In terms of advancements, 2021 is going to be a great year for laptops all around. We are seeing many manufacturers go back to the drawing board and come up with the new design. Others are going to the route of improving thermals among other incremental improvements. Gaming laptops are also more affordable these days, thanks to the abundance of GPUs and processors to pick from.
With all of that said, ultrabooks will always be the most popular choice. The fact of the matter is that not everyone all those extra cores or graphical horsepower. People just want to get their day-to-day work done. Most of this includes writing documents, watching videos, doing research, and other tasks. But for those who do need the extra horsepower, there are powerful ultrabooks as well.
That’s why we’re saying 2021 is going to be a great year for laptops. If you want the thinnest, lightest ultrabook, you got options. If you want something that’s as portable as an ultrabook yet has more power, you’ve got even more options. So, let’s take a look at some of our favorite ultrabooks of this advanced era.
The Dell XPS 13 has been my go-to recommendation when anyone asks what laptop they should buy. That’s because the XPS 13 has always been a safe bet. It has a great design, incredible build quality, and a stunning display. This year, the Dell XPS 13 9300 takes things up a notch. The result is the same wonderful XPS 13, only even better.
Design-wise, this thing definitely looks the part. It is small, compact, and lightweight. If you get the black carbon fiber version you’ll really enjoy it. Dell does this really well, and the soft-touch carbon fiber feels excellent. The white version looks great too, but it doesn’t have that soft-touch finish. But, this year they only include two USB-C ports on either side.
It also has a microSD card slot on the left, and a headphone jack on the right. The best part is that you can open the hinge with one hand, which just makes the laptop more user-friendly. Moving on, the screen uses a 16:10 aspect ratio, which is great for productivity. It has a resolution of 1920 x 1200, plenty of brightness, and vibrant colors. The webcam at the top also supports Windows Hello.
If you’re wondering about the keyboard, it is excellent. The layout is straight forward, and it feels comfortable. Speaking of which, the keycaps are bigger and they feel comfortable to type on a well. The trackpad also feels solid. Oh, and the speakers here are great as well. By this point, most of you are wondering about performance.
Thanks to the i5-1035G1 inside here, the laptop runs quite well. Depending on the configuration you can get 4, 8, or 16 gigs of RAM. You can also configure it to have an i7 processor. Overall, this is an excellent laptop. Just skip the variant with the 4GB of RAM.
Most of you will read the ROG branding and realize that this is well, technically, a gaming laptop. However, there is more to the story here. While it is advertised as a powerful workhorse machine, you can easily carry it with you in your backpack. It was also one of the first laptops to use the new Ryzen 4000 series of laptop chips. Well, the hype has certainly been worth it.
A thing I like about this device is that the design is not overly obnoxious. The dimensions and the weight rival the most powerful ultrabooks on the market as well. A reduction in size and weight can go a long way for a laptop of this class. It also looks excellent in both black and white color options.
Performance-wise, this thing is excellent. It has an eight-core sixteen-thread Ryzen 4800HS processor. For multi-core workloads, it is very fast. Faster than 2019’s Razer Blade in fact. It has a 1660 Ti Max-Q GPU, so you can easily use it for gaming at 1080p. Thermals are also great, and ASUS delivers on this quite well. At turbo, the fan can get a bit loud, but it’s acceptable.
At the back, you have an option to get a matrix screen. This allows you to display gifs or logos at the back of the laptop. It’s a nice touch to the overall design. It’s a 14-inch panel that uses a 1080p resolution at 120Hz. This is one of the few 14-inch laptops to have a 120Hz screen. Overall, the screen is a joy to use for day-to-day tasks. However, there is a bit of ghosting on this panel.
Other than that, the keys are spaced out well and are comfortable to type on. The magnesium alloy build feels solid, and the speakers are great. There is a lot to talk about with this laptop but we don’t want to spend all day here. The only major knock is that it doesn’t come with a webcam, so you’ll have to get one separately.
3. HP Elite Dragonfly Notebook
Portability At Its Finest
- Very unique design
- Extremely thin and light
- Solid build quality
- 2-in-1 mode
- Performance is about average
- Sub-par performance
Display: 13.3-inch IPS 1080p touchscreen | Processor: Core i7 8665U | RAM: 16GB | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics (integrated) | Storage: 512GB SSD
The HP Elite Dragonfly is an interesting one, that’s for sure. HP says that this is laptop is “lighter than air”. They obviously don’t mean that in the literal sense, but it might be a dig towards the MacBook Air. In reality, the weight is just shy of a kilogram, and the Dragonfly has powerful components. It also has some interesting design choices.
