Getting the right laptop that meets both your requirements and budget is definitely not that simple these days, with so many good options out there. This article will help though.
- Table of contents – best 2018 ultrabooks
- The best traditional ultraportables
- The best gaming ultraportables
- The best all-around (multimedia) laptops
- The best 2-in-1 convertibles
- The best fanless ultraportables
- Laptops with digitizer and pen support
- The best affordable laptops under $500
- Portable laptops based on screen size
- Wrap-up – what’s the best ultrabook?
We update the article several times a year, or when something remarkable comes out. On top of that, if you need more guidance or have any questions, there’s a comments section at the end of the post where you can get in touch with me, I do my best to reply to everyone.
Before we proceed you’ll have to answer a few quick questions first: “What do I need a portable notebook for?”, “How much do I want to spend?”,”Do I want a touchscreen?”, “Do I plan to run any games?” and “What I value most in a laptop?” (the design, the build quality, the screen, the keyboard, the performance, maybe some specific feature). These will help narrow down your options.
You can proceed through this long article that offers our recommendations based on your potential answers to those questions above. There’s a quick Table of Contents below that will point you towards the right section of the post; I kept things as simple as possible, with only the best options in each category, but you’ll find links towards articles that treat each subtopic in-depth, in case you want to look into more variants.
Table of contents – best 2018 ultrabooks
This article is split into the following subsections:
- the best traditional ultraportables – top 3 clamshell notebooks;
- portable laptops for gaming and demanding tasks – best options for gamers, engineers, graphic artist, programmers;
- all-round (multimedia) thin and light notebooks;
- the best 2-in-1 ultraportables – convertibles or detachables;
- fanless options;
- portables with an active digitizer and pen support;
- affordable laptops under $500;
- best options based on screen size.
Besides these, all our reviews are available in the dedicated section.
The best traditional ultraportables
The section includes the best thin-and-light clamshell laptops with modern hardware and features.
Dell XPS 13 – the compact option
The XPS 13 has been my personal ultraportable of choice for a few years now (here’s my initial review, if interested) and the latter updates improved on the original model with updated hardware, a larger battery, and better screens, among others.
There are a lot of reasons why the XPS 13 is one of the most appreciated laptops in the market. The form-factor with tiny bezels, the 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 rather hot, some units are plagued by coil whine and the webcam is oddly positioned beneath the screen. Overall though, this laptop is hard to beat for those who value portability, but you should get it from places that handle returns properly, in case you run into any of the quality-control issues.
The latest iteration, the XPS 9370 (reviewed by me here and by Doug over here), is more than just a minor update, as Dell made it smaller, thinner and lighter than before, updated the keyboard, improved the cooling and screen, while also adding a IR camera and finger-sensor. At the same time it gets a smaller battery and miniaturized IO, just like most other modern thin-and-lights, and for these reasons, you should not completely cast aside the previous XPS 9360, with a bigger battery and full-size IO.
My recommendation goes primarily towards the mid-range configurations with the Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD and the FHD display, listed at around $1100 at the time of this update. The higher-end versions get pricey fast, with the i7 models with 16 GB of RAM and the UHD touchscreen go for $1400+, and at this level, there are some other options you could also consider. Oh, and keep in mind that the XPS 13 9360 is still available and sells for $100-$200.
Huawei MateBook X Pro – the revolution
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, thin and light (around 3 lbs, 1.33 kg). The screen is perhaps its main selling points: it’s a 13.9-inch touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio, 3000 x 2000 px resolution and a bright 500-nits IPS panel. It also gets tiny bezels and tiny chin. Then there’s the keyboard, which uses short-stroke keys like all the other ultraportables, but actually 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 slots and Thunderbolt 3 (PCIe x2).
As far as performance goes, the MateBook X Pro is built on Intel Core U hardware, with fast storage and an optional Nvidia MX150 Max-Q graphics chip on the higher end Core i7 models. That doesn’t make it a true gaming laptop, but it allows this to tackle older titles at FHD resolution and medium details.
If you’re not interested in games you’ll probably get better value with the i5 versions of this laptop, available for around $1200, as an excellent all-round ultraportable. The higher-end configurations include the i7 CPU, MX150 graphics, more RAM and storage for around $1500, which makes them cheaper than similarly specced competitors, and actually expect to find both versions discounted online. Follow this link for updated prices and configurations at the time you’re reading the article.
