Editor's Note: July 27th, 2020: We added the HP Spectre x360 and the HP Elite Dragonfly to this roundup. After some additional testing, the HP Spectre x360 ended up replacing our previous best overall pick.
Let’s face it. Lugging around a heavy laptop is annoying. If you’re constantly on-the-go, but need a portable laptop that's also powerful, that’s where ultrabooks come in.
Designed with portability in mind, ultrabooks are usually less than four pounds and are popular among business professionals and students. But how can a compact and lightweight machine be powerful enough to handle demanding workloads? We tested a number of the best ultrabooks available today to find out.
After a significant amount of testing, the HP Spectre x360(available at HP Store) is our top pick because of its fantastic battery life and lightweight build. If you’re looking for a different kind of ultrabook, fret not. From convertible laptops to 4K displays, we’ve got something for every type of buyer on this list.
These are the best ultrabooks on the market we tested ranked, in order:
HP Spectre x360
Dell XPS 13 (7390)
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (7th Gen)
HP Elite Dragonfly
Dell XPS 15 (7590)
Lenovo Yoga C940
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HP's Spectre x360 is a premium laptop that screams quality, with an eye-catching angular design, a beautiful screen, and plenty of ports—including both new USB-C ports and a classic USB-A port.
It's slim, has a great keyboard, and comes fully loaded with the latest 10th-gen Intel processors, Intel Iris Plus graphics, and a battery that is good for nearly eight hours of juice in our custom battery test.
Its entry-level model is competitively priced compared to the Dell XPS 2-in-1, and upgrading to a faster processor, more storage, more RAM, and even a wireless LTE modem are all more affordable. If you want a beautiful laptop that can do just about anything, the Spectre is a great pick.
Hi, I’m Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo, the former laptop reviewer here at Reviewed and an editor of our Best Right Now buying guides. From troubleshooting my mom’s temperamental laptop to learning about the different types of processors from my dad, computers have always been a part of my life. That’s why I know how important it is to find the right laptop.
Here at Reviewed, we test laptops for their processing capability, graphics, whether it has a long battery life, and screen brightness. We use popular benchmarks like Geekbench and 3DMark to gauge how well the laptop multitasks, runs games, and more.
To calculate how many hours of battery life, we set the laptops up to continuously cycle through various websites at right around 60% brightness (200 nits) until they run out of power, estimating how much work you can get done on a single charge. We also use each laptop for an extended period of time, rating each on factors like build quality, price, portability, and design.
Some laptops have a chunky form factor and are difficult to lug around. High-powered gaming laptops, for example, can often weigh six pounds or more. Simply put, an ultrabook is a laptop with a thin profile. They’re usually lightweight but powerful, capable of handling demanding workloads like videoconferencing and live streams. They make great business laptops and are also good for students or anyone who just wants to get work done on the move.
General Things to Consider
Performance: The CPU, graphics chip, RAM, and storage inside your PC determine how well your computer can multitask, handle intensive tasks like gaming, and store all your files. The better the specs, the snappier the laptop will feel as you work.
Build Quality: Not only do you want a laptop that can take a beating (since you’ll probably be lugging it around with you), but you want one with a well-built keyboard and trackpad since they’re your primary form of interaction with the machine. A poor trackpad or finicky keyboard can really kill the experience.
Touch Screens, Portability, and Features: 2-in-1 laptops have gained in popularity, but that touch screen and pen cost money to include. Similarly, cramming all those powerful components into a small, easy-to-carry package can often cost more than a larger laptop with fewer design constraints.
You’ll usually find laptops in one of three main sizes, measured by the diagonal length of the display:
13 inches and under: These smaller laptops are great for carrying around, and more than suitable for light work like writing papers and browsing the web.
15 inches: Mid-sized laptops are a bit less portable, and won’t necessarily work in space-constrained spaces like airplane seats. But the larger display is useful for photo editing and watching videos.
17 inches: This is very large, and only recommended if you are doing video editing or other intensive work that requires a lot of screen real estate—and you don’t mind lugging it around.
There can still be varying sizes within those categories—for example, the XPS 13’s smaller bezels make it much smaller than most 13-inch laptops—and sizes in between, like the 14-inch Lenovo Yoga C930. But in general, picking a size range you’re comfortable with can help narrow down the field.
You’ll also want to consider how many USB ports the laptop has, whether you need HDMI and Ethernet, and how comfortable the keyboard and trackpad are to use—this can vary quite a bit from model to model, and it’s important to get something responsive and durable.
You’ll need to consider which operating system you need. Windows is still the dominant OS these days, and if you’re going to play games, edit photos and videos, or need certain software for work, you’ll probably stick with Microsoft’s offering.
If you spend all your time on the web, though, a Chromebook may serve you better than you’d think—between Netflix, Gmail, Google Docs, and even online photo editors like Pixlr, you can do almost anything in a browser, and many of those web apps even work offline for those rare occasions you don’t have Wi-Fi. Chromebooks have the advantage of being cheaper (since they don’t need as much processing power) and virtually virus-free (since they run Linux under the hood).
Under the Hood
Finally, you’ll need to consider the guts—the processor, graphics chip, RAM, and storage that determine your laptop’s capabilities. For browsing the web and using office software, lower-power chips (like the Intel Core i5) are more than adequate. 4GB of RAM is usable in a Chromebook, though even web browsing can eat up RAM these days, so 8GB is recommended if you tend to open lots of tabs, use lots of browser extensions, and want a laptop that’ll last you well into the future—I wouldn’t generally advise 4GB for most Windows users these days.
