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The best 13-inch laptops are almost a hybrid between full-sized laptops (measuring 17 or more inches) and tablets. They deliver the excellent performance of their full-sized counterparts, but are sleek and compact enough to travel with without feeling at all burdened. They're the laptops that most earn that name, readily and easily fitting onto your lap, so they're not too cumbersome to use even during a crowded commute or at a busy coffee shop.
Performance is still a huge factor, however, so pay careful attention to the specs when shopping in this category. If you're mainly looking for a productivity machine, prioritize the processor (CPU), while if you're going to be doing any amount of serious gaming on this machine, consider getting something with one of the best graphics card (GPU). Storage-wise, if you're looking for something that will boot and load programs lightning fast, prioritize a laptop with SSD storage, whereas if you have a ton of files/games/programs you need to store, maybe a model with a larger, traditional hard drive (HDD) is a better choice.
Several customizable models
Great Infinity Edge display
4K touch screen
Battery life could be better
If you’re looking for one of the most tried-and-true laptops for business and personal use, then Dell’s XPS 13 line is worth looking into. The latest models offer updated specs that can keep you productive when you’re working or handling schoolwork.
The Dell XPS 13 offers ample configuration, so you can choose a more affordable model with 4GB of RAM and an 8th-gen Intel Core i3 processor. Or, you can go all in for a model with an Intel Core i7-8650U quad-core processor with boost speeds up to 4.6GHz and pair it with 16GB of RAM for serious productivity. All of the models come configured with M.2 PCIe NVMe storage for fast boot times and file access.
The design of the XPS 13 line is sleek, with an Infinity Edge display that lets the 13.3-inch screen stand out with minimal bezels around the edges. You also get options from Full HD panel to 4K resolution, battery life of up to 21 hours, plus touchscreen configurations are available. Whatever your needs, the XPS 13 should be able to fit them. Our reviewer loved its lavish design and beautiful audio playback.
"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
Excellent SSD options
Great high-res display
Stingy port selection
Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro has always been the sweet spot in the company’s MacBook lineup, offering more than enough power for the needs of all but the most demanding professional applications. This has become even truer in the past couple of years, as Apple has gotten aggressive about keeping its MacBook lineup up to date. As of 2019, there’s the MacBook Pro for professionals and power users and the MacBook Air for everybody else. If you’re in that first category, the 13-inch MacBook Pro won’t disappoint you.
Inside, you’re getting an 8th-generation 2.4 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, which can burst up to impressive speeds of 4.1GHz, and if you need more than that, you can get it with a custom upgrade to a Core i7 2.8 GHz that will top out at 4.7GHz. It also has 8GB of RAM, upgradeable to 16GB, and a choice of SSDs from 256GB and 512GB right up to 1TB and 2TB variations. For most folks, however, we think one of the base models will be more than enough, especially with the four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports in mind.
Then there’s the display. Apple has been on the leading edge of high-resolution laptop displays for years. This one, in particular, boasts a 2560x600 native resolution at 227 pixels-per-inch (PPI) and, in the past couple of years, Apple has improved that already-great display by adding unprecedented color accuracy in the form of not only a P3 wide color gamut but True Tone technology as well, meaning it automatically adjusts colors to match the light in the room.
Beautiful Retina display
Slightly slower CPU than the Pro
After a few years of mixing things up, Apple’s MacBook family has gotten nice and simple, with the company boiling it down to two distinct lineups: the MacBook Pro for those with high-end needs, and the MacBook Air for everybody else. While there’s no doubt that Apple’s MacBook Pro has beefier specs, the MacBook Air wins on price and especially on portability, and it’s definitely no slouch in performance. So unless you know why you need a MacBook Pro, it’s safe to say that you’ll be fine with a MacBook Air.
In fact, with Apple’s 2019 MacBook Air, raw CPU power is about all you’re really giving up in exchange for the ultra-slim profile. All of Apple’s MacBooks — Pro and Air alike — feature the same 2560x1600 resolution and 227 PPI Retina Display, along with the True Tone feature that matches the display’s color temperature to whatever your ambient lighting is. There’s also a pair of Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C ports for connecting external storage or an external display, along with Apple’s now-standard T2 security chip and Touch ID sensor for full disk encryption and authentication.
Inside, the MacBook Air is powered by a 1.6GHz 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor that, when Turbo Boost is activated, trailblazes at 3.6 GHz, along with 8 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD, which is more than enough power for the average user while still allowing for a battery life of up to 13 hours. In his review, Andrew heaped praise on that gorgeous Retina display as well as the speedy MacOS experience.
"No longer overlooked by Apple, the MacBook Air revival in 2018 was one of the best ultraportable laptops you could buy when it came out last year, and it still manages to hold up well today." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester
Perfect 2-in-1 flexibility
Beautiful touchscreen display
10 gen Intel processor
Slightly lower resolution
If you want more versatility from your 13-inch laptop, you should consider a 2-in-1. Excelling both as a laptop and tablet, the latest Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (7390) has been fitted with the most recent Intel Core processor as well as top-of-the-line memory and storage.
As a tablet, the lightweight 7390 shines thanks to its beautiful 13.4-inch 1920x1200-pixel touchscreen display and 16:10 aspect ratio. Even when the hinge is folded completely over to resemble a tablet, it remains thin. A thermal cooling system keeps it from running hot.
