2015 Gift Guide: Best Ultrabooks for the Holidays
What is an Ultrabook laptop? Technically, according to Intel—since they came up with the name—an Ultrabook is a laptop no thicker than 0.9 inches with a solid state drive, unibody chassis, touchscreen, long battery life and, of course, Intel Core ULV processors, among other things. Oh, and they’re expensive. That leaves out previously indispensable features like ethernet ports and optical drives.
For the purposes of our list, we’ve adhered to most of these requirements, but names can be a funny thing after they get into the mainstream. They begin to change, and ultrabooks (lower case) are now simply regarded by the public as a thin and light laptop, which is all that really matters.
In short, ultrabooks are the laptops that you really want.
Hey, Macbook Air, you may be aging, but you’re still one of the best of the bunch. However, we’ve left you off this list for the second year in a row. The long-awaited 12-inch Macbook with Retina Display launched this year, and if you can afford the high price tag, it’s the shiny new Apple laptop to get.
Here’s our list of the top five ultrabooks to get this holiday season:
Buy This for the Athletically Inclined: Lenovo Yoga 900-13
The awesome Yoga 2 Pro made the list in 2013 and the Yoga 3 Pro (promoted by Ashton “Steve Jobs” Kutcher) in 2014. And here it is again, rechristened as the Yoga 900 (aka Yoga 4 Pro).
The 13.3-inch Lenovo Yoga 900 13.3-inch 2-in-1 Laptop/Tablet (2015) is slightly thicker (0.59” vs 0.5”) and slightly heavier (2.8 lbs. vs. 2.6 lbs.) than its predecessor but still has the fancy 360-degree hinge that resembles a metal watchband.
What it’s lost in extreme thinness and lightness is increased power in the form of the 6th Generation Skylake Intel processors, a step up from last year’s low-power Core M processor.
MSRP (entry level 6th Gen Core i7): $1,200 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
- Pros: Thin, light and powerful. Better than last year’s Yoga 3 Pro. 3200 x 1800 display. Innovative 360-degree hinge.
- Cons: The price tag.
Buy This for Someone Who Wants Results: Dell XPS 13
The 13.3-inch Dell XPS 13 Laptop (2015) has won plaudits for being a fantastic laptop (2015 Best of CES finalist) and even better value. It’s just 0.33” to 0.6” thin, weighs 2.6 lbs. and has the same footprint as an 11.6” laptop. And the price starts at $800, which is at the low end for an ultrabook.
The XPS 13 was just revised with the latest 6th get Skylake Intel processors and Windows 10 across the board and all configurations are equipped with solid state drives.
MSRP (entry level 6th Gen Core i3 model): $800 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
- Pros: Incredibly thin and portable laptop. Excellent overall design with razor-thin bezel and carbon fiber palm rest.
- Cons: Big price jump to $1450 for QHD+ (3200×1800) display. Webcam is on the bottom corner of the display.
Buy This for the Mac Addict: 12-inch MacBook with Retina Display
With its typical fanfare, Apple introduced the newest redesign to the Macbook series in many years, the ultra-portable 12-inch Macbook with Retina display (2015). It’s impressively thin (0.14” to 0.52”) and light (2.03 lbs.) but at the cost of some controversial compromises.
This Macbook has just two ports. The headphone jack and a newfangled USB-C port for charging, syncing and whatever else. You almost feel that if Apple could’ve gotten rid of the headphone jack, they would’ve. There’s always next year.
MSRP (entry level Core M model): $1,299 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $1,149
- Pros: Remarkable level of portability. Available in 3 colors. Beautiful design and display (2300 x 1440). Best in class trackpad enhanced with “Force Touch.”
- Cons: First generation product. USB-C requires buying costly adapter to use with legacy peripherals. Meh processor and keyboard.
Buy This for Someone Who Wants Apple Without the Apple: Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus
The 13.3-inch Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus Laptop (2015) continues Samsung’s tradition of “paying homage” to a certain fruit-themed computer company. With silver brushed-metal chamfered edges, dark blue brushed aluminum finish, premium 180-degree hinge, sharp 3200 x 1800 display and backlit chiclet keyboard, it’s an eye-catching machine befitting of, ahem, Apple.
At 3.06 lbs, it’s a bit beefier compared to the other ultrabooks on this list, but it’s still super thin at 0.54”. The processor on the current model is the 2-year-old 4th generation Intel Core series, but perhaps Skylake revisions will arrive before the end of the year.
MSRP (entry level Core i5 model): $1,399 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $1180
- Pros: Attractive, eye-catching design and sharp display. 180-degree hinge.
- Cons: Expensive. Bloatware is a common complaint. Older 4th Gen Intel processor.
Buy This for Someone Who Loves a Deal (Ben’s Bargains fans): ASUS Zenbook UX305FA
The 13.3-inch ASUS Zenbook UX305FA Laptop (2015) is the most affordable ultrabook on this list and a natural fit for Ben’s Bargains fans. We’ve seen it as low as $569 in October, and it may just hit the $500 mark around Black Friday.
At 2.65 lbs. and a shade under 0.5” thin, this cheap ultrabook is far from a clunker. With its fanless operation, the Zenbook UX305 is a silent runner, and its all-aluminum design is very Mac-like. All in all, there’s a lot to like and little to dislike.
MSRP (entry level Core M model): $699 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $569
- Pros: Best bargain ultrabook. Attractive brushed aluminum design (choice of Gold or Black). Battery life is great (rated up to 8 hours). Silent.
- Cons: Low-powered Core M processor.