Here at Ultrabookreview.com, we’ve reviewed hundreds of ultrabooks and portable laptops over the last decade, of all kinds and from all brands. Throughout this guide, we’ll tell you which are our favorite current options and why, to make it easier for you to choose the laptop that would better fit your needs and budget, out of the multitude of available models.
However, with the many types of portable laptops out there, we’ve split this guide into a few different sections, based on the overall size, capabilities, and pricing. There’s a Table of Contents above that will point you towards the section of interest; I kept things as simple as possible, with only the best options in each category, but you’ll find links towards our reviews and more detailed articles that treat each subtopic in-depth, in case you want to look into more variants.
We update the article several times a year, or when something remarkable comes out. If you need more guidance or have any questions, there’s also a comments section at the end of the post where you can get in touch with us.
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Table of contents – best 2020 ultrabooks
- our favorite traditional ultrabooks – top 4 ultraportable notebooks;
- the best-value options – best bang for your buck;
- portable gaming laptops – best compact options for gamers;
- productivity 15/17-inch portable notebooks – versatile full-size ultrabooks, best suited for engineers, creators, or programmers;
- the value thin-and-lights – best bang for your buck;
- the best 2-in-1 ultraportables – convertibles or tablets with touchscreens;
- fanless ultrabooks – the silent options;
- portables with an active digitizer and pen support – for business users and creators;
- affordable laptops under $500.
Besides these, all our reviews are available in this dedicated section.
The best traditional ultraportables
The section includes our recommended thin-and-light traditional (clamshell) ultrabooks with modern hardware and features.
Dell XPS 13 – the ultra-compact option
The XPS 13 has been my ultraportable of choice for a few years now (here’s my initial review, if interested) and the recent variants improved on the original model with updated hardware, better screens, news designs, improved performance, and thermals, among others.
There are a lot of reasons why the XPS 13 is one of the most appreciated ultrabooks on the market. The small 13-inch form-factor with tiny bezels, the sturdy build quality, the premium materials, the excellent display options, the performance, the TB3 connectivity or the speakers are some of them. On the other hand, some aspects like the typing experience could still be improved, and there are also some quirks you just have to accept, like the fact that the case gets hot with demanding loads and some units are plagued by coil whine. Overall though, this laptop is hard to beat for those who value portability, just make sure to get it from places that handle returns properly, in case you run into any of the quality-control issues.
The latest iterations, the XPS 13 7390 and the XPS 13 9380, refine their 2018 XPS 13 9370 predecessor (reviewed by me here and by Doug over here) on quite a few different levels. They finally put the camera at the top of the screen, add improved software control over the fans and performance, new screens (matte Full HD, touch Full HD or the high-res touch UHD panels), as well as a new color scheme, with a white woven interior and Silver Frost outer shell. The keyboard/trackpad, the 52 Wh battery, and the miniaturized IO haven’t changed, though.
The XPS 13 9370 is also one of the few ultrabooks available with a six-core Core i7 U processor, and that makes it roughly 20% faster in demanding loads that can benefit from the increased processing power. So if you’re a programmer or engineer, this might be the ultraportable for you, but keep in mind it’s still lacking in the graphics department, just like all the other ultraportables based on Intel HD graphics.
For the average user, my recommendation goes primarily towards the mid-range configurations with the Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD and the 1080p – FHD displays, either matte or touch. The i7 models with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of RAM are also good-value, at around $1400 for the FHD screen variants and $1650+ for the UHD touchscreen models. At this level, there are some other options you could also consider, though.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon – the business ultrabook
The X1 Carbon is Lenovo’s flagship ThinkPad, and we’ve reviewed the latest generation in this detailed article, as well as pitched it against the XPS 13 in this one.
It gets a 14-inch screen, thus it’s a bit larger than the XPS 13, but it’s lighter due to the choice in materials used for the case. It also gets what most consider a better keyboard and clickpad, as well as a more diversified IO, more configurations and improved business features (IR Sensor, TPM, vPro CPUs, etc).
