Believe it or not, there was a time when laptops were heavy, bulky, slow computers that were only used as a necessity by those who needed a computer while traveling. Thankfully, technological improvements have dramatically altered the landscape in terms of laptops, and now they are better than ever.
Ultrabooks comprise one of the highest-selling laptop types, and competition among manufacturers to constantly push the envelope has resulted in a saturated market full of quality laptops. This also makes it a little hard to find the best ultrabooks, as there are hundreds to choose from.
Well, if you’re looking for information on the best ultrabooks, you’re in luck. We’ve examined and tested numerous ultrabooks in order to come up with a shortlist of five, each with their own advantages and intended uses.
But before we get to all of that let’s first define what an ultrabook actually is.
*Notice: On mobile devices, scroll right to see entire table
Ultrabook is a term that gets thrown around quite a bit these days, leading may to be confused about what actually constitutes one in the first place. Do a quick internet search and you’ll see plenty of laptops being labeled ultrabooks that are very much not.
The term “ultrabook” was actually invented by Intel back in 2011. This term was a reference to laptops that were able to provide a high level of speed, storage, and overall performance, while also being on the slimmer, lighter end of the spectrum.
So, an ultrabook is a laptop that is thin, easy to carry, and still contains a powerful system that is capable of supporting most of the tasks and programs that a desktop computer can offer.
This is not to be confused with notebooks, which are also quite small and thin, but can only provide minimal functionality, such as web browsing, music, and video. An ultra book is a high-end laptop in every sense, just packed in a smaller and thinner body.
Not everyone needs an ultrabook, while others may actually find them to be lacking for their required capabilities and uses. There is no real objective answer for who ultrabooks are really for, but there is a way to kind of break things down to give you some clarity on the subject.
As I mentioned earlier, Ultrabooks are supposed to provide users with many of the functions and features of a desktop or high-end laptop computer, just in a more travel-friendly size. This means you can expect fast speeds, decent sound quality, a few ports for external devices, and maybe even a DVD drive.
This allows the ultrabook to function as any other computer would, whether you’re writing a paper, watching streaming television, doing some online shopping, etc. There are a few things you can’t do on an ultrabook, however.
If you’re a gamer and want a way to play when you are away from your desktop station, an ultrabook isn’t going to cut it. Due to size and weight restrictions, an ultrabook simply doesn't have the room needed to host powerful graphics processors and high resolution screens needed to ensure smooth gameplay.
Video and image editing is usually out of the question as well, for the same reasons. An ultrabook’s size also restricts its ability to include a large range of ports and connections. If you are needing a way to perform any of these tasks on the go, an actual gaming laptop would be a much better fit, although it will be larger and heavier.
On the other side of things, if you need a small, lightweight computer for small things like web browsing and word processing, and don’t require a lot of storage or memory, an ultrabook might be a bit of overkill. You’re better off getting a Chromebook or other similar notebooks.
If you fall somewhere in the middle, and want a capable laptop that can function almost as a main computer, and you also value a more travel-friendly design, an ultrabook is perfect for you.
The following eight characteristics are all important factors in determining the overall functionality and quality of an ultrabook. They include everything from the actual speed and size of the computer, to how long it can run without being plugged into a charger.
Processors act as the conductor of a computer system, regulating tasks by determining what commands are executed, and how fast. Every command on your computer originates from the processor. The better the processor, the more tasks it can handle.
Processors also affect a computer’s efficiency, which helps spread memory usage more evenly when you have a lot of programs running. Everything from graphics to battery usage is largely controlled by a processor as well.
This is one of the most important specifications of any computer. The more memory your computer has, the more it can handle at one time without experiencing the dread lag or delay. Laptops that have a high amount of RAM can sustain numerous processes and tasks and one time with no lagging issues.
Although 4GB of RAM is considered adequate, 8GB is a better starting point if you want a fast ultrabook that is capable of supporting several programs at the same time, be it web browsing, media, or other applications.
A common issue with small, lightweight laptops like notebooks is their inherent lack of drive space. While some of them include free cloud drive accounts, it’s always preferred to have a decent amount of storage space on the actual computer so you don’t have to rely on an internet connection to access your files.
The minimum amount of storage an ultrabook will offer is 128GB. Ultrabooks with 256GB of storage are ideal, and 512GB is even better. Since ultrabooks are thin, they have solid state drives instead of hard disc drives, making them very fast all around. Most can boot up from a full sleep mode within 3-4 second or less.
Ultrabooks are designed to be highly-portable, which means they need to weigh far less than a standard laptop. Most ultrabooks weigh in at around 3 lbs, with many going as low as 1.5 lbs. The low weight does mean a lack of some features you’ll find in other laptops, however, so it’s a bit of a trade-off.
