It comes as no surprise that the laptop industry is striving for smaller and smaller form factors, to a point where tablets and laptops are almost at a convergence point. 2-in-1’s aren’t the only slim computing solution out there though, as you can still find a lot of excellent ultrabooks that deliver top computing speeds without costing an arm and a leg. So check out some of 2015’s best ultrabooks below.
1. Asus Zenbook UX305FA-ASM1
The Asus Zenbook UX305 is an ultraportable notebook with reliable midrange performance and a price tag that’s at least $200 below most ultrabooks on the market. It brings the Zenbook line of ultrabooks to a new level of portability with its weight of 2.6 pounds and it dimensions of 18.50 x 3.60 x 11.70 inches.
Its 13.3 inch (1920×1080) IPS matte screen works great outside, but does not come bundled with a touchscreen in any form, which may be a downside for some users but not all. Its strong metal case is high quality, as is to be expected from Asus, and like other Zenbooks, the UX305 sports the signature ripple finish on the back.
This laptop’s port options include a MicroHDMI output, three USB 3.0 ports, a headphone/microphone jack, and some status LEDs. Three USB 3.0 ports is nice to have, but other ergonomic factors of this machine don’t have us quite as excited.
The low front profile makes it easy to type comfortably, but the lack of a backlit keyboard is surprising from an ultrabook of this quality and price. The trackpad is likewise somewhat mediocre, but again, still plenty usable. What’s most interesting is the processor that this computer sports, which is explained in greater detail in the below video.
While we feel the reviewer in the above video judges the Zen’s Intel M-5Y10 processor rather harshly, it definitely differs from their powerful Core i series in performance. The Zenbook’s M processor will not handle heavy-duty programs quite as well as a 5th gen i5, true, but it does offers some very unique upsides in return for a hit in power.
The M processors are small, low voltage, and fanless, which make them ideal for an ultra-slim, super-mobile laptop that is small and totally silent. This processor is part of the reason that this laptop can disappear in your briefcase or backpack, while still getting you up to 10 hours of battery life.
Of course, the battery will more realistically max out between 6-8 hours, but it is also powering a speedy 256 GB SSD and 8 GB of RAM to help pick up some of the slack for the processor.
For the price, the Zenbook UX305 is a portable and convenient machine with a solid battery life and good enough performance for regular use. It is hard to overstate how nice the fanless system is, which makes it no surprise that this isn’t the only M Processor-based machine on the list.
- Slim and quiet fanless CPU
- Up to 10 hour battery life
- Strong build quality
- Fanless setup means poor cooling
- No backlit keyboard
- Lower CPU performance
2. Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14
The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex can be considered Lenovo’s less expensive alternative to their Yoga 3 ultrabook (also reviewed below), albeit it only gets 300 degree rotation instead of the full 360.
This means that you can still use the handy presentation and tent modes, but not the tablet mode, which will be a missed feature for many.
Considering the price for this model, the lack of dual tablet functionality can be worth looking past, as you are getting a fairly lightweight and well-performing machine. This model has last year’s Intel Core i5-4200U processor, and although it’s a 4th generation being compared to machines with newer 5th gen processors, it still holds up well in benchmarks.
That is complemented by 8 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD, which help speed up the overall package. A somewhat surprising choice was the use of single band WiFi, which leaves you somewhat stranded on the 2.4 GHz frequency, known to be a bit slower in crowded areas.
Port options are still up to date as well, with one USB 3.0 port, full size HDMI, ethernet, charging port, two USB 2.0 ports, an SD card reader, headphone jack and a power button on the side. The battery is also removable without dismantling the computer, which is a rare blessing these days considering those are the first part to go usually.
The IdeaPad is far from the winner in the ease of use category, as it is somewhat bulkier at 4.4 pounds and 0.84 inches thick. Many will appreciate the 14 inch screen, which as big as you can go while still holding some semblance to the idea of an ultrabook, but the 1366×768 resolution of the 10-Point Multitouch Display is a little lower than it should be at that screen size.
The screen is still serviceable though, as is its spacious (non-backlit) keyboard and reliable Multitouch Touchpad. The plastic casing is nothing special, but also not quite a weak point for the machine.
And its 8 hours of battery life is pretty excellent, but not game-changing either. For a larger notebook such as this one though, all of these features are more than what I would have thought to ask for out of an ultrabook just a few years ago.
- 300 degree rotation
- High performing CPU
- Good value for the price
- Single band WiFi
- Bulkier casing
- Lower resolution screen for its size
3. Apple MacBook Air MJVE2LL/A
Unless you’ve been living in an apple tree, you probably recognize the Macbook Air as one of the smallest, sleekest ultrabooks on the market. And while many of the older MacBook Air models still perform just as well as their newest Early 2015 model (MJVE2LL/A), this one has a couple of eye catching new features.
First the basics: the Air is available in an 11.6 or 13.3 inch screen, and with either a 128 GB, 256 GB, or 512 GB SSD. Both base models have 4 GB RAM (which is easily upgradable), and the same thin and lightweight metal casing.
Apple’s ultrabook is the only one on this that comes loaded with OS X Yosemite, and whether or not that’s a good thing is totally dependent on the user. For now, just keep in mind that you can pretty much load any OS on any machine, so you’ll want to focus on specs and ergonomics when picking a laptop.
In that category, Macs exceed as well, with an excellent keyboard with curved keys, and a backlit keyboard with an ambient light sensor. Top it off with a beautiful 1440×900 Retina Display, and you’ve got a machine that’s quite enjoyable to use for even the most basic of tasks.
Again, much of this you probably already know, but there are minor changes made ON THIS YEAR’S MODEL that might be pleasing. Watch an unboxing below that highlights some of the new features of this year’s model.