In real life, when the compact footprint combines with the blue/silver color scheme, you get an air of luxury from the laptop. It makes a bold statement, but the overall aesthetic is more classy than loud. It has a slim 0.63-inch profile, but it is able to house two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3. Other than that, it has a full-size HDMI out, a headphone jack, and a USB-A port.
Despite being small and compact, it feels quite solid. There is little to no flex all around the laptop. The sturdy 360-degree hinge allows for 2-in-1 operation. The keycaps are spaced apart quite well, and the overall typing experience is excellent. Even the trackpad feels great to use. HP always manages to deliver on this part, and the Dragonfly is no different.
The display, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. This thing has what HP calls a “Sure-view” screen. It blocks people from peeping at your screen at an angle. An interesting feature indeed. The panel itself isn’t that bright, and colors might have been better here. Other than that it’s your average 1080p touchscreen display.
Performance is decent for everyday use. Unfortunately, it uses an older U-series i7 processor. It gets the job done, but things like video editing and gaming aren’t really feasible. Overall, it is a great laptop, with a few caveats here and there.
4. Apple MacBook Air With M1 Chip
A Surprisingly Great Value
- Unexpectedly powerful
- Long battery life
- Great keyboard
- Incredible front-firing speakers
- iOS apps feel unintuitive
- Terrible webcam
Display: 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 Retina | Processor: Apple M1 | RAM: 8GB | GPU: Apple 8-core GPU | Storage: 512GB SSD
A lot of people probably are not surprised by seeing this on the list. The MacBook Air just got better thanks to the latest refresh. This is mostly thanks to the new Apple M1 chip that is powering this laptop. We’ll talk more about that later. If you are a macOS user, you are going to love this laptop. We never thought this was something worth saying, but the MacBook Air is an extremely compelling value right now.
Let’s get straight into the good stuff. The M1 chip inside here is astounding, to say the least. It outperforms any laptop processor out right now. It blows everything out of the water in both single-threaded and multi-threaded performance. This new ARM processor definitely flexes its muscles and leaves most x86 processors in the dust. Not every app is optimized for the new ARM chip, but even then the M1 performs surprisingly well.
But with all of that power inside, what’s the battery life like? It can last easily from 13 to 15 hours. Depending on the usage, you can get two work day’s worth of usage out of this laptop. Other than that, we get the same unibody design which stands the test of time. The keyboard is excellent, and so is the trackpad. Furthermore, the speakers are also impressive.
However, it’s not all sunshine and roses. This time around, the MacBook Air can natively run iOS apps which is a good thing. Unfortunately, you’ll quickly find out that iOS apps don’t feel great without a touchscreen. It’s apparent that Apple needs to add one here soon. Another small con is that the 720p webcam isn’t that great either.
Believe it or not, there’s not much wrong with the M1 MacBook Air. It’s also a great value considering the overall package and the beastly M1 chip inside. If this had a touchscreen for better iOS app support, and a better webcam, this MacBook would easily top the list.
5. Razer Blade Stealth 13 Ultrabook
The Fan Favorite
- Excellent build quality
- Striking yet subtle design
- Excellent keyboard
- A bit pricey
- Disappointing multi-core performance
- Average battery life
Display: 13.3-inch 1080p 120Hz | Processor: Intel Core i7 1065G7 | RAM: 16GB | GPU: 1650 Ti Max-Q | Storage: 512GB SSD
The Razer Blade Stealth has gone through many changes over the years. It started out as an extremely thin and portable laptop, that lacked a GPU. This time around, Razer has updated the Stealth with an Nvidia 1650 Ti Max Q GPU. This makes it a much better option for gamers, video editors, and of course, students.
Now, there is no way around it, this is an expensive laptop. However, a lot of people are willing to pay Razer a premium. Why is that? Well, it’s because of the excellent design, build quality and portability. The Blade Stealth looks excellent thanks to the minimalistic design and subtle profile. Its weight is well balanced, and the unibody design feels really good in the hand.
Razer uses a chiclet-style keyboard here, which we’ve seen many times before. It’s a great keyboard, and the layout is easy to understand. It does have RGB lighting but it isn’t necessarily true Chroma. You can set one zone for the entire keyboard, but there is so per-key lighting. Battery life is average, at about six and a half hours.
As usual for Razer laptops, this one has great thermals. This is why this laptop is so expensive. Not many manufacturers are making thin and light gaming laptops with great thermals and portability in mind. With that said, there is a problem here that you need to justify on your own.
That happens to be the lack of an AMD processor. Don’t get us wrong, the Intel chip inside here is decent, but we know that AMD is delivering better performance at a cheaper price. Simply put, as good as the Blade Stealth is, it’s not the greatest value. If you don’t mind the weaker multi-threaded performance, by all means, go for it.