Ultrabook reviews 2014, scoops and comparisons

Top ultrabooks for college students and school

By Andrei Girbea - @andreigirbea , updated on August 21, 2013

I’ve always been a fan of small and compact laptops, mostly because I for one tend to carry my device around quite often.

If you’re in school, you’re probably familiar with that as well, as you have to take your computer with you to classes, library and so on. I know I did back when I was a student.

If that’s the case, this article will help you, as I’m going to tell you which are, based on my experience, the most interesting ultrabooks you should look at as a student.

I’ve divided them in three different sections, based on budget: affordable, mid-range and money-are-not-a-problem options, in order to cover as many of you as possible. Of course, all the ultrabooks for college students and school listed in here are solid picks, they just address different needs.

Anyway, let’s jump to it, and if you have any questions or things you might want to add, make sure to leave your comments at the end of the post.

Affordable ultrabooks for school

If you only have about $500-$600 to spend for your next laptop, this is where you should look at. If however you want something even cheaper, I’d suggest having a look at this post, that lists a selection of good ultrabook alternatives.

Asus Vivobook X202E

It’s sleek, s compact and affordable. The Vivobook x202E is a small computer, with an 11.6 inch screen, but is also light (weighs less than 3 pounds), beautiful (aluminum is used for most of its case) and fairly powerful for everyday tasks. Packs a decent keyboard as well, that you’ll enjoy if you’re doing a lot of typing, as I presume you will in school, and also comes with a touchscreen.

Now, this is not one of those hybrid laptops that can be switched into a tablet and you can’t really use the screen to take notes with a pen, we’ll have some options that can do that later in this post.

Anyway, the X202E sells right now for between 400 and 600 bucks, based on the bundled configuration. My personal pick would be the VivoBook X202E-DH31T , with an Intel Core i3 processor, that sells for under $500 and is more powerful than the cheaper options.

More details, including places where you can find this one discounted, are available via this link. Oh, and I do have a detailed review of the Asus X202E, or the S200 as it’s called in Europe, and you can check it out over here.

The Vivobook X202E is the most interesting affordable ultrabooks of the moment

The Vivobook X202E is the most interesting affordable ultrabooks of the moment

Another very interesting Asus laptop worth mentioning here is the X550CA, a 15.6 inch laptop that’s less than an inch thick and weighs 5 pounds. It’s not an ultrabook per se, but it’s very close to one and start at as little as $400 these days. You’ll find more details about it over here.

Acer Aspire V5

There are three Acer Aspire V5 series I will mention in this post and all of them offer plenty for under $550.

One of them is the 11.6 inch Acer Aspire V5-171, similar in many ways to the Asus above, with some few exceptions. For instance, the Acer is faster, packing and Intel Core i5 processor, the one we usually find on larger laptops, plus 6 GB of RAM. On the other hand, it lacks a touchscreen and the battery life isn’t great, averaging around 4 hours of daily use. All these for around $480 bucks is a pretty good deal though, if you ask me.

And then, there are the 14 and the 15.6 inch versions, the Acer Aspire V5-471 and V5-571, for those of you that need a full-sized laptop with a large display. A touchscreen by the way. Except for that, these versions pack the exact same hardware as the 11 incher mentioned above, plus slightly larger batteries and better spaced keyboards.

You’ll get more details about all of these over here, including user reviews and links where you can find them discounted.

The Acer Aspire V5 line of cheap ultrabooks

The Acer Aspire V5 line of cheap ultrabooks

HP Envy TouchSmart 14

The HP Envy TouchSmart 14 is the best 14 inch ultrabook you can get for less than $550 these days. It’s beautiful, sleek and fairly light (4.7 pounds), packs a great backlit keyboard, an accurate trackpad and a touchscreen, plus an Intel Core i3 processor, with 6 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard-drive. A Core i5 version is available as well, but sells for around $650.

Anyway, in this price range, the Envy is a winner, that if you don’t want a highly portable device like the 11 inchers listed above, of course.

More details about it are available over here, including user reviews and links towards online shops where you can find it discounted.

