The Dell XPS 13 is an excellent ultraportable laptop, the best 13-inch Windows model going for many. Dell hasn’t aimed for a single superlative feature, a potential gimmick. Its footprint is smaller than the competition, but it’s thicker. Its screen resolution is excellent, but display colour is normal rather than super-saturated. There’s also a mix of old and new connections, and a combo of a large battery and smart power management means the Dell XPS 13 lasts significantly longer than most a lot of the time. The balance is just right – we’d spend our own money on it.
Read our Dell XPS 13 9360 review.
The Asus ZenBook UX310A is an ideal mid-range ultraportable laptop. It is what happens when a practical everyday laptop and an expensive all-aluminium Ultrabook fall in love, bringing you the pricey look and feel of a portable, stylish machine with the features of a workhorse and a price way below that of a rival MacBook.
Core hardware includes a Core i5-6200U CPU, 8GB of DDR4 RAM and both a 128GB SSD and a 500GB HDD. There’s a single USB 3.0 port and two USB 2.0, plus USB-C, HDMI and SDXC. The Asus sports (albeit so-so) Harman Kardon stereo speakers, and with its 48Wh battery weighs in at 1.45kg. A cheaper version has the Core i3, 4GB of RAM and a lower-res display.
The 13.3in screen is a highlight, with unbelievable sharpness (276ppi) and colour saturation at this price, and this matt screen excels in outdoor use. It’s paired with a scissor-mechanism keyboard with backlight and a large, comfortable trackpad.
The ZenBook is not perfect – we’d like the display to tilt back further, the shell displays some flexing, and it’s a tad chunky thanks to the HDD inside – but it scored well on performance, provided you avoid intensive gaming. Battery life is solid, at 8 hours 10 minutes.
You can’t have it all at this price, but the ZenBook gets close.
Read our Asus ZenBook UX310UA review.
The Surface Laptop isn’t the most affordable but it’s not outrageously expensive compared to rivals. Microsoft has done a great job of creating a well-made, thin and desirable laptop. We’d tweak the ports on offer and upgrade from Windows 10 S to Pro, but we can live with the niggles considering the specs and excellent battery life.
Read our Microsoft Surface Laptop review.
The Dell XPS 15 is an amazingly flexible laptop, despite looking like an ordinary high-end one on the surface. It’s very powerful but has unusually good battery life for its class. It has a 15in screen but is smaller than almost all other 15in laptops with one. And is its 4K version the XPS 15 has the colour performance for pro design work. It’s also good-looking, and while not ultra-portable is not that heavy given the components inside. It makes the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar seem a bit frivolous in comparison, not to mention extremely expensive.
Read our Dell XPS 15 9560 review.
The MateBook X would be an impressive laptop under any circumstances – the fact that it’s Huawei’s first just makes it even more so. Huawei has definitely nailed the design and build quality, while the keyboard is also impressively tactile for such a thin machine. The price might be a barrier for some consumers, but if you’re in the market for an ultrabook then Huawei has instantly earned the right to be in the running.
Read our Huawei MateBook X review.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 720S is a laptop that proves you can sometimes get more if you pay less. Its more versatile than a lot of £1000-plus portable laptops because it has a separate graphics card, making it a passable gaming machine.
That it adds this without ruining battery life or portability is excellent. It is one of the most versatile portables around.
The one regret is that the laptop doesn’t have Nvidia’s latest GeForce MX150 graphics, using the older 940MX kind instead. However, maybe we shouldn’t complain too much if such a move would have added substantially to the price.
Read our Lenovo IdeaPad 720S review.
7. Acer Swift 5
The Acer Switch 5 is a great all-rounder laptop for those who want high-end flavour without a price that’ll make you wince. While this isn’t the best-looking premium laptop around, the Switch 5 is also cheaper than just about all of them, by several hundred pounds in some cases. If you don’t hate the look and don’t mind a plastic trackpad, there’s little reason to delay. The screen is very good for the price, build quality is solid, performance is comparable to much more expensive laptops and there are even some advanced extras like a narrow screen surround. Acer has pulled out another great laptop deal.
Read our Acer Swift 5 review.
8. Acer Swift 3
The Acer Swift 3 is a near-perfect laptop for those who want an ultraportable, but don’t want to fork out £1000+. Build quality is great, battery life very good, and performance a match for much more expensive laptops. There are just two areas where the low price shows. First, it’s a little thicker and heavier than some ultrabooks. It looks good enough, but limited maximum brightness and fairly poor colour reproduction limits its usefulness in certain situations.
Read our Acer Swift 3 review.
Microsoft thinks it has made the ultimate laptop, which is also a tablet. It’s difficult to argue.
There are five models, with the top offering the new £2,649 Surface Book i7. We reviewed the original Intel Core i7 Skylake model with 16GB of RAM and Nvidia GPU, and found excellent performance but have to point out the Core i5 model offers better value.
