Notebookcheck's Top 10 Subnotebooks

Martina Osztovits (translated by Martina Osztovits), 09/17/2014

September 2014 update. Here you will find the current best subnotebooks reviewed by Notebookcheck in the last few months. Our list of top models is regularly updated, maintained and commented on and should assist in purchase decisions.

For the original German article, see here.

Subnotebooks bridge the gap between the performance of big laptops and the mobility of small devices like tablets or even smartphones. In our opinion, subnotebooks are no larger than 14-inches (display diagonal), are lighter than 2 kg (~4.4 lbs) and usually feature integrated graphics cards. The price range is big and models from 300 to 2500 Euros (~$407 to $3393) can be represented in our Top 10.

The following table shows an overview of the Top 10 subnotebooks reviewed by Notebookcheck in the previous 10 months. If ratings are equal, the latest review is listed first. The table can be sorted by clicking its headers and filtered by entering text in the text field above it (e.g. "matte").

Subnotebook Charts as of September 2014

Pos. RatingDateModelWeightHeightSizeResolutionFinish
188%03/14Acer Aspire S3-392G
Intel Core i5 4200U
NVIDIA GeForce GT 735M
- from 999 Euros at Cyberport 
1.65 kg18 mm13.31920x1080glossy
286%07/14Toshiba Portege Z30t-A-10X
Intel Core i7 4500U
Intel HD Graphics 4400
- from 1725 Euros at Notebooksbilliger
1.36 kg20 mm13.3 1920x1080matte
386%06/14
Apple MacBook Air 13 2014
Intel Core i5 4260U
Intel HD Graphics 5000
4 GB RAM, SSD
- from $989 at Amazon
1.4 kg17 mm13.31440x900glossy
485%05/14Lenovo Thinkpad X240
Intel Core i7 4600U
Intel HD Graphics 4400
8 GB RAM, SSD
- from $1440 at Amazon
1.5 kg20 mm12.51920x1080matte
585%05/14HP Elitebook Folio 1040 G1
Intel Core i7 4650U
Intel HD Graphics 5000
8 GB RAM, SSD
- from $1865 at Amazon
1.5 kg17 mm14.01920x1080matte
685%01/14

Dell XPS 13
Intel Core i5 4200U
Intel HD Graphics 4400
8 GB RAM, SSD
- from $1155 at Amazon

1.4 kg21 mm13.31920x1080glossy
784%07/14HP EliteBook 820 G1
Intel Core i7 4600U
Intel HD Graphics 4400
8 GB RAM, SSD
- from $1652 at Amazon

1.5 kg21.5 mm12.5 1366x768matte
884%

05/14

Toshiba Kirabook 2014
Intel Core i7 4500U
Intel HD Graphics 4400
8 GB RAM, SSD
- from $1699 at Amazon

1.28 kg20.7 mm13.32560x1440glossy
984%

03/14

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch
20A7-002DGE

Intel Core i7 4550U
Intel HD Graphics 5000
8 GB RAM, SSD
- from $3577 at Amazon

1.4 kg19.4 mm14.02560x1440matte
1083%

04/14

Samsung ATIV Book 9 900X3G-K01
Intel Core i5 4200U
Intel HD Graphics 4400
8 GB RAM, SSD
- from $1499 at Amazon

1.12 kg13.2 mm13.31920x1080matte

Top 10 of the previous 10 months at the time of writing the article, best rating first
Link: all reviewed subnotebooks ordered by total rating

Editors' Comments

High-end without premium decadence: Acer Aspire S3-392G
High-end without premium decadence: Acer Aspire S3-392G
Rare: Matte IPS touch panel - Toshiba Portege Z30t-A-10X
Rare: Matte IPS touch panel - Toshiba Portege Z30t-A-10X
Evergreen: Apple MacBook Air 13
Evergreen: Apple MacBook Air 13
Compact office professional: Lenovo ThinkPad X240
Compact office professional: Lenovo ThinkPad X240
Luxury for the boss: HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1
Luxury for the boss: HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1
Bright display: Dell XPS 13
Bright display: Dell XPS 13
Ultra-thin with a perfect display: Toshiba Kirabook 2014
Ultra-thin with a perfect display: Toshiba Kirabook 2014
New evergreen? ThinkPad X1 Carbon with WQHD panel
New evergreen? ThinkPad X1 Carbon with WQHD panel
Hard board: Samsung ATIV Book 9 900X3G
Hard board: Samsung ATIV Book 9 900X3G

Our Top 10 was mixed up because four devices surpassed the 10 months time period. Some devices that did not manage to get in the list before, like the Samsung ATIV Book 9 900X3G-K01DE or the Toshiba Kirabook 2014 are now at the bottom of the list.

1st

Acer's Aspire S3-392G does not introduce any new superlatives, but it also costs much less than most devices here with its very thin and nice chassis. Instead of Retina resolution you get Full HD, but the entry-level GPU GeForce GT 735M in return, which means you can even play some games with the 13-inch notebook. We like the excellent application performance (hardly any throttling), the good battery runtimes, the DisplayPort as well as the bright and high-contrast display (glossy).

