Excellent processing speed and graphics. Available in 13.5- and 15-inch screen sizes. Large trackpad. Comfortable keyboard. Available in 4 stylish colors. Battery life max is 11.5 hours, and weight is under 3 pounds.
An expensive but worthwhile investment.
Vibrant touchscreen. 3D fingerprint-scanning security. Designed for multitasking. Excellent WiFi coverage. HD webcam. Backlit keyboard. Boots up extremely quickly. Weighs just 2.2 pounds.
Its 8-hour maximum battery life is passable, but it could be better.
Responsive and great for multitasking. Folds into laptop and tablet modes. Only 0.55 inches thick. Includes Active Pen tool. Slick metal frame. Just 3.79 pounds. Large keycaps.
Laptop does not feature a storage compartment for its Active Pen.
Built-in privacy screen and camera shutter. Fingerprint and facial recognition security options. Near-silent keyboard. Impressive processing speed. Premium speakers. Only 2.2 pounds.
Iridescent Dragonfly Blue looks slick, but it is the only color option offered.
Gorgeous Full-HD thin-bezel display. Its NVIDIA GeForce GTX Graphics run modern games at full settings. Customizable RGB LED keyboard. Dolby Atmos audio. Only 0.6 inches thick and 3.2 pounds.
Its high price tag may limit this model’s appeal to dedicated PC gamers.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Ultrabooks are popular, very thin, very lightweight laptops that don’t sacrifice performance. In terms of sheer computing power, they can rival just about anything out there. But with a whole bunch of different Ultrabooks available — almost all of the top PC makers produce them — wide-ranging specifications, and the usual computer-related jargon, it can be difficult to assess the relative merits of each.
BestReviews has been investigating the Ultrabook market, because finding answers to complex questions about products is why we’re here. We’ve looked at a huge range of machines from all the major brands so we can bring you the information you need to make an informed purchasing decision.
Our recommendations represent an excellent cross section of the price and performance options on offer. In the following Ultrabook buying guide, we focus on the main technical features so you understand what distinguishes them and can buy with confidence.
The exact specification, set by Intel, has changed several times and likely will do so again. However, in general terms, we can define an Ultrabook as a lightweight laptop computer with an Intel central processing unit (CPU). Currently, the CPU is one in the Intel Core series. In increasing speed they are i3, i5, i7, and i9 (though the latter are rare and expensive).
All Ultrabooks are made with alloy unibody frames (one-piece shells) that are light but strong. Thickness is further reduced by the use of a solid-state drive (SSD), a type of hard disk that has no moving parts, plus the use of only USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt ports.
We’ve included some Notebooks when their specifications fall within the typical Ultrabook range. You could argue that, strictly speaking, they don’t belong, but we feel they should be taken into consideration.
Touchscreens mean that for many users a keyboard isn’t a big deal, but for those who do a lot of typing or data entry, it’s an important consideration. Poor key response soon becomes extremely frustrating.
Screen size has the biggest impact on the Ultrabook’s dimensions, though not necessarily its weight. There are several models between 13 and 14 inches, though 15.6 inches is the most popular. The maximum size is 17 inches, though few people need a portable screen that big, and the laptops are more awkward to carry.
Screen type is also a big deal. Full high definition (FHD), or 1080p, provides an image resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. Not long ago that was considered pretty good! Now we have ultra high definition (UHD), or 4K, with a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, which gives a noticeably sharper picture. It might be further enhanced by high dynamic range (HDR).
Touch: Along with your choice of definition also comes a choice of either touchscreen (on FHD) or multi-touch screen (on UHD). Standard touch is probably fine for those who are used to working with a trackpad, but if you want your Ultrabook to behave like your phone or tablet, you need multi-touch.
Processor speed effectively refers to how fast your Ultrabook operates. The higher the “i” number, the faster the computer. Core i5 and i7 are widely used and plenty fast enough for most people, but Core i9 is available if you run lots of processor-intensive tasks.
Graphics cards and the graphics processor unit (GPU) probably won’t be a major consideration unless you’re a serious gamer. Video editing can be processor intensive, but that’s the CPU, not the GPU, a seemingly small but very important difference! Standard graphics cards provide adequate performance for a 1080p screen. Advanced cards (typically Nvidi and AMD) make a big difference to gameplay on UHD screens. They can give virtually instantaneous refresh rates and thus make the whole experience more immersive.
Random-access memory (RAM) works in tandem with processing, so a bigger number means it feels like a faster computer in everyday use. If you’re a writer and you’re using the internet for research, you don’t really need a super-fast processor and lots of RAM. If you’re a graphics or video professional, you’ll want to ramp it up as much as possible.
