Best Ultrabooks Windows Central 2021
Ultrabooks were first defined by Intel nearly a decade ago when a new type of laptop was introduced, and they're now among the best Windows laptop options available. While laptops have always been on a trend toward a thinner, more compact body, Ultrabooks go one step further. They achieve as thin a body as possible while also not sacrificing battery life or much performance. Over the years Ultrabooks have continued to be refined, and we've arrived now at Dell's XPS 13 9310, our top overall pick. It's the best-looking laptop on the market today thanks to a thin aluminum chassis, display with 16:10 aspect ratio, and sizable keyboard and touchpad. Performance is solid from 10th Gen Intel Core processor (CPU) options, and it's packed with premium features that make it worth the relatively high price tag. If it's not quite what you're looking for, there are plenty of other great Ultrabooks that we've rounded up here.
- Best Overall: Dell XPS 13 9310
- Runner-Up: Surface Laptop 3 13.5
- Best Convertible: HP Spectre x360 13t
- Best 14-Inch: Lenovo IdeaPad S940
- Best 15-Inch: Dell XPS 15 9500
- Best 17-Inch: LG gram 17
- Best Gaming: Razer Blade 15
- Best Business: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
- QLED Display: Samsung Galaxy Book Flex
- Best Value: HP ENVY 13
Best Overall: Dell XPS 13 9310
Dell has been perfecting its XPS 13 for years, and it has finally produced the closest thing to perfection yet seen. The 9310 model adds a new 16:10 aspect ratio for the display, which eliminated the chin normally found below the display. Combined with a 91.5% screen-to-body ratio, it makes for a beautiful look. Dell offers three different display options. The basic non-touch option is 1920x1200 (FHD+) with an anti-glare finish and 500 nits brightness. A middle option has the same FHD+ resolution but includes touch and edge-to-edge glass, as well as 500 nits brightness. An anti-reflective layer helps cut down on glare. Finally, there's a 3840x2400 (UHD+) touch version with an anti-reflective layer and 500 nits brightness.
The 720p webcam resides above the display and does an OK job, though some might want 1080p for regular video conferencing. Included is also an IR camera for facial recognition, as well as a fingerprint reader built into the power button on the keyboard. Keys stretch to the sides of the laptop, and 1mm key travel is rather comfortable for typing all day. The Precision touchpad has been enlarged as well for easier productivity.
Intel 11th Gen CPUs are used here for excellent performance, and you can add up to 32GB of LPDDR4x RAM and 2TB M.2 PCIe solid-state drive (SSD) to back it up. While RAM is soldered, the SSD can be upgraded after purchase. The XPS 13 is packed with hardware, yet it weighs just 2.65 pounds (1.2kg). Ports include two Thunderbolt 4, a microSD card reader, and 3.5mm audio. This laptop is also a part of Intel's EVO certification, ensuring you get snappy performance and outstanding battery life. Wi-Fi 6 is also included.
- Almost no bezel and 16:10 aspect ratio
- Beautiful display options
- Stunning look and design
- Excellent keyboard and touchpad
- Strong performance and battery
- 720p webcam could be better
Runner-Up: Surface Laptop 3 13.5
Microsoft made a bunch of smaller changes to the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3, building on a strong foundation. Along with 10th Gen Intel Core CPUs, up to 16GB of LPDDR4x RAM, and a 1TB M.2 PCIe SSD, Microsoft added Wi-Fi 6 connectivity and a USB-C port. Other ports include USB-A, Surface Connect, and a 3.5mm audio jack. The keyboard and touchpad are now quieter but still offer comfortable typing that's hard to beat. A Precision touchpad that's about 20% larger also helps boost productivity.
The 13.5-inch touch display is beautiful with its boxy 3:2 aspect ratio, 2256x1504 resolution, and Surface Pen compatibility for inking. Brightness hits about 400 nits, and the color is spot on, though it would be nice to see an anti-reflective layer to help combat glare.
Antenna lines are hidden for a streamlined look, and the design is as good as ever. Alcantara fabric on the palm rest is still available, but you can also go with aluminum if you'd like something more traditional. Above the display is an IR camera for logging in through Windows Hello.
- Gorgeous design and build
- Includes USB-C
- Comfy keyboard and touchpad
- 10th Gen Intel CPUs
- 3:2 touch display
- No Thunderbolt 3
- No Dolby Vision or anti-glare display
Best Convertible: HP Spectre x360 13t
Up until the most recent model, the HP Spectre x360 13t only had a few things keeping it from greatness. With the most recent update, however, those things have been changed. Its touchpad now uses Precision drivers for a far better pointing experience, and bezel around the display has been slimmed down by 66%.
The 13.3-inch touch display comes in either 1920x1080 (FHD) or 3840x2160 (UHD), the latter option with an anti-reflective layer to help reduce glare. There are sRGB, AdobeRGB, and DCI-P3 presets with excellent color straight from the factory. If you're into inking, the active pen and convertible design — which allows you to rotate the display around to tent, stand, and tablet modes — should be ideal.