2nd

Toshiba's Portege Z30t-A-10X is similar to the sibling Portege Z30-A, but adds an IPS touch panel. The expensive ultrabook is designed for business customers, which is evident when you look at the price but also the excellent features. Docking station port, high-quality magnesium case, good input devices und very long battery runtimes are everything that these customers expect for around 1600 Euros. Unfortunately, the 13-inch notebook does not have a DisplayPort and is comparatively loud when you stress it.  

3rd

It speaks all the more in favor of the successful Apple MacBook Air 13 from the actual father of ultrabooks that Apple has only made smaller updates to the components for several years. Since the price slightly fell, the latest model of the Air 13 might become more interesting for prospects. Nevertheless, Air fans hope that the slightly old HD display (1440x900) will be replaced by an especially high-res Retina display.

4th

Lenovo's ThinkPad X240 with FullHD display is 12.5-incher with powerful low-voltage CPU that was designed for business customers. The demanding target group expects and gets traditional ThinkPad features including very good input devices, long battery life (8 hours) and a sophisticated docking solution for 1850 Euros (~$2510). The 12.5 inch display has a very fine FullHD resolution. It is bright, contrast-rich and has wide viewing angles.

5th

With an equally high level, HP keeps its EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 in our Top 10. This is also true for the price. Is the 14-incher worth its 2000 Euro (or more) or does the manufacturer squeeze money out of managers and CEOs? Customers get an excellent display. Usually only workstations or high-end consumer devices with GAMUT displays can achieve a TFT rating of 88%. We liked the very high brightness, the matte TFT (no touchscreen) and the wide viewing angles thanks to IPS. The relatively low contrast of 594:1 appears to be the only disadvantage. We did not like HP's Forcepad (a touchpad version), which requires relearning of basic input methods, that much. In addition, the GPU throttles. A device of this price range should not have such flaws. We do not mean throttling during our unrealistic stress test (which is massive), but GPU throttling during simple tasks. However, businessmen will not notice this, since the Folio 1040 G1 is still very fast. Thanks to good build quality, low temperatures/system noise and long battery life, the Folio 1040 achieved a high rating, anyway.

6th

Dell's XPS 13-9333 is 6th with the same rating than several competitors. The 13-incher from Dell also features an FHD display. The device scores points with an excellent build quality and almost perfect input devices. Rare: The camera and the audio rating are very high. So, the buyer does not have to accept poor webcam shots, clanging speakers and noisy telephony. Dell improved the battery life compared to the predecessor. The XPS achieves 7:45 hours in the WLAN test.

7th

Looking for a small notebook for your typical business day? While consumers are usually looking for 13.3-inch devices for the use on the road and notebooks with 11.6-inch are considered compact and ultra-mobile, there are still devices with 12.5-inch panels in the business world. The HP EliteBook 820 G1 offers a complete list of features, including DisplayPort, docking station port, SmartCard reader and 3G modem. The matte panel only has the HD resolution, but that is actually sufficient for the small panel. Unfortunately, the brightness and the contrast are not very high, which affects the overall impression. The input devices are, typical for an EliteBook, excellent, you can either control the cursor with a pointer or the touchpad (real mouse buttons, no clickpad). Easy maintenance, high application performance (Intel SSD Pro 1500), low temperature and noise development and a long battery runtime are other positive aspects of the high-quality and durable companion. The author did not like the limited viewing angles, the average brightness as well as the weak speakers.

8th

The Toshiba Kirabook 2014 is the premium notebook from the manufacturer. It easily meets the requirements of an ultrabook with a very thin chassis (20.7 mm) as well as a touchscreen. But Kira goes beyond that and integrates an IPS panel with 2560x1440 pixels, which is calibrated ex-works and offers very accurate colors: A color space coverage of 95 % is very rare if you don't use a workstation. The author also likes the excellent application performance (Core i7-4500U, fast 256 GB SSD), the low warming as well as the long battery runtimes. Even the input devices can convince with a good feedback. The Kira loses some points because of the comparatively low brightness, a glossy touch panel in this price range should manage 300 nits if you want to use it outdoors.

9th

If you think a normal ThinkPad is too bulky and looks too old, you might want to consider the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch 20A7-002DGE. Here you get everything that is currently available in terms of hardware: Core i7-4550U, 512 GB Samsung SSD and IPS touchscreen with 2560x1440 pixels. But it wouldn't be a Carbon without a chassis made of carbon fiber, which is particularly light and torsion-resistant. The 14-inch device only weighs 1.4 kg. We think the input devices are not as perfect as the EliteBooks or T-series ThinkPads, the clickpad in particular was an issue. There is also the adaptive keyboard, which takes a lot of time getting used to. It replaces the F-keys by other keys, automatically or by choice (touch stripe, no travel). The WQHD IPS panel provides a very rich and vivid picture (very small DeltaE out of the box), but the brightness is not very good (226 cd/m²). Despite its semi-matte panel (coating), we would have wanted at least 300 cd/m² for the use outdoors.

