We’re in the technological period of the year where hardware manufacturers have announced their latest upgrades and laptops are beginning to adopt them. Because of the hardware announcements in late spring, geeks like myself have a pretty good idea of what improvements will begin appearing in newer laptop models late in 2013. Whether you’re on a budget or looking to go all out, these are some of the best travel laptops of 2013 you can buy right now.
The Big Improvement Of 2013: Haswell
Intel’s 4th generation Core chips, codenamed Haswell, were officially announced back in June. They feature a number of improvements on their predecessors but shine in one area travelers are generally most concerned about – battery life. Although Intel claims they’ll be able to run a laptop for 24 hours on one charge, so far the results show about a 60% increase in battery life. Still, it’s a significant jump and high-end laptops (e.g. Macbook Air) are already beginning implement the new Core i3, i5, and i7 chips. If you’re not in need of an immediate laptop upgrade, this technology bump may be worth waiting for, especially if you’re shopping for a Macbook Pro. (They’re rumored to get the new chips sometime in October.)
How Often Should I Upgrade My Travel Gadgets? As many of you know, I purchase all of my laptops refurbished. But even if you do the same, waiting for the new Haswell chips to hit the market in numbers (likely October-December) may give you even better deals on used laptops as prices drop on current models.
The Best Ultrabooks For Travelers
This growing category of laptop have flourished as tablets have effectively made netbooks go extinct. Ultrabooks are essentially slim, light laptops, usually less than 2.5cm thick and weighing less than 1.5 kilos.
- Macbook Air 11 and 13-Inch (~$1,000-1,200) – If you’re not diehard about using a Windows machine, the Macbook Air is the best ultrabook you can buy. Apple has equipped them with Intel’s 4th generation processors (“Haswell”) and you’ll get the added battery life and vastly improved graphics they provide.
- Size (for 11-inch model): Height: 0.3-1.7 cm, Width: 30 cm; Weight: 1.08 kg; Battery Life: 9 hours
- Toshiba KIRAbook 13 i5 (~$1,599) – A PC laptop that’s comparable to a Macbook Pro, with a display on par with Apple’s Retina. You’ll get double the storage capacity of a Macbook Pro (256 vs 128 GB) in the standard build but for this price, but touchscreen would have been nice. If that’s an important feature for you, that upgrade costs $200.
- Size: Height: 1.77 cm, Width: 31.59 cm; Weight: 1.22 kg; Battery Life: 6 hours
- ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A-DB51 (~$849) – The latest Zenbook Prime series of laptops has a loyal following who rave about its high screen resolution, responsive keyboard (an oft neglected consideration), and incredible slimness. The Zenbook Prime’s major weakness is its relatively poor battery life.
- Size: Height: .76 cm, Width: 32.76 cm; Weight: 1.31 kg; Battery Life: 5 hours
Budget Laptops Under $600
In no particular order, these are some of the best travel laptops to take a look at if you’re looking to save money.
- ASUS VivoBook X202E-DH31T (~$460) – A solid overall Windows 8 laptop with an 11-inch touchscreen and larger-than-average storage capacity for its price range (500 GB). Its biggest drawback is poor battery life.
- Size: Height (2 cm), Width (20cm); Weight: 1.9 kg; Battery Life: 3.5 Hours
- Acer 11.6 AO725-0687 (~$320) – Relatively heavy but with a good amount of battery life considering the price range this 11.6 inch Acer is in. You won’t be blown away by this tough laptop but it will reliably meet your needs on and off-road.
- Size: Height 2.28 cm, Width 28.44 cm; Weight: 1.2 kg; Battery Life: 5.5 hours
- HP Pavilion G6-2235us (~$410) – One of the better budget laptops with a large screen for those of you who prefer 15-inch laptops. Its major drawbacks are its average screen resolution, bulky frame, and anemic battery life.
- Size: Height: 3 cm, Width: 37.59 cm; Weight: 2.47 kg; Battery Life: 3 hours
Also, in case you can’t seem to pry the thought of netbooks from your memory, you can still get an ASUS 1025C-BBK301 Eee PC Netbook Computer for around $380.
Midsize Laptops With Screens 13-Inches And Larger
These machines are thicker than ultrabooks and generally heavier, often with additional ports and options like DVD drives.
- Macbook Pro With Retina Display 13 and 15-Inch (~$1,500-2,800) – Although I mentioned you may want to wait until fall to see if Apple adds Intel’s 4th-generation processors to this line, you won’t go wrong buy purchasing the current model if you need a laptop sooner than later.
- Size (for 13-inch model): Height (1.9 cm), Width (31.4 cm); Weight: 1.62 kg; Battery Life: 7 hours
HP ENVY TouchSmart 15t-j000 (~$899) – Unlike the Macbook Pro, this 15.6 inch HP ENVY TouchSmart comes loaded with Intel’s newest 4th generation chips. Combined with 8GB of memory and a 1 terabyte hard drive (not solid state however), the 15t-j000 has a lot of power for an excellent price.
- Size: Height: (2.99 cm), Width (25.06 cm); Weight: 2.54 kg; Battery Life: 9 hours
Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook (~$899) – There are several incarnations of this touchscreen laptop that feels very sturdy in its metal exterior. At its lower price the main point travelers should notice is the 500 GB hard drive. For around $150 more, the Series 5 Ultrabook comes equipped with a 128 GB solid state hard drive. You’ll notice the difference in speed and find it more reliable than the spinning disk version.
- Size: Height: 1.52 cm, Width: 21.84 cm; Weight: 1.67 kg; Battery Life: 5 hours
Use Your Hands And Ears To Find The Right Laptop For You
Picking up a laptop can tell you a lot about it, whether you’re computer saavy or not. Laptops that feel flimsy usually are, so pay particular attention to the areas that will see the most wear: display hinges, keyboards, trackpads, and any external moving parts. Display models at stores are usually fondled enough to show how these parts will hold up over time. Finally, consult online reviews by looking at the average scores and remember most people who leave product comments either love or hate what they just bought. Filter out the noise by consulting a few online stores and look at laptop reviews by established sites like PC World and CNET.
To further add to the discussion, I’d like to hear what kind of laptop you’re using and how it fared on your last travels. Would you recommend your particular laptop to others? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below – I look forward to reading them.