HP TouchSmart 14 ultrabook -a great 14 inch laptop

HP TouchSmart 14 ultrabook -a great 14 inch laptop

Best-Buy ultrabooks for college students

If you need something a bit snappier, with more features or just want a slightly larger laptop, the ultrabooks listed in this category should meet your requirements.

Asus Vivobook S400CA

The S400CA is a Asus’s 14 inch ultrabook with a touchscreen and it’s been very well received by those who already bought it in the last months. It sells for about $650 these days and for that kind of money you’re getting a sturdy and reliable device, a decent keyboard, a touchcreen and a powerful configuration, with an Intel Core i5 processor, that will handle easily all your daily tasks.

More details, including user reviews, are available via this link.

Oh, Asus also offers a larger version of this laptop, a 15 inch ultrabook, with or without a DVD drive. Check out this link for extra info on that one.

The 14 and 15 inch Asus Vivobooks are very popular these days

The 14 and 15 inch Asus Vivobooks are very popular these days

Lenovo IdeaPad U330 and U430

These are Lenovo’s new affordable IdeaPads, starting at around $700. For that, you’re getting a solid body, a nice classic looking-design, the famous Lenovo AccuType keyboard, a touchscreen and several different hardware configurations.The U330 comes with a 13.3 inch screen, while on the U430 there’s a large 14 inch one.

However, these Lenovos are some of the few ultrabooks in this category to ship with Intel Haswell hardware. You’re not getting big performances increase with that, but you are getting considerate longer battery life (about 7 in everyday use), which will be greatly appreciated during a long school day. You’re also getting dedicated graphics on the IdeaPad U430, so you’ll be able to run some games on it, but don’t expect too much, this is not one of those powerful gaming ultrabooks.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U330P and U430P are potential best-buys

The Lenovo IdeaPad U330P and U430P are potential best-buys

Asus Zenbook UX32A

This is the most affordable Zenbook available in stores these days, starting at around $550. For that you’re getting an Intel Core i3 configuration and if you want the faster i5 option, that one sells for around $750.

Anyway, the UX32A is a 13.3 inch ultrabook, with a sleek metallic body and a non-glare screen. There’s no touchscreen, this is just a classic slim and light computer.

More details are available in my detailed review of the UX32A, and if you want to see what those who bought it have to say about it, this link will help.

The most affordable Zenbook -the Asus UX32A

The most affordable Zenbook -the Asus UX32A

Sony Vaio T series

Sony’s T series of ultrabooks starts at around $600 bucks as well and you can pick either a 13, 14 or 15.5 inch laptop, with or without a touchscreen.

All of these share a similar aluminum frame, and angular design, a rather shallow keyboard and two common traits: you get all the needed ports around the sides and a removable battery, which is unique among ultrabooks these days.

In terms of hardware, you’re allowed to pick between several Intel Core configurations, based on your needs.

Anyway, more details about the 13 inch Vaio T are available in my detailed review, while over here you’ll find more pictures, specs and users reviews.

The Sony Vaio T series

The Sony Vaio T series

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13

The Yoga is the first convertible ultrabook included in this list. It’s a bit more expensive than the other laptops mentioned above, without offering improved performances.

What it does offer is the 180 degrees convertible screen, that allows you to use this device as a laptop, as a tablet or as something in between, as you can see from the picture below.

The Yoga starts these days at around $850 online (the list price is set at around $1100) and for that you’re getting plenty of goodies: a touchscreen, a nice looking body, the AccuType keyboard and an Intel Core i5 hardware configuration, with a 128 GB SSD. A pretty good deal, if you ask me.

More details about the IdeaPad Yoga 13 are available via this link, alongside pics, user reviews and links towards online shops that have this discounted these days.

The convertible IdeaPad Yoga 13

The convertible IdeaPad Yoga 13

Of course, all the other laptops mentioned in this list of the best 2013 ultrabooks can be good picks as well, so go ahead and check it out.

The best ultrabooks money can buy

If you just want the sleekest or the most powerful ultrabooks out there, regardless of how much they cost, here’s where you’ll find them.

