The 13-inch laptop has gone on leaps and bounds recently, thanks massively to Intel’s Ultrabook specifications.
At the moment, all Ultrabooks feature 13-inch screens, with 14 and 15-inch models incoming later this year.
In many ways, a 13-inch laptop is the perfect size for a portable PC; they’re not as fiddly and squint-inducing as netbooks, but not as heavy and awkward as a full-on notebook.
The price of these machines is higher than netbooks though, so if your wallet’s feeling the strain we recommend you take a look at our guide to the 15 best netbooks in the world today.
1. HP Envy 13 – £533
HP’s Envy cost a whopping £1499 when we reviewed it, and we rightly criticised it for being far too expensive. Now that price has dropped to under £1000, making it a worthy competitor to Apple’s 13-inch MacBook. Like the MacBook, it sports a quality build, lozenge-type keys, a lovely screen and a dedicated graphics card. Unfortunately, battery life isn’t that great, but if you fancy buying something of Apple’s inscrutable quality without the Apple branding, look no further.
2. Acer Aspire S3 – £680
Acer’s take on the Intel Ultrabook specifications may not be quite as skinny as half-sister company Asus’ Zenbook, but the price is certainly slimmed down. Packed with a Core i7 processor and 4GB of memory, the Aspire S3 proved a capable multi-tasker able to run powerful photo and video editing software. The keyboard is impressive for such a slim machine, and we were impressed by just how quietly it ran. 149 minutes of battery life won’t see you taking it on extended trips, but the price and form factor makes it an ideal first venture into the Ultrabook market.
3. Lenovo IdeaPad U300S – £893
Sitting firmly between other Ultrabooks in terms of both price and performance, Lenovo’s IdeaPad still proved that Intel’s specifications make for versatile and powerful little lappies. Lenovo has prioritised business use on the IdeaPad, so you’ll find a comfortable keyboard and matt screen. While the latter may not be ideal for photos and movies, it’s perfect for working outside or in the glare of the sun. Long battery life and low weight make it great for long business trips, and while the design is nothing special it’s still head and shoulders above non-Ultrabook laptops.
4. Toshiba Satellite Z830-10U – £900
Toshiba’s Ultrabook somehow includes a sub-woofer, an ethernet port and three USB ports in a package that weighs a mere 1.1kg and is just 16mm wide at its thickest point. The miracle of micro-engineering comes at a cost, though: it’s one of the flimsier Ultrabooks we’ve looked at. It’s not quite as powerful as other Ultrabooks we’ve looked at, although it proved perfectly adequate for photo editing and was quick to boot up and shut down. Battery life impressed, too, and we reckon it’ll last a full day of real-world use.
5. Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Late 2011) – £942
Intel’s Ultrabooks may have Apple’s 13-inch ultraportable firmly in their sights, but they still have quite a fight on their hands. The MacBook Pro’s handsome looks make everything else look a little bit pathetic, and the buttonless touchpad is one of the best we’ve ever seen. This update includes a faster processor and larger hard drive, on top of standard Mac-centric luxuries like a backlit keyboard, an excellent screen and an HD webcam.
6. Asus Zenbook UX31 – £1,000
An incredible introduction to Intel’s Ultrabook specification, Asus’ Zenbook is a draw-droppingly well-designed piece of kit. It draws favourable comparisons to Apple’s MacBook Air, with an ultra-slim form factor (just 17mm at its widest point when closed) and distinctive concentric design on the lid. Add to this powerful components, long battery life and excellent sound, and you’ve got an immensely capable little laptop. The fact that the biggest problem we had was with the trackpad buttons says it all here, really.
7. Dell XPS 13 – £1,000
The Dell XPS 13 makes its debut in March and it looks like a cracker. The first thing that strikes you about the XPS 13 is how compact it is. Despite it being a 13-inch display, the 31.6 x 20.5 cm footprint is narrow and Dell makes no secret of its desire to be smaller than the 13-inch MacBook Air but with a similar screen size. It’s thin, too, with a 6-18mm footprint and is a gorgeous-looking device. Our previous Ultrabook design best has to be the Asus Zenbook but the Dell XPS 13 really cuts it. It looks the part and feels it too at 1.4Kg.
8. Samsung 9 Series – £1,300+
Although we’ve reviewed the old model – check out our Samsung 9 Series review – we got hands on with its successor at CES 2012. The original Series 9 was one of the world’s thinnest laptops, but Samsung has managed to shave another 4mm from its size-zero body, and the updated 13″ model measures just 12.9mm when closed. The 15-inch version measures just 15mm, and one certainly gets the impression that Samsung wants to prove a point to the Ultrabook crowd. Duralumin, the tough alloy used on the original model, has been axed – possibly because it was prone to scratches – and replaced by standard aluminium, which feels much more resilient, and should stand up to contact with other items in your bag.
9. Sony VAIO Z Series – £1,931
Just under £2,000 is a lot to spend on a laptop, especially one so small. But this Sony VAIO is basically a desktop in a tiny laptops’ clothing, and it includes a proper desktop Core i7, 6GB of DDR3 RAM and an Nvidia GT 330M graphics chip. You needn’t worry about this beefy setup draining the battery, either: we got a decent 285 minutes out of it. It’s all wrapped up in VAIO’s exquisite style and rugged build quality, and the screen is a sight to behold. As we said in our review, “this is easily one of the best laptops you can currently buy.”
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