The 7 Best 13-Inch Laptops of 2021

These portable options prove bigger isn't always better

The Ultimate Laptop Buying Guide
The Ultimate Laptop Buying Guide
Introduction

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Laptops come in several different screen sizes, but 13-inch laptops are a popular choice for professionals, students, and home users. Their compact size makes them perfect for commutes to work or class, or stowing away on a shelf or in a drawer when not in use. Customers have several options for operating systems: Windows, macOS, and ChromeOS.

Each offers its own set of features such as built-in virtual assistants, enhanced app compatibility, and mobile device integration. With top-of-the-line processors from Intel and AMD, Windows and ChromeOS models have plenty of power to handle everything from web surfing and word processing to streaming hours of movies and music and even 3D modeling or digital art. Not to be outdone, Apple recently launched their new line of MacBooks with the M1 chip. This new chip combines the CPU, GPU, and Apple's deep-learning software into a single unit for more efficient processing and to conserve internal space.

Battery life is an important factor to consider when shopping for a new laptop, and many 13-inch models boast battery lives of 10 hours or more, letting you work, stream, and game all day. Some also use fast-charging technology to top up your battery in just a few minutes, which is perfect for when you forgot to plug in overnight. We've rounded up our top picks from brands including Apple, ASUS, and Dell and broke down their features to help you choose your next 13-inch laptop.

The Rundown
Best Overall:
Dell XPS 13 at Amazon
The 13.3-inch display has an ultra-thin bezel for more usable work space, and you can choose either a 4K or 1080p full HD screen.
Best from Apple:
Apple MacBook Pro at Amazon
It uses Apple's all-new M1 chip which combines the processor, GPU, and neural network into one unit for fast processing speeds.
Runner-Up, Best from Apple:
Apple MacBook Air at Amazon
The MacBook Air is designed to be ultra-portable; it weighs just under 3 pounds and measures just over half an inch when closed.
It's built around an 11th generation Intel Core i5 Evo CPU and 8GB of RAM for tons of processing power and faster file access.
This laptop is packed to the brim with top-of-the-line hardware, including a 4th generation AMD Ryzen 9 CPU.
With Google Assistant built in, you'll get hands-free controls for setting up reminders, setting alarms, or searching the web.
This laptop can handle anything from dust and sand, to rain and humidity, and even harsh shocks and drops.

Best Overall: Dell XPS 13 (9370)

Dell XPS 13 (9370)
What We Like
  • 4K screen available

  • M.2 SSD

  • Multiple configurations

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

The Dell XPS is one of the most popular choices for a work or home use laptop, and for good reason. The model offers several configurations for RAM, storage, and processors so you can get a somewhat customized laptop to suit your needs. The most affordable model features 4GB of RAM and an 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, which is plenty of power for most uses. But if you need more processing power, you can opt for the model with 16GB of RAM and an Intel Core i7-8650U.

No matter what you choose, each model uses all-new M.2 SSD memory storage for ultra-fast boot times and file access. The 13.3-inch display has an ultra-thin bezel for more usable work space, and you can choose either a 4K or 1080p full HD screen. With a battery life of up to 21 hours, you can work all day and all night, worry-free.

Size: 13 inches | Resolution: 1080p or 4K | CPU: Intel Core i3 or Intel Core i7 | GPU: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 4 to 16GB DDR3 | Storage: 512GB M.2 SSD | Touchscreen: On select configurations

"The Dell XPS 13 delivers an impressive ultraportable laptop experience, with a distinctive look, incredible 4K screen, and surprisingly small footprint." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Best from Apple: Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

Apple introduced the Macbook Pro with M1 chip in 2020.
What We Like
  • TouchID

  • Decent battery

  • Plenty of configuration options

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • No end-user upgrade options

Apple's line of MacBook laptops have been a go-to choice for students and creative professionals for years, and the latest iteration of the MacBook Pro is packed with plenty of features to help keep customers coming back. It uses Apple's all-new M1 chip which combines the processor, GPU, and neural network into a single unit for ultra-fast processing speeds and to maximize internal space. For storage, you can configure the MacBook Pro with an SSD up to 2TB; this is perfect for creative professionals who work with raw 4K video and photo files or create large digital art files.

