Which ultraportable laptop should you buy? Should you buy a MacBook Air, or compare it to other ultrabooks? We review the best lightweight notebooks on the market, and compare them with Apple's MacBook Air.
See also: Which MacBook should I buy?
The Apple MacBook Air is a stunning laptop but it’s not the only ultraportable laptop. Which ultrabook you should buy depends on many factors, and Apple isn’t the only choice on the laptop market.
Despite lacking upgrade options, the MacBook Air has gone on to become Apple’s most popular laptop. It also has the very latest technology, from 802.11ac networking to Apple’s new larger and faster flash storage, and energy efficient Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs. And it runs Mac OS X, the best operating system on the market (which is doubly true now that Windows 8 is its main competitor).
There’s no denying that the MacBook Air is one of the very best laptops you can buy, but it’s not the only choice. It’s also expensive, starting at £849.
A range of other manufacturers have created similar tablets, which are known as ultraportables or ultrabooks. These have the same size screen and full keyboard of a laptop, and offer plenty of power. But they are lightweight and typically don’t sport an optical drive.
Which ultraportable laptop should you buy? If you’re not going to get a MacBook Air here are some of the ones you should look at.
Which 13-inch Apple laptop? MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro comparative review
MacBook Air (2013) review
Dell XPS 12
It’s worth noting that other ultraportables aren’t necessarily cheaper than the Apple MacBook Air, but may offer different features. The Dell XPS 12 has a flippable touchscreen turning it from a laptop to a chunky tablet.
What others say about the Dell 12 XPS: “If you’re looking for a lightweight tablet then look elsewhere. The Dell XPS 12 is primarily intended as a powerful working laptop, and its fourth-generation Haswell processor provides performance and battery life that could justify its high price. The tablet mode isn’t entirely successful, but it’s a nice little bonus that you can use to relax when you finish work at the end of the day.
Cliff Joseph, PC Advisor
Read more: Dell XPS 12 Haswell Ultrabook (late 2013) review: improved performance and battery life
Samsung Series 7 Ultra
Samsung and Apple seem to be the industries key competitors at the moment. While Samsung can be (and indeed often is) accused of copying Apple, there’s no denying it makes quality products. The Samsung Series 7 Ultra is a good laptop but it runs Windows 8 instead of Mac OS X. And at this price we’re sure which operating system we’d rather be using.
What others say about the Samsung Series 7: “The Series 7 Ultra is a very attractive Ultrabook – neatly designed, highly portable and with good all-round performance. It's no match for the battery life of the latest Haswell laptops, but its twin GPUs do give it some graphical horsepower, making it a good choice if you need a lightweight Ultrabook that can handle gaming and other demanding tasks.
Cliff Joseph, PC Advisor
Read more: Samsung Series 7 Ultra review: a very attractive Ultrabook
Samsung Ativ Book 9
If the £1,000 of the Samsung Series 7 Ultra is simply too much, and you’re looking for a cheaper laptop then the Ativ Book may be the one to go for. It cuts back on some of the specifications of the Series 7 Ultra but still provides a good laptop experience at a reduced price.
What others say about the Samsung Ativ Book 9: “Samsung's Ativ Book 9 Lite is only around one-third the price of the Plus model. This means a plastic chassis and cheap screen and processor, while keeping an impressively thin and light form factor. Component downgrades mean this laptop is no powerhouse but it does the job well and few laptops at this price are so thin and light.”
Cliff Joseph, PC Advisor
Read more: Samsung Ativ Book 9 Lite review: affordable ultraportable laptop
Lenovo is renowned for making quality laptops, although it does seem to be losing out to Samsung of late. Like the Dell XPS the IdeaPad Yoga is a brave attempt to bridge the gap between tablet and laptop. The screen that can flip all the way around the back of the keyboard makes more sense than Dell’s flippable display to us.
What others say about the Lenovo IdeaPad: “It's full marks from us on innovation and creativity for the IdeaPad Yoga. The way it folds into different shapes certainly means it will adapt to different situations well…it is quite big and heavy at 16.9mm and 1.47kg to use a handheld tablet for any length of time but that's the nature of a hybrid device like this.”
Sarah Jacobsson Purewal, PC Advisor
Read more: Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga review
If you want a cheap alternative to a MacBook Air then you can consider a Chromebook. This is a new type of laptop designed to run Google Chrome software. This type of laptop only really runs one program: Google Chrome although it does have onboard storage and integration with Google Drive. There are a range of Chrome-based apps and if you live heavily inside the world of Google Docs you may find it offers plenty enough functionality at a vastly reduced cost. There are a number around although the Samsung Chromebook (available in Wi-Fi or 3G and Wi-Fi) seems to be the pick of the bunch. We’d advise against using one for serious creative work, as you quickly come across hurdles (it’s not that easy to download, crop and resize images, for example without any photo editing software).
What others say about the Samsung Chromebook: “Chromebooks are definitely not trying to be primary computers. Instead Google is positioning them as inexpensive, additional devices that can be used by families, students, or people that want an extremely portable device that offers a more traditional form factor than a tablet. With the new ARM based model we think they've got it just right. The machine is fun to use, works brilliantly with Google Docs - something iPads simply can't do well at all - and took very little time to become a favourite in the office.
Martyn Casserly, PC Advisor
Read more: Samsung Chromebook Wi-Fi