Sony Vaio Duo 13

This is perhaps the most interesting tablet-ultrabook hybrid you can find out there these days, and you’ll see exactly why from my detailed review.

The Duo 13 is a weird looking machine. On a first look, it seems to be an oversized tablet, with a large touchscreen on top. The screen however slides up, revealing a full-size keyboard. On top of that, you have plenty of ports around the sides and a pen, as the Duo 13 bundles a digitizer, so you can use it to take notes or sketches while in class.

Besides all these, the Duo 13 is motorized by the latest Intel Haswel hardware, which means that is powerful and very efficient, being able to run for 10 hours on a single charge.

Of course, all these don’t come cheap, as the Duo 13 starts at around $1400. Is it worth that kind of money? It could, but that’s up to you to decide.

Sony's Vaio Duo 13 convertible ultrabook

Sony’s Vaio Duo 13 convertible ultrabook

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

The Helix is a tablet with a latch-able dock that contains a keyboard and a bunch of extra goodies.

But it’s not the iPad kind of tablet or anything like this, it’s a fully baked computer, running Windows 8 and all the software you are familiar with from your PC. The entire thing is powered by some Intel Core platforms, with SSD storage and plenty of RAM, and on top there’s an 11.6 inch Full HD touchscreen, with pen support. The pen is included and you can use the Helix for taking notes and drawing, just like with the Sony Vaio above.

Overall the ThinkPad Helix is a niche computer. It’s mostly designed for business, hence the ports, the features and the solid build quality. But it can be an alternative for school, that if you’re willing to pay the very steep prices, as the Helix starts at about $1800 these days.

Lenovo's THinkPad Helix - interesting, but pricey

Lenovo’s THinkPad Helix – interesting, but pricey

Macbook Air 13

Apple’s Macbook Air is NOT an ultrabook per se, but it is one of the best slim and light laptops out there.

Specs wise, it might trail some of the premium ultrabooks of the moment, as it lacks for instance a high-quality IPS panel. Except for that though, the MBA is pretty much flawless. It’s solid, it looks good, it packs an awesome keyboard and a trackpad like you can’t find on any other notebook. On top of that, is motorized by some Intel Haswell platforms and packs a large battery, that leads to 10-12 hours of everyday use on a single charge.

So if you don’t have to run Windows on your device, the MBA is definitely something worth looking at.

The cheapest version starts at $1099, while the 11 inch version starts at $999, but you can find both of these discounted online, as you’ll find out via this link. Oh, and if you’re still deciding between the MBA or an ultrabook, this article that compares them will surely come in helpful.

While not an ultrabook per se, the MacBook Air is for sure on of the best slim and light laptops out there

While not an ultrabook per se, the MacBook Air is for sure on of the best slim and light laptops out there

Asus Zenbook UX51VZ

The Asus Zenbook UX51VZ is in fact too powerful to be called an ultrabook, as Asus squeezed inside a thin aluminum body the kind of hardware they’re usually bundling on multimedia devices.

As a result, the Zenbook UX51 is powerful and can handle anything you might throw at it, from the basics, to more complex tasks, like video editing or gaming, as you can see from my detailed review posted a while ago.

Besides that, you’re getting a 15.6 Full HD IPS screen on this one, a decent keyboard, punchy speakers and alright battery life, when not pushing it too much. What are the downsides? Well, there are two: the frame does get hot when running games and the entire thing is quite expensive, starting at around $2000. But you can find it discounted online, as you’ll find out from this post.

The 15.6 inch Asus Zenbook UX51VZ is one of the most powerful ultraportables money can buy these days

The 15.6 inch Asus Zenbook UX51VZ is one of the most powerful ultraportables money can buy these days

Samsung ATIV Book family

Last but not least, we have the Samsung ATIV Book family members. Among them, there’s the powerful ATIV Book 6, a 15.6 incher that bundles a quad-core processor and dedicated graphics and can stand side by side with the Asus above when it comes to performances. It’s not as sleek and is a bit bulky, but I’m sure you can live with those, considering it only starts at $1200, so is significantly more affordable than the Zenbook.