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 the Huawei company, which might spur towards their laptops as well. These aside though, the MateBook X Pro is a brilliant ultrabook and I sure wish other manufacturers will use it as inspiration for their future lines.
Apple MacBook Pros – the multimedia all-rounders
Apple offers both 13 and 15-inch versions of the MacBook Pros. Compared to some of the Windows alternatives, they’re not the smallest, the lightest or the most feature-stuffed, and they’re also quite expensive.
However, people buy them for their excellent craftsmanship, the bright high-resolution Retina screens, the front-facing speakers, the unmatched touchpad experience, the large batteries, the Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, and the fast hardware, among others. On top of these, people also buy them in order to use some of the OSX exclusive software, as well as for Apple’s excellent support and post-sale services.
The hardware’s performance in corroboration with the optimized software makes them a good choice for graphics professionals, photographers or editors. The 13-inch MacBook Pros are built on 28W Core U hardware platforms with Intel Iris graphics, fast RAM and storage, and are faster in demanding loads than most Windows options in their class. The 15-inch MacBook Pros, on the other hand, are hardware-wise mostly on par with the competition, as they’re built on the similar Core H 45W platforms, but they still outperform the alternatives in specific tasks due to the optimized software.
These MacBooks are definitely not without flaws though. Potential buyers won’t have the choice of a touchscreen, would have to accept a low-travel keyboard and carry adapters in their bags in order to hook peripherals to the TB3-only IO. On top of these, the MacBook Pros are in need of a redesign in order to match the compact and light constructions of some of the Windows alternatives, which are available with narrower bezels and smaller footprints these days.
And then there’s the price. The latest 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1799 for the quad-core i5 configurations, and while there are also cheaper options starting at $1299, those are built on slower dual-core KabyLake platforms and get less RAM and storage. The 15-inch version is even more expensive, starting at $2399 for a Coffee Lake H Core i5 configuration. You will find all these discounted online from time to time, and you can always buy refurbished if you’re on a lower budget, but even so the MacBook Pros are expensive and might not be the ideal choice for the average user who doesn’t plan to benefit from their specific performance in specific scenarios.
Best budget: Asus Zenbook lines
If you’re after a powerful thin-and-light ultrabook, but you’re on a more limited budget, the Asus Zenbook lines should be on your list.
The latest Zenbooks are available with 13, 14 or 15-inch screens, and they’re all compact and light, with tiny bezels around the screens, as well as built on the latest Intel Core hardware platforms.
The 13 and 14 inch models get matte or glossy FHD IPS screens, good IO, optional Nvidia MX150 graphics and 50 Wh batteries, while the larger Zenbook UX533 lines are available with a 73 Wh battery, either a matte FHD screen or a UHD Pantone-certified touchscreen, as well as optional Nvidia GTX 1050 Max-Q graphics. The smaller models start at around $1000, with the bigger variant selling for $1100 and up, but all of them should get price-cuts down the line.
There are a lot of other good clamshell laptops out there, so we’ll list a few other options (in alphabetical order) you could consider. They each have their strong points and quirks, so you should go through our reviews for details, but for some of you they might be smarter picks than our recommendations above:
- Acer Swift 3 SF314-55 – review – configurations and prices – an affordable variant, with a metallic body, modern hardware (Core U CPUs and Nvidia MX150 dedicated graphics), a matte 14-inch screen and long battery life.
- Asus Zenbook S UX391 – review – configuration and prices – an ultra-compact 13-inch laptop with modern Core U hardware, good IPS screen, fast keyboard, and 50 Wh battery, tucked inside an aluminum unibody case that weighs under 1 kilo.
- Dell XPS 15 – review – configurations and prices – a compact multimedia 15-incher with narrow screen bezels like the XPS 13, but more powerful Core H hardware, dedicated Nvidia graphics and a bigger battery.
- Dell Latitude 7000 13/14 – configurations and prices – Dell’s alternatives for the ThinkPad T line, excellently crafted business laptops 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 the performance in demanding loads in rather lacking.
- Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon – review – configurations and prices – arguably one of the best thin-and-lights out there, with solid specs and features, a 14-inch screen and only 2.5 lbs total weight, but expensive and plagued by various quality-control inconsistencies.
