: limited connectivity, only average battery life, the panel has color reproduction issues on Power Saving modes

This is Lenovo’s top-of-the-line ultrabook right now. It carries on from the design of the previous Yoga, but refines the looks and gets Intel Haswell platforms inside, plus a sharp and punchy 3200 x 1800 px 13.3 inch display with an IPS panel.

What sets apart the Yoga 2 Pro from the other premium ultrabooks is the unusual form factor though, as the screen can be flipped 360 degrees to the back, which allows you to use the device as a regular laptop, as a tablet, or as something in between, and this makes the Yoga 2 Pro a versatile device, adaptable to all sorts of use scenarios.

The keyboard does remain exposed under the body in tablet mode and that’s a bit annoying, but it is automatically locked so nothing will happen when pressing the keys by mistake.  And since we’re here, I do have to mention that the typing experience is quite solid on this laptop, although the travel is on the shallow side, and the clickpad is accurate and reliable.  When it comes to ports though, there’s only room for two USB slots on this device (one of them USB 3.0), a card-reader and a mini-HDMI connector, so no proper way of outputting higher than 1080p resolutions onto a large screen.

That aside, the Yoga 2 Pro handles daily activities just fine, even in its lowest-tier configurations, and runs cool and quiet pretty much all the time. So all in all the Yoga 2 Pro sure looks like a great pick, especially if you dig the form factor. The rather short battery life is however this one’s Achilles heel, averaging around 5 hours of everyday use on a charge. Also, the SSD used for storage is not as fast as what the competitors are offering.

On the other hand though, the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro is cheaper than its direct rivals. A Core i3 version can be bought for $900 or so. The mid configuration, with an Intel Core i5-4200U processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD sells for around $1200, which is several hundreds less than what Asus, Sony, Samsung or Acer are asking for their similar configs. And if you add $100 more, you’ll get the Core i7-4500U processor and all the others. Not to mention that all the options can be found slightly discounted online, as you’ll see from here.

Apple Macbook Air 2014 – more details in here

Pros: solid and good looking, powerful hardware, extra-long battery life, very good keyboard and trackpad, cool and quiet, good price
Cons: sub-par screen quality

The Air is not an ultrabook per-se, but is nonetheless one of the best 13 inch ultra-portables of the moment, if not the best. Unlike ultrabooks, it does not run Windows, but Apple’s operating system. That means that some specialized software might not work on it, but unless you’re a gamer or software engineer, that shouldn’t worry you much. And even so, there are solutions to running Windows-only programs on a Mac.

Those out of the way, the Macbook Air is highly appreciated by both reviewers and consumers. We won’t get in depth here (I did in this other post, if you’re interested), but there are several major reasons for that.

First of all, the MBA is sturdy, simple and looks good, with its aluminum unibody. It’s not as slim or as light as some of the modern ultrabooks and it might not use fancy materials like carbon-fiber or Gorilla Glass for its case, but it is designed to be practical and reliable. The Air also packs an awesome keyboard and trackpad, better than what you’ll be getting with most Windows ultrabooks right now. And it also bundles powerful hardware. The 2014 version packs the latest Intel Haswell processors with Intel HD 5000 Iris graphics, plus very fast SSD storage and Wireless connectivity. On top of that, the 2014 13-inch Macbook Air can actually last for 10 to 13 hours of everyday use on a charge, again, something no ultrabook can match.

The Air has one massive downside though: the sub-par screen, a 13.3 incher with 1440 x 900 px resolution and a non-touch TN panel, while most premium ultrabooks offer Full HD IPS panels, or better. I don’t necessarily mind not having a touch-display on the Air and not even the low resolution, but the viewing angles, contrast and colors are hard to get used to when you’ve seen what more capable panels can offers these days.

For you though, that might not matter as much when you’ll hear that the Apple Macbook Air starts at $1099, and you can actually find it discounted online. You should get the base version with the i5-4260U processor, Iris 5000 graphics, 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB SSD for under $1000, while beefier configurations sell for a few hundreds more.

Anyway, the MacBook Air is definitely worth at least a look, but it’s up to you whether it is the right laptop for what you need or not. And if you want to read a more in-depth comparison on how the MBA stacks against ultrabooks in general, this article over here will surely come in handy.

The Macbook Air is the most popular ultra-portable of the moment, and for good reasons

The Macbook Air is the most popular ultra-portable of the moment, and for good reasons

Dell XPS 13 2014 edition

Pros: compact for a 13 incher, solid built, good keyboard, trackpad and screen, option for the Intel Core-i7 4650U CPU, fast, big battery proper priced
Cons: no card-reader and HDMI, warm and loud under load, on the expensive side

There are a few reasons why the Dell XPS 13 is one of the best ultrabooks in this class. First, it is solid built with its carbon-fiber and aluminum body and has a more compact footprint than any of its 13 inch rivals.

Then, it packs an above-average display. It’s a touchscreen, thus glossy, with a bright and popping FHD IPS panel, covered by a layer of Gorilla Glass. There’s no higher than 1920 x 1080 px resolution option on the XPS 13, but that’s actually just right on a 13 incher and keeps you safe from those pesky Windows scaling issues that are a given with higher-res panels.

Next on the list are the comfortable backlit keyboard and the accurate and responsive trackpad, some of the better found on any Windows based ultra-portable.

Hardware wise, the 2014 edition of the Dell XPS 13 is available in several different Haswell configurations (up to 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSDs), including the Core-i7 4650U processor for the top-tier model, a processor that bundles Intel’s Iris 5000 graphics and is not widely spread on ultrabooks (but also available on the Macbook Air). So if you want a slightly beefier graphics chips on your thin-and-light machine, you can get it with the XPS 13.

Last but not least, the Dell XPS 13 comes with a big 55Wh battery and while I was actually expecting better, this translates in roughly 7 to 8 hours of daily use on a charge.

On the cons side, the XPS 13 tends to run hotter and noisier than most other ultrabooks and lacks a card-reader or an HDMI slot. The latter should not be a problem, as you do get a miniDP connector on this laptop, but the former definitely is.

On top of that, the XPS 13 is rather expensive. The base version offers a Core i5-4210U processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD, with a list price of $1199. Dell does offer occasional discounts though, so you can get this for under $1100 ( see this link for potential discounts ), but even so, you will find similar configs for less. The top tier version, with the  i7-4560U processor, 8 GB of RAM and the 256 GB SSD sells for roughly $1400, again, with discounts, available via the link above.

Dell's XPS 13 is compact and beautiful, but lacks some vital ports

Dell’s XPS 13 is compact and beautiful, but lacks a card reader and gets warm and noisy whens stressed

Asus Zenbook Infinity UX301LA and Zenbook UX302LG/LA

Pros: sexy looking, glass and metal used for the bodies, excellent screens, unique hardware configurations not available on other ultrabooks, good battery life
Cons: top-configs tend to get hot under load, the glass lid might not appeal to everyone, expensive (performance does not come cheap), limited availability

Asus has a handful of Haswell ultrabooks in stores right now. Among them, two are sleeker and sexier looking than the others: the Zenbook UX301LA (also known as the Zenbook Infinity – my review here) and the Zenbook UX302LG (my review here).

The first is the best ultrabook Asus has to offer right now, arguably superior to the UX303 line. It packs a sleek body covered in metal and Gorilla Glass, available in Blue or White. It also offers a 2560 x 1440 px IGZO panel, bright, sharp and capable of painting popping colors. And you do get several different hardware configurations, with the top one being unique among 13.3 inch ultrabooks: the Intel Core i7-4558U processor and Iris 5100 graphics. It’s punchy, as you’ll see from the review, but this top tier option doesn’t come cheap, as it sells for just shy of $1800 these days with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD.