There’s also the ATIV Book 9 series, that includes the sleekest and lightest ultrabooks Samsung has to offer these days. You can pick between 15 and 13 inch units here, all bundling powerful Intel configurations, Full HD touchscreens, SSD storage and a very light body (2.6 lbs for the 13 inch version, only 3.6 lbs for the 15.5 inch model). All these don’t come cheap though, as the Ativ Book 9s start at above $1100, but you can find them discounted online.

On top of that, Samsung also has this line called Book 9 Lite, that sells for $799 and up, and can be found even cheaper online. You’re making some tradeoffs when it comes to slimness, weight and features with them, but you’re still getting some very good devices, so you might want to look more into these as well.

The Samsung ATIV Book ultrabooks

The Samsung ATIV Book ultrabooks

Wrap-up

At the end of the day, there are plenty of good ultrabooks you can choose between. Your budget is going to make a difference here, as you can get better devices if you’re able to spend more for them, with SSD storage, more comfortable keyboards and touchscreens.

The more affordable options however will do fine too, as long as you don’t have unrealistic expectations from them.

Anyway, hopefully this article was helpful, and if you need more help deciding what your next ultrabook for college or school is going to be, feel free to leave your replies and questions below, I’ll be around to reply.

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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.

23 Comments

  1. Vlad

    August 13, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Nice list, but I consider my ASUS S550-CB the best ultraportable for the price and even has an optical drive at only 0.9″ thickness.

  2. Vish Periyasamy

    August 15, 2013 at 6:14 am

    Hey, I have read several of your reviews and for college I am down to two choices – Sony Vaio Pro 13 or the Asus UX51VZ. I love the portability, touch screen, battery life and carbon design of the Sony but the hardware specs of the UX51VZ are also superb along with a larger display and supposedly even better customer service. In your opinion, which would you rather choose for a college student? Also considering the UX51VZ is a couple hundred dollars more than the Pro 13?

    Thanks again,
    Vish

    • Andrei Girbea

      August 15, 2013 at 10:08 am

      do you need the extra power? do you need the dedicated graphics for games/ video editing? If yes, get the Asus.

      If you want something light, easy to carry around and still fairly snappy, get the Vaio pro 13

  3. Peter

    August 15, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    I think the perfect size for students is 13.3″ (maybe 14) and less than 4 lbs or around that. Anything smaller is hard to do work on and anything bigger is a bit too much to lug in your bag. Lenovo U330s have not been released in many places so at the moment, I’m debating between the U310 (i5-3337U) model or the Asus Vivobook S300 or S400 (both also with a 3rd gen i5). They both have touch screens, Intel HD 4000 for light gaming, standard resolutions, glossy screens :(, 4 GB ram which is soldered on, around 4 lbs, similar batteries, and small SSDs. So trying to choose between either those (or possibly a Zenbook if it comes within $750ish CDN).

    Another thing that would be very helpful to students even if they get a non-touch ultrabook is a Wacom tablet for $50-70. Would be a good way to take down diagrams or formulas which your laptop can’t and if you don’t wanna use a pen/paper.

    • Andrei Girbea

      August 16, 2013 at 8:33 am

      The U330 is not available yet, but will be by the end of the month. So I’d wait for it, if I could, mostly for the battery life increase you’re getting with Haswell

  4. Natalie

    August 21, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    I am about to start my freshmen year of college very soon, and I was considering getting a tablet or something similar until Black Friday deals rolled around. However, another article convinced me that I would much rather invest in a ultrabook.
    Nonetheless, money is a VERY large factor in my decision, yet I do want quality as well.
    Though before I read these articles I didn’t know the difference between a normal laptop and a ultrabook, I know now that my standards aren’t that high in my selection process. The main thing, like I said before, was costs. After that, I just get picky because I’m a girl: I’d prefer it to be touchscreen and possible even convertible, but that is solely because I will be taking notes in class and this device will be with me quite often during the course of a day. Weight and screen size don’t really matter to me, since ultrabooks have that whole standard thing already. Another nice thing to have is nice battery life, but from what I read, ultrabooks keep that in check too.
    So yeah really low costs and if possible touchscreen and convertibility are what I’m wanting.
    Does anything in the world of ultrabooks offer that?