At the same time, though, the X1 Carbon is more expensive than the XPS 13, is only available in a single color scheme (the classic black ThinkPad design) and only gets a 51 Wh battery, smaller than the 57 Wh option on the 2018 Carbon. Finally, the X1 Carbon is also not available with the six-core CPU Dell puts on the XPS 13, and its thermal design struggles even with the quad-core i7s in taxing loads, as explained in our review.
That’s why, despite its advantages, I prefer the XPS over the X1 Carbon. Potential users should, however, check out the ThinkPad X390 and T490 as well, though, as slightly larger and overall better value alternatives with similar ThinkPad core traits.
Huawei MateBook X Pro – the multimedia all-rounder
This is a rather unique laptop with undeniable value, and there are a lot of reasons why it might suit your needs, and very few why it might not.
Metal is used for the case and not only is the build tough, but this notebook is also compact, slim and light (around 3 lbs, 1.33 kg). The screen is its main selling points: 13.9-inch touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio, thin bezels, 3000 x 2000 px resolution and a bright 500-nits IPS panel. Then there’s the keyboard, which uses short-stroke keys like all the other ultraportables, but feels nicer in daily use than other implementations. The features list also includes a 58 Wh battery, a finger-sensor integrated within the power button, a spacious touchpad and decent IO for such a thin device, with both full-size ports and Thunderbolt 3.
As far as performance goes, the MateBook X Pro is built on Intel Core U hardware, with fast storage and optional Nvidia MX250 graphics on the higher-end Core i7 models. That doesn’t make it a gaming laptop by any means, but it allows this to tackle older titles at FHD resolution and medium details, as well as the popular casual games available these days (this article takes a closer look at the MX250 chip’s performance). It also allows it to top the Intel-based notebooks in certain professional applications.
As for those reasons why you might want to skip this one, well, it’s a thin computer with powerful hardware, so it gets hot with demanding loads, and with the small bezels around the screen, the camera was dumped at the keyboard level. But the less obvious reasons are the potential lack of quality support in case something goes wrong or you end up with a flawed unit, as well as those privacy concerns around Huawei.
Apple MacBook Pro 13 – the professional all-rounder
Apple offers both 13 and 15-inch versions of the MacBook Pros, but we’re only referring to the 13-inch model here. Compared to the Windows alternatives, this is nor the smaller, the lightest, the most powerful, or the most features-stuffed, and it also gets very expensive when specced up.
However, this is nonetheless one of the better performance ultraportables out there, due to a mixture of hardware and software reasons. Among those, the craftsmanship quality, the bright high-resolution retina display, the punchy front-facing speakers, the long battery life and the touchpad experience are hardly matched by other options. On top of these, the software/hardware optimization and ecosystem integration lead to an excellent user experience, with the exclusive software, Apple’s support, and post-sale services as the cherries on top.
At the same time, current MacBook Pros struggle with known keyboard defects, lack a touchscreen and only rely on Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. They are also increasingly more difficult to upgrade and repair, so keep that in mind if you plan to keep your unit outside warranty. I strongly recommend buying an extended warranty, but that will further add up to the total cost.
Speaking of it, the base 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1299 for the quad-core i5 configurations, with 8 GB of RAM and a non-upgradeable 128 GB SSD, while the better-specced variants quickly jump past $2000. Follow this link for up-to-date configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the post.
All in all, the MacBook Pros remain solid choices for those already absorbed into the Apple ecosystem. The phone, the watch, the earbuds, the laptop, all work smoothly together and improve your digital experience, and the software options and optimizations further transform the MacBook Pro into an excellent computer for a certain class of professionals. All these do come at a premium, though, and the MacBook Pros have also started to show their age, that’s why the Windows alternatives are worth considering as well, especially if you’re shopping on a lower budget.
The honorary value options
While all the recommendations above are excellent traditional ultrabooks, they’re also expensive. So how about some good-value mid-level options?
There are a bunch of them, each with their pros and their quirks. We’re not going to get in-depth in this post, we’ll just list the very good units down below (alphabetically), with links towards our reviews, where available.
- Acer Swift 3 SF314-55 – review – configurations and prices – metallic body, modern hardware (Core U CPUs and Nvidia MX150 dedicated graphics), good quality matte 14-inch screen and 6+ hours of battery life, all in an affordable package.