Display quality is one of the only real strikes against ultrabooks. Since they are smaller and lighter, ultrabooks lack the screen technology and graphic processing found in gaming and high-end laptops.
Still, a quality ultrabook will have a decent display that offers a solid frame rate, and vibrant colors. Some of the more expensive models have found ways around their limitations, resulting in stunning visuals that rival that of standard laptops.
The other main disadvantage of an ultrabook is its lack of connectability when compared to regular computers. The smaller body size means a smaller amount of ports and connections, such as USB, HDMI, disc drives, and other helpful side-body features.
Higher-end ultrabooks still find a way to squeeze in a few USB ports, and if you’re lucky, some of the newer port technologies, such as USB 3.0, Type-C, Thunderbolt and mini-USB.
We’ve come a long way from the days of 2-3 hour battery charges that left you lingering around electrical outlets for most of the day. Today’s laptops have battery lives that nearly triple the old amounts, meaning you can leave home for the day without a charger in most cases.
Ultrabooks are required to have a battery life of at least 5 hours, and the standards are rising to 7 hours within the next year or two. Many ultrabooks on the market tend to offer at least 8 hours of battery life, often more.
Progressions in technology have given way to a wide range of additional features and benefits in many ultrabooks. Touchscreens are becoming the standard, with many ultrabooks adopting the hybrid tablet approach the provides even more versatility and convenience. Front-facing cameras and advanced touchpads are becoming popular as well.
For those willing to spend the money, these three ultrabooks provide an added measure of speed, processing power, and better overall visuals, while also possessing some unique advantages and features.
Apple’s MacBook Pro is certainly a stiff competitor when it comes to the top spot among high-end ultrabooks. Not only do you get the versatility and simplicity of an Apple product, you also get a powerful computer that can be used for more than just basic tasks.
Powered by an Intel Core i5 2.7Ghz, this MacBook Pro is capable of efficiently handling a heavy load all at one time, giving you a smoother operation when using any application. 8GB of RAM helps the cause even more, offering up ample memory space so you don’t have to worry about little to any lagging when using large programs
Storage clocks in at 128GB, which isn’t a lot, but this can be rectified by using an external hard drive or large flash drive. You do get the benefit of a very fast hard drive regardless, as Apple’s are generally faster than most.
If you don’t have large files to store, you’ll be more than okay with this much storage, although you do have the option of upgrading to either 256GB or 512GB for a higher price.
The display of the MacBook Pro is what attracts many to it in the first place. 13.3-inches is fairly standard, but the 2560 x 1600 Retina Display resolution gives this ultrabook one of the best visual experiences around. There is a massive amount of pixels crammed into such a small space, making it perfect for movies, videos, and professional image editing.
Intel Iris Graphics help the MacBook Pro’s visual cause even more, and that includes a high frame rate that is always fluid and lifelike. You can even run several high-end games with little problem, even though this is an ultrabook.
Other helpful features include an advanced force touch trackpad that is much easier to use than its counterparts, 802.11ac wireless support, USB 3.0 ports, and Facetime capability that includes a front HD camera. If you want a high-end ultrabook and favor the Apple aesthetic and versatility, you’ll definitely appreciate the MacBook Pro.
The ASUS Zenbook is the perfect example of everything you want an ultrabook to be. Light, slim, powerful, and full of extra features that give it a leg up on other computers. For around $1,200, it’s one of the better values you’ll find, especially when considering the scope of what it can do.
The Zenbook includes an Intel Core i7 processor with 2.5GHz, making it one of the more powerful ultrabooks in terms of processing speed. And if that’s not enough, ASUS threw in 12GB of RAM, giving it more than enough memory to handle pretty much any amount of programs and tasks all at one. So, if you hate lagging, you’ll love this ultrabook.
Storage amount is on the upper tier as well, with 512GB available total. This lets you use the Zenbook as your main computer, even when not on the go. The half terabyte storage amount should be more than enough for anyone that has the normal amount of music and video files.
The Zenbook’s screen is even more impressive. With a resolution of 3200 x 1800, everything is displayed with the highest of details. Throw in the fact that this is a touchscreen, and you should be even more impressed. Versatility and superior pixel quality go hand in hand.
ASUS even includes 802.11ac wireless support, and a broad array of ports that includes three USB 3.0’s, an HDMI, and mini display port. A 1.2MP front camera makes video chatting a much better experience on the other end as well.
Overall, the ASUS Zenbook is definitely one of the better value out there, and not at the expense of leaving out some things. Memory, storage, screen quality, touchscreen ability -- it’s all there. We highly recommend this ultrabook.