    I’m also partial to those ultrabook alternatives, however I didn’t really see any that did the whole touchscreen and convertibility thing… nonetheless, if the price is right, I’ll definitely manage! :)

    Thank you for any feedback!

    • Andrei Girbea

      August 22, 2013 at 8:54 am

      Hey Natalie.

      When you say low price, what exactly do you have in mind?

      The thing is, you can get some decent devices for around $500 with touchscreens. But, not with convertibles touchscreens.

      And if you’re looking to take notes, not all touchscreens will do, you will need something pen-compatible and those are pricey (the cheapest good one I can think of right now is the Sony Vaio Duo 11)

      Another option would be for your to get a Windows tablet with a touchscreen and pen support and later on buy a keyboard-case for it. But again, the budget is crucial here and thes devices are not very powerful, but should deal fine with browsing, office programs, movies, several apps running at once.

      So, tell me the exact budget and I’ll get back to you.

  5. Natalie

    August 22, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Hey,
    See that’s the thing, I don’t have a exact budget right now because things (and money) are flying all over the place. My hope was that we could get things narrowed down to a computer and then I just work/ask until I meet its price.
    And the whole convertibility and touchscreen thing was just a preference, and totally not a requirement. I was totally considering the Windows Tablets when I first started my college tech search, but there’s an article somewhere that gave a pretty good argument for iPads and tablets for college students. Not to mention that I am really easily distracted as it is…so yeah.
    I guess I can set the budget right now at $500, but we can exclude the whole convertibility and touchscreen thing if necessary, since that raises up prices. I really just need a computer before I head out by myself and all.

    Thanks again for the help man, I really appreciate it.

  6. Natalie

    August 24, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    I don’t really have an exact budget, but I’m going to say $500 for this. I doubt it’d be that high when I finally get a real budget amount, but at least it’d be something I can work towards.
    And I don’t have to have the touch screen and converting stuff, it was just a nice perk. It doesn’t even have to be a ultrabook. Honestly, I just need a really inexpensive, light and student friendly computer while at school so I won’t be in the library at 3am by myself.lol
    So whatever the lowest and most convenient is what I’m looking for.

    Thanks for your help.

    • Andrei Girbea

      August 26, 2013 at 10:15 am

      Hey Natalie, sry for the late reply, I’ve been offline for the weekend

      For $500, your options are very limited. I’d look at the 11.6 inch Asus Zenbook X202E or the 11.6 inch Acer Aspire V5 . The Asus has a touchscreen, the Acer has a faster processor. You’ll find plenty of reviews for these online, including here on the site

  7. Jessica

    September 7, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Im having some serious trouble deciding what to buy. Im looking for something light, portable, good battery life, powerful enough for my needs, decent storage. I was looking at the Dell XPS 14 ultraBook (I have a “Dell History”), but I’ve seen some bad reviews, and its quite costly. Something less expensive would be better for my finances.

    My 5.5 yr old Dell has 5 min batt life currently and is heavy and falling apart. I prefer a 14-15 in screen but 13 is acceptable. Prefer Solid state drive if an option (the Dell offers a 500GB solid state). Like USB ports. Optical drive nice but not necessary, as can use a plug and play one.

    Uses: (1)Internet surfing, researching, etc. (2)Microsoft office. (4) Photoshop. (5) Occasional use of stats software. (6) Viewing of movies/TV shows.

    Aside from the Dell I was looking at Lenovo IdeapPad Yoga. Thinkpad has sooo many models I dont know where to start.

    Any advice you have would be much appreciated.

