As a tech journalist, I’ve owned like 5 netbooks, 3-4 mini laptops and nearly two dozen tablets in the last years, plus I’ve tested tens of each. However, I was never happier with what ultra-portable laptops could offer than I am now, when ultrabooks are starting to get better and better.
This post is not going to tell you what an ultrabook is, we have other articles about that here on the site, but it will tell you what to expect from such a laptop and what are your best picks on ultrabooks right now.
We divided the article into several different chapters, thus you can find the ultraportable that best suits your needs based on size, performances or budget. See the chapters a little down below in this post for more details.
There are quite a few ultrabooks available on the market these days and I will go ahead and tell you a couple of things about the ones I consider best, the ones that actually managed to score good results in reviews and tests (my own review can be found here, but I also take into consideration reviews posted by other tech journalists and regular users all around the world).
This post is not necessarily a top, but more like a list, as all the ultrabooks mentioned in here are good, but they are just meant for different needs and budgets. So choose one of the chapters listed below and let’s get going.
Oh, and you might see that certain parts of this lists are marked as “being updated”, and that’s because i constantly work on these lists and add new models as soon as they become available and I get to test them.
First of all, let’s divide these top ultrabooks by size, and this way we have:
- 11.6 inch ultrabooks or smaller ;
- 13.3 inch ultrabooks (scroll down);
- 14, 15 inch or higher ultrabooks and ultra-portable laptops.
Of course, all these ultrabooks on top are latest generation machines, built on the latest hardware platforms and technologies. If you’re looking to save some money, you should either:
- check out this list of ultrabooks you can get for under $800;
- or this list of previous generation ultrabooks, that can now be found discounted or refurbished (scroll down towards the end of this post).
And then, you can choose ultrabooks based on other criteria, like:
- gaming ultrabooks with dedicated graphics (also useful for programmers or graphic designers);
- hybrid convertible ultrabooks with touchscreens and Windows 8;
- ultrabooks with optical units;
- very light ultrabooks under 3 pounds (to be updated);
- business ultrabooks with enhanced security features (to be updated);
- ultrabooks with backlit keyboards.
And of course, you can always check out my list of ultrabook alternatives, which are also sleek laptops, just not able to meet the ultrabook criteria (they are powered by other types of hardware platforms, are just a bit thicker and are too powerful for this class).
Anyway, check out the links above and the listings inside this post, you’ll definitely find some useful details about ultrabooks here. And if you have any questions, comments or just want to say Hi, I’ll be waiting for your feedback in the comments section at the end of the article (and I’ll be replying too ).
The premium 13.3 inch ultrabooks for 2013
In here you’ll find my list of recommended latest generation 13.3 inch ultrabooks.
They are all built on the Intel Ivy Bridge hardware platform, which is speedier, more efficient and offers better graphics than the old Sandy Bridge family. They also pack a couple of improvements over the first generation ultrabooks, as producers learned from their mistakes and listened to our claims, launching better products.
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A (also with Touch) – see my full review here
The Zenbooks are among the best ultrabooks money can buy right now. Asus took what was good on their first tries, 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 is awesome. The IPS Full HD display is a can easily rival any other screen featured by ultrabooks in this class today, the laptop feels overall snappy, the keyboard is a lot more accurate and illuminated now, the trackpad is a lot more precise and reliable.
There are however some signs of concerns around the fact that the laptops can get a bit hot when pushed.
The Zenbook Primes UX31A start at $999, for the Core i5 CPU and 128 GB SSD, while the top options can get to about $1500 bucks. Oh, and all the configurations are available slightly discounted online, you should check the up-to-date prices via this link.
As of 2013, Asus also offer the Zenbook UX31A Touch, a similar machine, but with a touchscreen, also starting at $999. That makes this model slightly heavier than its non-touch version and also adds a glossy layer of glass over the panel, but if you need the touchscreen, you’ll have to live with that.
Dell XPS 13 – a looker
People tend to love the Dell XPS 13 for its compact footprint and nice design. In fact, the Dell XPS 13 is more compact than the average 13.3 inch ultrabook and uses aluminum and fiber carbon for the body, which does give it an aristocratic appeal .
Opening the lid, you’ll notice a 13.3 inch screen covered in Gorilla Glass, with a thin bezel, that definitely looks good. By default, there’s a 720p screen on the XPS 13, but you can get a Full HD IPS panel as an extra option. The keyboard is comfortable and backlit, but the trackpad is rather jumpy.
Inside, the Dell XPS 13 packs an Intel Ivy Bridge platform and the ports are lined on the sides, but unfortunately many of them are missing, as there’s only a Mini-Display port there (with no adapter to regular DisplayPort), alongside the classic two USB ports. Thus, no HDMI, no Ethernet, no card-reader.
