Slim laptops have been trendy before, from the original MacBook Air to the now-forgotten ultrabook movement. But unique to 2016 is a new generation of systems that combine thinner-than-ever designs with powerful components, high-resolution screens, and prices that hit a very achievable mainstream sweet spot.
Much of this is thanks to smaller, more efficient components, especially sixth-generation Core i-series processors from Intel, as well as the company’s second generation of Core M chips, the latter of which are able to run in upscale fanless designs while still powering everyday apps from word processors to web browsers, as well as high-definition video streaming services and even mainstream games.
The flood of ultrathin laptops this year includes one positioned as the world’s thinnest laptop: the 10.4mm HP Spectre, as well as systems that are only marginally thicker from Apple, Lenovo, Dell and others. Even more surprising, of this current crop, all are good enough to easily recommend. Some include features such as 4K displays, multicolored backlit keyboards, or USB-C ports, while others get prices down to as little as $800 in the US (for a non-touch version of the Dell XPS 13). That’s equivalent to about £600 and AU$1,070.
And that Dell, at 15mm thick, is even something of an outlier. The other systems profiled here are all under 14mm. By these standards, the classic 13-inch MacBook Air, long held as the industry standard example of a thin laptop, is an absolute beast at 17mm thick.
For the systems reviewed below, the measurement listed is from the laptop’s thickest point (many laptops are tapered toward the front). Note that this roundup only includes clamshell laptops, not Windowstablets with clip-on keyboard covers and docks — those can get down to well under 10mm, but only when you exclude the keyboard add-ons entirely.
The Spectre’s most noteworthy feature is that it’s the world’s thinnest full-power laptop, made even more notable by its use of current-gen Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors rather than the lower-power Core M CPUs in systems like the HP EliteBook Folio G1 or 12-inch Apple MacBook. It also has a surprisingly deep keyboard and the best battery life this side of the MacBook.Read the full review of the HP Spectre here.
Like Apple’s 12-inch MacBook, the Folio G1 uses Intel’s latest Core M-series processors, but HP includes the fastest Core m7 version in its reasonably priced lowest-end model. Spend more and you can get a 3,840×2,160 4K touchscreen display. The entire thing feels very sturdy because it’s from HP’s military-spec-ready line of business computers. Read the full review of the HP EliteBook Folio G1 here.
The Dell XPS comes close to nailing the perfect formula last year, with an eye-catching, barely-there screen bezel, decent performance, and configurations that run from $800 in the US (for a non-touch model); double that for this higher-end gold-toned version with a Core i7 CPU and Intel Iris graphics. It’s the “thickest” laptop in this slim roundup but offers the most mainstream features. Read the full review of the Dell XPS 13 here.
This is not a gaming laptop, despite Razer’s years of experience in the PC gaming biz. Instead, it’s a slim ultrathin PC with either QHD or 4K touchscreen options, and a highly configurable backlit keyboard that can display a spectrum of 16.8 million possible colors. Add a sold-separately external box called the Razer Core (plus your own desktop video card), and it transforms into a high-powered gaming rig. Read the full review of the Razer Blade Stealth here.
Knocking the original MacBook Air from its perch as the kind of the slim laptop is its newer 12-inch cousin, simply called the MacBook. The second generation is a big improvement over its predecessor, thanks to a new Core M processor, which gives it a boost in both performance and battery life. The super-shallow keyboard and single USB-C port make it best suited for minimalists, but don’t discount that this is a very handy little laptop that keeps most of what people love about Macs
The HP Spectre may be the thinnest clamshell laptop, but the Yoga 900S is the thinnest 2-in-1 convertible, and its 360-degree hinge can fold all the way back into a tablet mode. It has the unique watchband hinge of Lenovo’s highest-end Yogas as well as a bold design with large gold key faces against a dark, textured keyboard tray.