The four Thunderbolt 3 ports allow you to connect external displays with up to 6K resolution, transfer files at speeds up to 40Gb/s, charge mobile devices, and even charge your laptop. The 13.3-inch Retina display is designed for accurate color ranges and volume to produce exceptionally life-like images, and with 500 nits of brightness, you'll be able to work in almost any lighting environment. The MacBook Pro also has the Touch Bar, allowing you to set up shortcuts to your most-used programs and use TouchID for secure, password-free logins. The battery gives you up to 10 hours of use on a full charge, letting you work all day before needing to plug in.

Size: 13 inches | Resolution: 2560 x 1600 | CPU: Apple M1 | GPU: Apple M1 | RAM: 16 to 32GB DDR3 | Storage: 512GB to 2TB SSD | Touchscreen: No

"The display can hit an impressive 500 nits of brightness, features rich, accurate colors, and great viewing angles." — Alice Newcome-Beill, Product Tester

Runner-Up, Best from Apple: Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (M1, 2020)

2020 Apple MacBook Air
What We Like
  • Plenty of inputs

  • Wi-Fi 6 compatible

  • Instant Wake

What We Don't Like
  • No cooling system

The latest MacBook Air may look almost identical to its predecessor, but it has tons of features to help convince you to upgrade. The MacBook Air is designed to be ultra-portable; it weighs just under 3 pounds and measures a little over half an inch when closed, meaning you can slip it into a backpack, tote bag, or carry-on to take your work with you wherever you go.

The super-thin profile doesn't allow for any internal cooling systems, so you'll get near-silent operation, but you may want to invest in a laptop cooling pad to keep your MacBook Air from overheating under load. For connectivity, you'll get dual Thunderbolt 4 connections for setting up external displays, charging your laptop and mobile devices, and transferring files. There is also Thunderbolt 3, DisplayPort, and USB 3.1 inputs to handle all of your peripherals. It's compatible with Wi-Fi 6 technology for blazing fast wireless internet speeds, so whether you're at the office or in a coffee shop, you'll be able to access cloud storage or email more easily.

If you're in a hurry to get started on projects or catch the latest episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the MacBook Air has an Instant Wake function so you can spend more time getting things done and less time waiting around for your laptop to boot. The battery gives you up to 18 hours of use on a full charge so you can binge Netflix, write up expense reports, stream music, or even game all day.

Size: 13 inches | Resolution: 2560 x 1600 | CPU: Apple M1 | GPU: Apple M1 | RAM: Up to 16GB DDR3 | Storage: Up to 2TB SSD | Touchscreen: No

"Powered by Apple’s ARM-based M1 chip, the MacBook Air brings impressive raw power, fantastic battery life, and whisper-quiet operation to the table." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Best 2-in-1: HP Spectre x360 13-Inch Touchscreen 4K

What We Like
  • 4K AMOLED

  • Biometric security

  • Stylus included

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Limited inputs

Convertible laptops have become more and more popular in recent years because they can be used as either a traditional laptop or as a tablet, letting you pare down the number of devices you have to keep around. The HP Spectre x360 2-in-1 laptop is a pricey model, on par with some of Apple's higher-end MacBook Pro models, but it's a worthy investment if you want a powerful portable computer.

It's built around an 11th generation Intel Core i5 Evo CPU and 8GB of RAM for tons of processing power and faster file access, and with a 512GB SSD, you'll have plenty of space for movies, photos, music, and documents. The 13-inch AMOLED screen gives you excellent 4K resolution so everything from digital art projects to streaming TV shows and movies look amazing. It's made with Gorilla Glass, which helps the laptop resist flexing, cracking, and chipping during everyday use. The chassis is made of aluminum for durability while remaining lightweight.

To help keep your data and personal information safe, the Spectre x360 has a fingerprint reader and infrared camera that works with Windows Hello facial recognition software for more secure, password-free logins. This laptop has Alexa built in for hands-free voice controls to help you create calendar reminders, set alarms, and search the web. And with Bang & Olufsen speakers, your Spotify playlists and video dialogue come through crystal clear. Despite all this power packed into such a slim form, you'll still get a decent battery life of around 11 hours.

