Thin, light and sleek, Ultrabooks are the "Windows version of the MacBook Air," CNET's Dan Ackerman says. Ultrabooks pack enough power to blast through everyday tasks with ease (photo editing, yes; graphics-heavy gaming, no), and they're easier to tote around than a traditional laptop.
The Toshiba Satellite U845T-S4168 (Est. $800) is the best cheap Ultrabook, experts say. Faster than its rivals, with an ultra-slim aluminum shell and outstanding battery life, it's "a hard notebook to ignore," says Laptop Magazine, where it makes both the Best Laptops and Top 10 Ultrabook lists."If you're looking for a decent all-around laptop for under $800, this is a great place to start," agrees CNET, where the Toshiba also wins a Best Laptop prize.
The Toshiba laptop starts with basic Ultrabook specs -- swift Core i5 processor, 6 GB of RAM -- but adds a fast-booting 128 GB solid-state drive that completely replaces the old-school spinning hard drive (and lets it outrace the competition in test after test). Battery life leads the class; expect anywhere from six to nearly 10 hours of web browsing or video streaming.
The 14-inch touch screen responds instantly to the touch: "We breezed through the Windows 8 interface with ease," Laptop Magazine says. It looks good, too -- "handsome," says PCMag.com, where it earns an "Excellent" rating. Its slender brushed-aluminum body feels solid but weighs only 3.8 pounds.
The Toshiba Satellite U845T-S4168 is sold exclusively through the Microsoft Store. Other configurations of the Toshiba Satellite U845T with a hybrid drive (32 GB SSD paired with a 500 GB traditional hard drive) are available through other retailers, but cost a little more.
If the Toshiba's $800 price tag breaks your budget, you can go cheaper -- but there are trade-offs.
The Asus VivoBook X202E-DH31T (Est. $450) is just about the cheapest touch-screen laptop you can buy. It's got the requisite MacBook Air-esque tapered aluminum body in pint-sized form (11.6-inch screen and weighs less than 3 pounds). The touch screen works beautifully in tests, and you get 32 GB of free cloud storage for three years.
Now for the trade-offs: To shave costs, this Asus Ultrabook gets a weaker processor (Intel Core i3) and no solid-state drive. As a result, it's notably slower than the Toshiba Ultrabook. It's still fine for day-to-day stuff (streaming video, heavy web browsing, etc.), as long as you don't multitask too much. Hard-core gamers and photo/video editors need not apply, though. The battery's weak, too -- don't expect any more than four hours per charge.