Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

The best 13-inch laptops for 2021

If you’re looking for a balance between capability and bulkiness, a 13-inch laptop is an ideal option. That said, not all 13-inch laptops are created equal. From our view, the Dell XPS 13 is the best 13-inch laptop available today, but there are plenty of other options depending on the features you want and the price you’re willing to pay. 

Most of the top 13-inch laptops are focused on balancing power and portability, but you can find everything from budget notebooks to high-end gaming rigs with a 13-inch display. Here are the laptops you should be looking at.

The best 13-inch laptops at a glance:

The best 13-inch laptop: Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13 9310 Featured Image
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

What we thought of the Dell XPS 13:

It’s hard not to sound like complete sycophants when talking about how much we love the XPS 13. It’s been our favorite laptop for the past five years, and the latest version is better than ever. Dell had already accomplished what we’ve been begging it to do for years and moved the webcam back up to the top of the screen where it belongs, and there’s so little else to complain about that it’s hard not to gush.

As with the XPS 13s that came before, this version is lightweight (under 3 pounds), portable, and exceedingly attractive. Base specs start with an 11th-generation Intel Core i3-1115G4 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of PCIe NVMe solid-state drive storage. Ports include two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C (including DisplayPort and power delivery compatibility), and the laptop comes with a USB-C to USB-A adapter to help manage some of your older accessories. More expensive options have a touchscreen and improve the processor, but otherwise, specs stay relatively the same.

Don’t expect to play the latest and greatest games at high frame rates — that’s not really what this laptop is for, though. No laptop is perfect, but the Dell XPS 13 is as close as we’ve seen yet, suitable for a wide variety of tasks and highly capable of handling them all.

Read our full Dell XPS 13 review

The best 13-inch laptop for students: Apple MacBook Air M1

Macbook Air M1
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

What we thought of the Apple MacBook Air M1:

The MacBook Air M1 is the perfect laptop for students. It’s lightweight, super powerful, and stacked with the quality-of-life features that Macs are known for. From exceptional battery life to a large touchpad and one of the best laptop keyboards, the MacBook Air comes with everything students need to succeed. It’s cheap, too, at least by Apple standards. It’s also completely silent.

The latest MacBook Air features Apple’s new M1 chip that brings together CPU and GPU cores with system RAM. Over the Intel processors that proceeded it, M1 is built on a more power-efficient architecture. It’s so power-efficient, in fact, that the MacBook Air doesn’t even need a fan. It stays cool simply by passing heat through the aluminum body, so you can keep working without distracting anyone.

For portability, the MacBook Air M1 is 0.63 inches thick at its thickest point, and it only weighs 2.8 pounds. The port selection isn’t great with just two Thunderbolt ports, but you can easily expand the selection with a Thunderbolt 3 dock.

The MacBook Air M1 is a seriously impressive laptop, not just for students, but for anyone looking for a highly portable, very powerful machine. In some ways, it’s even better than the MacBook Pro.

Read our Apple MacBook Air M1 review

The best 13-inch gaming laptop: Razer Blade Stealth (2020)

What we thought of the Razer Blade Stealth (2020):

The latest version of the Stealth means business and is ready to combine the portability of a 13-inch machine with the internal capability to handle demanding games without blowing up in your face. It’s excellent to see this model include both an Intel quad-core 10th-gen Core i7-1065G7 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GRX 1650 Ti Max GPU alongside 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. Razer also offers a model with a newer Core i7-1165G7 but identical specs otherwise. The RGB keyboard is just icing on the cake for gamers.

Connections include USB-C, Thunderbolt 3, and USB-A. Note that this model can max out with a 4K 60Hz touchscreen, but that’s not really necessary unless you plan on doing a lot of content creation. If you want to play competitively, there is a build option for 1080p resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate that may be more your style.

The Razer Blade Stealth is a beautiful laptop, and it has enough grunt to play all modern games at reasonable frame rates, as long as you keep the graphical detail under control. Larger Razer laptops do outshine its gaming ability, and other laptops on this list will stomp all over its battery life, but for a laptop that performs well in and out of games and looks good doing it, this is our favorite in the 13-inch space.

