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.
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Microsoft Surface Laptop
4 of 7
- Intel Core i5 (reviewed) or i7-U processors
- 4-16GB RAM
- 128-512GB SSD
- Intel HD 620 or Iris 640
- 13.5-inch, 2256 x 1504-pixel touch screen
- Weight: 1.25kg
- Tested battery life: About 8 hours
- Review price: £1249
The Surface Laptop starts at just £979, and is even less if you’re a student in the UK. You won’t find such good build quality for that price, and for that reason it’s very impressive.
The alcantara keyboard tray might divide opinion, but the full metal chassis and lid is impressive considering how little this laptop weighs. Performance is good, too, especially if you opt for the top-end Core i7 model that tops out at a massive 4GHz and benefits from faster Intel Iris graphics.
Battery life is good, too, we reckon you could snag a full day’s working out of it with conservative use. The screen is among the best of any laptop on this list as well.
You get Windows 10 S as standard, which is quite limiting, but great for security and privacy. However, most people will probably want to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, and you can do so for free until the end of 2017.
The Dell XPS 13 remains our champ, due to its wider range of ports, slightly lighter weight and faster SSD, but the Surface Laptop is very close behind, and for some might be the ideal choice.