Welcome to Engadget's holiday gift guide! Head back to our hub to see the rest of the product guides as they're added throughout the month.
Chances are you stick with a laptop longer than a smartphone -- not everyone can afford to upgrade machines every two years, after all. And since you'll be using that notebook for a while, it better be a mighty capable one. Whether you're shopping for a lucky relative or friend or perusing for yourself, this shortlist of laptops and Ultrabooks is a great place to start. Our resident laptop expert Dana Wollman, along with others from the Engadget team, break down the best systems for all budgets.
ON THE CHEAP
For what it is -- a web-centric laptop with a lightweight, portable design -- the $279 HP Chromebook 11 is pretty sweet. Chromebooks have received no shortage of flak over the last few years, but if your computing needs are simple, or if you're shopping for a child's first laptop, this is a solid choice. Expect wide viewing angles with the IPS display, a comfortable keyboard, a passable touchpad and three to four hours of battery life. Conveniently, this machine charges via micro-USB, so you won't have to schlep around a giant power brick to fuel up. -- Sarah Silbert, Senior Editor
Key specs: 11.6-inch (1,366 x 768) IPS display, Samsung Exynos 5 Dual processor, two USB 2.0 ports, micro-USB for charging and SlimPort video out, VGA webcam.
Price: $279 from Google Play
The 11.6-inch Aspire V5 is one of the better-balanced entry-level laptops that I've seen. It's small and light, but still manages to include a touchscreen and surprisingly fast graphics for the category. There's even a Converter Port for those who frequently dock their portables at home or the office. Battery life is on the short side, but I'd still be happy taking the V5 to the coffee shop. -- Jon Fingas, Associate Editor
Key specs: 11.6-inch (1,366 x 768) display, 1GHz quad-core AMD A6 processor, 4GB of RAM, Radeon HD 8250 integrated graphics, 500GB hard drive.
Price: $400 on Amazon
The nice thing about Sony's laptops is that even the budget ones now come with decent specs. Regardless of which configuration you end up getting, the 14-inch VAIO Fit 14E includes NFC, a backlit keyboard, a low-light-capable webcam and a 1,600 x 900 screen. Not to mention, the design is quite polished compared to other budget machines. Like other systems in its price class, the 14E starts with a fairly weak Pentium processor, but you can step up to Core i3 for an extra $50 and still keep the price low. -- Dana Wollman, Managing Editor
Key specs: 14-inch (1,600 x 900) display, up to a dual-core 2GHz Core i7-3537U CPU, 4GB to 8GB of RAM, up to a 1TB hard drive with an 8GB SSD, up to a 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 740M GPU.
Price: $550 and up from Sony
Though some of Dell's entry-level Inspiron laptops still ship with last year's Ivy Bridge chips, the 15R comes standard with Intel's newer Haswell processors, promising both faster performance and longer battery life. In addition to its attractive, slimmed-down exterior, we appreciate the wide range of customization options. All told, the 15 comes in half a dozen configurations ranging between $600 and $1,000, depending on how flexible your budget is. -- Dana Wollman
Key specs: 15.6-inch (1,366 x 768) display, up to a dual-core 1.8GHz Core i7-4500U CPU, 6GB to 16GB of RAM, up to a 1TB hard drive, Intel HD graphics 4400.
We first saw the M5 last year, back when touchscreen notebooks weren't even a thing, and were impressed by its slim, lightweight design and super narrow bezels. A year and change later, it supports touch (this is the Windows 8 era, after all) and has been upgraded with new Intel Haswell processors. In fact, this is the least expensive touchscreen machine Acer is offering with one of Intel's fourth-generation Core CPUs. You could get an even cheaper Haswell system from Acer, but you'd be giving up that touchscreen. And why would you want to? -- Dana Wollman
Key specs: 15.6-inch (1,366 x 768) display, dual-core 1.6GHz Core i5-4200 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, Intel HD 4400 graphics.
Price: $615 from Best Buy
Lenovo IdeaPad U430p
I'm sure the just-released Lenovo IdeaPad U430p will be a worthwhile product. Why's that? Because I had a chance to test its predecessor, the similar U430 Touch, and even that delivered better performance than other laptops in its price class. Additionally, you get the same attractive metal design as on other Lenovo ultraportables, along with a comfortable keyboard. -- Dana Wollman
Key specs: 14-inch (1,366 x 768) display, up to a dual-core 2.4GHz Core i5-4258U CPU, up to 8GB of RAM, up to a 1TB hard drive with a 16GB SSD, up to a 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 730M GPU.