This version of the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is engineered for serious ultrabook users who need their computer to be able to do it all, while also offering incredible graphics and screen quality, with added functional versatility.
A powerful Intel Core 2.2GHz processor is where everything starts, giving the Surface Pro 4 enough processing speed and efficiency to handle everything with ease. A massive 16GB of RAM is the cherry on top, making this one of the fastest ultrabooks you’ll ever use.
The storage aspect of this model is a huge selling point. With 1TB of storage, you have all the room you need to store large amounts of files, be it audio, visual, or even presentations. No external hard drives or extra cloud storage needed here.
The Surface Pro 4 is a ultrabook/tablet hybrid. But you wouldn’t know it by the screen quality. The 12.3-Inch 2736 x 1824 PixelSense display is incredibly detailed, and provides rich colors and a high frame rate to give you a top tier visual experience no matter what you’re doing or watching.
An included kickstand and stylus pen help you go back and forth from tablet to laptop with east, and all without making the computer too heavy or thick. You have to see it in person to really appreciate this fully.
Somehow, with all of this power and capability, you still get 9 hours of battery life, which makes the Surface Pro 4 even more convenient. They even managed to sneak in a USB 3.0 port, a mini display port, and a mini SD card reader. You also get both an infrared camera, and a high-resolution front camera.
The Surface Pro 4 is on the higher end price-wise, but you certainly get what you pay for. It’s singlehandedly raised the bar for modern ultrabooks.
You don’t have to break the bank to purchase a quality ultrabook. These two from HP certainly hold their own, and at a much cheaper price.
The HP Spectre X2 12 provides great value for ultrabook users who want a functional hybrid, but don’t have a lot of money to spend. It’s easy to use regardless of the mode, and has just enough power to keep things running at an acceptable speed.
The HP Spectre X2 12 runs off of an Intel Core M5 2.7GHz processor, which is one of its better hardware features. It’s a good thing too, as the 4GB of RAM would be underwhelming with a lower-end processor. Still, you can expect to run most of your programs without any issues at all.
The 12-inch tablet touchscreen boasts a 1920 x 1280 resolution, which is incredibly vivid, vibrant, and full of color despite not coming close to the resolution of higher-end ultrabooks and hybrids. The display is powered by an Intel Graphics HD 515 GPU, giving it an adequate frame rate.
The 128GB of storage is nothing to get excited about, but it’s understandable for the price. If you want to use the HP Spectre X2 12 as more than just a mobile computer, you’ll need to get cloud storage, or find a small external hard drive to carry around.
Switching back and forth from tablet to PC is easy, and the included kickstand makes the full setup convenient. The keyboard is a little bit too bendy, but it is what helps make the HP Spectre X2 12 as thin as it is. You’ll get used to it by the end of the day.
The HP Spectre X2 12 also includes LTE capability, so you can use cell connections with a Verizon plan. The one drawback of the HP Spectre X2 12 is its lack of ports. You need to use the included HP USB-C to USB 3.0 adapter if you have any devices you’d like to connect.
Overall, the HP Spectre X2 12 has its flaws, but for the price, it’s unfair to expect any more out of it than what it already offers. The mix of value and features is quite high.
The HP Envy holds the place as HP’s thinnest laptop in their inventory, and it’s also full of great features, a fast and efficient system, and surprisingly detailed display. For just under $700, there is a lot to appreciate.
The Intel Core i5 2.3GHz processor keeps processes running smoothly, and the 8GB of RAM is enough to ensure fast operation even with multiple tabs and programs running.
The 3200 x 1800 LED-Lit with HD+ screen is very bright, colorful, and detailed, and makes using the Envy a pleasing visual experience in every way. There is a bit of glare reflected when you’re around too much light, but that isn’t too hard to deal with.
The 128GB of storage is the only real knock on the Envy, so don’t expect to house a lot of your larger files unless you bring along a flash drive. A newer version of the Envy offers 256GB, so you may look into that if you need more storage.
While the Envy is very thin, it still has a decent amount of ports, including USB 3.0, USB, HDMI, and a media reader. It’s also worth mentioning that the Envy somehow pulls off a very rich sound quality for its size, thanks to technology from Bang & Olufsen.
The Envy is a great choice for anyone that wants a mid-level ultrabook with a few extra features thrown in for good measure.
Well, there you have it. These five ultrabooks vary in price, specs, and features, but all of them offer the true ultrabook experience, giving you an easy to carry laptop that is no pushover. While you really can’t go wrong with any of these, you’ll need to double-check to ensure you’re purchasing an ultrabook that can fulfill your needs and expectations.
If you’ve used any of the above ultrabooks, or if you have your own suggestions for one we should have included on this list, feel free to let us know in the comments below -- we’d love to hear your feedback.