Overall, the Dell XPS 13 ultrabook is clearly a looker, but it fells a bit short when it comes to functionality. Luckily, the battery tends to save its skin, as the XPS can go for 6 hours on daily use, while most other ultrabooks cannot.
But is the XPS 13 worth the $999 Dell’s asking for the base config? That’s for each of you guys to decide. You can hover find the XPS 13 discounted online, which can definitely help its cause, if you’re a potential buyer.
Samsung Series 9 Ultra – the sleek ultrabook
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 fast and a bunch of miniaturized ports are lined on the sides, as there’s no room for their full-size counterparts. Also, the backlit-keyboard is a bit shallow on the Series 9, which can be a deal-breaker.
The Series 9 Ultra packs a good matte screen, with 1600 x 900 px resolution, clearly above average in this class, but also below the IPS display on the Zenbook Prime and some of the other options. A Series 9 Ultra with a FullHD IPS touchscreen is also available on some markets. The Samsung is also one of the fastest 13 inch machines out there and can last for 6 hours of real-life use on a charge, which is above average in its class.
The Samsung Series 9 Ultra is fairly priced, as the basic config goes for about $999. Once again, you can find it slightly discounted online. Still, if you want a sleek and thin 13.3 inch ultrabook, you’ll hardly find one better than the new Samsung, so that’s why for some of you, it will be well worth the money.
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 – the tablet ultrabook
The IdeaPad Yoga 13 is probably the most popular hybrid ultrabook of the moment, although not the only one, as you can see from this other post.
It’s an Intel powered ultrabook, like all of the others here, with options for different processors and storage options. It also packs most of the needed ports on the side, and like all Lenovo’s a fairly good trackpad and keyboard.
There are however two things that set it apart from the competition. First, there’s the touchscreen, a 1600 x 900 px display with an IPS panel. And second, there’s the flexible hinge used for the screen, that allows it to swivel to 180 degrees. As the video below shows, you can thus use the Yoga as a regular laptop, or you can flip the screen upside down, and get a tablet. In this last case, the keyboard is exposed, but that doesn’t seem to bother most of you.
It starts at $999 on Lenovo’s website, but that’s for a Core i3 config, so is slightly more expensive than some of the other premium laptops in this list, but it is more flexible than those. Plus, there are several webstores that offer it discounted.
Acer Aspire S7 – beautiful and slender
The Aspire S7 is Acer’s best built machine I’ve seen in many years. It comes in two options, a 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 rather limited selection of ports, the latest Intel hardware and a Full HD IPS touchscreen, covered by a layer of glossy protective glass.
What’s impressive is that it does all these while being only 0.5 of an inch thick and weighing 2.9 pounds. Unfortunately, that was achieved by sacrificing the battery, as there’s a rather small one of the S7, and that’s why it will last an average of 3.5 hours on a charge, with everyday use, which is short for an ultraportable. But Acer does offer and extended battery if you’ll need it.
However, the Aspire S7 starts at a whopping $1400, making it perhaps the most expensive 13 incher in this list. You can find it slightly cheaper online, but even so, I do believe that’s too pricey, despite all the good aspects that it packs.
Asus Zenbook UX32VD – the gaming ultrabook
While ultrabooks are not really meant for playing games, the Asus Zenbook UX32VD is one of the few 13.3 inch ultrabooks available right now with dedicated graphics.
On the outside, the Asus UX32VD is very close to the the Zenbook Prime UX31A, only a bit thicker and heavier (weighs 3.2 pounds).
The aluminum body and the looks are here though, and the IPS Full HD screen, backlit keyboard and the new trackpad are present as well. There’s enough room on the UX32VD to host some extra ports, which will come in handy (there’s a full-size HDMI and an extra USB 3.0 slot).
In terms of hardware, the UX32VD comes with a Core i7 processor, 4 GBs of RAM, Nvidia 620M dedicated graphics and hybrid storage. Asus did not fit an SSD by default, however, you can upgrade the memory (up to 10 GBs) and replace the HDD with an SSD (get a 7 mm 2.5 inch drive though or it won’t fit) yourself.
The Asus UX32VD will deal with all kind of daily tasks at ease, but can also handle games. The Nvidia 620M chip is not really that powerful, but it’s about 2.5 times faster than the integrated Intel 4000 graphics, which means you’ll be able to play most modern games on the UX32VD, at 13 x 7 resolution, with medium details, including titles like Battlefield 3, Diablo 3, Starcraft 2, Skyrim and many others.
Of course, all these aren’t cheap, as the Asus UX32VD sells for $1300 right now, with discounts if you’re looking for it online. There’s also a cheaper option, with a 1366 x 768 px LED screen.
