Best Ultraportable Notebooks of 2016

by Reads (16,788)

Now that a smartphone and a tablet can handle everything from web browsing and basic gaming to managing a PowerPoint presentation it’s easy to forget that a full-featured laptop computer still has a lot to offer. Whether you’re a business professional, a college student, or simply someone who is constantly on the move, finding a travel-friendly laptop that delivers more than a tablet or a phone is important. The team at NotebookReview pulled together a list of our favorite laptops that offer the best combination of performance, portability and battery life to help you find the perfect travel laptop, work laptop, or school notebook that won’t always require a power cord.

Don’t worry about getting stuck with a slow laptop that has terrible battery life simply because you have a limited budget. The list below contains some of the best ultraportable laptops and travel friendly notebooks available in 2016. The notebooks listed below cover almost every category from affordably priced lightweight consumer laptops to MIL-spec tested notebooks designed for serious business. If you need a lightweight laptop with the great battery life then you’ll almost certainly find what you’re looking for below.

Here is our list of the top ultraportable notebooks of 2016 that deliver the best combination of quality, performance, battery life and overall value.

Dell XPS 13

2016 Dell XPS 13  (XPS 13 9350)

2016 Dell XPS 13
(XPS 13 9350)

Starting at $799 and topping out just below $2000, the Dell XPS 13 is available with your choice of Intel Core series processors, blazing fast solid state drives, and genuinely impressive battery life. If you’re looking for a premium laptop with a 13-inch screen then this is one of the best alternatives to Apple’s MacBook

There are two varieties of 13.3-inch InfinityEdge displays available for the Dell XPS 13 2016 model: a 13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) standard panel or a QHD+ (3200 x 1800) IPS touch panel. The latter of the two screen options is a $350 premium over the 1080p display but the higher resolution sure is nice to see.

While the Intel Core i5 processor and integrated graphics in our review sample are partially responsible for the overall great performance, the speediest component inside the XPS 13 is actually the 256GB NVMe solid state drive. Our review unit uses a Samsung PM951 NVMe and although it’s not the fastest SSD we’ve ever seen it is fast enough to make things like start up, shut down, and launching apps almost instantaneous.

Lenovo ThinkPad X260

Lenovo ThinkPad X260

Lenovo ThinkPad X260

If you need a durable, travel-friendly laptop for work or school then the Lenovo ThinkPad X260 certainly looks the part. It measures 12.03 x 8.21 x .8 inches and weighs 2.9 pounds. Its rubberized chassis is slightly textured, and it resists smudges, fingerprints, and scuffs phenomenally well. It also adds grip, is very light, and according to Lenovo, aids in making the ThinkPad X260 MIL-STD-810G certified. This means the X260 can withstand harsh conditions involving pressure, shock, temperatures, dust, humidity, and other device killers beyond your average laptop.

Lenovo offers the X260 with three display options, all 12.5 inches, but the only one that we recommend is the full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS display with a brightness rating of 300 nits. In general, IPS (in-plane switching) displays have better color reproduction and much wider viewing angles than the less expensive TN (twisted nematic) screens used on the cheaper models of the ThinkPad X260.

If you’re concerned about battery life the ThinkPad X260 has Lenovo’s Power Bridge technology, which enables battery hot swapping the rear battery. It’s very convenient and even if you don’t buy an extra battery the standard battery should last the better part of a full work day.

Razer Blade Stealth

Razer Blade Stealth

Razer Blade Stealth

The Razer Blade Stealth is the first notebook from the gaming-focused Razer brand to not have a dedicated graphics card. However, that doesn’t mean the Stealth won’t eventually find its way into the hands of gamers. The Razer Core, which we previewed at CES this year accepts any full-size desktop graphics card, and can be used to turn the Stealth into a full-fledged gaming machine.

Whether you care about PC gaming or not the Razer Blade Stealth is extremely well-equipped. This 12.5-inch notebook packs a 4K display, Intel Core i7 dual-core processor, 256GB SSD, and 8GB of RAM. Among the Stealth’s many highlights are its elegantly simple design wrapped in a CNC aluminum chassis and the keyboard with each key individually backlit by RGB LEDs.

