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Best Ultrabook 2017: The best thin and light notebooks you can buy


Best Ultrabook 2017: we guide you through how to choose a thin and light notebook, then list our best-buy portable computers starting at around £500

What is an Ultrabook?

An Ultrabook is a term that was invented by Intel, although it's now a common vernacular for any thin and light ultraportable laptop. Such laptops are what most of us desire to own, offering power in a chassis that's light enough to carry around everywhere. For the purposes of this guide, we've limited it to thin and light Windows 10 laptops, since MacBooks and MacBook Pros fall into their own unique category.

The marvels of miniaturisation don't come particularly cheap, however. So while you can pick up a traditional laptop from £200, prices for Ultrabooks start at around £500. Typically speaking, the more expensive laptops offer smaller cases, higher-resolution displays and better build quality, rather than more power.

Spending between £500 and £600 will buy you a 14-inch model, weighing around 1.5kg; you won't get the premium build quality of more expensive models. At this price, Ultrabooks will be light enough for occasional travels, but those who are on the move more often will want something lighter still.

For this, you'll need to spend around £800 to £1000. Typically, these Ultrabooks will weigh closer to 1kg have a 13.3-inch screen. Expect a Full HD model at this kind of price.

Spend upwards of £1000 and you're heading into premium territory. Expect high-quality metal cases, weights of around 1kg to 1.3kg, and much higher-resolution displays.

Are Ultrabooks powerful enough?

Thanks to Intel's increasingly efficient range of processors, Ultrabooks are home to the same range of mobile processors as most other notebooks. As such, you can expect performance from an Ultrabook to be just as good as that seen from a larger laptop, showing that these computers can cope with most tasks. The one caveat is that some desktop replacement laptops use the more powerful 'HQ' or 'H' processors, such as the Core i7-7920HQ. These are considerably more powerful, but you have to sacrifice portability to get this level of performance.

The one thing that you usually have to sacrifice when buying an Ultrabook is gaming performance. Thanks to their small cases, they physically lack enough room to fit in a discrete gaming chip. If games are your thing, you'll need a dedicated gaming laptop instead.

How much battery life is enough?

Given the small size of Ultrabooks, it's likely that you'll often be using one away from a power socket. Battery life is incredibly important, then, and it's worth getting a computer that can last a typical working day away from a wall socket. We put all of our laptops through rigorous battery tests. Any laptop that lasts seven hours should see you through a real working day – but for those who are on the move for much of the day, a model lasting ten hours or above will serve your needs better.

Acer Swift 3
Key features:
  • 14-inch Full HD IPS display
  • Intel Core i3, i5 (reviewed) and i7 available
  • 8GB RAM
  • 256GB SSD
  • Windows 10
  • Weight: 1.5kg
  • Tested battery life: Around 8 hours
  • Review price: £650. Starting price: £500

The best cheap Ultrabook

The Acer Swift 3 is the model that proves that Ultrabooks don't have to be incredibly expensive, with models starting at just £500. Impressively, considering the price, this laptop is all-metal. Although build quality can't quite match the best Ultrabooks, it's still great to have a metal case.

Weighing in at 1.5kg, the Swift 3 is at the cusp of what's acceptable to carry around all day. For more frequent travellers, a lighter Ultrabook would be a better choice.

Acer has used a Full HD 14-inch IPS screen. Its matte finish helps reduce reflections, but it's a little dim, and we found that images looked a little muted.

The Core i5-7200U model reviewed hits the sweet spot for performance and price (around £650), but you can upgrade to a Core i7-7500U – although it's unlikely that the majority of folk will need this. For light use, go for the Core i3 model (around £500). Our i5-based Swift 3 showed itself to be a capable performer.

We measured battery life at 7hrs 24mins, which is a little weak; you'll get most of a working day out of the Swift 3, but in our tests the laptop was a little shy of Acer's claimed 10 hours.

While the screen isn't the best, we can forgive that given the Swift 3's low starting price. If you want something lighter with a better quality display, the Lenovo IdeaPad 710S is the model for you.
Lenovo Ideapad 710S 13ISK
Key features:
  • 13.3-inch Full HD IPS display
  • Intel Core i5 and i7 (reviewed) available
  • 8GB RAM
  • 256GB SSD
  • Windows 10
  • Weight: 1.1kg
  • Tested battery life: Around 8 hours
  • Review price: £800

The lightest 14-inch laptop

With a premium build and decent price, the Lenovo Ideapad 710S is something of a bargain. Its sleek metal chassis looks fantastic and gives this laptop a high-end feel. Impressively, it weighs just 1.1kg – that's a little more than the recent MacBook at 0.9kg – but then the Ideapad 710S houses a larger 13.3-inch display.

It's a great Full HD IPS display, too. In our tests, we found that it had displayed excellent contrast and colour reproduction. With a maximum brightness of 353 nits, this screen in easily viewer in practically all conditions.

Inside is a Core i7-6560U, and with it the Lenovo Ideapad 710S proved itself to be a capable performer. Since writing, Lenovo has upgraded the system to use either a Core i7-7500U or i5-7200U. Performance will fair a little better from these new chips. At the time of writing, the i7 model was cheaper, making it a better buy.

