If you’re looking for a standard-sized laptop, a 13-inch model fits the bill. You’ll find plenty of power and battery life without a lot of bulk. Of course, what you plan to use the laptop for will also affect your buying decision.
Our top recommendation is the Dell XPS 13, but we recognize that not everyone wants a basic, workhorse-type laptop. We’ll also cover budget picks, gaming laptops, the best laptops for students, and more.
The best 13-inch laptops at a glance:
- The best 13-inch laptop: Dell XPS 13
- The best 13-inch laptop for students: Asus ZenBook 13 UX333
- The best 13-inch laptop for gaming: Razer Blade Stealth
- The best 13-inch laptop under $500: Acer Chromebook R13
- The best lightweight 13-inch laptop: LG Gram 13
- The best 13-inch Chromebook: Acer Chromebook Spin 13
- The best 13-inch 2-in-1: HP Spectre x360
What we thought of the Dell XPS 13:
It’s hard to not 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 late-2019 version only makes it better. 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. That alone made this better than its predecessor for anyone who plans to video call or web conference regularly. Now, Dell has updated to Intel’s 10th-gen Comet Lake CPUs, including a six-core Core i7 that makes this the fastest 13-inch laptop money can buy.
As with the XPS 13s that came before, this version is light, portable, and exceedingly attractive. It’s gradually moved away from the MacBook silver styling which is so common in the notebook market and has forged an identity all of its own. You’ll want to keep the white interior and “Frost” exterior clean to make sure it stays looking fresh, but we feel confident that you’ll love this laptop enough to make the effort.
The display is absolutely gorgeous no matter which resolution you opt for and internal hardware upgrades make sure that this laptop is capable of just about anything you throw at it, from everyday web browsing to more intensive tasks like photo editing. Don’t expect to play the latest and greatest games at high framerates, but that’s not really what this laptop is for.
No laptop is perfect, but the XPS 13 is as close as we’ve seen yet.
Read our full Dell XPS 13 review
What we thought of the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333:
Always the bridesmaid and rarely the bride, the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 is so close to being our favorite 13-inch laptop ever made. If it didn’t exist in a world with the XPS 13, it just might take the top spot. As it is, it’s relegated to a very near second place, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
The ZenBook 13 is certainly the more affordable of the two devices. For that lower price, you get almost as much hardware as the more expensive Dell machine. Specifically, well under $1,000 gets you an Intel Core i5 CPU with four cores, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. That’s more than enough to perform any day to day task. Though the XPS 13 starts at $900, the one you’ll want (with 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD) starts at $1,200.
The ZenBook has it all. Its battery life is one of the best at this size, stretching well past a full workday, and it’s slim and lightweight enough to be competitive with the most portable notebooks in this space. It even has a good screen and a distinctive design that helps it stand out from the crowd of silver MacBook copycats.
There’s little else you could ask for in a laptop at this price.
Read our full Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 review
What we thought of the Razer Blade Stealth:
Yes, yes — we know. The Razer Blade Stealth isn’t supposed to really be a gaming laptop. All of that changed with the latest version, however, which incorporated Intel’s 10th-gen Ice Lake CPUs that are faster and offer better entry-level graphics thanks to Intel’s latest iteration of its Iris Plus graphics. Even better, Razer somehow stuffed a real GPU, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650, inside this diminutive chassis, making the Blade Stealth the best gaming laptop in its class.
What’s most encouraging with the 2019 Razer Blade Stealth is that it betters its predecessor so well. The upgraded hardware gives it a serious leg up on the Stealth that came before and it takes the lead against many other laptops sporting the same graphics chip. While there are certainly more powerful gaming laptops out there, it’s rare to find one at 13-inches that doesn’t have a terrible screen or awful battery life.
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 Razer Blade Stealth review
What we thought of the Acer Chromebook R13:
Finding a decent laptop under $500 isn’t easy. Especially if you’re looking in the Windows world. When you slip under the $500 mark, you tend to run into big no-nos like outdated dual-core processors and mechanical hard drives. Those are the kind of components that make a laptop feel really slow, especially with a heavier operating system like Windows 10.