Price: $799 from Lenovo (currently on sale from $620)
We like Sony's Fit line so much, we're including it twice in this roundup. Whereas the Fit E series is made of plastic and offers more entry-level specs, the Fit Premium line steps up to a slimmer metal chassis, with a clean-looking lid that covers the hinge (you know, in case you find laptop hinges unsightly). It also promises to be faster: Hybrid hard drives are standard here, not just an upgrade option, and SSDs are also available. Want higher screen resolution? There's also a 15-inch model with a 1080p display. -- Dana Wollman
Key specs: 14-inch (1,600 x 900) display, up to a dual-core 2GHz Core i7-3537U CPU, 8GB or 12GB of RAM, up to a 512GB SSD, up to a 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 735M GPU.
Price: $800 and up from Sony
The 13-inch MacBook Air is the closest to perfect that mobile computing gets. It's incredibly light and powerful; the battery -- thanks to those Haswell processors-- lasts well beyond a normal eight-hour workday; and at 2.96 pounds it's the most mobile laptop I've ever owned. The MacBook Air is the only computer I'd suggest in this price bracket -- in this case, it's worth every penny. -- Ben Gilbert, Senior Editor
Key specs: 13.3-inch (1,440 x 900) display, up to a dual-core 1.7GHz Core i7 CPU, up to 8GB of RAM, up to a 512GB SSD, Intel HD Graphics 5000.
Price: $1,099 and up from Apple
MONEY IS NO OBJECT
Ultrabooks with solid-state drives and skinny frames come a dime a dozen, but we can't think of one that weighs less than the VAIO Pro 13. At 2.32 pounds with a touchscreen, it's a good half-pound lighter than its nearest rivals, making you wonder why you'd even want to settle for an 11-inch laptop. (If you insist, Sony also sells the Pro 11, which comes in at 1.92 pounds.) In addition, at $1,150, the Pro 13 has a lower starting price than much of the competition, especially considering the starting specs. -- Dana Wollman
Key specs: 13.3-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display, up to a dual-core 1.8GHz Core i7-4500U CPU, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, up to a 512GB SSD, Intel HD 4400 graphics.
Price: $1,150 and up from Sony
With its recent upgrade to Intel's Haswell chips, Apple's power-packed laptop is even more enticing. The refreshed models promise improved battery life (with claims of up to eight hours on the 15-inch model) alongside zippy SSD storage, dedicated graphics (15-incher only) and, of course, a sharp Retina display for ogling that workload up close. -- Billy Steele, Associate Editor
Key specs: 13-inch: 13.3-inch (2,560 x 1,600) display, up to a 2.8GHz dual-core Core i7 processor, 4GB to 16GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage, Intel Iris graphics; 15-inch: 15.4-inch (2,880 x 1,800) display, up to a 2.6GHz quad-core Core i7 CPU, 8GB to 16GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage, Intel Iris Pro graphics or a 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M GPU.
Price: $1,299 and up from Apple
Acer's recent update to its almost-great S7-391 model has made a world of difference, and we can now sing the praises of the Aspire S7-392. This 13-inch Ultrabook has the same slim build and eye-pleasing design as its predecessor. But with a Haswell refresh, extended battery life, toned-down fan noise and an improved touchpad, it earns a top spot among its touchscreen contemporaries. The price is a bit high, but if you can swing it, you'll be satisfied. -- Jon Turi, Associate Editor
Key specs: 13.3-inch (1,920 x 1,080) IPS display, up to a Intel Core i7-4500U CPU, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, up to a 256GB SSD.
Price: From $1,300 on Amazon
Though you might need a minute to get over the sticker shock, the ATIV Book 9 Plus is ultimately one of our favorite Ultrabooks, thanks to its fast performance, solid battery life, super-thin aluminum chassis and best-in-class display. Even if that screen didn't have an insane resolution of 3,200 x 1,800, we'd still love its gorgeous colors and ability to swallow up all but just a little bit of glare. If there's one disappointment, it's that although the ATIV Book 9 Plus continues to be one of the thinnest 13-inch Ultrabooks, it's hardly the lightest anymore, at 3.06 pounds. -- Dana Wollman
Key specs: 13.3-inch (3,200 x 1,800) display, up to a dual-core 1.8GHz Core i7-4500U CPU, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, up to a 256GB SSD, Intel HD 4400 graphics.
Price: $1,400 and up from Samsung
The VAIO Flip PC has an innovative, er, flippable design, and its high-res display is beautiful. Flip the screen to use it in tablet mode, or keep it in clamshell position to get to work in Windows 8. Enter the raffle below for a chance to win the convertible, and be sure to check out our giveaway rules.a Rafflecopter giveaway
- Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
- Contest is open to all residents of the 50 States and the District of Columbia, 18 or older! Sorry, we don't make this rule (we hate excluding anyone).
- Winners will be chosen randomly. One winner will receive one (1) Sony VAIO Flip PC.
- If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes a contact email. Social media contact details are not carried over into our system.
- This unit is purely for promotional giveaway. Sony and Engadget/AOL are not held liable to honor warranties, exchanges or customer service.
- The full list of rules, in all its legalese glory, can be found here.
- Entries can be submitted until December 31st, 2013 at 11:59PM ET. Good luck!