10th

Samsung discontinued its notebook-series, but you can still buy the mainstream model ATIV Book 9 900X3G-K01. The 13-inch device in a noble unibody aluminum case is not particularly light, but the metal is completely torsion-resistant and leaves a sophisticated impression. The manufacturer integrates a Full HD panel with comparatively limited viewing angles (TN) and visible clouding. On the other hand, you also get a luminance of around 325 nits that can be used on battery power. Despite the thin base unit and the very good system performance (fast SSD), the emissions are very low, which is especially surprising in regard to the heat development. Drawbacks are the not really perfect keyboard, the bad quality of the webcam and the mentioned viewing angles. Besides our review unit ATIV Book 9 900X3G-K01 (FHD, TN), there is also the Plus version 940X3G, which offers a gigantic resolution of 3200x1800 pixels (touchscreen) and uses the same chassis.

Runners-up

Trial and Error. Toshiba's Portege R30-A-15C misses the Top 10 because of two reasons: The input devices don't offer the feedback that is provided by similarly prized HP EliteBooks and ThinkPads. The stability and the quality impression also suffer from some flexible spots and some hollow spaces beneath the cover. Without these two drawbacks, the Portege R30-A-15C would be a good package for demanding customers. SSD, fast standard voltage processor, docking port, 3G modem, even an optical drive and finally a matte Full HD IPS panel. The latter offers a very good luminance and a great contrast. All office displays should be like this.

A subnotebook for consumers is the Acer Aspire V3-331-P982, a compact 13.3-inch device with inexpensive hardware (Pentium 3556U, no SSD). The notebook looks quite nice (in black or white), but stability and quality impression are just sufficient. The input devices won't satisfy frequent writers, unlike the long battery runtime of 6.5 hours in the WLAN test. For a price of less than 500 Euros you only get a simple matte TN panel with a low brightness, poor contrast and limited viewing angles.

Recent Subnotebook Awards

Size Comparison

Performance Comparison

Apple MBP Retina 13 2013
Asus Zenbook UX32LN
Apple MB Air 13 2014
Asus UX32LA
Lenovo Thinkpad X240
HP Elitebook Folio 1040 G1
Dell XPS 13
Toshiba Portu00e9gu00e9 Z30
Samsung Ativ 9 Plus 940X3G
HP Elitebook 820 G1
Screen
Brightness Center360355280253377293.4450.1270301229
Black Level *0.40.330.320.510.518.494.6550.80.390.63
Contrast9001076875496728594687338772363
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 *1.875.071.916.336.855.084.538.96410.75
Greyscale DeltaE2000 *2.196.0926.636.486.685.329.764.411.72
Gamma *2.582.482.262.172.752.622.352.172.432.62
Color Space (Percent of AdobeRGB 1998)6358444159.755.6639.854.837
Noise
Idle Minimum *27.429.328.029.228.82829.129.629.629.6
Idle Average *27.429.328.029.229.028.129.229.629.630.7
Idle Maximum *27.429.328.031.229.028.229.331.629.631.3
Load Average *42.539.540.533.434.736.131.641.541.435.7
Load Maximum *44.742.843.733.440.53744.644.242.435.8
Heat
Maximum Upper Side *4348.24338.742.538.644.240.847.239.7
Maximum Bottom *4041.64036.548.745.648.436.247.341.9
Idle Upper Side *2931.12632.132.431.232.627.73527.6
Idle Bottom *2829.52631.035.132.835.826.235.328.8
Battery Runtime
Reader / Idle15356488707196829871195693813
Load9911413110793217139126124
WiFi569371515640363370465457372392
Power Consumption
Idle Minimum *2.83.43.43.33.93.54.73.2
Idle Average *8.87.44.06.47.94.19.05.2
Idle Maximum *98.95.88.29.87.19.07.5
Load Average *5839.732.430.726.427.330.934.3
Load Maximum *60.659.632.239.226.727.631.826.8

* ... smaller is better

Benchmarks

Apple MBP Retina 13 2013
Asus Zenbook UX32LN
Apple MB Air 13 2014
Asus UX32LA
Lenovo Thinkpad X240
HP Elitebook Folio 1040 G1
Dell XPS 13
Toshiba Portu00e9gu00e9 Z30
Samsung Ativ 9 Plus 940X3G
HP Elitebook 820 G1
3DMark 11
1280x720 Performance127023781134
1134
9528289628971032931937
3DMark (2013)
1280x720 Ice Storm Standard Score39510424104241329301402793407541559
1920x1080 Fire Strike Standard Score8631361622516646625592
PCMark 7
Score546050124654462946264862481249125196
PCMark 8
Work Score Accelerated v23738361836975363
static version load dynamic

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Notebookcheck's Top 10 Subnotebooks
Author: Martina Osztovits, 2014-09-17 (Update: 2014-09-17)