Notebookcheck

Notebookcheck's Top 10 Subnotebooks

Martina Osztovits (translated by Martina Osztovits), 10/20/2014

October 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.

Subnotebook or Ultrabook? We also created a separate Top 10 Ultrabooks with devices meeting the Intel specification from 2013: touch screen, low voltage Haswell processor (TDP: 15 W) or newer, battery life of 6 to 9 hours, Intel Wireless Display and USB 3.0. For the time being, our subnotebook charts include ultrabooks and subnotebooks alike

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 October 2014

Pos. RatingDateModelWeightHeightSizeResolutionFinish
189%11/13

Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13
Intel Core i5 4258U
Intel HD Graphics 5100
8 GB RAM, SSD
from $1279 at Amazon

1.6 kg18 mm13.32560x1440glossy
286%07/14Toshiba Portege Z30t-A-10X
Intel Core i7 4500U
Intel HD Graphics 4400
8 GB RAM, SSD
from $1300 at Amazon
1.4 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
785%

12/13

Toshiba Portégé Z30-A-12U
Intel Core i7 4500U
Intel HD Graphics 4400
16 GB RAM, SSD
afrom $1480 at Amazon
1,2 kg23 mm13,31366x768matte
884%07/14HP EliteBook 820 G1
Intel Core i7 4600U
Intel HD Graphics 4400
8 GB RAM, SSD
from $1652 at Amazon

1.5 kg22 mm12.5 1366x768matte
984%

05/14

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

1.3 kg21 mm13.32560x1440glossy
1084%

03/14

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Intel Core i7 4550U
Intel HD Graphics 5000
8 GB RAM, SSD
from $3577 at Amazon

1.4 kg19 mm14.02560x1440matte

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

Actually, the Zenbook UX32LN-R4053HUX32LN-R4029H, and UX32LA-R3025H test models, which we reviewed midyear, should rank top in our charts. However, the manufacturer does no longer sell these, but replaced them with the Zenbook UX303LN successor. A review will follow soon. Since Samsung has withdrawn from the European notebook market, they do no longer offer the ATIV Book 9 900X3G-K01 mid-range model. Acer do not offer their Aspire S3-392G anymore.

All rounder: Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch
All rounder: Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch
Rare: mattes IPS touch screen - Toshiba Portege Z30t-A-10X
Rare: mattes IPS touch screen - 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 CEO: HP Elitebook Folio 1040 G1
Luxury for the CEO: HP Elitebook Folio 1040 G1
Very bright display: Dell XPS 13
Very bright display: Dell XPS 13
Poor display: Toshiba Portégé Z30-A-12U
Poor display: Toshiba Portégé Z30-A-12U
Complete bundle: HP EliteBook 820 G1
Complete bundle: HP EliteBook 820 G1
Ultra-thin with perfect display: Toshiba Kirabook 2014
Ultra-thin with perfect display: Toshiba Kirabook 2014
New classic? ThinkPad X1 Carbon mit WQHD-Panel
New classic? ThinkPad X1 Carbon mit WQHD-Panel

1st

Although its almost one year since we reviewed the Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch, it is still relevant. The MBP 13 still belongs to the top sellers in the Apple portfolio. This is not surprising since the bundle features a light and robust aluminum body, a high-res Retina display, a powerful Intel processor and an improved Intel Iris GPU and achieves a battery life of up to 10 hours in realistic scenarios (web surfing). Thus it is virtually unmatched in the Windows world. As a result, the MacBook Pro 13 Retina is an almost universal device for professionals and amateur users alike, which want and can use MacOS in everyday life.

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, and 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 a 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 achieved 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

Toshiba's Portégé Z30-A-12U is an expensive business subnotebook with high-end components including Core i7 4500U (Haswell) and 256 GB mSATA-SSD. Unfortunately, the manufacturer only equipped it with a TN display with HD resolution, which is completely unsuitable for its price of just under 1500 Euros (~$2035). We liked the light magnesium case with excellent build quality and the decent input devices. Low emissions and the best battery life can finally compensate for the poor display. So, the total rating is sufficiently high for our Top 10.

8th

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.

9th 

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.

10th

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 keyboardwhich 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.