If, on the other hand, you run more intense workloads—whether that means heavy photo and video editing or running the latest PC games—you’ll want something with a bit more “oomph.” Intel’s higher-end i7 processors will make those video encodes run noticeably faster, and a dedicated graphics will ensure your games run smooth as butter (instead of choppy like a bad flipbook).
No matter who you are, we recommend erring on the side of more storage rather than less—people often underestimate how much space they’ll fill up with all their music, photos, and videos over time, and it’s a hassle to lug an external drive around. Storage can be expensive, though, so if you can’t afford a 256GB solid-state drive, consider buying a laptop with an SD card slot and using a high-capacity card for cheap, expandable storage.
Keep in mind internal upgradeability, too—many modern laptops solder their components onto the motherboard, meaning you can’t swap in more RAM or a bigger storage drive down the line. So either buy a laptop that keeps its components separate or spend a bit more to buy the specs you’ll need in a couple of years—not just what you need right now.
I’ve always been a fan of the Dell XPS line. With its minimalistic aesthetic and lightweight form factor, it ticks off a lot of boxes for me. Not only is the Dell XPS 13 7390 stylish, but it's also a great performer.
The Intel Core i7-10710U processor inside our review unit is based on the Comet Lake generation. That means it has two additional cores, which allow it to take on more demanding tasks. It can handle web surfing, live streaming, videoconferencing, and so on. However, it’s not a gaming machine. The XPS 13 struggles to run graphic-intensive games.
The display is dazzling. When I watched a dizzying action scene from the movie Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn’s colorful outfit was incredibly vivid. The bezels are ultra skinny too, so you’re getting a lot of screen. However, at max brightness, the display hurt my eyes. That said, a screen that’s too bright is a good problem to have.
If you’re looking for a stylish ultrabook that delivers zippy performance, look no further than the Dell XPS 13.
Weighing just 2.4 lbs, the X1 Carbon (7th Gen) is remarkably featherlight. The first time I pulled it out of the box, I couldn’t believe how light it was. Did I find the perfect device for travel? Perhaps. In addition to the lightweight form factor, the battery life is phenomenal.
After running our primary battery test, which surfs the web on a continuous loop, the Carbon died in about nine hours. That’s more than a full workday on a single charge. This is great if you're running from meeting to meeting or class to class without being able to plug in for a while.
When it comes to performance, the Carbon is fast but it’s not a powerhouse. Our review unit came equipped with an i5-8265U processor and 8GB of RAM. It’s fine for checking e-mail or having multiple tabs open at once, but it’s not suited for heavy workloads or hardcore gaming.
As with most Lenovo laptops, the downside is that the price for the base configuration is a little high. That said, if you’re working with a flexible budget, this is one of the most premium ultrabooks you can buy.
HP's 2nd-gen Elite Dragonfly is a laptop built for business class. Though most "business" laptops are boring, the Dragonfly is stunningly designed. It's lightweight, slim, and yet still comes with a full array of ports including USB-C, USB-A, and even a full-size HDMI—no dongles required.
The dragonfly even comes with a built-in Tile tracker, meaning you can more easily find it if you were to lose it or it got stolen. Tile trackers aren't foolproof, but it's an extra bit of peace of mind—especially if you travel a lot.
In our tests, the Dragonfly blew us away with a whopping 8 hours and 50 minutes of battery life—far better than any Windows laptop we've tested in recent memory. The main drawback here is the price (it starts at nearly $2,000 as reviewed) , and the fact that it has an older 8th-gen Intel vPro processor.
The older processor isn't a huge deal (Intel's vPro program prioritizes steady supply and support and the chip is fast enough), but if you're spending your own money and not putting it on the corporate card we'd recommend the faster, cheaper, and very similar HP Spectre x360.
With its muted color scheme and business-casual design, the Dell XPS 15 (7590) may not look like much at first glance. However, when it comes to power, this thing is a real beast. Under the hood, our review unit had an i9-9980HK processor and 32GB of RAM. This machine blazed right through our graphics test, which checks for consistent and stable performance under heavy loads. While it might be better suited for things like video or photo editing, it’s as powerful as a gaming laptop.
Dell fixed the awkward webcam placement, which I was thrilled about. In previous models, the webcam sat at the bottom bezel of the display. The webcam now sits at the top bezel, which offers a much more flattering angle. You no longer have to worry about coworkers looking up your nose during Zoom meetings.
My only nitpick is that it’s a little heavy for an ultrabook. Generally speaking, the gold standard for ultrabooks is anything under three pounds and the XPS 15 is a little over four. While it’s not as heavy as a gaming laptop, which can tip the scales at six pounds, I wouldn’t say the XPS 15 is the most portable machine around. If it's power you're after, you can't get much better than the XPS 15.
The Yoga C940 is just an all-around good laptop. Whether you’re a young professional or a college student, it has a little something for everyone. Performance is solid and the convertible design makes it easy to share information. The build is robust, too. I didn’t notice any flex anywhere in the bottom or top portions.
As for performance, the Yoga packs a decent punch. Armed with an i7-1065G7 processor and 12GB of RAM, it can handle heavy workloads like running many open tabs at once and streaming live video. Although it’s not designed for computer games, I could play Rise of the Tomb Raider on medium graphics.
The really cool thing about this machine is the 360-degree hinge, which doubles as a soundbar. When I listened to Lizzo (my Queen) on Spotify, her vocals sounded crisp and punchy. The sound really fires out at you. This hinge itself also allows you to swing the screen all the way around, so you can prop it up like a tent for movie watching or use it as a tablet. This design is great for the classroom or international flights.
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.