BTW, if you’re after gaming ultrabooks, you should also read this post.
Samsung Series 7 Ultra – another beast
Much like the Asus on top, the Series 7 Ultra 13.3 inch ultrabook is a beast of its own, packing the latest Intel Core i5/i7 processor, up to 16 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSDs, plus a dedicated graphics chip from AMD (Radeon HD8570M 1GB). All these should actually make it faster than the UX32VD above, but you should know that a tamed version will also be available, without the dedicated graphics.
The Series 7 also offers JBL speakers, a large selection of full-size ports and a 1080p IPS screen, available in a non-touch mat version, or a glossy touchscreen one.
Right now the Series 7 is not yet available in stores, so I will update this post a the next weeks with pricing details and all the other things worth mentioning about this ultrabook.
HP Envy Spectre XT – the super-model (my review is here)
The HP Spectre XT is definitely a gorgeous looking ultrabook. HP points it towards mainstream and fashion-oriented buyers, trying to appeal them with the looks of their machine. And they’re doing a good job, as there’s little to nag about the metal body of the Envy Spectre XT and its overall sturdy construction.
Inside there’s a powerful Intel hardware platform and a snappy SSD, while the keyboard and trackpad are definitely above average in this class, although the latter is a bit stiff. The screen however is not, with a glossy finish and standard 1366 x 768 px resolution. And the battery life only averages about 4 hours of daily use.
Toshiba Portege Z935/Z930 – nice, but a bit fragile
The Toshiba Z935 (or the Z930, as it’s called in Europe) is perhaps the sleekest and the lightest 13.3 inch machine of the moment, weighing only 2.5 pounds. That’s mainly because it uses a magnesium alloy chassis, that also makes it rather sturdy.
There’s one exception though: the metal on top of the screen tends to bend easily and the entire lid cover flexes a lot. Toshiba says that the display is durable enough, but several of our readers showed me how the screen has cracked on their machines (the warranty does not cover that and a replacement costs $200+).
The the Portege Z930 packs a backlit keyboard, an usable trackpad and a non-glare screen (only a 720p one though). You can buy it with a Core i3/i5 processor plus an SSD and the battery will last for more than 5 hours while performing daily tasks.
All-in-all, the Toshiba Z935 is a good machine, especially if you can find it discounted. However, given that fragile screen, I’d be extra careful with it and make sure to always handle it with baby gloves.
The best affordable 13.3 inch ultrabooks
While the above 13.3 inch ultrabooks are some of the best you can buy, budget aside, the next few models in this list focus more on an excellent price/features ratio.
So if you’re after a 13 inch ultraportable and don’t feel like paying 1G or more for it, you should look at the options in this chapter. Also, have a look at my list of best ultrabooks under $800.
Asus Zenbook UX32A – 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, the cheapest Zenbook available in stores right now.
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.
Back to that prices, the UX32A goes for about 800 bucks, that’s for its more powerful version, with a Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor, 4 GB of RAM and 500 GB of hybrid storage.
However, if you want to save some cash and won’t ask much from your machine, there’s a cheaper version as well, selling for less than $700 and packing a Core i3 processor and only 320 GB of storage. See this link for up-to-date prices and more details on the Asus UX32A Zenbook.
Lenovo IdeaPad U310 – sturdy ultrabook for school
The Lenovo IdeaPad U310 is one of my favorite budget ultrabooks, as you’ll find out when reading my full review of the IdeaPad U310.
Long story short, this is a solid and nice looking laptop (available in three color options: pink, graphite and blue), comes with an excellent keyboard and trackpad and is quite snappy during daily activities. All these while selling for around $700 (that’s for the base version, better configuration can get close to one grand). You can find it on Lenovo’s website or you should check out these webstores as well, they tend to offer some discounts from time to time.
There are of course some shortcomings that come with the lower price tag: the laptop is heavy for an ultrabook, weighing about 3.7 pounds, the screen is not that good and the battery only lasts for 4 hours of daily use. But if you’re after a cheap and sturdy ultrabook, one that could be ideal for school and collage because of its extra toughness, I doubt any of these will be deal-breakers.
You should however be aware that SOME Lenovo’s U310 were reported to have Wireless card problems. Lenovo will fix them free of charge, but you’ll have to send the laptop in for that, and that can be inconvenient for some of you.
Samsung Series 5 Ultra NP530 – a good all-rounder
Much like the Lenovo above, the Samsung Series 5 is a solid all-around ultrabook with a fair price. While about 100 bucks more expensive than the IdeaPad, it’s still cheaper than most of the new ultrabooks.
