I’ve got my hands on hundreds of portable computers 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 finally 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 second half of 2014.
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 ultrabooks
First of all, we’ll sort these top ultrabooks by size, and this way we have:
- 11.6 inch ultrabooks or smaller ;
- premium 13.3 inch ultrabooks;
- affordable 13.3 inch ultrabooks;
- 14, 15 inch or larger ultrabooks and ultra-portable laptops.
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:
- check out this list of ultrabooks you can get for under $800 (and many even under $600),
- this list of previous generation ultrabooks, that can now be found discounted or refurbished.
And then, you can choose your ultrabooks based on several other criteria, like:
- gaming ultrabooks with dedicated graphics (which will come in handy for programmers or graphic designers as well);
- 2-in-1 convertible laptops with touchscreens;
- ultrabooks with optical units;
- light ultrabooks under 3 pounds;
- business ultrabooks with 3G/4G modems;
- ultrabooks with backlit keyboards.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 ).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- the best 11.6 inch ultrabooks or smaller ;
- the best 14, 15 inch or larger ultrabooks and ultra-portable laptops.
- gaming ultrabooks with dedicated graphic chips (also useful for programmers or graphic designers);
- hybrid convertible ultrabooks with touchscreens;
- ultrabooks with optical units;
- the best Chromebooks – thin and light mini-laptop that sell for between $200 and $400.
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.