The latest MacBook Air 7’s main upgrade is its Intel Core i5 Broadwell processor Turbo Boosted to 2.7 GHz, which improves overall performance and energy efficiency. The track back has also been revised to the new Force Touch trackpad, which offers different pressure clicking modes and haptic feedback.
The onboard graphics capability have also been updated to Intel HD Graphics 6000, which will no doubt improve gaming performance. You also get an improved battery life, earning you an impressive 9 hours on the 11 inch model and about 12 hours on the 13 inch model.
The lack of chassis redesign means that the Air isn’t the slimmest computer on the block anymore, but that is not a major concern as they keep adding new features onto the current Air design (plus it is rumored to be getting thinner soon enough).
An additional Thunderbolt port is now present. This means that the Air now comes equipped with an SD card reader, two USB 3.0 ports, two Apple proprietary Thunderbolt ports (easily adaptable to Mini DisplayPort), a MagSafe2 charge port, and a heaphone jack.
Apple is not making any major leaps forward with the newest MacBook, and when other Windows-powered machines are making as many major changes as they are, one can only assume something big is forthcoming for Apple laptops. Until then, the Early 2015 MacBook is still a competitive option, especially if you prefer OS X.
Price: $894.00 and up
- Up to 13 hours of battery life
- Improved processing power
- Pressure-sensitive track pad
- Not a major improvement over previous models
- Uses Apple proprietary display ports
- No longer the smallest laptop out there
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4. Dell XPS13
The Dell XPS13 is Dell’s newest ultrabook, and is surprisingly small and thin at 11.90 x 7.80 x 0.50 inches. That’s about the same size as the Surface Pro 3 with a keyboard included, so again, you will truly be surprised by the size of this 2.8 pound machine, especially coming from Dell.
It has a sleek silver aluminum finish top and bottom, and sports a convenient suite of ports including Mini DisplayPort, two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, a power indicator, an SD card reader, and a security lock slot.
One downside of the design is the fan vents on the bottom side of the laptop, which most laptop users know can be easily covered when actually used on your lap — or worse, a bed or pillow.
This version of the XPS13 comes with a matted 1920×1080 screen with a minuscule 2 mm bezel, which Dell refers to as an Infinity Display. The one downside of this small bezel is that the webcam has been relocated to beneath the screen, making it almost unusable.
Under the hood, the XPS13 is packing a new 5th Generation Broadwell Intel Core i5-5200U that clocks in at 2.20 GHz with Turbo Boost. This version comes standard with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB, which are soldered in and therefore not user expandable, but there is an all-around upgraded version for those willing to make the larger investment.
While graphics are definitely integrated-only in this size machine, its specs would make it capable of running at least some 3D games on low settings, and would be incredibly quick at performing basic productivity tasks.
It is a very ergonomic laptop with a sturdy backlit keyboard display, a multi-touch trackpad that makes functions like pinch-zooming a breeze, and plenty of space for the hand to rest, especially with the lower profile on the extreme ends of the laptop.
With a battery life that is rated for up to 15 hours, and one of the smallest overall ultrabooks to come out this year, the Dell XPS13 is an excellent contender for a highly functional, highly portable machine.
Price: $964.99 (20 percent off MSRP)
- High performance CPU
- 15 hour battery life
- Smallest laptop listed
- RAM is not user expandable
- Poor webcam placement
- Inconvenient fan vents on underside
5. Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro
The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, while slightly more expensive than we’d like it to be for this post, is absolutely worth including anyway, just for its incredible form factor. As a part of Lenovo’s incredibly successful 2-in-1 Yoga line, the Yoga 3 Pro is unsurprisingly smaller and lighter than anything else on this list.
The Yoga’s more compact form makes its tablet mode incredibly useful, since it is close to the thickness of a tablet even with its keyboard rotated backwards 360 degrees. The Yoga 3 Pro’s new watchband style hinges replaced the flimsy plastic hinges that plagued the previous Yoga models, making what would be its greatest weakness its casing strong point.
And while it is smaller than most ultrabooks on this list, it still has the nicest display, with an impressive 13.3 inch QHD+ (3200×1800) IPS LCD touch display. It is a bright and glossy screen that is complimented by a backlit keyboard, a responsive touchpad, and a nice dimpled wrist rest.
In terms of ports you get two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 port that doubles as a power port, an SD card reader, a headphone jack, and a Micro HDMI port. This is a surprising amount of accessory ports considering the device’s compact size, and the Yoga 3 earns extra kudos by having their proprietary charger double as a USB port.
As this is a touch device with a high resolution display, battery is expected to drain fairly quickly, but actual reviews of the battery are mixed. Many factors on this machine can affect overall battery life, so those who take every precaution to preserve battery can probably get up to 10 hours of use from a charge, but a power user such as myself cannot.
This ultrabook’s Intel Core M 5Y70 Broadwell Processor is supposed to help preserve a battery charge with its efficient architecture, but as previously mentioned, this also means lower performance.
With a speedy 256 GB SSD, and up to 8GB of RAM, the Yoga 3 Pro is still fast enough for regular use, but the compact, silent, and fanless processor will definitely not be capable of 3D rendering or any other heavier functions.
If the appeal of the Yoga 3’s features outweighs the price, you can also go the option of getting last year’s Yoga 2 Pro, which is the better value for performance as well, since it will have better battery life and an Intel Core i5 or i7 depending on which model you go with.
Price: $1,229.99 (21 percent off MSRP)
- Small, light 2-in-1 form factor
- QHD+ Resolution display
- Durable watchband hinges
- Inconsistent battery life
- Lower CPU performance
- More expensive than normal ultrabooks