- Lenovo ThinkPad T480s – review – a slightly thicker/heavier alternative for the X1 Carbon, with similar specs and features, but a more affordable price tag;
- Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 – configurations and prices – a slim 13.5-inch laptop with a 3:2 high-resolution screen, modern hardware, and an excellent keyboard, all tucked inside a compact 2.8 lbs aluminum unibody shell; rather pricey and lacks modern IO outputs;
- Razer Blade Stealth – review – configurations and prices – a compact 13-inch notebook with a QHD+ touchscreen, modern hardware, excellent build quality and perfect compatibility with the Razer Core through the Thunderbolt 3 port.
The best gaming ultraportables
This section is reserved for the most powerful thin-and-light notebooks with higher end dedicated graphics (GTX 1060/1070 or above), which are able to run the latest games at FHD+ resolutions and high details.
Due to the configurations with quad-core processors, plenty of RAM and multiple storage options, the units in this section are also capable workstations and good options for programmers, graphic artists, engineers and other professionals that require a significant amount of processing power, but at the same time still value portability.
We’ve covered this topic in-depth in this separate detailed article, which you should definitely head over to, as in here we’re only going to quickly mention the top available options.
- Gigabyte Aero 15X – more details – configurations and prices – Core H + GTX 1070 Max-Q, compact strong build, excellent IO, 15-inch 144 Hz matte IPS FHD screen (300+ nits), 94 Wh battery, 2.1 kg/4.65 lbs, gets hot and fairly loud, sound could be better, MSRP from $2099;
- Razer Blade 15 – more details – configurations and prices – Core H + GTX 1070 Max-Q, compact strong build, IO a little lacking, 15-inch 144 Hz matte IPS FHD screen (290 nits), 80 Wh battery, 2.1 kg/4.65 lbs, gets hot and loud, MSRP from $2399;
- Asus ROG Zephyrus M – more details – configurations and prices – Core H + GTX 1070, strong build, larger and heavier than the others, excellent IO, 15-inch 144 Hz matte IPS FHD screen (300+ nits) with GSync, 50 Wh battery, 2.5 kg/5.5 lbs, rather loud, MSRP from $1999;
More options are also listed in this article that covers all the gaming ultraportables with GTX 1060/1070/1080 Max-Q graphics.
As a side note, the 1080 Max-Q implementations might seem interesting, but you should read into reviews, as the performance is not as expected with this kind of hardware in compact chassis, that’s why I’d recommend sticking with the existing 1070 Max-Q options or even dropping to the 1060 variants of the above-mentioned laptops if you’re on a tighter budget.
These aside, if you’re on a tighter budget and rather get the best performance for your buck and don’t mind somewhat sacrificing on portability, the Lenovo Legion Y730 or the Acer Helios Predator 300 are some of the best value options to consider. This article covers more options for best-value gaming notebooks.
On the other hand, if portability is one of your main criteria and you’d rather sacrifice on the gaming-performance to some extent, laptops like the Dell XPS 15, Asus ZenBook Pro and ZenBook UX533 or the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme are the ones for you. Follow this link for a more in-depth look at this subsection.
The best all-around (multimedia) laptops
This is a complex topic, as each of you might have specific expectations from an all-around computer.
So first of all, you’re not going to find the best thin-and-light options in this section (covered over here), not are we going to talk about the best gaming computers (covered here) or 2-in-1 laptops with touchscreens (covered here).
What’s left are those well-balanced laptops with great builds, good screens, comfortable keyboards and fast performance, devices that can handle everyday tasks, but also some demanding loads and occasional gaming. However, even these have to be split between high-tier premium variants and mid-tier value buys for those budget-oriented shoppers among you.
Affordable multimedia laptops
We’ll start with the more affordable options first, which should suit those of you who use a computer for browsing, movies, school-related work, and other such casual activities.
There aren’t a lot of affordable all-around small laptops out there, but you can consider one of the mid-level Chromebooks if your activities are primarily Internet-based. Compact Windows laptops, on the other hand, can get fairly pricey, with some of the better value devices like the Asus ZenBook UX331 and HP Envy 13 starting at around $800, both Core U computers with modern specs, IPS screens, SSD storage, backlit keyboards, and proper sized batteries.