We tested battery life at just over eight hours, surpassing Lenovo's claims. That's good going and shows that this laptop should easily make it through a working day. Overall, the Lenovo Ideapad 710S is a great machine at a fantastic price.
Key features:
  • 13.3-inch QHD+ touchscreen
  • Intel Core i5 and i7 (reviewed) available
  • 8GB RAM
  • Intel HD Graphics 620
  • 256GB SSD
  • Windows 10
  • Weight: 1.29kg
  • Tested battery life: Around 10 hrs
  • Review price: £1299

The best premium Ultrabook

The Dell XPS is the reality of what the word Ultrabook conjures up. Available in rose gold and silver, it offers some choice; personally, we prefer the silver version. With Dell's 'InfinityEdge' bezel, the one thing that's certain is that the XPS 13 is a good-looking laptop.

Although a Full HD model is available, we reviewed the 13.3-inch model with a QHD+ display. That gives you a significant 3200 x 1800 resolution, so everything on-screen looks super-sharp. This quality display covers 92.6% of the sRGB colour gamut, and it's a touch panel, so you can interact with Windows though your fingers.

Performance is snappy from the Core i7 chip, so you'll be able to handle intensive tasks – such as HD video editing – with ease with this laptop. If you want to save a bit of cash, there's a Core i5 model, too.

Despite the laptop's small size and weight, it lasted an impressive 10hrs 2mins in our battery tests: that's certainly enough for a long flight or a day's work.

With plenty of storage configuration options, too, the XPS 13 can be built to meet your needs. If you rely on your laptop for serious work and want something light enough to carry around with you all of the time, this is the best Ultrabook to buy.
Key features
  • 12.5-inch Full HD display
  • Intel Core i5 and Core i7 (reviewed) available
  • 16GB RAM
  • 512GB SSD
  • Windows 10
  • Weight: 910g
  • Tested battery life: Around 9hrs
  • Review price: £1499. Starting price: £1099

The best laptop under 1kg

If you want a computer that you can carry around all of the time, a model that weighs under 1kg is ideal. Coming in at 910g, the Asus ZenBook 3 fulfills that brief and goes up against the MacBook. Apple's laptop has a higher-resolution screen, but offers much slower performance.

Thanks to Asus using a decent CPU (an Intel Core i7-7500U) in our review sample, the ZenBook 3 can handle anything you throw at it. A fantastically fast SSD helps here too, making this computer feel super-snappy. You can save around £400 by dropping to the Core i5-based model, which will prove a better deal for most people.

Battery life is good: it lasted just over nine hours in our benchmarks. That's clearly enough for a day's work and will reduce the number of times that you have to visit a power socket.

While Apple's MacBook may have the resolution advantage, the Full HD 12.5-inch display here remains excellent: it's bright and vibrant, although colour coverage is a little low.

Technically stunning, with great performance, the Asus ZenBook 3 is the best choice for anyone that wants to carry their laptop with them everywhere.
HP Spectre x360 G2
Key features:
  • 13.3-inch IPS (UHD or FHD) touchscreen with optional privacy filter
  • Intel Core i5 (reviewed) and i7 available
  • 256GB M.2 SATA SSD
  • 16GB RAM
  • Windows 10
  • Weight: 1.29kg
  • Tested battery life: Around eight hours
  • Review price: £1378

The best convertible Ultrabook

HP's EliteBook range has been a mainstay of businesses for years. With the excellent EliteBook x360 G2, it isn't difficult to see why this is the case. With its fully flexible hinge, metal chassis and optional stylus, this is an Ultrabook that can do it all.

The 13.3-inch Full HD IPS panel is excellent. Although it covers just 83.2% of the sRGB colour gamut, colours appeared bright and vibrant. Excellent contrast helps bring out details, although we wish the screen was a little brighter.

Thanks to the 360-degree hinge, the screen can fold all the way back, turning this Ultrabook into a tablet. That's when the optional stylus comes into its own, transforming the x360 G2 into a capable machine for note-taking and sketching.

Performance is excellent, with the Core i5-7300U zooming through our tests. This CPU offers the best value for most people, although more demanding users can upgrade to a Core i7-7600U. Battery life is great, too, lasting around eight hours in our tests. That's easily enough to get you through a full day; only the Dell XPS 13 does significantly better.

The Dell XPS 13 is slightly smaller and a bit slicker; the HP EliteBook x360 G2 is more versatile and can convert into a powerful tablet.
Key features:
  • 12.5-inch IGZO 2560 x 1440-pixel touchscreen
  • Intel Core i7
  • 256GB SSD
  • 16GB RAM
  • Windows 10
  • Weight: 1.24kg
  • Tested battery life: Around five hours
  • Review price: £1249

The best gaming Ultrabook

One thing that we don't usually associate with Ultrabooks is gaming prowess. With thin cases, there usually isn't enough room inside for a discrete graphics chip. Razer has found a way around the issue with the Razer Core Dock. Connecting to the Razer Blade Stealth via Thunderbolt 3, the Razer Core offers up an external graphics card, turning this laptop into a more powerful gaming machine.

Although the Razer Blade Stealth looks good, its finish picks up fingerprints, and the large bezel makes the 12.5-inch laptop far bigger than it needs to be.

The display has a huge resolution of 2560 x 1440, and it means you'll need to use Windows 10's scaling options to see anything clearly.

On the inside sits Intel Core i7-7500U processor, which provides more than enough performance for any task; it's one of the fastest Ultrabooks that we'd seen at the time of review. However, the laptop becomes quite noisy when under load.

Performance comes at the cost of battery life, and we couldn't eke out more than five hours of real use. That's disappointing; we'd expect Ultrabooks to last far longer.

Ultimately, if you simply want an Ultrabook then the Dell XPS 13 is better at this price. If you want an Ultrabook that can play games, however, then the Razer Blade Stealth and Razer Core are a tempting proposition.
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