- Asus Zenbook S UX392 – review – an ultra-compact 14-inch laptop with modern Core U hardware, MX150 graphics, bright IPS screen, fast keyboard, and 50 Wh battery, tucked inside an aluminum unibody that weighs under 1.1 kilos.
- Asus ZenBook 14 UX434 – review – slightly more affordable and heavier version of the ZenBook S, with similar specs and features, but a dimmer 14-inch display. Good value for what it is.
- Dell Latitude 7000 13/14 – configurations and prices – Dell’s alternatives for the ThinkPad T line, excellently crafted business models with a 13/14-inch screen, solid features, and big batteries, but expensive.
- HP Spectre 13 – configurations and prices – HP’s alternative to the XPS 13, a premium compact 13-inch laptop with a bright touchscreen and modern specs, that only weighs 1.1 kg (2.45 lbs); only gets a small 43 Wh battery and struggles in demanding loads.
- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 – preview – configurations and prices – slim 13.5-inch device with a 3:2 high-resolution screen, modern hardware, and an excellent keyboard, all tucked inside a small 2.8 lbs aluminum unibody shell; pricey and limited IO;
- MSI Prestige 14 – configurations and prices – compact and light 14-inch laptop, the fastest notebook in its size-class with a six-core Core i7 processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics; well priced for what it is;
- Lenovo ThinkPad X390 – 13-inch business notebook, a better value alternative of the X1 Carbon, with similar traits and slightly larger chassis;
- Lenovo ThinkBook 13s – review – affordable 13-inch notebook, larger than other options, but nicely built and a solid performer with daily chores;
- LG Gram 13 – configurations and prices – compact and ultralight 13-incher with a matte screen and large battery; competitively priced for what it is;
- Razer Blade Stealth 13 – review – configurations and prices – compact 13-inch performance model, the most powerful ultrabook in this class, with pretty good gaming abilities; gets very expensive.
The best gaming ultraportables
We’ve already thoroughly covered this topic in a separate article, so follow this link for the detailed guide.
In just a few words, though, gaming ultraportables are compact and light performance laptops with capable graphics. Most of these are full-size, thus get 15 or 17-inch screens. Options include premium ultraportables like the Razer Blade 15, Asus ROG Zephyrus S, MSI GS65 Stealth Thin or the Gigabyte Aero 15, but also good-value full-size notebooks like the Lenovo Legion Y740 or the Acer Predator Helios 300. As for 17-inch models, I’d turn my attention to the Asus ROG Zephyrus S 17, the Gigabyte Aero 17, the MSI GS75 Stealth and the Razer Blade Pro. All these have been reviewed here on the site.
Those interested in even smaller and lighter computers should also consider the existing 13 and 14-inch gaming ultrabooks. Just keep in mind you’ll sacrifice on the performance and won’t get a fast 144/240 Hz display with these. Among the best options in this sub-niche are the Razer Blade Stealth 13 and especially the MSI Prestige 14, both powered by GeForce GTX 1650 GPUs and Core U processors.
Top productivity laptops
This is a complex topic, as each of you might have specific expectations from a multi-purpose computer.
The gaming ultraportables already covered above make for excellent all-round devices, especially in their mid-tier configurations with Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660Ti/RTX 2060 graphics. But there are also a few other types of such well-balanced devices. What we’re looking for are computers that check most of these boxes: built well, compact and lightweight, good screens, comfortable keyboards, decent performance and 5+ hours of battery life, no major flaws.
Premium multimedia laptops
These are some of the best multi-purpose notebooks with compact shells and latest-gen specs and features. These are full-size 15-inch computers and make little to no compromise on the build quality, ergonomics, performance or battery life. They don’t come cheap, though.
