Best 13-inch laptops: which is right for you?
4th Dec 2012 | 12:54
The top 13" laptops on the market
The 13-inch laptop has gone on leaps and bounds recently, thanks massively to Intel's Ultrabook specifications.
In many ways, a 13-inch laptop is the perfect size for a portable PC; they're not as fiddly and squint-inducing as netbooks, but not as heavy and awkward as a full-on notebook.
And there are plenty of PC and Mac options available, too.
For a broader view, look at our best laptops in the world today. But whatever you do, read on to find our favourite 13-inchers of the past few months in no particular order.
1. MacBook Air 13-inch
In a market becoming densely populated with slim-line laptops from a massive range of manufacturers, Apple still holds the trump card with the MacBook Air. It packs in cutting-edge technology from Intel, along with faster RAM and updated connection ports compared to its predecessor, offering a great experience. The keyboard is excellent (and backlit), the Multi-Touch trackpad works brilliantly, and it's as fast as you like.
2. Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga
The IdeaPad Yoga is all about flexibility (hence the name), offering tablet and laptop all in one. As far as tablet experiences go, a 13-inch screen may seem like overkill, until you're holding it on your lap. And, practically speaking, we love that if you see something in the tablet or other non-laptop modes that merits a deeper dive, you can pull the keyboard out and get busy. Aside from Microsoft's own-brand Surface tablet, this is an ideal flagship device for Microsoft and Windows 8. As much as possible, it takes complete advantage of the Windows 8 environment, particularly the new UI. For now, it's hard to imagine anyone topping a device that can be favourably compared to other laptops as well as tablet convertibles.
3. MacBook Pro with Retina display
Apple's late 2012 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display isn't for everyone. Many will baulk at the price, and even those who are willing to pay it should ask themselves whether the small saving and slightly smaller size is enough to recommend the 13-inch Retina notebook over its more powerful 15-inch counterpart, but there's no denying its quality and attractiveness. The Retina screen takes notebook displays to new heights; its Ivy Bridge processors are very powerful; and the new form factor makes it the most portable 13-inch MacBook yet.
4. Acer Aspire S7
This touchscreen Ultrabook was one of the best we saw at IFA this year, thanks to its premium feel. The display is great, with multi-touch and a Full HD 1080p resolution, despite being among the thinnest laptops available. It's light, as well, so will be great for carrying around. When it comes to specs, it's no slouch either, including the latest Intel chips and an SSD for fast running.
5. Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A
The Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A's screen is its big showpiece. It's not just the resolution, but the overall quality. Great colours, excellent viewing angles, good contrast ratio – at 13.3 inches, it's a 1080p masterpiece. Performance is just as speedy as you'd hope for the price, with Windows 7 picking up almost instantly from standby, and even booting barely giving you a wait. Really importantly, it's also comfortable and pleasant to use. The trackpad is good, the keyboard is great, and it's made really well.
6. Toshiba Satellite Z930
This Toshiba Satellite Z930 is a very accomplished Ultrabook – thin, light and powerful enough to handle a wide range of tasks simultaneously. As a work computer, the Toshiba Satellite Z930-10X benefits from the range of connections on offer, including Ethernet, HDMI and three USB ports. At 20mm thick and weighing only 1.1kg, you can easily carry the Toshiba Satellite Z930-10X from home to the office every day without any trouble. As a mobile workstation, it's an excellent purchase.
7. Samsung Series 5 Ultra
The Samsung Series 5 Ultra offers excellent value for money, and if you're looking for an Ultrabook on a budget, this is well worth considering. You get 500GB of storage – much more than most SSD-based Ultrabooks – and it offers an excellent keyboard and trackpad. Usability is something we've come to expect from Samsung after testing many of its laptops, and it's certainly the highlight here. Probably the biggest thing in its favour is the price, though – it's great balance of features and budget.