Read our review of an earlier Razer Blade Stealth

The best 13-inch laptop under $500: Acer Chromebook R13

What we thought of the Acer Chromebook R13:

If you want as much as you can get for $500, we suggest the 2018 Chromebook R13. It’s a flexible 2-in-1 that still has enough performance for your everyday tasks. This can be particularly hard to find in this price range, where the combination of lower specs and older parts can mean power or speed issues for the unwary. But Acer has managed to build the R13 for performance, and the snappy Chrome OS loading helps make sure there are no annoying wait times as you work.

For this model, you get a Mediate MT8173C quad-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of SSD storage. While that storage may seem like it’s a little low, Chromebooks tend to operate with a focus on cloud storage and running apps from the cloud to reduce the storage needed on your own laptop — and you can always purchase an external storage drive.

Battery life is rated for up to 12 hours, and connections include ISB-A 3.1 and USB-C plus DisplayPort compatibility. If affordability is your primary goal, the Acer Chromebook R13 is a pretty great package for the price.

The best lightweight 13-inch laptop: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano

What we thought of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano:

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano is a super light laptop that still packs a ton of power. The non-touch model weighs only 1.99 pounds, and the touch model is only slightly heavier at 2.14 pounds. That’s even lighter than the most recent LG Gram, which has long claimed the ultra-portable throne with its 2.2-pound weight. The ThinkPad X1 Nano is built like other ThinkPads, too, sporting a carbon-fiber hybrid material that’s as sturdy as laptops that weigh twice as much.

The high-end configuration comes with an Intel Core i7-1180G7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. If portability is more important than power, you can also configure the ThinkPad X1 Nano with an i5-1130G7, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. Regardless of the configuration, the machines comes with a 16:10 2K display (2,160 x 1,350) with a peak brightness of 450 nits and support for Dolby Vision HDR.

The non-traditional resolution leads to better battery life overall, beating 4K displays like the one in the Spectre x360. Despite stiff competition from Dell, HP, and LG, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano is a showstopper. It maintains the ThinkPad flair Lenovo is known for while cutting the weight significantly, all without sacrificing performance or battery life.

Read our Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano review

The best 13-inch Chromebook: Google Pixelbook Go

Google Pixelbook Go portability
Riley Young / Digital Trends

What we thought of the Google Pixelbook Go:

Although there are a ton of Chromebooks on the market, there’s really only one option for the best performance, build quality, and design. The Google Pixelbook Go comes straight from the source, and it’s built from the ground up to let the Chrome OS platform shine. You can pick up an inexpensive configuration with an Intel Core m3 processor and 8GB of RAM, but Google also offers a configuration with a 4K display, a Core i7, and 16GB of RAM.

Outside of raw power, the Pixelbook Go has a few design elements that help it stand out in the crowded Chromebook market. The bottom, for example, is textured so it doesn’t slide away when sitting on your lap, and the stereo speakers are near the key bed, offering clear audio across movies, games, and music. It’s highly portable, too, measuring just 0.5 inches thick and weighing 2.3 pounds.

Additionally, the Google Pixelbook Go is rated for 12 hours of battery life and comes with two USB-C ports. Most Chromebooks are designed with a budget in mind. The Pixelbook Go is designed from the other direction, matching features with components to create a Chromebook that lets the lightweight operating system shine.

Read our Google Pixelbook Go review

The best for Apple users: Apple MacBook Pro 13 M1

What we thought of the Apple MacBook Pro M1 13:

Just like the MacBook Air, the latest MacBook Pro is based on Apple’s M1 chip. It’s identical to the chip inside the MacBook Air, sporting eight CPU cores and 8GB of unified memory. Over the Air, though, the Pro 13 model comes with eight GPU cores; the Air comes with seven. The extra core doesn’t make a huge difference, but combined with active cooling, it pushes the Pro 13 slightly ahead of the Air. Plus, the latest MacBook Pro M1 is $500 cheaper than its Intel counterpart.

The MacBook Pro has active cooling, but you won’t notice it. The fan never spun up in our testing, even when running games like Fortnite. And yes, the M1 can run games like Fortnite. Despite being cool and power-efficient, the M1 chip is powerful enough for gaming and productivity. This is still a MacBook Pro, after all.

Like previous models, the M1 variation still comes with an excellent Retina display, a top-notch keyboard, and clear on-board speakers. The updated model is better in a number of ways, too, sporting nearly twice the battery life of the Intel models that preceded it.

