Let’s face it: Lugging around a heavy laptop can be annoying and uncomfortable. 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. A lot of regular clamshells and 2-in-1s are also light these days, but what makes ultrabooks distinct is their premium build quality. So, can these tough, compact machines 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 Dell XPS 15 9500(available at Dell) is our top pick because of its flexible configuration options and lightweight build that can still deliver the power professionals may need. 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:
Dell XPS 15 9500
Apple MacBook Pro M1 (Late 2020)
HP Spectre x360 13-inch
Dell XPS 13 9310 2-in-1
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4
HP ZBook Create G7
MSI Summit E13 Flip Evo
Lenovo Yoga C940
Dell Inspiron 3501
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Once again, Dell has taken the crown for the best ultrabook you can buy. The XPS 15 9500 is a little beefier than the XPS 13 models, sure, but in return you get a ridiculous amount of power for not much more weight. It may be overkill for those that just need an everyday office machine, but for those out there that need the latest, fastest processor, dedicated graphics, plenty of RAM, and the flexibility to upgrade it all later, the XPS 15 hits all the right marks.
Its trackpad and keyboard are as amazing as ever, its 4K screen is bright and beautiful, and the surprisingly thin laptop shouldn't be a hassle to carry around. We do wish it had a slightly longer battery life, but it's a common tradeoff to make when dealing with laptops that have a discrete graphics card. We loved our review unit, which came equipped with an 8-core, 10th gen Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX1650Ti graphics card, but you can upgrade it up to an Intel Core i9 processor and 64GB RAM out of the box.
While the Dell XPS 15 offers the best overall experience in terms of raw power and balance, the M1 MacBook Pro 13 is the best ultrabook for the ultra-mobile person. Its Apple M1 processor is best-in-class, breaking our records in both benchmarks and real-world experiences. Its power is on par with that of the flagship Intel Core i9 and AMD Ryzen 9 processors, but the base MacBook Pro 13 is actually quite affordable at $1,249. What's really impressive, however, is its battery power. The MacBook Pro 13 lasted fourteen hours in our Chrome-based battery test, which routinely chews through battery power faster than a video-based test. The longest-lasting Windows competitor, the HP Spectre 14t, lasted 9 hours before giving up.
Compared to last generation, the M1 MacBook Pro 13 will ship with the same amount of ports and fans as the base Intel MacBook Pro 13: two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a single fan. However, unlike last generation, the M1 MacBook Pro 13 rarely needs its single fan as its ultra-efficient processor stays cool even during exceptionally taxing tasks, like video editing.
If you’re interested in getting a new MacBook, there’s only two reasons to turn away from the M1 MacBook Pro 13. Either you need an Intel-based Mac or discrete GPU (i.e. a MacBook Pro 16), or you’re considering the M1 MacBook Air 13. The MacBook Air 13 offers almost exactly the same features for a more modest price tag. For a difference of $300, the Pro essentially offers a Touch Bar, a bigger battery (the Air lasted one hour less than the Pro in our battery test), and a fan. For most people, the Air will be the better value pick, but it’s worth splurging on the Pro if you can afford it.
If you’re debating between an M1 MacBook and a premium Windows laptop, the M1 MacBooks win. They’re more powerful, have a significantly better battery life, and have a wonderful aesthetic and user experience. Unless you’re using Windows-only apps and features, we recommend the MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Air.
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—we 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.
Other Ultrabooks We Tested
HP Spectre x360 13t Touch (13-aw0013dx)
HP's Spectre 13t is a premium laptop that screams quality, with an eye-catching angular design, a beautiful touch display, and plenty of ports—including both new Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports and a classic USB-A port.
It's slim, has a great keyboard, and comes fully loaded with the latest 11th-gen Intel processors, Intel Xe graphics, and a battery that is good for over nine hours of juice in our custom battery test.
Its entry-level model is competitively priced compared to the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, and upgrading to a faster processor, more storage, and more RAM are all more affordable. If you want a beautiful laptop that can do just about anything, the Spectre is a great pick.
Dell’s XPS 13 has long been one of the best-engineered laptops on the market, and the 2-in-1 version of Dell’s flagship keeps a lot of the same features that make the standard XPS 13 so impressive. Its performance was among the best we tested, with our mid-tier configuration boasting a 10th-gen Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. Battery life came in squarely at seven hours, which is just about enough to get you through the workday, and a bright 4K screen will suit you even if you’re working outdoors. Most importantly, it has the same super-thin bezels as its non-touch sibling, meaning you get a 13-inch laptop in a tiny package more similar to competing 11-inch laptops.
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is lacking in a few things compared to the non-touch model, though. The keyboard is also incredibly shallow—even more so than this year’s non-touch version—which means typing for long sessions isn’t as comfortable as other laptops. It’s not as bad as Apple’s disastrous keyboards of the past few years, but it’s still far from ideal. Finally, its storage is soldered onto the motherboard just like the RAM, which means you can’t upgrade it later on like you can with the non-touch version—so buy what you think you’ll need for the future, not just what you need now.
Still, even with those notable downsides, Dell is still ahead of the pack in terms of performance and product design. The trackpad is near-perfect, the touch screen hinge is smooth as butter, and the laptop is thin enough that it’s actually decent to use as a tablet, especially with the sold-separately Dell Active Pen. And even with that super-compact design, it still bested most of its competition in performance, which is no small feat. For that reason, it’s still the best overall 2-in-1 you can buy right now.