You will, however, find a handful of good-value full-size devices with 14 and 15-inch screens. We’ve covered them in this detailed article, and these are the top picks if you don’t want to go through the longer list (you should, though):
- Acer Swift 3 – review – configurations and prices – Core U + MX150, compact metallic build, good IO, 14/15-inch matte IPS FHD screens (~230 nits), 48 Wh battery, 1.8 kg/4 lbs – 15″ model, the sound could be better, MSRP from $699;
- Acer Aspire E15 – configurations and prices – Core U + MX150, fairly large plastic build, good IO, 15-inch matte IPS FHD screens (~200 nits), 42 Wh battery, 2.2 kg/4.9 lbs – 15″ model, MSRP from $549;
- Asus VivoBook Slim – review – configurations and prices – Core U + MX150, compact plastic build, bit limited IO, 14/15-inch matte IPS FHD screens (~240 nits), 42 Wh battery, 1.7 kg/3.8 lbs – 15″ model, decent speakers, MSRP from $699;
- Lenodo IdeaPad 530s 14 – configurations and prices – Core U + MX150, compact plastic build, good IO, 14-inch matte IPS FHD screens (~300 nits), 45 Wh battery, 1.5 kg/3.3 lbs – 14″ model, MSRP from $899;
- Dell Inspiron 7000 – configurations and prices – Core U + MX150, compact build, good IO, 14/15-inch matte IPS FHD screens (~250 nits), 42 Wh battery, 1.9 kg/4.1 lbs – 15″ model, MSRP from $799;
- HP Envy – configurations and prices – Core U + MX150, fairly large metallic build, good IO, 17-inch glossy IPS FHD screen (~350 nits), 56 Wh battery, 3 kg/6.7 lbs – 17″ model, MSRP from $899;
Premium multimedia laptops
These are the devices to get if you’re looking for excellent productivity in a compact shell.
They are sturdily built laptops with bright screens, ergonomic keyboards, up-to-date hardware that can handle everyday use and demanding scenarios, as well as large batteries and modern IO/features, all tucked inside small and fairly-light chassis. They sure don’t come cheap, but are the best all-around portable notebooks on the market.
We’ve listed our recommendations below, in alphabetical order, with links towards our more detailed reviews and guides:
- Apple MacBook Pro – up to Core i9 HQ + AMD Vega graphics, weird keyboard, 15.4″ glossy retina screen (500+ nits), aluminum unibody construction, 4x TB3 ports, 84 Wh battery, quiet fans, punchy front-facing speakers, starts at 1.83 kg / 4.05 lbs, expensive;
- Asus Zenbook Pro UX550 and Zenbook Pro UX580 – up to Core i9 HQ + Nvidia 1050 / 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 UX533 – lower power alternative based on Core U + Nvidia 1050 Ti Max-Q hardware, 15.6″ matte or touch FHD/UHD screens (300+ nits), all-metal builds, 1x TB3 port, 73 Wh battery, starts at 1.7 kg / 3.8 lbs for the non-touch version, the most affordable;
- Dell XPS 15 – up to Core i9 HQ + optional Nvidia 1050 Ti Max-Q, 15.6″ matte FHD (400+ nits) or touch UHD (450+ nits) screen, 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;
- HP Elitebook 1050 – up to Core i7 H + Nvidia 1050 Max-Q, 15.6″ matte FHD or UHD screen (400+ nits), aluminum unibody construction, 2x TB3 and dual-storage, 96 Wh battery, starts at 2.06 kg / 4.55 lbs for the non-touch version with 56 Wh battery, expensive;
- Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme – up to Core i9 HQ + Nvidia 1050 Ti Max-Q , matte FHD (250 nits) or touch UHD (300 nits) screen, standard ThinkPad looks, features and construction, 2x TB3 and dual-storage, 80 Wh battery, starts at 1.75 kg for non-touch version, fairly expensive once specked up.
Smaller 14-inch models like the ZenBook Pro UX480 and especially the Gigabyte Aero 14 are some other options to consider if you’re after similar traits, but in slightly smaller and lighter packages.
The best 2-in-1 convertibles
Hybrids are modern laptops with some sort of convertible or detachable touchscreen, which allows buyers to use them 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 definitely head over to, but we’ll also quickly go through our top recommendations below.
But first, there are two main types of 2-in-1s, those which are primarily stand-alone tablets and can act as laptops when hooked to an external dock or keyboard-folio, and those that are primarily laptops and can be used as tablets by converting the screen to the back. 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 kept on a flat surface.