The more standard versions, with Core i5 and i7 Haswell processors, go for between $1300 and $1600, but you can find them slightly cheaper online, if you’ll keep your eyes peeled for deals and offers. See this link for some up-to-date prices and discounts.

The Zenbook UX302LG is a slightly thicker and heavier ultrabook. It’s not as aesthetically impressive as the UX301LA either, although the two share similar design lines and materials. However, the UX302LG does offer more ports and an Nvidia 730M dedicated graphics chip, which makes it quite versatile in games. Check out the review for more details. Besides these, the UX02LG does leave room for upgrades (RAM and storage), something you’re not usually getting with most ultrabooks. Again, the review will reveal more about that, so have a look.

Financially, the UX302LG starts at about $1300, with the top configurations going for $1700-$1800, but you should find them cheaper online. For the time being though, the UX302LG is really hard to come by in most regions, including the US. It is available in Canada, Europe and Asia, but I’d expect it to be widely replaced by the newer Zenbook UX303LN mentioned above fairly soon, which is faster, cooler and more affordable, as demonstrated by my detailed review here.

Asus has simpler version of the UX302LG in stores as well, called the Zenbook UX302LA, which ditches the dedicated graphics, but keeps all the other features and aspects. This particular unit is available in the US and a Core i5-4200U configuration with 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB HDD will set you back about around $1100 (see this link for potential discounts).

Acer Aspire S7-392 – more details in here

Pros: beautiful, thin and light, solid build quality, good performance, Fast RAID storage, good battery life, runs cool and quiet
Cons: Odd keyboard layout, other similar laptops cost less, massive power brick, mediocre speakers

The Aspire S7-392 is Acer’s best built machine I’ve seen in many years. It comes in two options, a more widespread white one with an aluminum case and a glass lid cover, and a silver, fully metallic one.

The S7 packs a decent keyboard and trackpad, a fair selection of ports (2 USBs, HDMI, card-reader and Acer Converter Port – gives access to miniDP, VGA or LAN with adapters ) , Intel Haswell hardware, fast RAID 0 SSD storage and a Full HD IPS touchscreen (with an option for a 2560×1440 px screen on some markets). It’s worth noting that the keyboard layout is unusual, as the top row of Functional keys is actually missing, and you’ll need some time to get used to it.

All these features are crammed inside a 0.5 of an inch thick body that weighs less than 2.9 pounds and there was room for a 47 Wh battery as well, which keeps the S7 running for an average of 6-7 hours on a charge, with everyday use. Keep in mind that the older Aspire S7-391 versions built on Ivy Bridge models packed a smaller battery that could only go for about 4 hours on each charge.

The Aspire S7-392 has a start price of of roughly $1300 these days, which makes it one of the most expensive 13 inchers in this list. For that you get the Core i5-4200U processor, 8 GB of memory and a 128 GB SSD, but other 13 inchers offer more for the money. If you really like it though, and there’s little reason not to, you might find the S7-392 cheaper online these days. Last time I’ve checked, I’ve spotted a Core i7-4500U / 8 GB/ 256 GB SSD configuration for under $1400 via this link.

An awesome looking, but pricey, Acer Aspire S7

The awesome looking, but pricey, Acer Aspire S7

HP Spectre 13T-3000 – more details in here

Pros: simple and sturdy, looks find, good screen, keyboard and trackpad, big battery
Cons: a bit heavy at 3.35 lbs, can get noisy and can throttle under load

The HP Spectre 13T-3000 is definitely a 13 incher worth considering, if you can find it in stores anymore, as it really seems to be in short supply these days.

The price is what really sets this line apart from most other ultrabooks out there, as the Intel Core i5-4200U version of the Spectre 13T, with 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD and a Full HD touchscreen sells for under 900 bucks these days, which is cheaper than pretty much any other configured 13 inch ultrabook (correct me if I’m wrong in the comments below). For that you’re getting a solid aluminum body, a FHD screen with an IPS panel (and an option for a QHD screen), Haswell hardware, a comfortable keyboard, a big battery and a proper selection of ports. More details about it, including some reviews, are available in this post.

If we’re to get picky, the Spectre 13T is probably not the sleekest ultrabook out there and some users reported that the laptop gets noisy and even throttles under serious load. So if you’re looking for the best performance in an ultrabook, it’s best to do it somewhere else. Those aside though, this HP is definitely a solid pick for the money.  This post will show you up-to-date prices and some discounts on this model, if you’re interested.

You'll be getting plenty for the money with the HP Spectre 13T-3000, that if you can find it anymore

You’ll be getting plenty for the money with the HP Spectre 13T-3000, that if you can find it anymore

Toshiba KIRABook 13 2014 – more details in here

Pros: sleek and nicely built, good specs, good port selection, decent keyboard, trackpad and battery life
Cons: buggy wi-fi, loud fan, expensive, somewhat dated design

The Haswell version of the Toshiba KIRABook is another 13 inch ultrabook you could consider, although there’s nothing that actually makes it stand out from the crowd. In fact, you could well characterize this machine as average.

It is sturdy built and fairly beautiful, it packs a decent keyboard and trackpad (although the keys are a bit shallow and the touch-surface does get jumpy from time to time), a proper selection of ports around the sides (3 USBs, card-reader, full-size HDMI) and a 2560 x 1440 px IPS touchscreen. It is available with Core i5 and i7 processors, plus up to 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of SSD storage, and will last for about 6 hours on a charge, which is decent, but again, short of impressive.

On top of that, the KIRABook has a list price of $1499, and for that kind of money, I’d recommend looking the other way. However, you can get a Core i5-4200U/ 8 GB RAM / 256 GB SSD configuration for around $1150 online these days, which is not bad at all. See the link for more details, and keep in mind that a Core i7 version is available as well, but not as nicely priced as the i5 model.

There nothing special about the Toshiba Kirabook 13, but it's nonetheless a good laptop with an excellent price

There nothing special about the Toshiba Kirabook 13, but it’s nonetheless a good laptop with an excellent price

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus NP940 – more about it in here

Pros: sexy design and solid build quality, sharp and bright touchscreen, good performance, runs quiet
Cons: rather shallow keyboard and occasional glitches with the trackpad, miniaturized ports, expensive when compared to competition, potential scaling issues

This is Samsung’s top-ultrabook right now and succeeds the highly appreciated Series 9 Ultra NP900. It maintains the good looks and slender silhouette, while bundling up-to-date Haswell hardware and a high resolution 3200 x 1800 px IPS touchscreen.

The ATIV Book 9 Plus is on the pricey side though, with a list tag of $1399 an up, and that puts it above most other 13.3 inch ultrabooks of the moment. But if you want a sleek device, the Book 9 Plus might be worth every penny. The slender, light and yet durable body makes it highly portable, the hardware inside takes care of anything you might throw at it and the screen is gorgeous and sharp. However, keep in mind that these high-density panels will encounter some Windows induced scaling issues.

This Samsung ultrabook is not without quirks though, as the keyboard is fairly shallow, the battery lasts for only about 5-6 hours of daily use on a charge (that’s not bad, but other ultrabooks can definitely go for longer) and last but not least, most of the ports included on the sides are miniaturized, as there was no room for their full-size versions. And that’s annoying, especially since the common extension adapters are missing from the pack and you’ll have to pay extra for them.

Even so, none of the things mentioned above are real deal-breakers, that’s why the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus is one of the top 13 inch ultrabooks money can buy. I do feel that you’re overpaying for the brand and the looks here, as most similar 13 inchers are better priced (BTW, I’ve compared the Book 9 Plus with its direct rivals over here) and actually have less aspects on the Cons side, but you might feel otherwise.

