Somewhere between a full-size laptop and a trim little tablet, you’ll find this category of powerful, lightweight computers. Just in time for going back to school, we tested eight ultrabooks, including Apple’s MacBook Air, to pick the perfect study partners.
Best Overall : Dell XPS 13
$1,000 (starting) to $1,500 (as tested)
PROS: Not only was this stylish, compact Dellranked highest by testers, but it was also our top lab performer for its long battery life (over 5 hours), high-definition video quality, boot-up and program start-up times, and ergonomically designed keyboard.
CONS: Its lightness makes it prone to tipping off your lap; the Dell has just two USB ports and no SD card slot; and the touchpad occasionally misinterpreted hand gestures.
Sleekest Design : Apple MacBook Air Ultrabook
$1,000 (starting) to $1,600 ($1,300 as tested)
PROS: All the allure of Apple’s operating system and aesthetic for about the same price as a PC. Our engineers deemed it slimmest overall.
Highlights: a smoothly operating trackpad; a backlit keyboard; speedy start-up; impressive battery life (almost 5 hours); great screen quality.
CONS: Has just two USB ports and an SD card slot. Audio was subpar, and video was choppy: For heavy multimedia use, consider the more powerful MacBook Pro.
Runner-Up : Lenovo IdeaPad U300s Ultrabook
$1,199 (starting) $1,499 (as tested)
PROS: For a great balance of power and usability, look to the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s. This laptop outdid much of the competition when it came to ease of use, thanks to its comfortable keyboard, slim profile, and helpful manual and tech support. It also boasts quick startup times, good performance, and excellent battery life, all in a slim, sub-3-pound package.
CONS: If you have lots of extras like an external keyboard and mouse, you’ll find this ultrabook’s connectivity options fairly limited.
$849 (as tested) to $1,429PROS: The thinnest and lightest of the PCs is also among the least expensive. Testers praised the touchpad’s rare left and right mouse buttons and the three USB ports, SD card slot, and great video graphics. One of the quickest start-up speeds and an average battery life (3.7 hours) make it a wise buy.
CONS: With a maximum 128GB of memory, it may eventually require an external drive. We didn’t love its keyboard design, thin-sounding audio, or slightly flimsy feel.
Fantastic Features : HP Envy Spectre Ultrabook
PROS: For more taxing tasks like video streaming and photo editing, the capable HP Envy Spectre is a great pick. It was among the most expensive ultrabooks in our test, but this stylish system, boasts excellent graphics and a great performance score, plus a brilliant high-resolution screen.
CONS: The system may be light, but its bulky charger will likely weigh you down. We found the multi-gesture trackpad glitchy in our tests.