Despite the thin bezel, there's still an IR camera above the display for Windows Hello. The overall laptop chassis has shrunk down, and to achieve the smaller build, the top-firing speakers have been moved to the bottom. Audio is still good, just not as unmuffled as before. Rounding things out is a beefy 60Wh battery for long battery life.
- 10th Gen Intel Core CPUs
- LTE and Wi-Fi 6
- Precision touchpad drivers
- 4K AMOLED touch display
- 60Wh battery
- No more top-firing speakers
Best 14-Inch: Lenovo IdeaPad S940
Lenovo's IdeaPad S940 has an all-metal chassis that's thin, light, and precisely cut for a great look. A large Precision touchpad resides below the comfortable keyboard; the combination is excellent for those why type all day. To either side of the keyboard is a quad-speaker setup featuring Dolby Atmos for great sound. If you'd like a laptop for media, this is a great choice. Ports include two Thunderbolt 3, USB-C, and a 3.5mm audio jack.
The 14-inch display comes in a few different options depending on what other performance hardware you include. There's a basic non-touch FHD model with up to 400 nits brightness and glossy finish; there's a UHD model with up to 500 nits brightness and glossy finish, or an FHD touch version with 400 nits brightness and glossy finish. Contour Display design allows the screen to kind of curve off like a smartphone, making it look truly premium.
Inside, get up to a 10th Gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 CPU, 16GB of LPDDR4x RAM, and a 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD. Wi-Fi 6 is also included for speedy wireless connectivity.
- 4K HDR Contour display
- Lots of config options
- Dolby Atmos quad speakers
- Strong performance
- Compact, light 14-inch build
- Battery life could be better
Best 15-Inch: Dell XPS 15 9500
The Dell XPS 15 9500 has received the same treatment as our top pick, the XPS 13 9300, with larger 16:10 display, larger keycaps on the keyboard, and larger Precision touchpad. The display comes in either FHD+ non-touch or UHD+ touch, both Sharp IGZO panels with unreal color and contrast. There's almost no bezel at all, yet Dell has managed to fit an IR camera for Windows Hello just above the display.
The keyboard is now more comfortable thanks to larger keys, and the touchpad is absolutely enormous for easier pointing. Flanking the keyboard on either side are top-firing speakers. Combined with two down-firing speakers, audio is excellent.
Configure models with up to a 10th Gen Intel Core i7-10875H CPU, 64GB of DDR4 RAM, 2TB M.2 PCIe SSD, and NVIDIA GTX 1650 Ti dedicated GPU with 4GB of VRAM. RAM and SSD can be upgraded after purchase if you decide to go with lesser hardware to save some money at checkout. The larger 86Wh battery delivers strong battery life, and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity offers fast wireless connectivity.
- 16:10 aspect ratio display
- Beautiful FHD+ and UHD+ options
- Powerful performance
- Top-firing speakers with solid audio
- Comfortable keyboard and enormous touchpad
Best 17-Inch: LG gram 17
Laptops as large as the LG gram 17 usually come with quite a bit of weight, but the gram keeps its weight down to just 2.98 pounds (1.35kg). That's only a half-pound heavier than the XPS 13, which is quite an achievement. It has a 17-inch display with 16:10 aspect ratio and 2560x1600 resolution, making it an excellent option for even specialized work.
The Precision touchpad is relatively small but tracks well. The keyboard includes a number pad and has decent travel, making typing comfortable. The power button in the top-right corner of the keyboard has a fingerprint reader built-in, and Wi-Fi 6 is included for speedy wireless connectivity.
For internal hardware, add up to a 10th Gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and two 512GB PCIe SSDs. There's, unfortunately, no discrete GPU for extra performance, but Intel Iris Plus integrated graphics put up a good fight. For ports, you get Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, three USB-A 3.1, a microSD card reader, and a 3.5mm audio jack.
- 16:10 display aspect ratio with 2K resolution
- All-day battery life
- Fingerprint reader
- 10th Gen Intel hardware
- Light build
- Touchpad relatively small
- No dedicated GPU despite size
Best Gaming: Razer Blade 15
Ultrabooks are generally more geared for productivity work due to size and thermal constraints, but if you're into gaming, there is the Razer Blade 15. It's available in both base and advanced models, each with a different set of performance hardware. If you need the absolute most power, the advanced model includes up to a 10th Gen Intel Core i7-10875 eight-core CPU, NVIDIA RTX 2080 Super Max-Q GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB PCIe SSD.
The 15.6-inch display comes in a few different flavors, with FHD models hitting 144Hz or 300Hz, as well as 4K OLED in touch and non-touch. No matter what, you should be able to find accurately the screen you want. There's also a huge Precision touchpad and keyboard with RGB lighting. Along the sides of the keyboard are top-firing speakers that pump out decent audio.
