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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. The Dell XPS 13 remains our firm favorite of all 13-inch laptops (and most other sizes in general) since its lightweight and just keeps on improving. There are so many options available on the market today, though, that we have a number of other great laptops to pick from, too.

We’ve rounded up the best 13-inch laptops available in 2020. Whether you’re a student, a gamer, or just want to get some work done, we’ve got the perfect 13-inch laptop picked just for you.

The best 13-inch laptops at a glance:

The best 13-inch laptop: Dell XPS 13 (2020)

What we thought of the Dell XPS 13 (2020):

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 2020 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 a 10th-generation Intel Core i3-1005G1 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, but that’s not really what this laptop is for. 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: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

What we thought of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3:

By the third generation, Microsoft has nearly mastered this portable 2-in-1 laptop, now available in a 13-inch size and ready for action in the classroom, office, or remote work desk space. The build quality remains futuristic and durable, with the telltale curved hinge and detachable screen over an extra-sturdy keyboard. It stays cool under pressure, and the 13-inch size is particularly well-suited for tablet mode. The 2,256 x 1,504 resolution screen is particularly beautiful.

Inside, you’ll find options starting at a 10th-gen Intel Core i5-1035G7, 128GB of SSD storage, and 8GB of RAM. There are plenty of options for upgrading, even up to 32GB of RAM, if you prefer, which means that professionals can customize their build for specific work tasks. Connections include two USB-A 3.1 ports, a USB-C 3.1 port, and the Surface Connect port for dedicated charging (unfortunately, no Thunderbolt 3 yet).

The battery for this Surface laptop is rated up to 11.5 hours. Our own tests found that the computer lasted a bit under 10 hours for web browsing and around 5 hours in our Basemark web benchmark test. This is better than the larger 15-inch Surface 3, but not as good as what the XPS 13 can achieve.

Read our full Microsoft Surface 3 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. 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 at 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: LG Gram 13 (2020)

What we thought of the LG Gram 13 2020:

At just over 2 pounds, this Gram won’t ever weight you down, and the updated version includes new specs like the Intel 10th-gen Core i7-10510U processor and 16GB of RAM. The 2-in-1 also includes a stylus pen, so you can fold back and start writing or drawing right out of the box.

This model also includes a total of 1TB in NVMe SSD storage. It’s remarkable how much performance and storage LG can fit on this laptop while still having it be so light, but you don’t need to worry about running out of space after just a couple of days of downloading your favorite software (or even a couple of years).

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 might be the best 13-inch laptop for you.

The best 13-inch Chromebook: Lenovo Yoga 730

What we thought of the Lenovo Yoga 730:

The updated version of the Lenovo Yoga is one of the best Chromebook options if you want strong Chrome OS performance and aren’t as worried about price. Yogas are well-designed 2-in-1s that have allowed Lenovo to master the “flip” of bending the screen back to turn the portable laptop into a tablet at a moment’s notice, ideal for quick sketching or note-taking (and the base 2.5-pound weight helps).

The laptop offers an eighth-gen, four-core Intel Core i7-8550U processor, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 512GB of PCIe SSD storage: That’s more storage than many affordable Chromebooks offer and an easy way to ensure you have enough onboard space if you know you can’t leave all your work to the cloud. Ports include Thunderbolt 3/USB-C and USB-A 3.0.

The battery is a little less impressive, rated for up to eight hours in optimal conditions. If you have to sit for a longer Zoom class or web meeting, we highly suggest plugging the Lenovo Yoga 730 in first before you start!

The best for Apple users: MacBook Pro 13

What we thought of the MacBo0k Pro 13:

Apple fans have enjoyed top-notch MacBook Pro models for years, and this 13-inch, 2020 version follows suit with one of the best displays we’ve ever seen on a laptop this size, excellent build materials that can handle the real world, and a (finally) updated keyboard that makes typing on this MacBook a much, much better experience.

While you do have some options to keep the price lower with older components, you can equip this MacBook Pro with up to a quad-core 10th-gen Intel Core i7, although as we noted in our review, some of the processor choices and prices match up strangely, so compare your options before you make a firm design here. The base model also includes a 256GB SSD (up to 1TB) and 8GB of RAM. Ports are also up to date, with two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C connections and a USB-A 3.1 connection, with options to expand if you have lots of peripherals.

Still, the MacBook Pro 13 13-inch screen limit is a bit smaller than professional designers or editors may need on a laptop, so it’s best suited for those working on personal projects or those who need the most portable Pro experience. All in all, it’s easy to recommend to people looking for a smaller Apple laptop that still has many of the built-in Apple advantages for specific tasks.

Read our full Macbook Pro 13 review

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.

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