The 7 Best Ultrabooks of 2021

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The best ultrabooks have a whole lot going for them. These laptops are lightweight. They’re paper-thin. They’re elegantly designed. And they pack as much of a punch as many bigger, bulkier laptops, making them powerful tools for on-the-go creatives and professionals of all types.

It takes high-quality hardware to hit such high levels of performance while maintaining portability and all-day battery life, so be prepared for most ultrabooks to come with premium price tags. There’s also a wide array of options available with different brands, operating systems, and internal specs, so use our guide here to make sure you’re investing in the ideal ultrabook for you.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

What We Like
  • Durable, portable build

  •  Excellent ThinkPad keyboard

  • Business-oriented features

What We Don't Like
  • Relatively basic design

  • Middling webcam

Lenovo’s well-established line of ThinkPads are known for being among the best business laptops around, but the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is simply a top-of-the-line modern ultrabook by any standard. The 8th-generation model can be equipped with up to an Intel Core i7-10610U processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB solid state drive (SSD). That’s more than enough oomph for just about any professional tasks, and you can stay busy all day long with up to a listed 19.5-hour battery life on a 1080p Full HD display. You can also opt for 4K resolution on the 14-inch screen for extra clarity at the expense of faster battery drain.

Visually, the matte-black X1 Carbon might not look too flashy, but it’s expertly engineered to survive being dragged around to even the most extreme work conditions. Though it weighs a feathery 2.4 pounds, the carbon-fiber-reinforced frame has been tested to hold up against 12 military-grade durability standards, so it won’t have a problem with everyday bumps, drops, and spills. It also features the comfortable and responsive backlit keyboard that ThinkPad users have come to love, complete with the iconic red TrackPoint navigation “nub” right in the middle.

“When picking out my own Lenovo laptop, I appreciated how many options there were for finding exactly the right hardware configuration to meet your needs.” Anton Galang, Lifewire Writer

Best 2-in-1: Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Laptop

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1
What We Like
  • Slim and well-crafted

  • Versatile 2-in-1 format

  • Bright 16:10 ratio display

What We Don't Like
  • Mediocre webcam

  • Limited ports

The XPS 13 was already a leading contender among Dell laptops and ultraportables in general, but as a 2-in-1 laptop-tablet, it reaches new dimensions of versatility. Dell clearly put a lot of care into the sleek-yet-functional convertible design, which revolves around a sturdy 360-degree hinge. When flipped to touchscreen tablet mode, its sub-3-pound weight and 13.4-inch screen make it very practical to use. It’s easy to hold in your hands, while offering plenty of room to work on its 1920x1200-pixel display (a tad more height than the standard 1080p).

A downside to the compact size (razor-thin at 0.6 inches) is that there’s no room for full USB-A ports. The keyboard is also relatively shallow, but should prove comfortable enough for typical users’ typing sessions.

The latest iteration of the XPS 13 2-in-1 sees minor but impactful improvements, particularly an IR camera for facial recognition. It also keeps up on the performance side by way of the newest and fastest Intel Core processors, including 11th-generation chips on the 2020 machines. Coupled with Intel’s advanced integrated Iris Xe graphics, the XPS 13 2-in-1 becomes a multi-purpose powerhouse that lets you switch seamlessly from a productive day at your desk to lounging on the couch for some streaming TV or gaming.

“It’s nicely designed, lightweight, and packs a big, high-resolution touchscreen display.”Nick Jaynes, Product Tester

Runner-Up, Best 2-in-1: HP Spectre x360 15

What We Like
  • Large, stunning 4K AMOLED display

  • Powerful hardware

  • High-quality speakers

What We Don't Like
  • Somewhat bulky as a tablet

  • Unimpressive battery life

Can a slim, portable ultrabook still be big, bold, and beautiful? The eye-catching Spectre x360 15 2-in-1 from HP certainly makes a case. It manages to fit in a touchscreen with an expansive 15.6-inch diagonal, with the option for 4K resolution and AMOLED technology that come together for unparalleled contrast, color, and crispness. The size makes it slightly unwieldy to use as a tablet, but the flexibility is still convenient to have. The bright, vivid display also takes a toll on battery life—you can make it through most of the day, but you’ll want to keep a power source close by.

As you can imagine, the Spectre x360 15’s exceptional display is perfect for working with photos, videos, or any kind of media, and it packs the hardware to support it. Decked out with up to a six-core Intel Core i7 10750H processor, discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q graphics, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of SSD storage, you have content creation performance that can rival much larger machines. Plus, if you’re working with or particular about audio, four strong, custom-tuned Bang & Olufsen speakers pump out better sound quality than you can expect from most other laptops.

“Instead of flat edges and square angles, the edges of this beauty are cut to reveal shining metal surfaces that catch the light and draw the eye.”Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Best Splurge: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

Surface Laptop 3
What We Like
  • High-quality design

  • Comfortable keyboard

  • Solid performance and battery life

What We Don't Like
  • Lacking in ports

  • Touchscreen but no tablet mode

Microsoft has built up its Surface line of touchscreen laptops with a strong, diverse stable of options, and the Surface Laptop 3 is its latest representative of the traditional clamshell format. It’s a slick 13.5-inch ultrabook (with a 15-inch version also available) that simply makes blending performance and portability look easy. Its quad-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor are about the fastest you can get while maintaining essentially all-day battery life. The 13.5-inch model only includes integrated Intel Iris Plus graphics, though, so you’ll want a configuration with a dedicated graphics card if you’re planning on more heavy-duty gaming or video editing.