There are plenty of ports on the Blade 15 despite it measuring just 0.70 inches (17.78mm) thin and weighing in at 4.5 pounds (2.04kg). That's pretty remarkable, and to help keep the laptop from overheating, there are a couple of different cooling solutions depending on the base or advanced models.
- Excellent performance
- Premium build quality
- Plenty of ports
- Outstanding audio
- Stunning display options
- Keyboard has short travel
- Very expensive
Best Business: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon is now in its eighth generation, bringing 10th Gen Intel Core CPU options, long battery life, Wi-Fi 6 wireless connectivity, and optional LTE if you need to be in touch at all times. It has plenty of security features, including fingerprint reader, FIDO authentication, camera shutter, IR camera, and PrivacyGuard display layer. And, being a ThinkPad, it's designed to withstand some heavy use.
The keyboard is outstanding thanks to ample travel and well-spaced keys, and the touchpad is paired up with a TrackPoint system with red pointing nub and physical keys. Ports on the laptop — which is just 0.59 inches (14.9mm) thin — include two Thunderbolt 3, two USB-A 3.1, HDMI, Ethernet extension adapter, and 3.5mm audio jack.
The 14-inch display is available in a base FHD configuration with anti-glare finish, low-power pull, and 400 nits brightness. Stepping up, there's a QHD version with the anti-glare finish and 300 nits, as well as a 4K version with Dolby Vision HDR 400 and up to 500 nits brightness.
- Plenty of configuration options available
- Many security features
- Excellent keyboard
- Decent Port selection
- Durable build
- Quite expensive
QLED Display: Samsung Galaxy Book Flex
Samsung's 15.6-inch Galaxy Book Flex is an enticing convertible Ultrabook that keeps bulk down for better use in tablet mode. It weighs about 3.35 pounds (1.52kg) and is just 0.58 inches (14.9mm) thin, which are respectable numbers for a convertible this size.
It comes with a QLED touch display with excellent color that rivals OLED, though here with a more natural look that's not quite as aggressive. It manages about 600 nits brightness though it does have a glossy finish. Perfect sRGB and DCI-P3 color make it great for any work, though it's a shame there's only FHD and no 4K. For inking, there's an S-Pen built right into the laptop.
Configure a model with up to a 10th Gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD, enough hardware for intensive productivity work. Wi-Fi 6 is included, and for ports, you get two Thunderbolt 3, USB-C, and a 3.5mm audio jack.
- Bright, colorful display
- Flexible, slim, and light
- Respectable battery life
- Built-in pen for inking
- Massive touchpad
- Glossy display finish
- Shallow keyboard
Best Value: HP ENVY 13
HP's ENVY 13 is one of our favorite HP laptops due to what you get for the asking price. It was recently refreshed, bringing smaller display bezel, a keyboard that stretches edge to edge, and speakers now on the bottom. It's a smaller overall laptop, and the screen-to-body ratio currently sits at 88%. The keyboard's keys are well spaced and have decent travel, and the sizable touchpad makes pointing easy.
Models can be configured with up to a 10th Gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 CPU, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and 1TB M.2 PCIe SSD. Also refreshed is the dedicated GPU, which is now an NVIDIA MX350 with 2GB of VRAM. Altogether, this is enough hardware for some intensive work, including photo editing and even some light gaming.
The 13.3-inch display comes in a few different versions, ranging from FHD to 4K. A Sure View privacy filter is available on some FHD models, and you can also get in touch with both FHD and 4K. Wi-Fi 6 is included, and for ports, you get Thunderbolt 3, two USB-A, and a microSD card reader.
- Redesigned chassis
- Comfortable keyboard and large touchpad
- Dedicated GPU available
- Lots of configuration options
- Great price for what you're getting
- Still using 16:9 aspect ratio
- Not as premium as other options
All of the above laptops fit the Ultrabook criteria, and all options should ultimately please. However, if we had to pick just one to suit most people, it's the Dell XPS 13 9300. This Ultrabook is as close to perfection as we've seen, earning a full five stars in Executive Editor Daniel Rubino's glowing review. Its gorgeous display options have almost no bezel at all, even along the bottom, and the 16:10 aspect ratio delivers a boxier look that is very attractive.
It's thin, it's light, and it has the performance hardware inside to keep up with productivity work. Battery life is excellent and should get your through a day (especially with the FHD+ model), and the keyboard and touchpad won't hold you back. It's available in the classic silver exterior with a black carbon fiber interior. However, the white woven glass interior is quite fetching and will cover up oil and smudges a lot better.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Cale Hunt is a staff writer at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on PC, laptop, and accessory coverage, as well as the emerging world of VR. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.
Daniel Rubino is the executive editor of Windows Central. He has been covering Microsoft since 2009 back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Surface, HoloLens, Xbox, and future computing visions. Follow him on Twitter: @daniel_rubino.
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