We’ve listed our recommendations below, in alphabetical order, with links towards our more detailed reviews and guides:
- Apple MacBook Pro 15 – unibody construction, 15.4″ glossy retina screen (500+ nits), problematic butterfly keyboard, up to Core i9 CPUs + AMD Vega graphics, 4x TB3 ports, 80 Wh battery, quiet fans, punchy front-facing speakers, starts at 1.83 kg / 4.05 lbs, expensive and rather outdated for this day and age;
- Asus Zenbook Pro UX550 and Zenbook Pro UX580 – up to Core i9 + Nvidia 1050 Ti, mushy keyboard, 15.6″ matte or touch FHD/UHD screens (both 350+ nits), all-metal builds, 2x TB3 ports, 71 Wh battery, start at 1.8 kg / 3.97 lbs for the non-touch version, the UX580 gets a secondary screen within the trackpad, more affordable than the competition;
- Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581 – 2019 model, premium construction and a unique design with two touchscreens, not very practical when not on a desk;
- Dell XPS 15 – up to Core i9 + Nvidia 1650 Max-Q, multiple screen options, solid metal, and carbon fiber build, 1x TB3, 56 or 97 Wh battery, good speakers, starts at 1.85 kg / 4.1 lbs for the non-touch version with 56 Wh battery, well priced in this class;
- Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme and ThinkPad P1– up to Core i9 + Nvidia 1650 Max-Q, multiple screen options, ThinkPad looks, features and construction, 2x TB3 and dual-storage, 80 Wh battery, starts at 1.75 kg for non-touch version, gets expensive once specced up.
If you’re a creator and looking for powerful hardware and a wide-gamut display in a compact computer, there’s a whole range of Studio laptops to consider. These get Turing Quadro graphics, clean designs, very quiet fans and various types of top-tier displays, but are also significantly more expensive than the option mentioned above. Follow this link for all our Quadro RTX notebook reviews, or look for devices like the Asus StudioBook Pros, the Razer Blade Studio Edition, the Acer ConceptD Pro or the MSI WS65/75 and Creator 15/17 lines.
Finally, if you’d rather get an even more portable full-size laptop and don’t really need the performance offered by the devices above, then perhaps options like the Asus ZenBook 15, the Samsung Notebook 7 Force, the light and long-lasting LG Gram 15 or even the premium (and overpriced) Microsoft Surface Laptop 15 would better fit your bill. The 17-inch LG Gram 17 should also be of interest if you’re looking for a light computer with a larger display.
Affordable multimedia laptops
We’ll continue with the more affordable ultrabooks next, recommended for those of you without high demands and expectations in terms of features and performance. These are well suited for everyday use, school-related work, and other such activities.
If you’re looking for ultra-compact options, my recommendations would go towards something like the Lenovo ThinkBook 13s, the Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1, the Asus ZenBook 13 or the HP Pavillion 13. Follow the links for reviews and more details. These are available for between $500 and $800, and get modern specs, IPS screens, SSD storage, backlit keyboards, and mid-sized batteries.
Chromebooks are our recommendation at an even lower price-tag, and we’ve covered all the best variants in this separate article. However, if you’d rather not have to deal with their limitations, you should perhaps consider some of the AMD Ryzen options instead, many of them selling for under $500. These are mostly full-size 14 and 15-inch laptops, though.
There are a lot of other good-value full-size devices with 14 and 15-inch screens. We’ve covered them in this detailed article, which I’d recommend going through, but I also added a short selection below:
- Acer Swift 3 – review – configurations and prices – Core U + MX150, compact metallic build, good IO, 14/15-inch matte IPS FullHD screens (~230 nits), 48 Wh battery, 1.8 kg/4 lbs – 15″ model, the sound could be better;
- Acer Aspire 5 – review – configurations and prices – various Intel or AMD configurations, plastic build, good IO, 15-inch matte IPS FullHD screens (~200 nits), 42 Wh battery, 2.2 kg/4.9 lbs – 15″ model;
- Asus VivoBook S14 and S15 – review – configurations and prices – various Intel or AMD configurations, compact metallic build, 14/15-inch matte IPS FullHD screens (~220 nits), 42 Wh battery, 1.7 kg/3.8 lbs – 15″ model;
- Lenovo IdeaPad 540 – configurations and prices – various Intel or AMD configurations, compact plastic build, good IO, 14/15-inch matte IPS FullHD screens (~250 nits), 45 Wh battery, 1.5 kg/3.3 lbs – 14″ model.