Size: 13 inches | Resolution: 4K | CPU: 11th generation Intel Core i5 Evo | GPU: Integrated Intel Iris Xe Graphics | RAM: 8GB DDR4 | Storage: 512GB SSD | Touchscreen: Yes

Best for Gaming: ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 (2021 model)

What We Like
  • Decent battery

  • VR ready

  • RTX 3060

What We Don't Like
  • No 4K screen

  • Only one USB-C input

  • Comes only in white

The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 proves that desktop gamers aren't the only ones with impressive rigs. This laptop is packed to the brim with top-of-the-line hardware, including a 4th generation AMD Ryzen 9 CPU, an all-new RTX 3060 GPU, up to 40GB of RAM and an SSD with capacity up to 8TB. The 1080p Full HD display has a refresh rate of 144Hz to eliminate screen tearing and stuttering and up to 300 nits of brightness so you can play in almost any lighting environment. It's also Pantone certified for color accuracy and volume for incredible detailing and lifelike images.

The integrated speakers work with Dolby Atmos technology to produce virtual surround sound for a more immersive listening experience without a headset. The built-in mic uses AI-enhanced noise-canceling technology to capture your voice and filter out unwanted sounds for crystal clear voice chat with friends and teammates. The Zephyrus G14 is next-gen ready with VR capabilities, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 compatibility, and USB-C charging. Despite all of this hardcore hardware, the battery still gives you up to 11 hours of use on a full charge so you can game all day.

Size: 14 inches | Resolution: 1080p HD | CPU: 4th generation AMD Ryzen 9 | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 | RAM: Up to 40GB DDR4 | Storage: Up to 8TB SSD | Touchscreen: No

"It’s thin and light and incredibly portable given the power packed inside." — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Best Chromebook: Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2
What We Like
  • Great battery

  • 2-in-1

  • Google Assistant built-in

What We Don't Like
  • Very limited inputs

  • Not 4K

Since their launch in 2011, Chromebooks have become a popular choice for entry-level laptops for businesses, students, and home users. The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 is available with a 10th generation Intel Core i3 processor, up to 8GB of RAM, and either a 64 or 128GB eMMC storage drive to give you plenty of power and storage for most applications including word processing and streaming movies. The 13-inch screen uses Samsung's QLED technology for richer colors, finer details, and better contrast than their standard LED models. It also supports touch inputs via stylus or your hands.

The 2-in-1 form factor lets you use it as a typical laptop or a tablet, helping you pare down your arsenal of mobile devices. With Google Assistant built-in, you'll get hands-free controls for setting up reminders, setting alarms, or searching the web. The aluminum body comes in either red or grey so you can show off your personal style or match your home or office aesthetics. The compact design allows you to slip the laptop into a bag for work commutes, heading to class, or business travel. And with a 13-hour battery life, you can work, study, and surf the web all day before needing to find a wall outlet to recharge.

Size: 13 inches | Resolution: 1080p | CPU: 10th generation Intel Core i3 | GPU: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics | RAM: 4 to 8GB DDR3 | Storage: 64 or 128GB eMMC | Touchscreen: Yes

"You also have the advantage of a touchscreen as a further input option, and as a 2-in-1 with a flip-around screen, it’s a capable tablet. The hinge mechanism is quite solid with barely any wobble, and all around I found the Galaxy Chromebook 2 to be quite solid and robust." — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Best Durability: ASUS ZenBook 13 Ultra-Slim

What We Like
  • Excellent battery

  • Military spec durability

  • Fast battery charging

What We Don't Like
  • No 4K screen option

  • Limited inputs

  • 10-key on touchpad is awkward

If you take your laptop with you everywhere you go, you know how important durability is to protect delicate components. The Asus ZenBook Ultra-Slim is rigorously tested against MIL-STD-810G military standards, meaning this laptop can handle anything from dust and sand, to rain and humidity, and even harsh shocks and drops. You can configure this laptop to be a custom fit for your needs with either a FHD LED or OLED screen, up to 16GB of RAM, and an SSD with a capacity up to 1TB. You can choose between an Intel Core i5 or i7 CPU to suit your work style.

The battery gives you a very impressive 22 hours of life on a single charge, and with fast-charging technology, just 40 minutes of charging gives you up to 60 percent battery. It's perfect for international business flights, long days of studying, or all-day use by the whole family. The front-facing camera uses infrared technology and Windows Hello facial recognition software to give you an extra layer of security and prevent unauthorized logins.