Like I said above, the base version of the Book 9 Plus has a list price of roughly $1400 and you will find this discounted online, but even so, the Core i5-4200U/4GB/128GB SSD config is hard to find for less than $1200 these days. Check out this link for more discounts and up-to-date prices. And in case this is not enough for your needs, performance wise, the higher end configuration with the i5-4500U/8GB RAM/256 GB SSD sells for North of $1600 (with a list price of roughly $1800).

Sony Vaio Flip 13 – convertible with digitizer and pen

Pros: sleek, interesting form-factor, good screen with digitizer/pen support, solid performance, good connectivity
Cons: noisy fan, only average battery life

This is Sony’s latest 13 inch ultrabook and is also known as the Sony Vaio Fit 13 multi-flip. Yes, that’s confusing. Regardless, this ultrabook is Sony’s best take at a 2-in-1 laptop,  with a convertible screen and an unique and ingenious way of switching between laptop and tablet mode.

The dual-hinge screen is not perfect, but overall this Vaio looks and feels great. Metal is used for the entire body and the very sharp edges tend to cut into your fingers, but you could probably live with that just fine. However, the entire screen is rather heavy and tends to lift-up the device’s lower body when poking it, in regular laptop mode. Besides this, the same lower body tends to flex a bit too much for my liking, like on the Vaio Pro 13.

All those aside, the Vaio Flip 13 packs the latest Intel Haswell hardware, with several different configurations for you to choose from, packs a 13.3 inch Full HD IPS panel, with a digitizer. There’s a matching Sony pen included, but it looks like in some countries you’ll have to buy that on the side, as it’s not part of the package. Oh, and that’s still an N-Trig digitizer on this Vaio, like on the Duos, with its shortcomings (doesn’t work with Wacom digitizer pens, lacks proper pressure support in some important apps, etc).

All in all, the Flip 13 is a decent convertible ultrabook with a digitizer, something you’re not getting with many other such laptops these days. It starts at $1099, for a Core i5/8GB RAM/128GB SSD configuration, which is a fair price, but the top models can easily get past $1500. Regardless, you will find it discounted online.

But even with the good pricing, the Flip 13 is scared by its minor, but many inconveniences, like the very, very noisy fan, the poor balance, flexible body and only average battery life (about 6 hours on a charge). So unless you really want a 2-in-1 convertible with a digitizer , there are better options out there than this Sony Vaio Flip 13. I’ve put up together a long list of the available 2-in-1 laptops, in case you’re interested, available over here.

Sony Vaio Pro 13 – detailed review here

Pros: sleek, very light and thin, solid specs, good screen and keyboard, long battery life, punchy speakers
Cons: very flexible, can get noisy sometimes, some units suffer from severe Wi-Fi problems, some quality control issues reported

The Pro is Sony’s business ultrabook with a clam-shell form-factor. It steps out of the crowd with a minimalistic and simple design, a extremely light body (weighs only 2.4 pounds, which make the Pro 13 the lightest 13 inch ultrabook of the moment) and a nice selection of accessories, including a slice battery, a docking unit and a dongle that attaches to the USB port on the power brick and transforms a wired Internet connection into your own secure Wireless network.

Besides that, there’s a decent backlit keyboard on the Vaio Pro, a Full HD IPS touchscreen (and a non-glare non-touch IPS option on some units) and of course, several different Haswell configurations to choose from (Core i5-4200U and Core i7-4500U). You’ll find out more about the Pro 13 from my detailed review.

But what’s not to like about this Vaio ultrabook? Well, Sony went for a highly flexible fiber-carbon body, that feels somewhat fragile. Then, the sharp edges and corners aren’t exactly comfortable in everyday use, and on top of that, the Pro 13 can get really noisy when pushed. Oh, and quite a few buyers reported that the laptop had WiFi issues or other quality control problems with the screen and battery. And since Sony sold the Vaio division a while ago, I really doubt these will be addressed anytime soon (more like ever). So while you might get lucky with a good Pro 13, i don’t think it’s actually worth the risk.

The Sony Vaio Pro 13 has a list price of $1250, for the Core i5-4200U/4GB/128GB SSD configuration. However, you’ll find this version for under $1000 these days, while the top configuration with the i7-4500U CPU, 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD is available for around $1400. Check out this link for more details.

The thin and light Sony Vaio Pro 13 business ultrabook

The thin and light Sony Vaio Pro 13 business ultrabook

Sony Vaio Duo 13 – detailed review here

Pros: solid build quality, good looking, fast hardware, 2-in-1 form factor, plenty of ports, big battery
Cons: the form factor, cramped keyboard and trackpad, the N-Trig digitizer might not be good enough for some

The Vaio Duo is Sony’s most extravagant ultrabook of the moment. It’s a hybrid, so it can be used as a large tablet, or as a laptop, when sliding the screen and revealing the keyboard beneath. The slider form factor has some downsides, as you can’t actually adjust the viewing angle and you’ll have to settle for a rather cramped keyboard, but if you’re alright with these, you’ll end up loving the Duo 13.

It packs all the standard goodies, with plenty of ports, several Intel Haswell configurations to choose from, a large 50Wh battery (can go for up to 10 hours of everyday use) and a fairly comfortable backlit keyboard, although the lack of a palm-rest is a bit annoying, and so is the tiny trackpad. But like I said, there are compromises you’re making with this one.

You can however use the Duo 13 to take notes, sketches and so on, thanks to its screen that embeds a digitizer (N-Trig though) and the pen in the pack. You’ll find more about this and the laptop in general from my detailed Sony Vaio Duo 13 review.

The Duo 13 has a list price of $1399, but you can find it significantly cheaper online. The base configuration sells for between $1100 to $1200, with the i5 CPU, 4 GB of RAM and the 128 GB SSD, while the beefier combo with the i7-4500U processor, 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD should be available for roughly $1400 these days.

The Sony Vaio Duo 13 is one of the few Haswell hybrids available these days

The Sony Vaio Duo 13 is one of the few Haswell hybrids available these days

The best affordable 13.3 inch ultrabooks

If you’re after a very good 13 inch ultraportable and don’t want to pay over $1000 for it, you should look at the options in this chapter. Also, have a look at my list of best ultrabooks under $800 (with many under $600 these days).

On top of that, keep in mind that some configurations of the premium options mentioned above do sell for under $1000 (mostly Core i5 processors with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB SSDs). Among them, the Asus Zenbook UX303LN, the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, the Dell XPS 13 2014, the HP Spectre 13T-3000 and the Vaio Pro 13. So make sure to check for deals on these if you have about 1G to spend. However, if you want to spend as little as possible, than here’s when the options below come in play.

Keep in mind that with cheaper ultrabooks you’ll make concessions on weight and build quality, screen quality, hardware and some other features. That doesn’t meant that you won’t find good and cheap ultrabooks, you will, but you’ll also have to adjust your expectations to your budget if you actually want to get along fine with what you end up choosing.

Lenovo Yoga 2 13

The IdeaPad Yoga 13 is one of the most popular hybrid ultrabooks of the last years and the series that actually made the 360-degrees flippable screen form-factor as popular and widespread as it is today.

You’ll find a newer, Haswell powered version of this series in stores today, also called the Yoga 13 2 line, and the original series launched a few year ago, powered by older Intel IvyBridge platforms.

The two share a similar body (with some finishing differences – the new Yoga no longer uses the same soft rubbery plastic casing we saw on the original model. or the textured interior), keyboard, trackpad (smaller on the new model) and ports and there’s not a lot to complain about any of these. The new version however only sports a mini-HDMI connector, while the original model offered a Full-Size HDMI ports and there are a few other minor differences between the two generations, but not really enough to make a major difference.