Like all other budget ultrabooks, it does not feature an SSD and weighs about 3.4 pounds. But it does pack the latest Intel Ivy Bridge hardware, all the needed ports, a 5+ hours battery, proper keyboard/trackpad and a decent non-glare screen. The NP530 is available both with a 13.3 inch and a 14 inch display, btw.
On the other hand, the body is not at sturdy as I’d want, as the screen tends to wobble a bit. Also, it barely bends on the back pass 90 degrees, thus you’ll have troubles getting a proper-viewing angle, unless you’re using the laptop on a desk, which for me is definitely annoying.
However, if you’re fine with those though, the Samsung Series 5 Ultra is at least worth a look, as it goes for a little under 750 bucks these days, or even a bit less if you’re shopping for it online.
Sony Vaio T13 – the stylish cheap ultrabook
While Vaio’s are not usually affordable, the Sony Vaio T13 ultrabook is, starting at about 700 bucks these days. And unlike the other cheap ultrabooks, the Vaio T13 has some strong points on its side, as you’ll see from my full review of the T Series ultrabook.
First, it’s completely made from metal, so it feels sturdy and looks good as well, although the aluminum on the back tends to scratch easily. Then, it has a removable battery and has a bay on the back that will allow you to quickly access the memory and HDD. Last but not least, it features all the ports you’ll need on a modern laptop.
On the other hand, the screen is rather bad, the laptop comes with hybrid storage by default, the keyboard is a bit shallow and the 4 hours battery life is not impressive. But if you want a decently snappy and beautiful everyday ultrabook, the Sony Vaio T13 is worth looking at.
Like I said, the Vaio T13 goes for a little under 700 dollars, which is a fair price. And you can find it discounted online.
Some of the other good 13.3 inch ultrabooks
There are some other good 13.3 inch ultrabooks on the market, but just not good enough to make it to this list.
For instance, there’s the Acer Aspire S5, a snappy and thin laptop that comes with a trap-door which covers the ports when they are not in use. However, Acer could have done a way better job with its screen, keyboard or battery life, as you’ll see from my Acer Aspire S5 review.
Then there’s the Fujitsu Lifebook U772, a beautiful business laptop, especially on the red finishing. This is one of the few ultrabooks to sport a 3G/4G module and it’s quite good overall, although the screen (a 14 inch one with a thin bezel, wrapped in a 13.3 inch body), trackpad and battery life are sub-par and the overall price tag is a bit steep. You’ll find more about it from my Fujitsu Lifebook U772 review.
And there’s Apple Macbook Air of course. While not really an ultrabook per se, the MBA is the most popular ultra-thin laptop of the moment and clearly a match for nearly all of the devices in this list. So if you have the money (it starts at $1200, but you can find it cheaper online) and don’t mind owning a Mac, Apple’s machine is definitely something you should consider. More about this in our Macbook Air vs Ultrabooks post.
There are also a bunch of ultrabooks yet to be released. We’ll add more about those and the others that will pop in stores in the next months, in our future update.
The older 2011 – 2012 first generation ultrabooks
This is where you’ll find the good first generation ultrabooks. There’s one big difference between them and the ones above: they are built on Intel’s Sandy Bridge hardware platform. The new architecture is snappier in most everyday tasks, handle graphics better and is a bit more efficient, but if you don’t plan to squeeze every bit of power from your ultrabook, these ones here will do too, especially since there’s a great chance you’ll find them discounted.
- 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 UX31E offered 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 $700 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 $650.
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. However, when compared to the modern budget ultrabooks, the Aspire S3 feels poorly built, packs a cramped trackpad and a mushy keyboard, while the screen and the battery life are not impressive either.
- 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. $700-$800 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 2013 ultrabook?
It’s obvious that none of the ultrabooks listed here are perfect, but if you’ll take a look back at the mini laptops launched in these last two years, you’ll see they’ve come quite far.
Yes, it was obvious the hardware would get faster and more efficient, but alongside came the form factor, as ultrabooks are now way thinner and way lighter than most laptops were in the past. Besides that, hybrid and convertible ultrabooks have started to emerge, plus smaller or larger 14/15 inch machines with a thin form factor.
As for the best ultrabook, I could tell you that I’m a sucker for the Lenovo X1 Carbon, but that’s not really important. Each one of you guys reading this post knows what you want from your laptop, knows what you value more or less on such a device. That’s why you should choose your ultrabooks yourself, based on your budget and personal criteria.
I’ve tried to cover the important aspects of each good ultrabook in this post and I do hope that will come to great help. But you should also read the reviews posted here on the site or leave a comment if you need any help or have any questions.
Of course, I’m updating this post once each couple of weeks, trying to keep it up to date. 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 ultrabooks.