Hard disk size is really all about the files you need to store. Text and data files tend to be quite small, so 256 or 512 gigabytes (GB) should be enough. Video files can be huge, so those users will be looking at terabytes (TB).
Battery life can sometimes be overlooked when you’re bombarded with headline figures for multicore processors, gigabytes, terabytes, and so on, but there’s nothing more frustrating for an Ultrabook user than the need to find somewhere to plug in halfway through an important job or in the middle of a movie. The whole point of an Ultrabook is to maximize portability.
Manufacturer figures need to be taken with a large pinch of salt. They invariably work on best-case scenarios, and you’ll usually see figures for “up to” rather than what’s likely in reality. To be fair, some activities use up power much more quickly than others. The screen is the major culprit and dimming the brightness a little can make a big difference if you’re carrying out mundane tasks.
Still, with battery life anywhere from 7 to 17 hours quoted, it’s obvious that some machines manage battery usage much better than others. If you need to go a long time between charges, it’s a significant consideration. You might also want to think about investing in a portable charger or power bank.
It’s important to know that there can be considerable variety within models that share the same name. Different configurations might seem to make things look more confusing, but you’re actually getting greater choice, which is a good thing. You just have to remember to compare like with like and one thing at a time.
The number of ports and the overall screen size depend on the case, and so these are the same across all models. Common alternatives include the following:
RAM: 8 to 64 gigabytes
Hard disk: 256 gigabytes to 2 terabytes
Screen resolution and type: FHD touchscreen or UHD multi-touch.
All of these things make a difference in price, but choosing a multi-touch UHD screen over an FHD one usually adds several hundred dollars to the sticker price.
If you’re concerned about security, look for an Ultrabook that offers fingerprint recognition.
Stylus: Adrawpen Stylus Pen
A smart stylus (or touchscreen pen) offers the ability to write and draw on your Ultrabook screen and provides much greater precision than a fingertip. The Adrawpen is very affordable, and it is Microsoft Pen Protocol (MPP) compatible, so it works not just on Surface models but Ultrabooks and two-in-one PCs from many other manufacturers, too.
Sleeve: AmazonBasics Laptop Sleeve
You probably don’t want a big, bulky case for your slender Ultrabook, but some form of protection is definitely a good idea. The AmazonBasics laptop sleeve comes in a variety of sizes and colors and shields your Ultrabook from everyday grime and minor bumps.
Case: Tomtoc 360 Laptop Carry Case
Fancy something a bit more stylish than a sleeve and with a higher level of protection? Try this zippered carry case. It’s still compact, but there’s an extra pocket for some of your other gear, too. And it comes in several prints and colors.
If you frequently use a smart stylus, or you think you will with your new Ultrabook, check if one is included. Often, they’re not, but there are plenty of aftermarket models available.
Inexpensive: There isn’t really any such thing as a cheap Ultrabook. Getting that level of computing into such a compact case means using more expensive components than those in standard laptops. Even entry-level Ultrabooks cost $700 or more. Note that we have seen several low-spec Ultrabooks for as little as $350, but these are older-generation machines running Windows 8.
Mid-range: While specification will have an impact, we think many people can find an Ultrabook to suit them for between $1,000 and $1,500.
Expensive: Despite their diminutive size, you’ll have no trouble finding Ultrabooks that are as powerful as many desktops, if not more so, but you’ll need deep pockets. It’s easy to spend $2,500 to $3,000 on a high-performance model. Crossover devices — those called Notebooks but that otherwise meet Ultrabook specifications — can top $5,000.
Q. What’s the difference between a touchscreen and a multi-touch screen?
A. Touchscreens detect the tiny electrical discharge from your fingertip. Multi-touch screens can identify as many as ten separate contact points (though three to five is more common on Ultrabooks) using what’s called capacitive sensing. This gives not only touch positions but incorporates relative pressure, too.
Q. Is an Ultrabook a good choice for gaming?
A. It really depends what kind of gamer you are and what you expect from your gear. A 15.6-inch or 17-inch Ultrabook with a fast processor, advanced GPU, and plenty of RAM will give you a high-performance, ultra-portable laptop for gaming wherever you go. On the other hand, you’ll get more performance for less money if you choose a desktop computer, and it’s much easier to customize or expand it to the spec you want. Also, for some players, there’s no substitute for a large monitor.
Q. Are Chromebook and Ultrabook the same thing?
A. No. Although at a glance there may seem to be physical similarities, they’re actually quite different. Ultrabooks are powerful, lightweight laptops running Windows software. Chromebooks run the Chrome OS, developed by Google, which runs a selection of Google’s free apps, but they cannot run Windows programs. They’re small and cheap but heavily reliant on an internet connection for full functionality.
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