8. Dell XPS 13
We can't help but be stunned by the look and feel XPS 13 and readily admit that it's jaw-droppingly attractive. The footprint is actually similar to an 11-inch laptop, so it's even smaller and less intrusive than you might expect. When it comes to performance, it's pretty typical for a thin and light laptop, but that means fast boots and near-instant use from sleep. Dell's produced something that's both good for business and personal use, even if it's not the cheapest out there.
9. Sony VAIO S Series 13P
The Sony S Series 13P is a shining example of Sony's ability to craft great laptops, and it's practically flawless as an ultraportable business machine. Both the portability and usability are excellent here. So much so, that the excellent specification almost fades into the background – there's a Blu-ray player, Thunderbolt, Fingerprint scanner and backlit keyboard, as well as SSD and a 203 minute battery life. On a chassis this size, that's all absolutely exceptional.
10. Lenovo IdeaPad S300
The Lenovo IdeaPad S300 isn't quite an Ultrabook, but – aside from its lack of a fast drive – it has much the same appeal. It's got a low price tag for this kind of laptop, but Lenovo hasn't scrimped on the important things, so it has a pretty good range of connections, including a handy USB 3.0 port, HDMI-out and the latest generation Wi-Fi adaptor for faster wireless speeds. It certainly looks the business, and the build quality looks as if it came from a laptop costing twice the price. It may not be the slimmest or lightest, but it is very attractive, well-built, very nice to use for long periods of time and it does have a decent amount of lick underneath the hood, thanks to its Ivy Bridge processor.
11. Asus Zenbook UX32A
Asus now regularly turns out gleaming high-end machines that we can't take our eyes off, and the Zenbook UX32A is one such machine. The design and usability are great, from the slickness of Windows 7 with the Ivy Bridge processor to the great keyboard with the subtle backlight. Like its predecessor, the Asus Zenbook UX32A is also slim and light enough to carry around all day and the range of connections, especially the three USB 3.0 ports, is excellent. If you're on a budget and looking to make the step up from a cumbersome laptop to a gleaming new Ultrabook, you won't find many better options than this one.
12. MacBook Pro 13-inch
The MacBook Pro is a formidable machine. The new processors and improved graphical capabilities give it a considerable power boost over its predecessors, and the USB 3.0 ports make available a wealth of already-released high-speed storage peripherals. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is ideal for those who need a little more configurability and storage than the MacBook Air can offer, but also need a very portable machine. Intel's latest chips give it some serious performance, and it's hugely usable, with an excellent keyboard and trackpad.
13. Sony VAIO T Series 13
Sony's entry to the Ultrabook market was long overdue, but the Sony Vaio T13 is a fantastic looking ultra-portable computer that is perfectly suited for somebody looking for a day-to-day media-friendly laptop. The build quality is so sturdy and strong that we were never concerned when it came to carrying the Sony Vaio T13 around, even without a protective sleeve. It's also got the speed you'd expect from an Ultrabook, coming on from sleep almost instantly.
14. HP Folio 13
The HP Folio 13 is really more aimed at the business market than the home user, swapping the likes of a powerful CPU for stability, reliability and security. And yet, thanks to the Samsung SSD, real world performance and responsiveness is still good. It's very solidly constructed, too, and the tactile experience reeks of quality. That's especially true of the backlit keyboard, which is a pleasure to use. The battery life is solid as well, meaning that while this isn't a showy Ultrabook, it's a solid choice.
15. Toshiba Satellite Z830
As Toshiba's first Ultrabook, the Z830 is an excellent computer, booting quickly and performing well. At 1.1kg, it's unbelievably light, even by Ultrabook standards. Likewise, the 13.3-inch screen is one of the thinnest we've seen. An SSD offers plenty of speed, and battery life is excellent. It also offers Intel's WiDi wireless display technology, which is still a fairly rare feature.
16. Samsung Series 9
The Samsung Series 9 is a fantastic-looking laptop that doesn't sacrifice usability, like many ultra-portable laptops. But aside form the design, we loved the speed and responsiveness of the system, thanks to the SSD drive. The speedy resume from sleep, and the ability to be in a fully functional version of Windows in just 10 seconds makes the Series 9 hugely versatile.