The Surface Book is very angular, a slightly unusual shape for a laptop with a 3:2 aspect ratio, though we got used to it quickly. The 13.5in PixelSense display is stunning, with a crisp 267ppi density. Colour reproduction, brightness and viewing angles all excel. The Book itself is made from magnesium alloy, lighter and more durable than aluminium.
The Book splits apart into the 724g screen with a 18Wh battery and the 860g keyboard with a 51Wh battery (battery life is fantastic at 16 hours, 25 minutes). The most striking part of its design its the ‘Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge’, which looks cool and improves balance. Meanwhile, an equally cool ‘Muscle Wire Lock’ uses an electrically charged nickel titanium alloy to hold it all together. The Surface Pen attaches magnetically to the side.
You’ll find ports for USB 3.0 (x2), Mini-DisplayPort and an SD Card reader. USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 are missing, but this is still an amazing example of Windows laptop tech.
Read our Microsoft Surface Book review.
It’s excellent news that Apple has moved to the seventh generation Intel Kaby Lake processors, we are also pleased to see new graphics cards. Performance is outstanding. The 15-inch MacBook Pro would still benefit from a few other pro features, a 4K display for one, 32GB RAM being another. Yet at the already high price point, Apple may well be saving us from staring down a £3,000+ buying decision. For now, this is the best MacBook Pro but it comes at a cost that alienates new users and with ports that will frustrate pro users.
Read our MacBook Pro 15-inch review.
Your Buying Guide for the Best Laptops in 2017
Sometimes you just can’t beat a bigger screen, a keyboard and Windows for getting stuff done, and then your only choice is a laptop. There are many different kinds, including hybrids that can be either laptop or tablet, high-end gaming laptops, cheap and cheerful budget models, and even those running macOS rather than Windows 10.
How much should I spend on a laptop?
Sometimes the best does come at a steep price, but equally you can get a lot of laptop for under £300 – provided you need only complete basic tasks such as web browsing, writing emails and creating the odd document. If so, see the best budget laptops.
Around £500 or above can get you a nice laptop, but it’s likely to have an entry-level set of specs. We’re talking a relatively basic processor, minimal SSD storage and a relatively low-quality screen. It might also be on the heavy side.
Pay £700 or more and you should get a blazing fast processor, plenty of RAM, hordes of storage and a gorgeous display. You should also expect excellent build quality and premium materials.
What screen size laptop do I need?
Laptop screens range from around 11in to 17in. A smaller screen might be harder to work on and offer fewer ports, but it will be more portable.
A 17in laptop, on the other hand, is a desktop replacement laptop and not deigned to be moved around often. You’ll likely get a full-size keyboard and potentially an optical drive.
Generally, 13in is the sweet spot for portability and usability.
While many laptops have a resolution of 1366×768, full-HD, Quad-HD and even 4K laptops are available. A touchscreen will add to the cost. Also look out for a matte, non-reflective screen.
How much laptop storage do I need?
How much storage you need depends on what you want to use a laptop for. As a general rule of thumb get as much as possible without wasting money on the upgrade.
An SSD will help your laptop run faster, but offers less space for your files (consider supplementing it with a portable USB drive). You can also use cloud storage – but only when you have an internet connection.
Memory (RAM) is where programs and files are stored only while you’re using them, and more is always better – up to a point. Consider 4GB a minimum, unless it’s a Chromebook, with 8- to 16GB the ideal.
Which laptop processor is best?
Unless you’re going to run complex and demanding software or gaming, you don’t need a top-spec processor.
If you’re happy to splash out you’re probably looking at the latest generation (7th) Intel Core i7 chip. Entry-level spec models are likely to offer a Core i3 or even a Celeron, Pentium or AMD processor instead. A Core i5 is a good mid-range choice so check how much extra it is to upgrade before making a final decision.
The letters after the model name are important: Y and U mean they are ultra-low-power chips, which won’t be great for demanding tasks but should translate to longer battery life. H means high-performance graphics; Q means quad-core.
Buying an Ultrabook or ultraportable laptop
Buying an ultraportable laptop is really no different than any laptop, except that your priorities are likely to be different. You might want an ultraportable laptop that’s light and will last a long time away from the mains.
However, other people want an ultrabook that’s powerful and can handle demanding applications without breaking your back when you carry it around. Both types are available.
Some compromises are inevitable if you want a thin and light laptop, though. There’s less space for a battery, so it’s typical to find shorter runtimes.
Thin laptops tend to have shallow key travel, so if you need to do a lot of typing read our reviews to find out whether a keyboard is a joy or a pain to use.
Warranty and other considerations
We recommend all the laptops here: there isn’t a duff one among them. However, we urge you again to read through the full review before spending your hard-earned cash. None is perfect and what will best suit your needs might not be the device ranked at number one.
Battery life and warranty vary between laptops. The latter may differ depending on where you buy the laptop from, too. John Lewis, for example, tends to offer longer warranty than rivals.
After-sales service is something you should consider for everything you buy. Check whether the company has a UK-based support line, and forums (including our own) are an ideal place to ascertain whether a manufacturer is generally good or bad at carrying out work under warranty.