– currently updated – check back soon –
HP Spectre x360 – the best premium ultraportable
There are quite a few premium 2-in-1s on the market these days, but the HP Spectre x360 13-inch stands out of the crowd with excellent features, a thin and light build, and no major flaws or quality control issues.
We covered the latest version in depth in this review, but in very few words, it’s a convertible with a FHD IPS 13-inch touchscreen and an N-Trig digitizer (which means only some pens are compatible), a good backlit keyboard, modern hardware, and a large 58 Wh battery. Despite all these, this latest X360 13 is more compact than the previous versions, as you can tell by the small bezels around the screen, as well as lighter (2.85 lbs / 1.3 kg).
The IO was somewhat sacrificed in order to make this build possible, as you’ll need adapters for the USB-C Thunderbolt 3 connectors on the sides, but that’s pretty standard for ultraportables these days. The small footprint and thin profile also lead to warm case temperatures and a fan active all the time with everyday multitasking, which is again something you’ll just have to accept when aiming for a computer with this kind of aesthetics.
The latest 13-inch Spectre x360 starts at around $1000 for a mid-range configuration with a Core i5 U CPU, 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. Core i7 models with more RAM and extra storage go for around $1200-$1300, but you can find all of these on sale from time to time. Follow this link for more details and potential discounts.
HP also offers a larger variant of the Spectre x360, with a 15.6-inch QHD or UHD display. This one shares most traits with the 13-inch model, but packs a larger 64.5 Wh battery, a set of four speakers flanking the keyboard and pushing sound upwards, is heavier (4.1 lbs) and more expensive, with a mid-level configuration going for around $1150.
Microsoft Surface Book – the most complete hybrid
The Surface Book is called the “ultimate hybrid” by many established venues and I personally consider it to be the most complete hybrid out there, but it’s only a suggestion for those on a unlimited budget, as it can get TERRIBLY expensive.
The Surface Book is a detachable, a tablet with a 13.5-inch screen and Intel Core U hardware. The tablet part is very thin and light (1.6 lbs), get’s a 13.5-inch 3:2 high-resolution touchscreen with pen support, and tucks the processor, memory, storage and a small battery (enough for 2-4 hours of use) behind the display.
The Surface Book’s uniqueness is its dock, which adds an extra battery (combined, the two will offer around 10 hours of daily use), an excellent backlit keyboard and glass touchpad, ports and an optional Nvidia dedicated GPU. The slate perfectly latches to this dock for the notebook experience and can be unlatched when you want to use it as an independent slate. The build quality of both parts is excellent, but the downside of this approach is the rather heavy weight: 3.5 lbs for the two.
Overall, the Surface Book works great both as a laptop and as a tablet, while most other 2-in-1s don’t excel on both ends. The price is going to make it a tough buy for many though, as the base version starts at $1349 for a Core i5 processor with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of SSD storage. The Nvidia GPU costs $350 extra, while memory and storage bumps are expensive as well.
Still, I noticed that most configurations are discounted online, so you should follow this link for up-to-date prices and configurations if you’re interested in this hybrid.
Best Budget: HP Pavilion x360 11
HP’s Pavilion x360 11 is a much more affordable option than the other mentioned above, selling for around $300 to $400.
It’s a convertible with an 11-inch IPS touchscreen, a fairly well built plastic body and a decent non-backlit keyboard. It’s motorized by Intel Celeron or Pentium platforms with 4 GB of RAM and various types of storage and gets a 32 Wh battery. These specs make it capable of dealing well with everyday activities and multimedia content, as long as you keep multitasking at bay.
Overall, HP’s Pavilion 13 is a good computer for school or a decent inexpensive travel companion. The IPS screen and the good build quality recommend it over competitors like the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 or the Acer Chromebook R11, which you can also check out if you’d rather spend even less on a convertible and don’t mind ending up with a TN screen.
- Samsung ATIV Book 9 Spin – review – configurations and prices – a 13-inch premium convertible with an excellent build quality and user reviews, an option for those looking for a top-tier configuration;
- Lenovo Yoga 710 14 – configurations and prices – a mid-priced ultraportable with solid specs, dedicated Nvidia GT 940MX graphics and a 14-inch screen tucked inside a fairly compact and light body, that can rival with most other 13-inch ultrabooks in the same niche.