If you spend all day typing away, you will adore the Surface Laptop 4’s gentle but tactile keyboard. It’s just about perfect for typing quickly and accurately without all that finger fatigue. Meanwhile, its 3:2 screen ratio is crisp and vibrant, with plenty of vertical space to get work done.
Just like the other Surface laptops, the Surface Laptop 4 has a sleek brushed silver finish and a plush fabric interior that make the laptop look and feel luxe. Media playback is a pleasure with the laptop’s brilliant 3:2 touchscreen and its clear and full-bodied sound. In many ways, it feels like Microsoft’s answer to the MacBook Air.
We tested the Intel Core i7 model, which was one of the fastest laptops we’ve reviewed so far, but there is also an AMD Ryzen model available with even better performance and battery life. We only managed to squeeze eight hours of battery life from our unit, but many users claim they can get north of ten hours or more. This inconsistency holds it back from being the best Windows laptop we’ve tested, but it’s still a darn good laptop.
If raw power is your main concern, consider the HP ZBook Create G7. As its name implies, this beautiful machine is designed with creators in mind, particularly those doing heavy video editing, data science, and other resource-hungry tasks.
Packed with a Core i9 processor, 32GB of RAM, and a RTX 2070 graphics card—not to mention a gorgeous, super-bright 4K display—this machine will handle just about anything you could possibly throw at it.
That comes at a cost, unfortunately, which means it isn't necessarily the perfect machine for everybody. Most folks can get better bang for their buck elsewhere, particularly if you can deal with the more common (and less expensive) Core i7/GTX 1650 combo that graces so many ultrabooks today.
In addition, battery life is just okay, which puts standouts like Apple's latest MacBooks ahead if you're looking to work all day without a power outlet nearby. But if you have money to spare, the ZBook Create G7 is about as powerful as they come, and depending on your workload, that could be all that matters.
The [MSI Summit Flip E13 Evo] is a stellar 2-in-1 ultrabook that's greater than the sum of its parts. With excellent performance, a responsive and vibrant touchscreen, hardy aluminum construction, and an eight-hour battery life, this laptop makes a great companion for students and professionals always on the move.
It can come with up to 32GB of RAM, which is unusual in the 2-in-1 space, and its Intel Core i7 processor with Intel Iris Xe graphics is ideal for heavy multitasking, film editing, and graphic design and illustration work. Artists and notetakers in particular will enjoy the MSI Pen, a Surface pen-like pressure-sensitive stylus that's included with the Summit Flip E13.
Just about our only qualm with this laptop is its keyboard, which lacks tactile feedback and makes it hard to tell if you've pressed a key if you're a light typist. Its touchpad, on the other hand, is glossy smooth and recognizes finger gestures without a problem. The Summit Flip 13’s display is bright and vibrant, able to adapt to bright coffee shops and dark bedrooms with ease. All of the Summit Flip 13’s standout features, from its excellent touchscreen to its premium construction, help it stand tall among the fierce competition.
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. We 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, it plays 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.
Finding a good budget laptop that can keep pace with the premium ultrabooks is no small feat. The Dell Inspiron accepts it with grace: it’s thin, lightweight, and powerful enough to run any productivity task without issue.
While the Inspiron won’t win any beauty awards, the body feels rugged and does a great job of warding off fingerprints. The full-sized keyboard offers responsive keys that perfectly tow the line between soft and bouncy. Meanwhile, the decently large trackpad is smooth and has no issue picking up your finger’s movements. Unlike many of its budget peers, the Inspiron also manages to offer power without sacrificing battery life—it can go for almost eight hours before needing a recharge.
Our Intel Core i5 model was a workhorse, performing the same (or better!) as laptops that cost hundreds of more dollars. Whether you need dozens of Chrome tabs at the ready or find yourself working with Photoshop several times a week, this laptop will perform reliably. The only issue we had with the Inspiron was its dim screen, which may not be bright enough for those who work outside traditional office spaces. It’s not the fanciest, but boy does it get the basics right, offering a comfortable experience that won’t cost a fortune.
If you’re on a barebones budget, the 15.6-inch Gateway may catch your eye in the aisles of Walmart. The 4GB of RAM and build quality on our test model were big setbacks, but its useful selection of ports and extra storage solutions make up for it. Its Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM have just enough power to run Windows 10 and do some light web browsing, but it will chug if you run too many tabs at once.
You can’t expect too much from a sub-$400 laptop, but the Gateway does have some surprises. If you quickly find yourself running out of storage, you can either get a microSD card for the slot on the left, or you can install a second SSD stick in a hideaway compartment on the bottom. Other ports include a USB-C port, an HDMI port, two USB-A ports, and a headphone jack. There’s even a fingerprint reader at the top left on the trackpad, a rare feature for this price range.
Sadly, the build quality is not up to par. The chassis itself is all plastic, and flexing it behind the display distorts the laptop’s screen. While the screen is full HD, it’s also dim and muted even at its brightest setting. The audio, keyboard, and trackpad are about the same: serviceable, but disappointing. The sound is tinny, the keyboard is stiff, and the trackpad is rough.
If you just need a laptop that works for checking your email or writing up some documents, this Gateway laptop will meet your needs. This is a good starter laptop for many, and the fun color choices (sky blue, forest green, hot pink) make it a particularly good choice for kids.
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.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.