The best 2-in-1 convertibles
Hybrids are modern laptops with a convertible or detachable touchscreen, which means they can be used as regular notebooks, as tablets, or in a few other modes in-between.
We’ve covered this topic in-depth in this separated article, which you should head over to, but we’ll also quickly go through our top recommendations below.
But first, you need to be aware that there are two kinds of 2-in-1s: stand-alone tablets that can act as laptops when hooked to an external dock or keyboard-folio, and laptops with 360 degrees convertible screens. The latter are more versatile notebooks, especially when used on the lap, and tend to get larger batteries and more ports, while the former are excellent tablets, but not as practical when not on a flat surface.
Tablets: Microsoft Surface Go, Surface Pro, and iPad Pro
Microsoft makes some of the best Windows tablets out there, with the compact and affordable Surface Go and the powerful Surface Pro.
The Surface Go is a 10-inch tablet with a high-resolution 3:2 touchscreen, fanless Core Y hardware and a base selling price of around $330 at the time of this update (plus $130 for the Keyboard Folio, and there’s also a more expensive LTE version). It’s compact, light and rather inexpensive, which makes it an awesome school-computer or secondary travel companion. It runs Windows S by default, but can be upgraded to regular Windows for the extra functionality. Follow this link for more details.
The Surface Pro is a much more powerful and capable device, able to handle daily multitasking and demanding chores, in a lightweight and compact magnesium made chassis. It gets a 12.3-inch 3:2 touchscreen with smaller bezels, Intel Ice lake Core U hardware, and a larger battery, but with a starting price of $899 for a configuration that makes some sense these days (Core i5, 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage). The keyboard and pen are not included and cost $260 combined. Ouch! Follow this link for more details.
Finally, the iPad Pro makes its way into this section as well, as a competent choice for graphics artists and creators. It’s now a lot more versatile than in the past, with the latest hardware and software updates, and includes an excellent screen with pen support, for less than you’ll pay for a fully accessorized Surface Pro. Of course, it’s not a Windows tablet and can’t run the things you can run on the Surface slates, but has its own software strong points. Follow this link for more details.
Premium convertibles: Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, HP Spectre x360 and Lenovo Yoga C940
Both the HP Spectre x360 and the Lenovo Yoga C9xx have been around for a few years and were further refined with each generation, so it’s no surprise they top this segment.
The HP Spectre x360 is available in either a 13-inch of a 15-inch variant, both reviewed here on the site. The Spectre x360 13t makes more sense as a convertible, due to its smaller build, but the x360 15t offers slightly faster hardware, a larger battery, and improved IO. Both are premium computers though and bundle the latest and greatest in terms of features, connectivity, and everyday user experience. They also emphasize on excellent screens, with high-resolution wide-gamut options on both sizes, as well as OLED variants.
The Lenovo Yoga C940 is available in 13.9 and 15-inch variants, thus the smaller model is not as portable as the Spectre or the XPS 13, but still within a few millimeters and tens of grams. It does get a large battery, a larger UHD screen (finally brighter than in the past), and better audio, with part of it integrated within the hinge. The 15-inch Yoga C940 15 is a completely different beast though, with Core H i9 and dedicated GTX hardware, thus more powerful than the 15-inch HP and Dell models. Both Yogas are however more expensive than their direct competitors.
Finally, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a lighter and smaller convertible with one major strong point: a 16:10 display with a punchy and bright 500-nits panel. The thinner and smaller construction only leaves room for a smaller battery and more cramped keyboard, though, as well as leads to noisier fans and higher temperatures in demanding loads. Thus, the XPS 13 makes for an excellent everyday convertible, but the Spectre and Yoga should be the go-tos if you need the extra performance and longer runtimes.
Top affordable convertible: Asus Chromebook Flip C434
Much like the Surface Go, the Asus Chromebook C434 is a competent all-day convertible laptop, but this time built on ChromeOS. That makes it attractive for browsing, streaming, text-editing and everything else you can do in a browser, as well as a snappy computer with excellent battery life, much like the other flagship Chromebooks of this generation.