The black all-aluminum exterior is of very high quality, and blissfully simple in appearance. It’s one of the thinnest notebooks on the market at 0.52 inches. Combined with its scant 2.75 pound carry weight, this is a notebook you’ll want to take everywhere.  What will prevent you from going very far, however, is its unfortunate battery life. The Stealth lasted about half as long as we were expecting due to the increased power demands of its 4K touch display, although it provides brilliant picture quality all those extra pixels require extra power.

VAIO S

VAIO S, a classic ultraportable

VAIO S, a classic ultraportable

Call the VAIO S the VAIO Classic. It’s a standard thin-and-light notebook with all the hallmarks that defined the brand during the Sony days. It’s a well-built and well-designed machine with power and performance to spare. Starting at $1,099, it’s the cheapest VAIO, and it’s also the most basic. It’s a straight-up notebook, complete with a full complement of ports and non-touch display. But it has power, starting with a 6th-gen Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, and a business-quality build.

By any reasonable standard, it’s thin and light, measuring 12.68 x .52-.71 x 8.53 inches (WHD) and weighing 2.34 pounds. But compared against unreasonably-thin Core m devices like the 2016 Apple MacBook, Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, and Huawei MateBook, it’s large. Still, users will have no issue lugging it between meetings or finding space for it in a carry-on travel bag.

Even the base VAIO S is a powerful device, as the sixth-generation Core i5 is a very capable chip. The biggest drawback for this laptop is the display resolution. Considering the VAIO S price, it should be higher than Full HD. That’s suitable for mid-range devices, not high-end devices that cost north of a $1,000. Fortunately, that’s not a deal breaker for everyone.

Acer Aspire S 13

Acer Aspire S 13

Acer Aspire S 13

The Acer Aspire S 13 is the complete package. This 13-inch Ultrabook sports a portable unique durable design with strong specs including a sixth generation Intel Core i5 CPU and sizable 256GB SSD. Add in the snappy keyboard, vibrant display, and long lasting battery and you have an incredible value for its relatively affordable $750 price tag.

Measuring 12.9 x 9 x 0.6-inches and weighing 2.8 pounds the Aspire S 13 offer excellent portability for users on the go. The Aspire S is bit heavier than the 0.65-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon which comes in 2.65 pounds, but is actually a bit lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro at 3 pounds.

If you’re looking for a best-in-class Ultrabook, the Acer Aspire S 13 performs well but falls a bit short. For the price, the display is excellent but there isn’t a QHD resolution and the color contrast isn’t as rich as some of the more expensive devices on the market, such as the Dell XPS 13.

Lenovo Yoga Book

Lenovo Yoga Book

Lenovo Yoga Book

The Lenovo Yoga Book gives the Microsoft Surface a run for the best hardware on the market. This thing looks and feels great. It measures 10.1 x 6.72 x .38 inches, and weighs 1.52 pounds. It has a traditional clam-shell design, with Lenovo’s excellent Watchband hinge for distinction. With its magnesium alloy casing, Lenovo Yoga Book looks like a high-end binder when closed, the kind that probably holds something important, like classified documents.

If there is a negative trade-off to the Yoga Book’s slick design it has to be the two-dimensional Halo keyboard. The Halo keyboard is barely better than the on-screen alternative, even with Lenovo’s predictive text. It keeps the Lenovo Yoga Book from rising from a niche device to a potential everyday driver. Similarly, the Android-powered Yoga Book we reviewed is betrayed by its software. Windows 10 is a much better operating system for a device so centered on pen input or “inking.”

At $499.99, the Android Yoga Book is overpriced, given Android’s limits. Pay the extra $50 for Windows … at $549.99, the Windows Yoga Book is priced right.

More travel-friendly laptops to consider

As always, if none of our recommendations look like the perfect laptop for your needs then be sure to seek out buying advice in our “What Notebook Should I Buy?” discussion forum. Our forum members, moderators, and editorial staff will graciously offer their insights to help you pick the best laptop.

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2 Comments

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  1. nancysid

    I know you guys cater to the gamers who have $1k to spend, but how about an article on the best old fart machine for half that. I don’t care if my laptop weighs ten pounds, I just want a solid reliable PC or Chromebook that will perform basic functions quickly, and run videos with a great picture and no pausing. PS – We have a tv for watching movies, and never play games.

  2. timfountain

    @nancysid. If you really don’t care about OS, price, weight etc. Then the answer is anything in the $300 price point will do the job. Seriously.There are 1,000+ laptops that will do what you want. Take your pick….