 The quality design of the Surface Laptop 3 is easily visible from its minimalist aluminum exterior (available in several color options), but it applies to practical matters, too. The keys are a joy to type on, the touchpad is large and responsive, and Alcantara fabric is now optional for the deck around the keyboard. Our tester also appreciated the decent 720p webcam, unlike other ultrabooks where this tends to be a neglected feature. The Surface Laptop 3 does make concessions with its port selection, but at least it now has a USB-C input, plus a Surface Connect port for extra connectivity via Microsoft’s Surface Dock.

“The keyboard is nice and snappy, with comfortably spaced keys and just the right amount of travel.”Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Best for Battery Life: Asus ExpertBook B9450FA 14" Laptop

ASUS ExpertBook B9450FA
What We Like
  • Remarkable 24-hour battery life

  • Light and thin

  • LED number pad in touchpad

What We Don't Like
  • More powerful alternatives available

  • Only 1080p display

Asus bills the ExpertBook B9450 as the world’s lightest 14-inch business laptop, and its 2.2-pound starting weight is certainly impressive. But what makes it stand out even more among other ultraportables is its battery life—depending on your settings, it can last a whopping 24 hours before needing a charge. There’s currently no other laptop that can match that. That means you can take the ExpertBook B9450 around all day without fear of losing power, and if you bring along a spare portable battery charger, you’ll definitely be set. Plus, with military-grade durability certification, you don’t have to worry about drops, spills, or extreme temperatures, either.

Of course, all this portability wouldn’t mean much if it couldn’t handle the tasks you want it to take on. Fortunately, that’s no concern for its Intel Core i7-10510U chip, 16GB RAM, and up to a massive 2TB of SSD hard drive space. Asus has even thrown in a few other unique modern touches. The screen’s hinge lifts the keyboard up to a more natural typing angle, which also improves airflow for the cooling vents. And laptops this size can’t usually fit a dedicated number pad, but on the ExpertBook B9450, you can switch on an LED number pad right on the touchpad. Finally, a small light bar in the front shines blue when the built-in Alexa voice assistant is activated.

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

What We Like
  • Superior performance from Apple chip

  • Excellent battery life

  • Maintains beloved design

What We Don't Like
  • Only two USB-C ports

  • No touchscreen option

Apple’s latest 13-inch MacBook Pro looks essentially identical to the generations before it. For some laptops, this might be a sign of a design getting stale. Fortunately for the MacBook Pro, this design is an attractive, still-contemporary look that has drawn legions of fans (and imitators). It measures a portable 3 pounds and 0.6-inches thick and comes in silver or space gray. The 2560x1600-pixel retina display is as sharp, colorful, and bright as ever. The keyboard and touchpad are comfy and precise. On the downside, the design still offers only two USB-C Thunderbolt ports for multipurpose connectivity and charging.

On the inside, however, the MacBook Pro 13-inch has experienced some game-changing upgrades as it becomes one of the first devices to feature Apple’s very own M1 chip. From her time with the machine, our reviewer came to the same conclusions as testers around the industry: the M1 and its 8-core CPU gives Mac systems lightning-fast performance that should have competitors worried. All apps and functions run remarkably smooth and snappy, including games available for Macs. Plus, battery life with the efficient M1 is among the best you’ll find in a laptop, lasting 18 to 20 hours playing high-res video.

“This year's MacBook represents the best value we've seen in an Apple laptop for some time.”Alice Newcome-Beill, Product Tester

Final Verdict

Standards are already high for ultrabooks in terms of portability and performance, and the Huawei MateBook X Pro is a popular choice for its superb 3K touchscreen and impressive specs. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon from Lenovo is also an excellent all-around choice, especially for business users in the market for a laptop that’s both durable and powerfully productive. For those looking for a Mac, the current MacBook Pro 13-inch sports the same appealing design but with major boosts to performance and battery life from Apple’s new M1 chip.

About our Trusted Experts

Andrew Hayward is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering technology and video games since 2006. His areas of expertise include smartphones, wearable gadgets, smart home devices, video games, and esports.

Nick Jaynes is a Lifewire reviewer and writer who has also worked for Mashable and Digital Trends, among others. He holds a degree in online media journalism and has interests in automotive tech and photography.

Jeremy Laukkonen is a Lifewire writer who takes pride in helping readers understand complex technology, even creating a video game startup and the automotive blog crankSHIFT. He uses an HP Spectre x360 15t ultrabook to tackle work on the road.

Alice Newcome-Beill is a product tester and associate commerce editor for Lifewire. She has been digging into computer hardware and gaming from an early age and has also written for PCMag, PC Gamer, and GamesRadar.

Anton Galang has a background in journalism and years of editorial experience in the fields of technology and journalism. He has previously worked for PC Magazine before writing and reviewing for Lifewire. 

What to Look for in an Ultrabook

Performance - While even the best Ultrabook won't exactly do laps around a gaming laptop, you're going to want a machine that can still handle a variety of productivity tasks without much trouble. This means making sure that the CPU and RAM are up to snuff as well as making sure that it can support a solid Wi-Fi connection.

Battery Life - Ultrabooks are intended to be portable, but that won't mean much if you have to lug a charger along with you. Some Ultrabooks can last over 20 hours on a single charge but barring that, a laptop that can be charged via USB-C offers a little more versatility.

Weight - An Ultrabook that weighs more than 5 pounds is just a laptop. If you're going to be toting a machine around with you everywhere, it'd better be slim and light.

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