Runners-up

With the Aspire V3-371-55GS, Acer offer an elegant 13-incher with white plastics aluminum finish. You cannot complain about performance: Acer equipped the mid-priced device with an 128 GB SSD, which goes perfectly with the fast Core i5 4210U. In addition, the device is very frugal and outperforms all competitors in terms of battery life (WLAN test 7:43 hours). However, the V3 could not achieve a better rating because of its dark, low-contrast, bluish display and its modest build quality and input devices.

The HP EliteBook 725 G2 is a business model with a rather rare size of 12.5 inch. With AMD Kaveri A10 Pro-7350B and Radeon R6, it is quite an outside in terms of technology, which delivers subpar performance for a price of just under 900 Euro. However, the EliteBook 725 G2 is a good choice for those looking for a robust, handy device with excellent input devices and business-like connectivity. An Intel model with a size of 12.5 inch is not (yet) available in Germany. The matte display with poor brightness and contrast is a real disadvantage. The visibly bluish display cannot meet the high claim on EliteBooks.

The Chromebook 13 CB5-311-T0B2 is a 13-incher for simple web surfing for little money. The Nvidia Tegra K1 does not run Windows, but Chrome OS, which explains the name. The input devices are passable, but not really good. The build quality is alright. Pros of the Chromebook 13 are its very good battery life, the quiet operation (passive cooling) and the sufficiently bright, matte TFT. Acer also offers a FHD model for a small surcharge.

Recent Subnotebook Awards

Size Comparison

Measurement Results

Toshiba Portege Z30t-A-10X
Apple MBP Retina 13 2013
Lenovo Thinkpad X240
HP Elitebook Folio 1040 G1
Dell XPS 13
Toshiba Portu00e9gu00e9 Z30
HP EliteBook 820 G1
Toshiba Kirabook 2014
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch
Dell Latitude E7240 Touch
Screen
Brightness Center312280377293.4450.1270385227228402.5
Black Level *0.430.320.518.494.6550.80.5480.1660.23.59
Contrast7268757285946873387031367991682
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 *5.641.916.855.084.538.965.992.56.296.41
Greyscale DeltaE2000 *7.7926.486.685.329.765.72.557.794.95
Gamma *2.482.262.752.622.352.172.052.442.362.34
Color Space (Percent of AdobeRGB 1998)644159.755.6639.840.636151.742.66
Noise
Idle Minimum *28.628.028.82829.129.629.628.829.1
Idle Average *28.628.029.028.129.229.629.628.829.2
Idle Maximum *28.628.029.028.229.331.629.628.829.4
Load Average *38.940.534.736.131.641.536.833.734.9
Load Maximum *43.843.740.53744.644.236.834.052.3
Heat
Maximum Upper Side *39.04342.538.644.240.840.340.244.4
Maximum Bottom *37.24048.745.648.436.234.138.852
Idle Upper Side *34.32632.431.232.627.725.831.626.2
Idle Bottom *33.02635.132.835.826.22632.330.6
Battery Runtime
Reader / Idle11946487196829871195835723621
Load1781141079321713912610783
WiFi473515363370465457393389300
Power Consumption
Idle Minimum *3.03.43.93.53.34.1
Idle Average *6.64.07.94.15.68.7
Idle Maximum *7.95.89.87.17.610.2
Load Average *27.432.426.427.328.826.3
Load Maximum *30.332.226.727.628.926.7

* ... smaller is better

Benchmarks

Toshiba Portege Z30t-A-10X
Apple MBP Retina 13 2013
Lenovo Thinkpad X240
HP Elitebook Folio 1040 G1
Dell XPS 13
Toshiba Portu00e9gu00e9 Z30
HP EliteBook 820 G1
Toshiba Kirabook 2014
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch
Dell Latitude E7240 Touch
3DMark 11
1280x720 Performance8461134
1134
82896289710329931048752
3DMark (2013)
1280x720 Ice Storm Standard Score275892930140279302573529027853
1920x1080 Fire Strike Standard Score521516646640658519
PCMark 7
Score451050124629462648624812509053214567
PCMark 8
Work Score Accelerated v23232369730523802
static version load dynamic

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Notebookcheck's Top 10 Subnotebooks
Author: Martina Osztovits, 2014-10-20 (Update: 2014-10-20)