The Chromebook Flip C434 is available for around $550 at the time of this update. Follow this link for more details.
If you want a totally quiet computer without a fan or spinning hard-drive inside or coil whine, these fanless options are the ones for you. Just keep in mind that passively cooled platforms are not going to offer the same amount performance as those cooled by a fan, so you should only get one of these for daily activities and light multitasking, but not for demanding loads.
I’ve listed my favorite options below, as well as gathered a complete list of fanless ultraportables in this article, in case you’re interested in more suggestions.
- Apple MacBook Air – Apple’s entry-level notebook, runs on fanless Core M hardware and gets a 13-inch retina screen. Expensive for what it is and still plagued by the controversial butterfly keyboard.
- Apple MacBook 12 – compact and ultralight, runs on older Core M computer, but still OK for light daily use. Competitively priced these days, if you can still find it.
- Asus Chromebook Flip – 14-inch ChromeBook with solid traits and a competitive price. Thanks to the lightweight operating system, most Chromebooks run on silent hardware and perform smoother than the Mac/Windows alternatives in this class.
- Microsoft Surface Pro – the base Core i3/i5 variants on the Surface Pro are passively cooled and provide the best Windows experience you can get in a fanless computer these days; expensive for what they are.
Laptops with digitizer and pen support
We’re working on a dedicated article on this particular topic, with recommendations and details on the types of digitizers (EMR, AES, etc.) and pens available these days.
In the meantime, these options should get you started with your search:
- 2-in-1 tablets (detachables): Microsoft Surface Pro, Surface Go, Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S, Asus Transformer Pro, HP Spectre X2 and Elite X2, Dell Latitude 13 7000, Acer Aspire Switch Alpha 12;
- 2-in-1 convertibles (360-degrees rotating screen): HP Spectre x360, Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga, Asus ZenBook Flips.
Stay tuned for the update.
Affordable laptops under $500
There are a few types of computers you should consider when shopping on a budget, and we’ve covered them in separate articles:
- Chromebooks – awesome for web-based activities and dependent on an Internet connection, snappier, easier to use and safer than Windows laptops in the same price segment. Available in multiple sizes and variants, starting at as low as $150.
- affordable mini laptops – compact Windows computers with small 11 to 13-inch screens and entry-level specs. Some sell for under $300, but if you want a faster platform, larger battery or an IPS screen you’ll have to spend a little more.
- affordable full-size laptops – budget traditional notebooks with 14/15-inch screens and competitive features. Most are fast enough for everyday use and some multitasking, but you’ll have to pay a little extra for modern perks like a backlit keyboard, SSD storage, metallic builds or an IPS .
Over here you’ll also find large collection of popular laptops that sell for under $500, with user reviews and extra details. We’ve also covered this topic in this separated article here on the site, my selection of top-affordable ultraportables
Wrap-up – what’s the best ultrabook?
None of the laptops listed here are perfect, but the current generations have definitely come a long way over the years.
The hardware is faster and more efficient these days, which was expected. Alongside came new form factors and features, as well as improvements on all the fundamentals that make for a competent laptop: build quality, typing experience, touchpads, screens, connectivity, and battery life, among them. As a result, there are now many excellent options to choose from.
As for what’s the best ultrabook for you, that’s in the end for each one of you to decide. You know what you want and value in a laptop, so go through the options and pick the one that best fits these needs and your budget.
If by any chance you haven’t found what you needed in this massive post, you should check out these other articles on the site:
- gaming computers with dedicated graphics chips (recommended for gaming, but also programmers, engineers or creators);
- 2-in-1 convertibles with touchscreens;
- fanless ultra portables – perfectly quiet, without a fan or a spinning HDD inside;
- best-rated Chromebooks – affordable mini-laptops for Internet-based activities, selling for between $150 and $400.
Last but not least, you can check out the reviews posted here on the site and our thorough comparisons, or get in touch in the comments section if you need any help with your decision, have any questions or just want to add something to this article.
Keep in mind that we’re updating this list of recommended ultrabooks and portable laptops every three to four weeks, if not more often. That takes a lot of work, so your support is greatly appreciated.