  8. Licia

    September 15, 2013 at 3:01 am

    Hi Mike,
    I want to have something light and has long battery life. I only need it for typing (mostly office function), edit and store bunch of photos, store songs and few movies, read some journal articles. And of course, browsing the net. Oh yeah, I need it runs fast.
    I am considering macbook air. Do you think this is the best choice?
    If yes, 11 inch of 13? Currently I am using my 4 years old Toshiba 14 inch lappy.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    Cheers

  9. Gaurav B

    September 23, 2013 at 11:23 am

    I’m having trouble deciding which ultrabook to opt for.
    Preferably a 13 inch screen and light. It should be either a regular without touch-screen or if not, then a convertible.
    I’m looking in the range below $1700.
    Usage is internet surfing, documents and basic gaming.
    Could you tell me which ultrabooks meet the above specifications (releasing in India before October 15)?
    Thanks :)

  10. RH

    December 1, 2013 at 6:26 am

    My budget is $800~$1200 and I’m looking for a 13″~17″ convertible tablet/ultrabook that has long battery life and good graphics for CAD programs and games.
    I’m also going to use it for university notes so I’d need one that has a good keyboard preferably backlit.
    Suggestions would be appreciated.

  11. Yaw hon

    December 12, 2013 at 9:46 am

    I live in a boarding school .i support asus and Lenovo .i am a non gamer.i need something that has long battery life and good for working.

    • Tim

      December 28, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      I’d look at the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro

  12. Emelie

    December 31, 2013 at 9:46 am

    Hi!

    My old computer is about to collapse, and I’m starting college in a month. So now I’m trying to find a new laptop that satisfy my needs. So long, I find it a bit difficult. So I hope that you could help me narrow it down.

    Wanted qualifications:
    * Ultrabook (light and 13/14 screen size)
    * Must be able to have windows-programs like word, excel and powerpoint.
    * i5 or i7 processor.
    * at least 500 gb hard drive.
    * Space for pictures, music.
    * Good keyboard, silent, all-rounder, good quality.
    (avoid a shiny screen).

    I hope this is not impossible!
    I have been looking at the different choices at Asus, but get a bit disorientated.

    • Emelie

      December 31, 2013 at 10:04 am

      Forgot to mention that it needs to have at least 5 gb RAM.
      And a touch-screen is not something I would care to much about.
      I’m mostly going to use it for writing, internet, music, pictures.
      And that it look nice, as well.

      There you go!

      Hope to hear from you as soon as possible! :-)

  13. adlgx21

    January 4, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Hey Mike, can you recommend any ultrabook/laptop under 14′ inches with a processor speed above 1.1 GHz, 2GB RAM & above, and a Hard Drive space above 200? As well as a budget between $200 – $400? Thanks a lot

  14. Tommy

    March 10, 2014 at 4:24 am

    Hey, Mike, you have a great website here. I am trying to decide on a laptop for a 6-month, intensive online program. I’m going to be spending a lot of time in front of the screen reading. I am trying to decide between Dell’s (Haswell) XPS 12, 13, or 15 laptops. I really like the versatility that the XPS 12 has to offer but my biggest worry is that the 12 or 13 inch screens are going to be too small for spending so much time reading text on. I’m afraid that this will lead to eye strain. What’s your opinion on the matter?

    • Tommy

      March 10, 2014 at 4:28 am

      Forgot to mention: obviously, I’m also afraid that the XPS 15 will be too big/heavy for portability’s sake. Thanks!

    • Andrei Girbea

      March 10, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      I’m using a 12.5 inch laptop as my daily driver, and I’m very happy with it. However, it’s a matte 1366 x 768 px IPS panel, unlike the one on the Dell, which is glossy and sports a higher resolution.

      Those being said, you will have to scale up fonts on the XPS 12 and that’s going to be OK most of the time. However, Windows 8.1 still encounters some scaling quirks, mostly in desktop mode, when loading older software.

      So, I’m probably subjective here, but for me a 12.5 incher is excellent. You should give it a try and see if you can get used to it, if you can. The XPS 13 si only marginally bigger and lacks the versatility (flippable screen), while the XPS 15 is a completely different machine (powerful, but not very portable)

      • Tommy

        March 11, 2014 at 11:43 pm

        Great, thanks!

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