The XPS 13 2-in-1 uses Intel’s 10th-generation processors, meaning each configuration offers solid performance. The base model has a Core i3 processor paired with 4GB of RAM and a 256GB NVMe SSD. For everyday tasks like email, web browsing, and entertainment, the Core i3 upgrade is a compelling option.
You can boost the power by opting for the Core i5 or one of the two Core i7 models. Along with offering a better, middle-of-the-road processor, picking the Core i5 version doubles the RAM. Both i7 configurations, however, are juggernauts, featuring better onboard graphics, 256GB or 512GB of storage, 16GB of RAM, and an optional 4K screen.
Full 360-degree rotation
Slightly older processor
The popularity of tablets has led to the emergence of 2-in-1 devices, which work equally well as both laptops and tablets. There are quite a few 2-in-1 laptop-tablets you can consider, but we recommend Samsung's Notebook 9 Pen.
Crammed with features, the Notebook 9 Pen can rotate a full 360 degrees on its hinge. The 2-in-1 comes with the same S-Pen that Samsung's Galaxy Note line-up of phablets is famous for, and the stylus can be conveniently stowed away in its own silo. The S-Pen can be used to simulate actions such as writing, sketching, and even painting, all of which can be easily digitized.
The Samsung Notebook 9 Pen is powered by an 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, paired with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage. Its display is a 13.3-inch touch-enabled panel, boasting a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels and a 16:9 aspect ratio. External I/O options include Thunderbolt 3, USB Type-C, and a 3.5mm combo, with Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, and Bluetooth 5.0 taking care of wireless connectivity.
You also get a 720p HD webcam, dual-array digital microphones, a UFS-compatible microSD card slot, and AKG-tuned stereo speakers. Running on Windows 10 Home, Samsung's Notebook 9 Pen is claimed to have a battery life of up to 15 hours on a single charge.
The Razer Blade Stealth features a small footprint that makes it highly portable while still having decent power. The design includes a 13.3-inch display that can either come in Full HD or a 4K touch panel. All of the versions offer 100 percent coverage of the sRGB color space, making them solid options for web design.
Inside, you’ll get an Intel Core i7-8650U quad-core processor paired with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM depending on the model you choose. The cheapest model has integrated graphics, though there are also models with Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics processors for playing 3D games. The catch? This is sort of a sleeper gaming laptop, meaning the internals aren’t going to handle the best graphics settings on the latest games. Still, the Razer Blade Stealth supports Razer’s external graphics enclosure, which lets you pair the laptop with a full desktop-class graphics card for serious gaming performance.
In practical terms, the Razer Blade Stealth is capable enough to carry to work or school with up to 13 hours of battery life, and its lower power internals will help it last throughout the day. But, when you get home and plug it into an external graphics card, it can turn into a gaming machine.
Simple, elegant design
Solid connectivity options
Divisive Chrome operating system
It may not be as popular as traditional operating systems like Microsoft's Windows and Apple's macOS, but Google's Chrome OS is still a great option for anyone who wants a no-frills computing experience. The browser-based operating system works great even with low-specced notebook PCs (also called 'Chromebooks'), such as the Acer Chromebook R13.
Featuring a simple yet elegant design and a 12-hour battery life, the Chromebook R13 is perfect for all your basic computing needs. It comes with a quad-core MediaTek CPU, supported by 4GB of RAM and 32GB of flash-based storage. The display is a 13.3-inch touch-enabled panel, with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels and a 16:9 aspect ratio.
For input/output, the laptop includes HDMI, USB (both Type-A and Type-C), 3.5mm audio, and a microSD card slot. Of course, there's also Wi-Fi 802.11 ac and Bluetooth 4.0 included for wireless connectivity. Other features include an HD webcam, built-in mic, and stereo speakers. The Chromebook R13's hinge can rotate a full 360 degrees, allowing you to use the laptop as a tablet as well.
You also get all the usual features of the Chrome OS, including quick access to all of Google's services, such as Gmail and YouTube, and the ability to run selected Android apps.
Great FHD touch display
Solid performance specs
Older, 8th gen processor
Laptops nowadays come with some pretty great design elements, including everything from premium construction materials to unique color options. With competition getting stiffer by the day, it's difficult to come up with a product that visually stands out from the rest. And yet, HP's Spectre Folio manages to do just that.
Hands down the best-designed notebook PC available, the Spectre Folio is made from leather. That's right — according to HP, the laptop's entire exterior frame and keyboard shell are built from 100 percent genuine full-grain leather. This not only imparts the Spectre Folio a unique appearance but also allows the device to be used in a variety of different modes.
The laptop's 13.3-inch touch-enabled display has a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels and a 16:9 aspect ratio. Our recommended configuration of the Spectre Folio includes an 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage. For external input/output, you get a combo 3.5mm audio port, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.
There's Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.2 for wireless connectivity, a Full-HD webcam, and Bang & Olufsen speakers for a premium audio experience. With up to 15.5 hours of battery life, HP's Spectre Folio also comes with its own digital stylus and runs Windows 10 Home.
The XPS 13 from Dell easily competes with the best laptops in the field of any size, but remains compact and portable enough to readily slip into a backpack or laptop case; it's one of the best overall laptops on the market today, period. For Apple fans, there's no denying the impressive power and beautiful design of the MacBook Pro, with its killer specs and that trademark Apple build quality.
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.
Mark Thomas Knapp has been in the tech journalism game since 2012, and has made a name for himself with insightful coverage of breaking Apple news and products. He's also a Chromebook and Pixelbook expert, meaning he was the perfect choice to build our best 13-inch laptop guide.
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.
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.