The Age of Ultrabook: Best Ultrabooks for the Holidays
In the world of PCs, you could easily say 2013 is the year of the ultrabook. With the introduction of Intel’s 4th Generation Core processors (aka “Haswell”), the value proposition of ultrabook laptops became significantly more appealing. Why’s that? Battery life. Haswell processors have boosted battery life of the previous generation of ultrabooks by as much as 50%.
A super-portable laptop with similar battery life and wake-up time as a tablet? You got it. Below are some of our gift ideas for the top Haswell-based ultrabooks. (By the way, don’t expect optical drives in an ultrabook — that’s the price of being thin.)
Buy This When You Don’t Feel Like Spending Ultra Cash: Dell Inspiron 11 3000
The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series 11.6″ Touchscreen Ultrabook is an ultrabook on a budget, which is a bit of an oxymoron, since ultrabooks are thought of as luxury laptops. Nonetheless, at under $400, this is the best price point you’re going to find for a Haswell laptop that’s 0.83″ thin and about 3.15 pounds.
MSRP (entry level): $400 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $349
- Pros: Inexpensive price ($399). Gorilla Glass touchscreen. Eight hours on a single charge.
- Cons: The Haswell Celeron processor ain’t gonna be winning any benchmark tests anytime soon. 1366 x 768 resolution is nothing to write home about.
Buy This for Your Parents: Lenovo IdeaPad U430
The Lenovo IdeaPad U430 14″ Touchscreen Ultrabook has received some very solid reviews from the usual sources like LaptopMag and PCMag. It’s a step above the Inspiron 11 3000 laptop, but at a sticker price of $700, it’s still priced way under the usual $1,000+ you normally expect with ultrabooks. The IdeaPad U430 is 0.81″ thin and weighs around 4 pounds, which is not horrible for the screen size. Expect between 7 to 8 hours of battery life with the Haswell CPU.
MSRP (Stanard Core i5 model): $699 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
- Pros: Solidly built (aluminum) at excellent price point. Hybrid SSD cache for fast startup times. 1600×900 display is very good if not dazzling full HD.
- Cons: Not nearly as exciting as the Yoga series, although the U430 does feature a love it or leave it Voice Control utility.
Buy This for Someone Who Won’t Run at the Mention of “Acer”: Acer Aspire S7-392
You may be surprised to hear this, but despite Acer’s somewhat deserved reputation as being a sub-par budget brand, the Acer Aspire S7-392 13.3″ Touchscreen Ultrabook is widely considered the current cream of the crop of Windows ultrabooks. (Note: the S7-391 is last year’s 3rd gen version.) It’s got a hinge that lies back 180 degrees and is ridiculously thin at 0.51″ and a super light 2.87 pounds.
MSRP (Core i5 model): $1,450 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
- Pros: Ultra thin and ultra light. Aluminum unibody chassis. Gorilla Glass 2 covers the lid. 180-degree hinge. 8+ hours of battery life.
- Cons: Expensive. 1080p display is nice but there’s no option for the 2560×1440 resolution that’s available overseas.
Buy This for Someone Who Wants Apple Without the Apple: Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus
The classy, luxury Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus 13.3″ Touchscreen Ultrabook is the Lexus of Windows Ultrabooks, boasting an absurdly awesome screen resolution of 3200 x 1800 pixels (275 ppi) and premium build quality throughout. It has a razor-thin profile of just 0.54″ and weighs 3.06 pounds. Plus, with the Haswell CPU, battery life is in the range of 7 to 8 hours.
MSRP (Standard Core i5 model): $1,400 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
- Pros: Awesome 3200×1800 10-point touch display that blows away the competition (except perhaps the Macbook Pro with Retina). Smooth aluminum build. Good battery life.
- Cons: Expensive. Slightly heavier than the previous model.
Buy This for the Mac Addict: 13.3″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display
What, a MacBook Pro is an ultrabook? It really is. The newest 13.3″ Macbook Pro with Retina display (Late 2013) is thinner than ever at 0.71″, just a bit thicker than the MacBook Air at 0.68″ (thickest point). At 3.46 pounds, it’s still heavier than the sub-3 pound Macbook Air, but you’re getting the fantastic 2560 x 1600 “Retina” display and the new, higher-performance Iris graphic chip.
A year later, however, the Retina display doesn’t feel as innovative when compared to higher resolution displays found on the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus and Lenovo Yoga Pro 2.
MSRP (Entry level): $1,299 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $1150
- Pros: Superb battery life (rated at over 9 hours), better than most ultrabooks except for the Macbook Air. Excellent trackpad. The entry level price has dropped $100 from last year. Standard SSD storage. Can run Mac and Windows.
- Cons: No touchscreen if you care about that sort of thing. Expensive. Limited warranty without Apple Care. No longer innovative.
Buy This for the Athletically Inclined: Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga Pro 2
Lenovo has been leading the pack with innovative laptops designs, and the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga Pro 2 Hybrid 13.3″ Touchscreen Laptop manages to balance form and function. Like the previous model, the Yoga Pro 2 features a 360-degree screen hinge, but now the screen dazzles with an eyeball-popping 3200 x 1800 touchscreen (276 ppi). Plus, it’s even svelter now at just 0.61″ thick and 3.06 pounds.
MSRP (Standard Core i5 model): $1000 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $900
- Pros: Innovative, attractive design that works well as both traditional laptop and a tablet. Light, thin and incredible display. Backlit keys. Good price for what you get.
- Cons: Only about 6 hours of battery life which is on the low end of a Haswell ultrabook. Keyboard is exposed in tablet mode.
Buy This For Someone Who Likes Thrill Rides: Dell XPS 12
While the form factor of this year’s unique Dell XPS 12 Touchscreen 12.5″ Laptop remains largely unchanged, the addition of the Haswell CPU bumps battery life up a couple hours to over 7 hours of computing. At 0.77″ thick and 3.35 pounds, the XPS 12 manages to remain relatively slim and light. Dell has taken a different tack than Lenovo with its convertible laptops. The screen swivels around and lies on top of the keyboard, so when it’s in tablet mode, the keyboard is not exposed as it is with the Yoga. The swiveling display also stays in place better with this year’s model.
MSRP (Standard Core i3 model): $1,200 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $950
- Pros: Swivel display works well and is not as gimmicky as it looks. 1080p touchscreen is excellent.
- Cons: Tablet experience is not as good as a dedicated tablet.
Buy This for Someone Who Loves the Classics: 11.6″ MacBook Air
Hard to believe, but in some ways the 11.6″ Macbook Air is a classic, which is not always a good word in the tech world. Nonetheless, the pioneering Macbook Air is on this list not only because it’s the ultrabook that started it all but because it’s still one of the best laptops ever made.
However, the same design elements that have made the Macbook Air iconic have now also become a little stale as the design of the Air has not changed for several years. With the introduction of the Haswell processor in the Fall 2013 models, the Macbook Air has taken a leap forward with drastically improved battery life—up to 12 hours. At 0.68″ at its thickest point and just 2.38 pounds, the wedge-shaped MBA is as about as svelte as ultrabooks get.
MSRP (Standard Core i5 model): $999 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $900
- Pros: Portability is incredible. Can run Mac and Windows. Still looks awesome.
- Cons: No Retina Display (1366 x 768 resolution — really?) No touchscreen, if you care. Design possibly getting stale.