Except for two important aspects. Well, three, if we consider the hardware, of course. One of them are the screens. The Yoga 2 13 packs a 1920 x 1080 px IPS touchscreen, while the older model settled for a 1600 x 900 px TN panel. The other is the battery life, where the 2nd generation Yoga outlasts its predecessor by a few hours on each charge.

Anyway, the Yoga 2 13 starts at $899 right now, for a Core i5-4200U/4GB RAM/ 500 GB HDD+16GB SSD config, while a similar version of the first gen Yoga 13, with the Core i5-3312U processor, sells for about $800. But you can find discounts on both series, if you’ll follow this link.

Long story short, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 are solid picks if you want a convertible machine with a fair price. The older model launched in 2013 is somewhat cheaper than the 2-14 Haswell powered version, but at the same, the price-gap between these and the Yoga 2 Pro series is not that big, so you should check out those units as well (they are listed above, in the premium ultrabooks section)

Asus Transformer Book Flip TP300LA and TP300LP

This is Asus’s version of a convertible 2-in-1 laptop, built around the same form-factor as the Lenovo Yoga. In fact, the two series are similar in many ways.

The Transformer Flip TP300 is somewhat heavier (3.85 pounds) than the Yoga and bulkier as well, and that makes it more uncomfortable to use in tablet mode. But on the other hand metal is a big part of its case, while the Lenovo is mostly built from plastic.

The Flip TP300 packs a 13.3 inch FHD IPS screen (with HD TN panels available on the base configurations), a decent keyboard and trackpad, a fair selection of ports and capable hardware, that leaves room for upgrades. You’ll find out more about this series from my detailed review posted on the site a while ago.

Asus does offer two models within the TP300 line, the TP300LP with Nvidia 820M dedicated graphics, and the TP300LA, without. The latter sells for between $700 and $1000, while the LP model is about 50 bucks more expensive than a similarly configured LA, but both can be found cheaper online.

All in all, the Transformer Book Flip TP300 is worth considering if you really want a convertible laptop with Haswell hardware and an affordable price tag, even cheaper than the Lenovo Yoga 2 13. But if the form-factor is not a major factor in your decision, you will find other good 13 inchers that offer similar features for less.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 series

A fair match for the Asus and Lenovo 2-in-1s mentioned above, the Dell Inspiron 13 7347 is also a convertible built on the exact same form factor. It also packs Haswell hardware and an IPS FHD touchscreen. And it’s also a bit heavier than the average 13 inch ultrabook, tipping the scales at roughly 3.7 pounds.

This one has an awesome looking case on its side, the solid build quality and the comfortable keyboard, as well as the fast Wi-Fi and rich IO. And it’s rather affordable, with the Core i3 versions going for about $600 and the i5 models with 8 GB of RAM for $750 on Dell’s website, but you might find them even cheaper online. On the other hand, the Inspiron 13 7000 will only last for about 4-5 hours of daily use on a charge and bundles an unreliable trackpad. You can find more about it from my detailed review available here on the site or from the video below.

Asus Vivobook Q301LA/LP – simple and cheap

The Vivobook Q301LA (or S301LA as it is called on some markets) is just one of them. In fact, the Q301LA is more or less a TP300LA in a clam-shell body.

The entire thing is built on an aluminum body that houses a decent keyboard and trackpad, pretty much all the needed ports on the sides (except for VGA, you’ll need and adapter for those) and Haswell hardware. Besides that, some versions do bundle an AMD Radeon Mobility 8530G on top of all the other features, and these are sold as the Q301LP, or the Vivobooks V301LP in the United States.

However, as shown in my detailed review of this series, you will have to settle for a small battery (which translates in about 5 hours of daily use) and a 1366 x 768 px TN touchscreen if you end up choosing this device. Other from that, there’s little to complain about here.

Now, you will pay about $650 (or even less) for a Core i5-4200U, 4 GB of RAM, 500 GB HDD configuration of the Q301LA, which is about $100 less than a similar Transformer Book Flip TP300LA and more than $200 cheaper than the Yoga 2 13. So if you’re on a tight budget, the Vivobook Q301LA is definitely worth at least a look.

Lenovo IdeaPad U330 Touch / U330P – a sturdy ultrabook for school

The Lenovo IdeaPad U330 (or the U330P as it’s know on some markets) is one the toughest affordable ultrabooks of the moment. It’s basically the Haswell update of the IdeaPad U310, which I reviewed here on the site a while ago.

This newer version retains the simple design, the solid body, the accurate keyboard and fairly good trackpad of the older variant. It unfortunately keeps the screen as well, still a 13.3 incher with a rather poor LCD panel, but you can now get a touchscreen option as well, if you want to.

The hardware is the novelty here, as we get Core i5 and i7 Haswell processors inside the IdeaPad U330, with Intel HD 4400 graphics, up to 8 GB of RAM and hybrid storage. With Haswell, the U330 will surely last longer on a charge as well; Lenovo claims up to 10 hours, I’d reckon around 6-7 in everyday use, which is quite good. Also, Lenovo bundled an improved wireless chip on this U330 line, which is good news, considering some of the older U310 versions encountered Wi-Fi issues. Hopefully these are gone on the new model (I’ll keep my eyes open for details on this aspect).

Long story short, the IdeaPad U330 is already available in Europe, starting at 599 euros without the touchscreen, or 699 euros with it. The laptop is also available in the US and the latest prices and discounts can be found via this link, but you might actually have a hard-time finding this model in stores over there, it seems to be in short supplies.

Lenovo's IdeaPad U330 - just as tough as the u310, now with Haswell onboard

Lenovo’s IdeaPad U330 – just as tough as the u310, now with Haswell onboard

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite – a good all-rounder

The ATIV Book 9 Lite is not an ultrabook per-se, and that’s because it is motorized by an AMD designed hardware platform. With a quad-core processor, dedicated graphics, 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD, the Book 9 Lite might not go toe to toe with the Intel Haswell powered machines, but is still going to be snappy enough for your everyday tasks, multimedia and even light gaming. On top of that, you can expect about 5 hours of daily use from it, which is on par with what most affordable ultrabooks offer these days.

Hardware aside, there’s really no major difference between the Book 9 Lite and the other laptops in this section. The Samsung machine is a bit heavy for a 13 incher, tipping the scales at 3.5 pounds, but that’s not really that bad for this class. Plastic is used for most of the case, but the entire thing looks good and feels fairly sturdy. It is available in either white or black.

The display is perhaps a bit disappointing, as there’s only a 1366 x 768 px TN LCD touchscreen on this unit, but that’s again what you should expect from this price range.

Speaking of prices, the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite is listed at $799, but you can actually find it discounted online, for as low as $600. So if you want a basic computer with decent looks and Samsung’s name on the hood, the ATIV Book 9 Lite is definitely not a bad option to consider.

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite - a different ultraportable

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite – a different ultraportable

Older Ivy Bridge 13.3 inch ultrabooks worth considering in 2014

I’d generally advise to get one of the latest gen ultrabooks, not just because of the improved hardware (more efficient, more powerful graphics, but not necessarily a clear improvement in daily use), but more importantly because with these recent entries manufacturers actually improved what they screwed on their previous lines. But if you’re on a tight budget and don’t want to settle for the shortcomings of the affordable Haswell laptops, there are still a few IvyBridge powered 13 inch ultrabooks you could consider even in 2014. We’ll talk about these below.

Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A (and UX31A Touch) – see my full review here

This was a big hit last year, the UX31A Prime. With it, Asus took what was good on their Zenbook iteration (the UX31E), aka the design and build quality, and added a new keyboard, an improved trackpad, a new screen and updated hardware, while keeping the prices at bay.

As you’ll find out from the review, the result was great, even by today’s standards. The IPS Full HD display on the UX31A can easily rival any other screen featured on 13 inch ultrabooks, the laptop still feels very fast, the keyboard is backlit and fairly comfortable, the trackpad is a lot more reliable than before. There’s also a Touch version of this Zenbook, alongside the one I tested, with a non-glare screen.

Of course, no laptop is perfect, and with the Zenbook you should care about its underbelly getting really warm when performing more intense tasks (but not with casual use and movies) and the occasional jumpy trackpad. Early versions of the UX31A encountered some problems with the Wi-Fi Modules and SSD storage, but those should no longer be problem these days.

The Zenbook Prime UX31A used to start at $1099 at launch, for the Core i5-3317U CPU, 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB SSD, while the top options got to about $1500. But since the Primes are IvyBridge powered ultrabooks, you’re going to find them massively discounted online these days. For instance, a Core i7/4GB RAM/256 GB SSD configuration sells for under 1G today. However, keep in mind that this series has been discontinued, so the UX31A will eventually run out of stock.

It’s worth adding that Asus also offers a Zenbook UX31LA model on some markets, which is in fact the UX31A with Haswell hardware inside. A Core i7-4500U with 4 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD version of this particular model will set you back roughly $1200 ( more details via this link ).

The Asus Zenbooks UX31A are perhaps the best 13.3 inch ultrabooks of the moment, budget aside

The Asus Zenbooks UX31A are still top-picks even today

Samsung Series 9 Ultra NP900 (and Touch)

Samsung put a lot of effort into making a very slender 13.3 inch machine with their Series 9 Ultra, and the result weighs only 2.55 pounds and is only 0.5 inches thick. It’s also very solid and beautiful, with its razor-thin full metal body.

However, the thin body has its shortcomings: the laptop tends to get hot easily and a bunch of miniaturized ports are lined on the sides, as there’s no room for their full-size variants. Also, the backlit-keyboard is quite shallow on the Series 9, but you can probably get used to that.

The Series 9 Ultra packs a matte TN non-touch screen, with 1600 x 900 px resolution, which is not bad, but definitely can’t compere with the IPS displays bundled with most modern ultrabooks. A Series 9 Ultra with a Full-HD IPS touchscreen is also available on some markets. That aside, the Series 9 can go for about 6 hours of real-life use on a charge, which is above average for an IvyBridge powered 13 incher.

The Samsung Series 9 Ultra was fairly priced in its days, as the basic config used to start at about $999, and you can find it slightly discounted online these days. Overall, while the Samsung NP300 was not short on quirks, it can be something you could consider these days if you only have about $800 for a sleek computer, but the low weight and sexy aesthetics are probably the only reasons why you should choose this model over the others in this list.

The Samsung Series 9 Ultra is thin, light and beautiful, but also quite pricey

The Samsung Series 9 Ultra is thin, light and beautiful, but also quite pricey

Asus Zenbook UX32VD – the gaming ultrabook

The Asus Zenbook UX32VD was the first 13.3 inch ultrabook that packed a dedicated graphics chip and that made it highly popular in 2012.

Asus Zenbook UX32VD - keeps the looks, adds the power

Asus Zenbook UX32VD – keeps the looks, adds the power

On the outside, the Asus UX32VD came close to the Zenbook Prime UX31A, only a bit thicker and heavier ( 3.2 pounds), which left enough room for more ports. The aluminum body and the looks are the same though, as well as the IPS Full HD screen, backlit keyboard and trackpad are present as well. There’s enough

Hardware wise, the UX32VD comes with a Core i7 Ivy Bridge processor, up to 10 GB of RAM, Nvidia 620M dedicated graphics and hybrid storage. As a result, the UX32VD will deal with all kind of daily tasks at ease, even today, but can also handle games. However, the Nvidia 620M chip is not a lot powerful than the Intel HD4400 chip bundled withing the Haswell CPUs and definitely not a match for the 840M chip that can be found inside the newer Zenbook UX303LN. So the best you can expect from the UX32VD is to handle recent titles at 13 x 7 resolutions, with medium details.

Of course, all these didn’t come cheap back in the days, as the configuration mentioned above sold for roughly $1200-$1300. These days you could get the UX32VD cheaper, for around $1000 or so brand new, but if you really want 1 13 incher with dedicated graphics these days, you can surely get better for your money than with this old chump.

Asus Zenbook UX32LA – the affordable Zenbook – my review

Take the UX32VD laptop mentioned above, strip away the dedicated graphics, replace the IPS screen with a standard 1366 x 768 px TN panel and you’ll get the Asus Zenbook UX32A, one of the cheapest Zenbooks you could buy these days.

The sleek body, the ports, the decent keyboard and trackpad and all of the other goodies bundled on the modern Asus ultrabooks are present though.

The base UX32A version sells these days for as little as $600, for a Core i3 Ivy Bridge configuration, with 4 GB of RAM and 320 GB of hybrid storage, and that might be enough for those of you who don’t have high expectations from a laptop (office, browsing, movies, music, such stuff). However, keep in mind that actually finding this older Zenbook in-stock anymore might not be that easy, and if you’ll extended your budget a bit more, you could buy a similar laptop which is going to offer far superior performance and more features.

Asus UX32A budget Zenbooks - keep the looks, body and battery life of the more expensive Zenbook Primes

Asus UX32A budget Zenbook – keep the looks, body and battery life of the more expensive Zenbook Primes

How about 2011-2012 previous generation ultrabooks

Just to be clear, I wouldn’t get these today unless they were really really cheap. In fact, you might have a really hard-time finding them new anymore, so getting them used adds other potential problems down the line (no warranty, might die fast).

Again, that’s not because these older laptops are going to be too slow, no, the SandyBridge hardware platform is still more than capable of handling light tasks right now when paired with enough RAM and preferably an SSD, but mostly because these first-gen ultrabooks were really scared by a multitude of minor and annoying quirks which were later addressed by their successors. Even so, here’s what you COULD consider. Just make sure you understand exactly what you’ll end up with.

Asus Zenbook UX31E – the first generation Zenbook

These are the first generation Zenbooks, ultrabooks with tons of potential, but some very annoying issues. The laptops were awesome, with a solid aluminum case and their extravagant design. The UX31Eoffered a rather tacky keyboard and jumpy trackpad, a good 13.3 inch 1600 x 900 px screen and several hardware configurations, for a starting price of $1099 at that time. These days, if you can find a new one for $600 or less, it could be a could buy.

The Asus Zenbook are sleek ultrabooks, too bad for those pesky trackpads and overall poor screens

The Asus Zenbooks are sleek ultrabooks, too bad for those pesky trackpads and overall poor keyboards

Luckily though, Asus learned from their mistakes and their second generation machines, the Zenbook Primes UX21A, UX31A and UX32VD, all mentioned above in our post, feature better keyboards, trackpads and screens.

Acer Aspire S3 – the cheap ultrabook

The S3 used to be the cheapest ultrabook of its time and it is affordable even by today’s standards, as you can get it greatly discounted online, for as low as $500 or even less.

For that kind of money, you get a thin and light 13.3 inch laptop and a decently fast hardware config, although there’s no SSD included. But you can add one yourself, as the storage dirve is fairly easy to upgrade.

Of course, when compared to the modern budget ultrabooks, the Aspire S3 feels poorly built, packs a cramped trackpad and a mushy keyboard and the battery life is far from impressive. But at 400 or 500 bucks, it might be worth having a look.