The MacBook Pro M1 is a breakthrough machine for Apple, bringing price and performance more in-line with the rest of the market without sacrificing all the things that make Apple laptops special.

Read our Apple MacBook Pro 13 M1 review 

The best 13-inch 2-in-1: HP Spectre x360

hp spectre
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

What we thought of the HP Spectre x360: 

The Dell XPS 13 has remained our favorite laptop for a number of years, but there has always been a close second: The HP Spectre x360. Like the XPS 13, it’s a thin and light machine packing the latest components. That includes an Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor with Iris Xe graphics, 256GB of SSD storage, and 16GB of RAM.

For the display, HP has a few different options. The full HD touchscreen on the base model is great, offering thin bezels and a peak brightness of 400 nits. However, HP also offers a full HD OLED display for deeper contrast or a 4K OLED, both of which also have a peak brightness of 400 nits. Both of the OLED options support touch, too.

Although the HP Spectre x360 plays second fiddle to the XPS 13 in a few areas — namely battery life — it’s still a remarkable 2-in-1. The 13-inch model we’re recommending is great, but HP also has a new 14-inch model. It’s not much larger overall, but the 3:2 screen aspect ratio offers a little extra screen real estate.

Read our review of the HP Spectre x360 13

Research and buying tips

Does laptop screen size matter?

Yes, it definitely does. The change in size can make things like working in applications side by side much more fluid. The overall size of the laptop also makes a difference in portability. Sliding a 15-inch laptop into a backpack isn’t always possible, and neither is trying to use it in cramped locations like a small coffee shop table or on an airplane.

Perhaps more importantly, though, there are significant differences in configuration options between 13-inch and 15-inch laptops. Take the Dell XPS 13 and XPS 15, for example. The XPS 13 maxes out at a four-core processor with integrated graphics, while the XPS 15 can now include up to an eight-core processor with a discrete GTX 1650 graphics card. The extra space in the chassis allows for these more powerful components, meaning they’ll provide a significant boost in performance.

What is a good screen resolution for a 13-inch laptop?

Most 13-inch laptops are offered in two resolution options: 1080p (1,920 x 1,080) and 4K (3,840 x 2,160). The 4K options are often significantly more expensive and lose a couple of hours in battery life. For most people, the 1080p configurations will be plenty sharp, especially on a screen this size. You may want to jump up to 4K, however, for the wider color gamut that often comes with it. Editing photos in 4K with better colors is ideal.

Your resolution options change for laptops with taller screens. The MacBook Pro, for example, has a sharper 13-inch screen with a 16:10 aspect ratio, resulting in a 2,560 x 1,660 screen resolution. Meanwhile, the Surface Laptop 2 has an even sharper 3:2, 13-inch screen with a 3,000 x 2,000 resolution.

Which is the best laptop brand?

Choosing the best laptop brand comes down to a combination of which company designs the best products and provides the best service. Dell fits the standard for both of these, having built the best laptop you can buy right now. HP and Lenovo are close behind, offering good laptop designs and similar customer service.

On a different tier is Apple, which builds the sturdiest laptops you can buy. They also offer a high-caliber customer service experience that involves an actual brick-and-mortar store (if you have one in your area). That rating has lowered a bit with its recent keyboard kerfuffle, where reliability has become a serious issue. But even there, Apple eventually fessed up and started replacing the laptops altogether.

Is a 13-inch laptop too small for gaming?

A 13-inch laptop may not seem as visually immersive as a larger screen can, but if your GPU can support your favorite game, then a 13-inch laptop would prove to be an excellent gaming device. While your situational awareness is undoubtedly improved with bigger displays, the screen may not fully support the game. It would be best if you double-checked your larger laptop’s specs; The processor, RAM, SSD, and GPU all need to be able to support the parameters required for your game comfortably.

How do I know what size my laptop is?

To quickly measure your screen, grab your ruler, measuring tape, or other measuring tools and hold it diagonally across your screen. The device should stretch from a top corner to the opposite bottom corner. Be sure not to include the borders of your screen in your measurements. If you don’t have any tool to measure the screen physically, try searching for your laptop make and model number online. 

If you prefer any of these computers, be sure to take advantage of Black Friday laptop deals to get an excellent price for your laptop.

Editors' Recommendations