- Microsoft Surface Pro – configurations and prices – a premium 12-inch Windows tablet with Core M and Core U hardware. Provides a great tablet experience and pen support for inking and drawing, but it’s not as good as a laptop;
- HP Spectre X2 – review – configurations and prices – a more affordable alternative of the Surface Pro, with a more versatile keyboard and fanless hardware;
- Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga – configurations and prices – an ultra-sleek convertible with a 14-inch display and Wacom AES digitizer. Only weighs 3 lbs, but is pricey and tends to run hot under load.
The best fanless ultraportables
If you want an absolutely quiet computer without a fan or a spinning hard-drive inside, these options right here are the ones for you. Just keep in mind that passively cooled platforms are not going to offer the same amount of power as those cooled by a fan, so you should only get one of these for daily activities and limited multitasking.
I’ve listed my favorite options below, and a complete list of fanless ultraportables is available in this article, in case you’re interested in more options.
HP Spectre 12 X2 – the affordable detachable
The Spectre X2 is a detachable, a tablet with a keyboard dock. It offers good specs and performance in a thin and sleek aluminum body, as you can see in the pictures below. It also includes a 12-inch screen with pen support, Core M hardware, a 42 Wh battery, decent IO and a keyboard dock with backlit keys, all weighing around 2.7 lbs.
The higher specced versions of the X2 are rather expensive ($800 and up), but a Core m3 model with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of SSD storage goes for under $600 these days (you’ll find out where by following this link). The keyboard dock is included on all models, while a pen is included only on certain configurations, but the device gets an active digitizer so it’s going to work with most pens, there’s no specific need to buy the HP one.
Apple MacBook 12 – the ultralight option
The MacBook is one of the lightest and slimmest traditional clamshell laptops out there. It weighs 2.02 lbs (0.92 kg) and it’s just .5″ (13 mm) thick, but despite these, it’s also extremely well built and packs some good hardware.
Its case is entirely made out of aluminum, the keyboard is backlit and the screen gets a high-resolution IPS panel, without touch. As for the internals, the MacBook is powered by Intel Core m hardware with 8 GB of RAM and 256 or 512 GB of SSD storage, with a 41 Wh battery that’s going to provide around 8 hours of real daily use. Not bad at all.
The MacBook is expensive though, the base version sells for $1299 and includes a Core m5 processor with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage space. You’re paying a premium for the overall quality and the brand, of course, but given the specs, the MacBook is not actually much more expensive than other premium Core m options. Potential buyers have to be aware that this laptop gets an unusual keyboard with very limited travel and a single USB-C port, so you might have to spend extra on adapters or a dock.
Best budget: Acer Chromebook R11
The R11 is a Chromebook, so it’s not running Windows, but ChromeOS, a simple and secure software meant to offer a solid experience in Internet-based activities like browsing, editing documents, streaming multimedia content and music, etc.
The Chromebook R11 is a best-buy in its class. It sells for around $270 and this kind of money will get you a white notebook with a convertible 11-inch IPS touchscreen, an Intel Celeron processor, 4 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage and a 35 Wh battery, which are solid specs for a mini-laptop in this price range. No wonder the Chromebook R11 is one of the best selling computers in the US and also one of the most appreciated, scoring good reviews with most buyers.
- Acer Switch Alpha 12 SA5-271 – configurations and prices – this is a tablet with a keyboard folio and at the same time one of the very few fanless implementations of a Core U hardware platform. It performs well and it has a correct price, but is not capable of running for a long while on a charge.
- Microsoft Surface Pro – configurations and prices – only the base version of the Surface Pro is available in a fanless version, with a Core m3 processor, 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, for $899, not including the Keyboard Folio. Expensive, but otherwise a solid slate with an excellent screen, pen support, battery life, and build quality.
- Chromebooks – these are solid picks in the sub $300 price range, excellent for Web work and light activities. Most Chromebooks are fanless and you’ll find a large selection in this post, as well as details about the best available options.
Laptops with digitizer and pen support
This section is short and we’ll develop it in the near future, as we’re working on a dedicated-article on this particular topic, which will also include details on the types of digitizers (EMR, AES etc.) and pens available these days.