The Acer Aspire S3 in cheap, but it's also slow and cheap looking for an ultrabooks

The Acer Aspire S3 is cheap, but there are several good reasons for that

HP Folio 13 – good bang for the buck

The HP Folio 13 has its roots amongst HP’s Elitebook series of business laptops, thus it’s sober looking, but not ugly, at least not in my book. On the other hand, the Folio weighs 3.3 pounds and is a bit more massive than many of the other ultrabooks out there.

The keyboard is actually quite good on the Folio, with a nice soft finish for the keys, proper travel and illumination.  The trackpad is not bad either, but far from perfect, especially because of those stiff integrated click buttons.

On the inside you get standard 1st gen ultrabook hardware, with a Core i5 Sandy Bridge ULV processor, 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB SSD, plus Windows 7 HP. And a battery that should be enough for about 6 hours of daily use, better than the average in this class.

In the end, the HP Folio is a good addition to the ultrabook market even today, when plenty of new generation ultrabooks are available in stores. So if you want a good everyday machine, you should still consider the Folio 13. $500-$600 would be a fair price for the Folio 13 these days, that if you manage to find it in stores anymore, as it seems to be a short supply. More in our dedicated HP Folio 13 review.

HP Folio 13 - bang for buck, one of the best, if not the best out there

HP Folio 13 – bang for buck, one of the best, if not the best out there

Wrap-up – what’s the best ultrabook?

None of the ultrabooks listed here are perfect, but if you’ll take a look back at the ultra-portables launched in these last years, you’ll see that they’ve come a long way.

Yes, it was obvious the hardware would get faster and more efficient, but alongside came new form factors and features, plus improvements on all the fundamentals that make a laptop usable: build quality, keyboard, touchpad, screen, connectivity and battery life, among them. Ultrabooks are now way thinner and way lighter than regular laptops were in the past. Besides that, we’ve seen more and more hybrid and convertible ultrabooks, plus smaller or larger 14/15 inch machines with a thin form factor. And even thin and highly-portable gaming notebooks.

As for the best ultrabook for you, that’s in the end for each one of you guys reading this post to decide. You know exactly what you want from your laptop and you know what you value more on such a device. That’s why you should choose between all these devices listed here, based on your budget and personal criteria. I’ve told you what you should know about all the ultrabooks that are worth considering, but the final decision rests with you.

And if by any chance you haven’t found what you needed in this massive post, you should probably check out my other lists mentioned below:

Last but not least, you can check out the reviews posted here on the site and our thorough comparisons, or leave a comment if you need any help with your decision, have any questions or just want to add something to this article.

Keep in mind that I’m updating the list at least each two or three weeks, if not more often, in order to keep it as accurate as possible. And I also post news, reviews and guides here on the site, so you should subscribe if you want to stay in touch with the latest ultrabook goodies.

And if you actually found this 10000 words post useful, don’t forget that buying a product after following the links spread throughout it is the best way to show your gratitude and the only way for me to keep this up-to-date.

Keep in touch.

  • Share this article:
Andrei Girbea, aka Mike, Editor-in-Chief and a huge fan of mobile computers. Since 2007, I've only owned smaller than 12.5" laptops and I've been testing tens, if not hundreds of mini laptops. You'll find mostly reviews and guides written by me here on the site.


  1. Hayden

    December 1, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Hi Andrei,

    Thank you very much for your comprehensive article.

    I’m looking to replace my Dell Studio XPS 16 with a 13 inch ultrabook as overheating issues damaged the motherboard in current Dell.

    Key criteria for me is i7 processor, 8gb memory, 256gb SSD and reliability (given my previous experience). I don’t see touch screen as a must have feature.

    The XPS 13 design does appeal to me but I note your review it runs hotter so am wary about the same Dell overhearing issues damaging the hardware. Is this a real issue to be concerned about?

    Alternatively, should I be looking at any other options?

    Your independent and insightful advice is greatly appreciated


    • Andrei Girbea

      December 8, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      Hi, sry for the late reply. Yes, the XPS13 runs hotter than most 13 inchers. If you want something that’s going to run cool, you should aim for a slightly thicker option, like the Depp Inspiron 13 7000 series , Lenovo Yoga 2 13 or maybe the Asus Zenbook UX303LA (not the LN). Now, I can’t say whether the heat is going to have an impact on the XPS’s hardware. It shouldn’t, but you can never know for sure.

  2. Camille

    December 1, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    Hi Andrei

    Thanks for all the detailed info, very helpful! Was hoping you could help for my particular laptop buying situation:

    I’d like something quite portable (12-13”, light), good looks and build quality, has good battery life and that ideally doubles up as a tablet. The other big thing is I need good performance – I hardly play games anymore, but I would work from it and regularly manipulate large macro rich spreadsheets / databases and am the kind to have a gazillion Chrome tabs open in the background at the same time. Now I imagine this is also more RAM than raw processing power but down the road I might also start reusing the occasional Photoshop.

    Budget south of £800 ideally (am in the UK), so that’s theoretically $1,200 but sadly doesn’t quite get you the same level of product this side of the pond.

    Query is I am hesitating between:
    - a Surface Pro 3 – love the thing, but budget wise I can really only afford the i5 / 4GB RAM config (not too concerned about disk space)
    - or a more ho-hum type such as Asus Transformer Book Flip TP300, Dell Inspiron 13 7000, or Lenovo U330T — all with i5-i7 and 8GB RAM.

    Do you think the Surface Pro would be able to handle the sort of use I would subject it to (particularly on the RAM side of things)?
    If not, which would you recommend out of the other three in terms of performance / build quality?
    I was also considering waiting for the Broadwell update, but then I am also reading about the Skylake one in late 2015… Am keen to make it last a long time (I have owned my current Vaio one since 2008!) and would therefore consider delaying a bit if you think it is worth it.

    Thanks a lot for taking the time – awesome post and follow-up work

  3. serverhorror

    December 2, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Did you have your hands on all of these or are you essentially just creating a summary of the specs and what can be found on the web (neither is bad, I just want to know wether you actually, physically, worked on all the models)

    • Andrei Girbea

      December 8, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      I’ve reviewed or at least had some hands-on experience with 80-90% of the laptops mentioned here.

  4. Petar

    December 3, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    By far the most detailed and extensive list/reviews I’ve found. By faaaar.
    But I’m still struggling. The two most important things for me are battery life and screen quality. However, I also plan to dual boot a Linux distro alongside windows, which makes the ARM options far from ideal. Also, preferably no Nvidia. Any suggestions? I’d much appreciate it.

    • Andrei Girbea

      December 8, 2014 at 12:47 pm

      Budget? Screen size? Would need a bit more details if I’d to suggest anything, but keep in mind I have zero experience with Linux…

  5. Matthis

    December 4, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    Hello Andrei, and thank you for this article!

    I am looking for an ultrabook, but there is so much to choose from, I can’t decide! I was checking the Yoga 3 Pro out, but the reviews seem to be quite negative about its battery and multitasking capacity, so I’m not sure about what to do… :(

    I’m looking for an ultrabook made for a “professional” use (which means mails, Office, inDesign/Illustrator, and that’s about it). My ideal computer would feature :
    8 GB of RAM (but I can definitely deal with 4!)
    256Go SSD is a must have
    A solid battery is mandatory
    Good at multitasking
    A good screen is a nice bonus

    Can you help me out? This is a big investment for me, so I’m ready to go up to €1500 (about $1850).