Size: 13 inches | Resolution: 1080p LED or OLED | CPU: 10th generation Intel Core i5 or i7 | GPU: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics | RAM: Up to 16GB | Storage: Up to 1TB SSD | Touchscreen: No

Final Verdict

The Dell XPS 13 (view at Amazon) is one of the most popular choices for a 13-inch laptop, and it's easy to see why. You can choose either a 1080p or 4K resolution display and custom-tailor the RAM, CPU, and storage devices to suit your work, study, or home use needs.

If you need a laptop that can stand up to anything short of a volcano blast, the Asus ZenBook Ultra Thin (view at Amazon) is the best option. It boasts mil spec durability against moisture, dust, and even harsh shocks and drops to keep your delicate components safe from damage. You can choose either an LED or OLED full HD display, and the 22-hour battery features fast-charging tech to give you 60 percent power in just 40 minutes.

How We Tested

When testing these laptops our experts use a variety of tools to see how they perform at the very edge of their performance envelope. Free tools like Cinebench allow them to stress test a laptop's CPU and how well it can operate under overclock conditions, as well as using 3DMark to examine how well the laptop handles rendering environments. They also look at the form-factor and portability, because nobody wants to take a 15-pound laptop anywhere, as well as things like speaker performance and webcam placement. 

About Our Trusted Experts

Taylor Clemons is a tech writer who has written for IndieHangover, GameSkinny, TechRadar, The Inventory, and The Balance: Small Business. Taylor specializes in PC components, operating systems, and gaming console hardware.

Andrew Hayward has been covering the latest tech since back in 2006 for a number of major media publications. His byline has appeared in a huge number of the top tech and gaming outlets.

Alice Newcome-Beill has been the associate commerce editor for Lifewire since December 2019. Her work has appeared on PCMag, PC Gamer, and GamesRadar. In her spare time, she enjoys building computers, emulating old software in DOSBox, and cycling.

Jeremy Laukkonen is tech writer and the creator of a popular blog and video game startup. He also ghostwrites articles for numerous major trade publications.

Andy Zahn is a writer specializing in tech. He's reviewed cameras, weather stations, noise-cancelling headphones, and more for Lifewire.

What to Look For in a 13-inch Laptop

Portability - 13-inch laptops are generally going to be slighter than their 15- or 17-inch brethren, but because portability is one of the main appeals of this form factor, you're likely not going to want a thick, beefy model. Luckily, the vast majority of options on our list are svelte and designed with travel in mind.

Display - While resolution isn't as critical as for larger models, it's still very important in any laptop, and ideally you'll want a model with an FHD (1080p) or higher display. In fact, for modern laptops, FHD is the lowest acceptable resolution, but you should also bear in mind whether or not a display is touch compatible.

Processor - When it comes to doing heavy duty work, take note of the processor, or CPU. If money is no obstacle, look at the number of cores it has. More cores mean a faster and more efficient processor. The high-end options out there pack up to eight cores.

FAQs

What is a 2-in-1 laptop?
A 2-in-1 laptop, also sometimes known as a convertible laptop, is a portable computer that can be used either as a traditional laptop or as a tablet. A hinge allows you to fold back the screen to take advantage of touchscreen features or use the laptop as you would a smartphone or tablet. These types of laptops are perfect for creative professionals who work in digital art or for typical office work that may require multiple device types to tackle workloads.

What is a Chromebook?
A Chromebook is simply a laptop that runs on ChromeOS, Google's own operating system, rather than Windows or macOS. You can do just about anything on a Chromebook as you can any other laptop, though you'll want to check your programs, apps, and software to make sure they're compatible. The main advantage of using a Chromebook over other types of laptops is that they are very reasonably priced, so they're perfect for students or home users.

How can I protect my computer and files?
In an increasingly online world, it's important to keep your personal data and work safe from unauthorized access or even theft. Many new laptops feature a host of security features that may include: AES 256-bit encryption, fingerprint readers, facial recognition software, and built-in antivirus software. But even with all of this at your disposal, you'll still need to be careful about accessing public Wi-Fi networks on your personal devices, and never give out your personal information or passwords online.

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