For now, a couple of good options with digitizers are the:
- 2-in-1 tablets (detachables): Microsoft Surface Pro, Surface Go, and Surface Book lines, Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S, Asus Transformer 3 and 3 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 13 and 15, Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga, Asus ZenBook UX362/UX562.
Stay tuned for the update.
The best affordable laptops under $500
You have a few options to consider when shopping for highly affordable laptops:
- Chromebooks – ChromeOS notebooks great for web-based activities, with prices starting at as low as $150 and screen sizes ranging between 10 to 15.6 inches. Good picks for casual tasks as long as you’re connected to the Internet, not that good for offline use. This article explains what to exactly expect from a Chromebook, how it compares to a regular Windows laptop and includes a detailed list of recommendations, based on budget and features.
- affordable mini laptops – Windows computers with small 11 to 13-inch screens and lower-end hardware specs. Some options 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 – you can find traditional notebooks with 14/15-inch screens in this budget, with fairly competitive specs and features, like Core i3 and i5 processors, 4-8 GB of RAM and decent storage, including SSDs in some cases. These cut some corners on the build quality and choice of materials, getting all plastic cases, and most also get a small battery, a non-backlit keyboard, and a TN screen, but if you dig carefully you’ll even find IPS panels in this price range.
There’s a large collection of popular laptops that sell for under $500 over here, with users reviews and extra details. That aside, you should head over to this article for my personal selection of top-affordable ultraportables, with solid options going for under $500 and premium best-buy options in the $500 to $800 range.
Portable laptops based on screen size
This topic is covered in the following separated articles:
- 11.6-inch ultrabooks or smaller ;
- 12-inch ultraportables;
- 13.3-inch ultrabooks (most of this entire article);
- full-size notebooks with 14, 15-inch or larger screens.
However, I’ll also add a few words on what to expect from each class.
The offer for ultra-compact computers with 10-inch screens, follow-ups of the highly popular netbooks back in the days, is limited to a few 2-in-1s like the Asus Transformer Pad or the Acer Aspire Switch 10 families, as well as the newer Microsoft Surface Go. They get a touchscreen, are built on low-power hardware and are only good enough for basic tasks, but will last for a long while on a charge.
11-inchers, on the other hand, are available in greater numbers and diversities, from the most affordable Chromebooks selling for $150 and up, to higher-end options with advanced features. However, most premium ultra-portables get a 12 to 13.3-inch screens these days, and that’s the segment where you’ll find the most and the better options if you want a computer that looks good, is built well, performs properly, lasts for 6+ hours on a charge and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. In fact, most of the devices featured in the various sections of this post get a 12 to 13-inch screen.
On the other hand, you’ll have to step up to a larger device if you need faster hardware for professional use or gaming. There are quite a few excellent 14-inchers out there, yet this niche is mostly populated with business options, toughly built, packed with enterprise-oriented features and pricey. 15 and 17-inchers are mostly oriented towards regular consumers, but even in this segment, the offer is vast, with options for those interested in portability, performance, gaming abilities or even convertible with touch displays.
These aside, there are also plenty of thin (under 1-inch) full-size notebooks out there if that’s what you’re after, as well as many that are very light, at around 1 kilo or even beyond. Just keep in mind that powerful hardware and a thin case don’t always make for a happy couple, and make sure to read reviews if you don’t want to end up with a computer that gets hot, noisy or throttles under load.
Wrap-up – what’s the best ultrabook?
None of the laptops listed here are perfect, but if you’ll take a look back at the ultra-portables launched in these last years, you’ll see the current generations have come a long way.
The hardware is faster and more efficient these days, which was expected, but alongside came new form factors and features, plus improvements on all the fundamentals that make a laptop great: build quality, keyboards, touchpads, screens, connectivity and battery life, among them. As a result, there are now many good options to choose from.
As for what’s the best ultrabook for you, that’s in the end for each one of you guys reading this post up 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 the 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 check out these other articles on the site:
- the best 11.6-inch ultrabooks or smaller ;
- the best 14, 15-inch or larger ultrabooks and ultra-portable laptops.
- gaming ultrabooks with dedicated graphics chips (good options for programmers, engineers or graphic designers as well);
- 2-in-1 convertible ultrabooks with touchscreens;
- fanless ultra portables – perfectly quiet, without a fan or a spinning HDD inside;
- the best 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 I’m updating the list every 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 updates and launches.