    Thank you very much for your time and your expertise!! :)

    PD : if you think my criteria or my “analysis” is wrong, feel free to change my way of seeing things! :)

  6. moti

    December 6, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    hi Andrei
    great articals and thanks for all the info.
    i’m looking for a daily ultrabook and it seem’s that the yoga pro 2 meets my requirments, and has good reviews.
    but, i really dont need the tuchscreen. i have an ipad for that.
    can you recommand on somthing that dont have the tuch option, and therefor will be cheeper?

    • Andrei Girbea

      December 8, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      The thing is, most moderm ultrabooks have a touchscreen, it’s one of the requirements Intel imposed on manufacturers. So your options for non-touchscreen ultraportables are extremely limited.

  7. Cory

    December 6, 2014 at 5:20 pm


    I just bought the Yoga 3, and am extremely frustrated by an intermittently responsive trackpad (I have some technical expertise and went through the typical forum crawling, driver updating exercises to no avail). I’m returning it to Best Buy today. Screen, size, and weight were otherwise perfect. I’ve done some research (including your very well written article) and am thinking the Acer S7 might be the way to go (found it loaded for $1240 on amazon). I wanted to get your thoughts before I pull the trigger. The flip features of the Yoga 3 were nice but are not a requirement for me as I’m mainly buying it for java/web/android development while on the go. I also have a Samsung U28D590 monitor and would like to be able to drive it at full 3840×2160 at 60 Hz. My Dell E6540 can do this via a dock with full displayport. The Yoga 3 only had a miniHDMI output which limited me to 30Hz max (the mouse was noticeably jumpy when connected to the external display). I suppose the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus would be a contender as well? The Asus Zenbooks look interesting, but I cannot determine which would be comparable to the power/mobility balance that the S7 seems to strike. I do not have in person access to any of these machines and would love your endorsement on any of the trackpads as well.

    Another thought on the Yoga 3 – the amount of bloatware was extreme!

    Sorry for the length of the post. Thanks very much!

    • Andrei Girbea

      December 8, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      You’ll need something with DisplayPort 1.2 to drive that 4K screen of yours at 60 Hz and the options are limited among 13-14 inch ultrabooks (some Asus Zenbooks, the Dell XPS 13, HP Spectre 13, Lenovo X1 Carbon, Acer S7 392). Another option would be to use an external docking station, but I have little experience with those, can’t say if it will work or not.

      Not sure which Zenbook you’re referring to, there are a few models available. The UX301LA has a miniDP port though, as well as the UX301LG, which is very difficult to find.

      And about the Aspire S7, it’s a nice laptop, but I hate the keyboard layout (lacks the extra row of F keys at the top).

      • Cory

        December 8, 2014 at 3:52 pm

        Thanks for the info Andrei!

  8. Stark

    December 12, 2014 at 6:18 am

    Can you do a review of the Dell XPS 15?

    Also, if price is no matter, which would you suggest, the ASUS 303 or Dell XPS 13?


    • Andrei Girbea

      December 13, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      The XPS 15 is an older laptop, you’ll find an excellent review on notebookcheck.net .

      The UX303 is great if you plan on playing games. The XPS 13 is compact but lacks a SD card-reader and gets rather warm during everyday use. It’s a very very close call between the two.

  9. Michelle

    December 22, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Hi, What you recommend for a school student? Maximum $1000

    • Michelle

      December 22, 2014 at 2:10 pm

      Also what do you think about the Asus UX32LA

      • Andrei Girbea

        December 23, 2014 at 1:23 pm

        It’s OK, but you should also check out the newer Asus UX303LA. Or if you want a 2-in-1 laptop, the Lenovo Yoga 2 13 and the Dell Inspiron 13 7000.

  10. Jimmie Teague

    December 29, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Please Help!
    I am trying to find a great 2-n-1 without breaking the bank. I have also looked at tablets. I am a full time premed student and a biochemistry major, so flexibility and productivity is highly important. I have had dells as well as Asus laptops and have been disappointed with both. I have been looking at the Lenovo yoga 2 pro and the 3 pro, just not sure what to do or direction to go. I do like that it can flip flat into tablet mode for notes and other things with Windows office for class and that it is not as heavy as my other laptops. I am open to any direction, because I have been researching and reading for days.

    • Andrei Girbea

      January 3, 2015 at 10:47 am

      HI. the Y2P is a good all round laptop. It’s cheaper than the Y3p, slightly heavier and thicker, but also faster.

      The Y3p is built on Intel’s Core M platform, thus it can only handle casual use and will choke up fast when multitasking between many opened apps. Read some reviews, you’ll see what I mean.

      imh, the Y3P is not worth its high price tag, but that’s just my2c.

  11. Alex

    January 2, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    Hi Andrei,

    Thanks so much for all the detailed analysis. I particularly appreciated the way you sussed out the performance problems in the Yoga Pro 3. Would appreciate your recommendations in the premium ultrabook category:

    I’m looking for an ultraportable which will primarily be used for office productivity but I tend to drive my machines pretty hard with 30-40+ tabs open on multiple webbrowsers so I’m worried that broadwell Y’s may not cut it.

    On the graphics side I won’t use this machine for any gaming but do tend to watch fairly CPU/GPU intensive videos and need the ability to play 1080p x264 encoded video without overheating/skipping, typically through mplayerc which lets me take advantage of hardware decoding – though I’ve never tried that with machines that may have both intel HD integrated graphics AND a dedicated gfx card (ex asus zenbook UX303LN).

    My current laptop is an ancient 5.5 lb toshiba satellite brick so honestly anything at 3lbs or lighter will be mcuh appreciated. Tend to have many devices plugged in so at least 2 USB 3.0 ports and HDMI mandatory.

    Unfortunately wanted to get a new machine within the next month and can’t wait for the Broad U-line. So the Yoga 3 pro and Asus T300FA are probably out the window.

    As far as screen I don’t need (or really want, either) anything above FHD. I’ve been a windows 7 holdout for ages but it seems for the newest generation of ultrabooks I should just upgrade to win 8. Never cared for touchscreens but it may be useful for win 8.

    Price wise anything less than 1500 is fine. I have owned 5 Dells in my lifetime and had a motherboard failure on every single one, so those are out.
    At the moment I’m between the Acer 392 @ FHD (haven’t tried the keyboard yet to see if I like it) and the zenbook UX303LN (really like the 3 usb 3.0 ports and full size HDMI but the display color issues are annoying and the resolution may be too high). Was seriously considering the Sony Vaio Pro 13 but it’s old and I think discontinued on the sony website, which is very concerning. I don’t like apple products at all but have considered dual booting OS X / win7 on the macbook air 13″. Not sure how well that will work though.

    Strange time to purchase an ultrabook as many of the best models seem rather old but some of the prices haven’t come down all that much. The 2015 version of the ATIV Book 9 looks great from the rare reviews I’ve seen but who knows how it will actually perform.

    Anyway, appreciate any advice. Many thanks.

    • Andrei Girbea

      January 5, 2015 at 12:26 pm

      First of all, stay away from Core M. From what you need, you’ll be far happier with Haswell U.

      Second, I can’t comment on that Ativ Book 9 2015, it’s too recent and there aren’t enough reviews to draw any conclusions. So I’ll leave it out for now.

      Besides these, if you don’t plan on playing any games, the UX303LN is overkill. You don’t need dedicated graphics for 1080p and even 4K playing, the integrated chips are good enough.

      Those being said, you’re left with the S7-392, which is really nice, except for the weird keyboard layout (without the 6th row of F keys). Try to spot it in stores and see if you can live with that or not. Cheaper options are the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro and the Asus UX303LA (like the LN, but without the dedicated graphics and with a 1080p IPS only screen). The latter is a really solid device for the money, but Asus only sells the Core I5 model in the US (I assume you’re from the US? sry if I’m wrong). RAM and storage are upgradeable, but not the CPU, and for that kind of heavy browsing, I’d go with an i7.