The Acer Chromebook R13 might not look like anything special on the outside, but it has all its bases covered. The second you open it up, performance will feel snappy and quick, even though it only has a slower MediaTek processor and 4GB of RAM. Google has been working to stabilize the tablet mode as well, making things like Android apps and touch functionality a bit more useful. Unlike older cheap Chromebooks, the Acer Chromebook R13
This is a laptop that no doubt has limitations — the greatest of which is Chrome OS itself. However, for those who just want to write Google Docs, listen to Spotify, and browse the web, the Acer Chromebook R13 will work well.
What we thought of the:
A light laptop will always come with its compromises, most notably, in structural integrity. The LG Gram 13 is no different, using a chassis built out of a bendable magnesium plastic. What it lacks in rigidity, however, it also lacks in weight. At just 2.1 pounds, it’s over a half-pound lighter than the MacBook Air, which makes it one of the lightest laptops you can buy.
The LG Gram 13 also comes with updated components such as a quad-core 8th-gen Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. That’s enough to power the average workflow, including intensive multitasking and working with external monitors. The Gram laptops also have great battery life, with a large 72 watt-hour size battery, making this a fantastic option for road warriors. If you travel with your laptop a lot and the extra weight is a concern, the LG Gram 13 will might be the best 13-inch laptop for you.
What we thought of the:
13-inch Chromebooks are surprisingly hard to come by. Smaller 12-inch options like the Pixelbook or HP Chromebook x2 are some of our favorites, but there are a wealth of great 15-inch options as well. The best 13-inch Chromebook, though, is the Acer Chromebook Spin 13. It’s a 2-in-1 with a touchscreen, featuring an excellent keyboard, a sturdy aluminum chassis, and a crisp 1080p display.
Before you balk at the idea of spending over $500 on a Chromebook, don’t forget that the Acer Chromebok Spin 13 comes with a quad-core, 8th-gen Core i5 Intel processor inside. That means if you want to hook up an external display and get some serious multitasking done, this Chromebook should be able to handle your workload.
It might not be as stunning as the Pixelbook, but if you need a slightly larger laptop, the Acer Chromebook Spin 13 is your best option.
What we thought of the HP Spectre x360:
The latest HP Spectre x360, released in late 2019, offers some of the most capable hardware and the greatest versatility among 13-inch laptops. As a 2-in-1, it has the ability to fold up into an ultra-portable tablet for ease of use with its responsive and detailed touch screen. It’s powerful, has incredibly long battery life thanks to an innovative Intel low-power LCD display, and is impressively capable in both tablet and laptop mode. Typically, 2-in-1s are better at one than the other, but the Spectre x360 excels in both areas.
The Spectre x360 130 has also been updated to Intel’s 10th-gen Ice Lake CPUs, and so offers better graphics performance with Intel’s updated Iris Plus graphics. Maybe even better, HP shave off the bezels and, thanks to a 90 percent screen-to-body ratio, the Spectre x360 13 is now one of the smallest 13-inch laptops on the market — clamshell or 2-in-1.
It’s our favorite convertible laptop of even the best 2-in-1s, and it easily competes with the best entries on this list. In fact, it’s neck-and-neck with the XPS 13 as the best choice among 13-inch laptops. With capable internal hardware and a stunning “gem-cut” design that doesn’t skimp on rigidity, it’s surprisingly economical too. Other 2-in-1s at this size might have the odd feature that betters it, but they’re typically a few hundred dollars more expensive, making the Spectre x360 a real value buy.
You are going to find better dedicated laptops and better dedicated tablets, but for a device that does both well, there isn’t a 13-inch 2-in-1 around that can hold a candle to the Spectre x360.
Read our full HP Spectre x360 (2019) review
Research and buying tips
- Does laptop screen size matter?
- What is a good screen resolution for a 13-inch laptop?
- What is the best laptop brand?
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 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.
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 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.
Choosing the best laptop brand comes down to a combination of which company designs the best products and which provide 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, as well as 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.
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