      One final option would be the Dell XPS 13. I know you said no Dells, but it’s a good option and worth mentioning. More compact than most others, with options for faster 28W processors, but gets a bit hot under load and lacks an SD card reader. Another option, slightly larger though, is the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14, but again probably an overkill since you don’t play games.

      • Alex

        January 6, 2015 at 1:29 am

        MANY thanks Andrei. Always appreciate the input.

        With regards to the UX303LN vs LA, I see your point about the lack of need for a dedicated graphics card, but the price is not an issue and I’d prefer a FHD matte screen. Seems like all the other specs are the same. Aside from availability there aren’t any downsides I can see from your head to head comparison.

        S7-392 was regrettably on sale on slickdeals a day before I started shopping for these. Live and learn.

        Still wary of Dells!


  12. Patrick

    January 5, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Hi Andrei,
    Thank you for this fine walkthrough!
    I’m considering the Lenovo U330.
    I have found two models:
    The U330P which has an i5 1,6 GHz processor and no WiDi
    The U330 Touch which has an i5 1,7 GHz processor and WiDi
    The difference between the two models is about 225$. Is this price difference worth it? Which model would you recommend?

    • Andrei Girbea

      January 5, 2015 at 8:03 pm

      Probably not, but how much is the U330P, I assume that’s the cheaper model? And which i5 CPU does it bundle? Is it Haswell?

      Keep in mind that there are some reports of faulty wifi modules on these Lenovos. Not all modules suffer from such quirks, but there’s a chance you draw the short straw…

  13. Kelly

    January 6, 2015 at 3:53 am

    Hi Andrei,

    Thank you for your article.
    I am hoping you can provide some guidance around the best ultrabook/laptop to purchase.
    I utilize my laptop for business purposes. Long battery life as I travel long haul often and light weight are important to me, however I don’t want to compromise to much on specs.
    I am able to spend up to $2500.
    What would you recommend?
    Thank you.

    • Andrei Girbea

      January 6, 2015 at 11:44 am

      Kelly, do you have a size in mind? If not, the newly announced Lenovo X250 sounds interesting. I own a previous gen, a x220, and has been great for me for 3 years. The X250 promises very long battery life, is compact and fairly light and does not compromise on specs (as long as 8 GB of RAM are enough for you). It’s also way within your budget.

      • Kelly

        January 8, 2015 at 6:06 am

        Thanks Andrei,
        I’m flexible with screen size. I was originally looking at somewhere between 13-14.
        I am in need of a new laptop quite quickly and from what I can gather the new X250 and X1 Carbon won’t be available for purchase for a short time.
        With this in mind could you please advise what else you would recommend (not Apple)?
        Thank you for your help it is greatly appreciated.

        • Andrei Girbea

          January 9, 2015 at 6:38 pm

          In that case, I think I’d go with the Acer Aspire S7-392 2014 edition. Should last for 6-8 hours on average use and it’s light and beautiful. My biggest gripe is with the keyboard, Acer went for an unusual layout witout the top row of F keys.

          I would also consider the Lenovo X240, mainly because it’s compact, has an option for a large battery (that should offer 12+ h on a charge – out of a 3.5 lbs device) and is massively discounted these days. Older THinkPad X series users like myself have some complain about this model: they removed the physical buttons from the clickpad and only supports 8 GB of RAM, but if you’re fine with these, the x240 could be a nice device for you.

          Whatever you end up choosing, make sure to read some detailed user reviews from amazon and forums if you have the time, each laptop has some quirks and its bet to know what to expect before buying.

  14. Blanca

    January 10, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Hi Andrei,
    your post is fantastic, but I need some help.
    I’m planning to buy a 13”/14” ultrabook and what I really look for is long battery life. I’d like it to have minimum 8 hours of battery life.
    Any suggestion?

    • Andrei Girbea

      January 11, 2015 at 5:20 pm

      8h of actual use? That’s tough. The Acer Aspire S7 392 might get there with light use. Another option that’s coming to my mind is the Lenovo X240/X250 series (12.5 inchers) and Dell recently announced the XPS 13 which is supposed to last for up to 15 hours on a charge. Should be worth checkin out.

  15. Heidi

    January 13, 2015 at 3:05 am

    Hi Andrei,

    Need your expert advice. I’m planning to get a laptop for my 13yo daughter school use. The minimum specifications required by the school are as follow:
    •Operating system: Windows 7
    •Processor Speed: Intel Core i3
    •Display/Resolution: 13″/1366 × 768
    •Memory: Min 2 GB
    •Wireless LAN: 802.11g
    •2 USB 2.0 Ports
    •Bluetooth connectivity
    •Web cam
    Am hoping to spend within $1k.

    Thanks for help

    • Andrei Girbea

      January 15, 2015 at 5:13 pm

      Hi Heidi. There are plenty of decent laptops withing your budget. I’d personally get an i5 processor and 8 GB of RAM, that would ensure the laptop will be alright for the next 2-3 years, even more.

      I’d look at the Lenovo Yoga 2 13, Dell XPS 13 7000, Asus Transformer Book Flip TP300 and the Asus Zenbook UX303LA. All will meet the requirements and budget, but each has some shortcomings, so make sure you go through some reviews before deciding.

  16. Knud

    January 18, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    Hey Andrei

    I want a laptop for university, and have been looking at the asus UX303LA and UX32LA.

    I can grab both for the same price, however the UX32LA has SSD hardrive, where the other one has a normal HDD.

    Which one would you recommend?

    • Andrei Girbea

      January 19, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      If you can’t top your budget, the UX31LA with the SSD is going to be a faster computer, but you’ll sacrifice on screen quality. I’d probably get the UX303LA and then later upgrade it with an SSD.

  17. aldo

    January 24, 2015 at 7:16 am

    dell vostro 5470 is a great notebook, why haven’t you include it in the list.

    • Andrei Girbea

      January 24, 2015 at 9:49 am

      This particular post only covers 13 inchers. I don ‘t have any experience with the Vostro 5470 though

  18. Rose

    January 25, 2015 at 5:37 am

    Hi Andrei,

    Thanks for the detailed post. I am looing for an ultrabook for grad school and I was wondering if you could help me. I need a good wifi connection something that’s comfortable to write on; I also use the touch screen and I tried the yoga 3 pro and found it too wobbly.

    I am torn between a few laptops because of the reviews:
    -the Acer S7-392 and the samsung book 9 plus (but I am worried bout extensive writing comfort on their keyboards)
    -yoga 2 pro but it seems to had wifi problems (and I am not sure if they are entirely fixed by adding the AC wifi)

    What are your thoughts?

    • Andrei Girbea

      January 25, 2015 at 10:14 pm

      The Yoga 2 Pro’s Wi-Fi problems should be fixed by updating the Wi-Fi. Also, from what I know, the recent models ship with the updated WiFi AC module by default. But I’m not 100% sure on this, I haven’t kept a close eye on the matter in the last months. You should hit the forums on Lenovo’s site and try to find some recent buyers and owners, maybe they could help.

      The S7 has that annoying keyboard layout. I’m personally not a fan and I wouldn’t choose it for heavy typing. But if you don’t use the F keys a lot, you could get used to it.

      As for the Samsung, which exact model are you talking about? The 2015 version that was jut recently announced or the older 13 inch model? My experience with ATIV books is limited and I can’t tell much about the keyboard experience :(.

      Still, if you need a good keyboard, why aren’t you considering the Dell XPS 13 and perhaps some of the Lenovo laptops, like the newly announced ThinkPad X250 for instance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>