Notebookcheck's Top 10 Subnotebooks

Redaktion (translated by Martina Osztovits), 03/14/2014

April 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. Since the introduction of the "ultrabook" brand by Intel, which went hand in hand with especially frugal mobile processors (also from AMD), slim cases with a weight of significantly below two kilograms (~4.4 pounds) became features of subnotebooks.

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 (~$400 to $3500) can be represented in our Top 10.

Top 10 of the previous 8 months at the time of writing - current articles are listed first

Further tests of each month - current tests are listed first

Editors' Comments

1st: familiar device - Apple's MacBook Pro Retina 13 Zoll Late 2013
1st: familiar device - Apple's MacBook Pro Retina 13 Zoll Late 2013
2nd: Acer Aspire S3-392G
2nd: Acer Aspire S3-392G
Editor's Choice for the Acer Aspire S3-392G
Editor's Choice for the Acer Aspire S3-392G
3rd: Dell XPS 13-9333
3rd: Dell XPS 13-9333
3rd: Toshiba Portégé Z30-A-12U
3rd: Toshiba Portégé Z30-A-12U
3rd: the display giant Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus 940X3G
3rd: the display giant Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus 940X3G
4th: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch 20A7-002DGE
4th: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch 20A7-002DGE
4th: HP EliteBook 820 G1-H5G14ET
4th: HP EliteBook 820 G1-H5G14ET
4th: Lenovo ThinkPad X240
4th: Lenovo ThinkPad X240

The update of our rating system to version 4.0 brought some changes to our Top 10. Many familiar devices remain, since the best subnotebooks cannot suddenly become bad. We reevaluated the formerly best devices of this category with version 4. New thresholds and a better differentiation between sufficient and very good resulted in a lower rating for all devices. As all devices are affected, at least the comparison remained the same here.

Apple's MacBook Pro Retina 13 Late 2013 with Haswell processor is still leading our Top 10. It continues the successful tradition of Retina models (start: 2012). A Core i5-4258U and an Apple SSD (SM0256F, 256 GB) work in the unchanged chassis (aluminum unibody). As a result, performance and battery life slightly improved. The MacBook Air 13 from Apple is only 14% lighter and only one millimeter thinner. The MacBook Pro's main advantage is its Retina display with a resolution of 2560x1440 pixels, great colors, and excellent viewing angles (IPS). The Air 13 only features a 1440x900-pixel TN panel. From the Windows world, the Asus ZenBook Infinity UX301LA with Retina resolution competes with the MacBook Pro. The 13-incher is also in our Top 10. Disadvantages of the MacBook Pro are its modest WLAN performance and that it cannot be easily maintained and repaired.

Acer's 13 inch Aspire S3-392G came in at the peak of our Top-10, although its price is low compared to more high-end competitors. The slim device with Nvidia GeForce GT 735M and FHD display costs about 1000 Euro. A dedicated GPU is still a rarity. We liked stable case, the contrast-rich FHD display and the courage to combine a GeForce GPU with an Intel Core i5 and a hybride hard drive (not a real SSD). The good connectivity including DisplayPort, VGA, Fast-Ethernet, and USB 2.0 via adapter is interesting. Since also emissions and battery runtimes are decent (just under six hours in the WLAN test), the Aspire S3-392G rightly got a "very good".

Dell's XPS 13-9333, the Portégé Z30-A-12U, and the ATIV Book 9 Plus 940X3G are third in our ranking. The 13 incher 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 is 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.

A business model is also listed in our Top 10, the Toshiba Portégé Z30-A-12U. The 13-incher comes with many interfaces (docking port), features, and good input device. The battery life of the light device with magnesium case (1.2 kg; ~2.65 lbs) is very long with 7:37 hours (WLAN test). The emissions are generally low and the performance is on the highest subnotebook level thanks to the Core i7-4500U and fast Toshiba SSD (256 GB). The biggest weakness is the TN display with narrow viewing angles, which is completely unsuitable for devices of the 1500 Euros (~$2086) price range. In addition, the warranty period of only 12 months is short.

The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus 940X3G is a 13-inch device weighing only 1.4 kg (~3.1 lbs) and a tremendous resolution of 3200x1800 pixels. The display rating is on par with the MacBook Pro Retina's because of excellent colors and wide viewing angles. The ATIV Book 9 Plus is a balanced offer with meticulous build quality, excellent stability, and a crisp keyboard. Thanks to the fast SSD and Core i5 CPU, the system performance is high, while the cooling system's noise remained very low. The battery life of about six hours is convincing, too.

We reviewed the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch (20A7-002DGE) model from 2014 again. After we had the small i5 model in our first review, we tested the premium model with Core i7 4550U, Intel HD Graphics 5000, and 512 GB SSD this time. For 2000 Euro, the customer can expect the best of the best. This is true in nearly all aspects: Build quality, system noise, and semi-matte touchscreen - everything is perfect. But, we did not like the poor web cam and the lack of real F-keys. The latter were replaced by the adaptive keyboard, a touch bar with different key modes. Those who know how conservative many managers are, can imagine that potential customers might dislike this feature.

We definitely liked HP's EliteBook 820 G1-H5G14ET: The 12 incher has a conventional key layout, a touchpad with real keys, a trackpoint (with separate buttons), and a plain appearance without bells and whistles. Unfortunately, the price performance ratio is poor since you will only get a 1366 x 768 TN panel (no other options) for 1700 Euros. While HD would be suitable for the size, narrow viewing angles, and modest brightness are completely unsuitable for the steep price, which can compete with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's.

With the same rating, Lenovo's ThinkPad X240 is fourth, too. The 12.5-incher with powerful low voltage CPU 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 (~$2573). Unfortunately, the contrast-rich, matte display with wide viewing angles only features an HD resolution. The disadvantages are relatively few interfaces, the selective stability, and performance degradation under full load.

Acer's Aspire S7-392 is fifth. The S7 improved compared to its S7-391 predecessor: The display no longer dims on battery and the battery life is significantly longer due to a bigger battery capacity. Therefore, the 13-incher with high-end build quality achieved a very good rating. We also appreciated the low system noise and the improved connectivity. The tester's verdict: We do not find anything lacking. Because of its steep price of 1500 Euros (~$2086), the Aspire S7 failed to win our Editor's Choice award.

The Zenbook Infinity UX301LA from Asus is a high-end premium ultrabook, which wants to set new standards in build quality and display. With a maximum height of 15.5 mm (~0.6 inches) and a weight of about 1.4 kg (~3.1 lbs), the 13-incher is on par with Apple's MacBook Air 13. Thanks to its aluminum unibody, it is very sturdy. Gorilla Glass 3 not only covers the scratch-resistant touchscreen, but also the palm rests. While the touchscreen is glossy, the palm rests have a matte finish. The highlight is its 2560x1440 IPS panel with excellent contrast (2138:1) and brightness (360 cd/m²). However, the editor questions the advantages of the stunning display: Subjectively, you can hardly observe an improvement moving from Full HD to WQHD in the Zenbook UX301. The bundle features a Core i7-4558U and a 256 GB SSD (RAID 0; 2 x 128). Asus also added an Intel Iris Graphics 5100. With the Iris series, Intel tries to catch up with mid-range GPUs from Nvidia and AMD. However, it is not as good as the recent Schenker S413 with Iris Pro Graphics 5200.

The reviewers did not find serious disadvantages with the Zenbook UX301LA. All aspects are at a good level, but, nothing more: A battery rating of 79 or a keyboard rating of 81 are not sufficient for the top of our charts. By the way, the UX301LA also has a sister model with GeForce GT 730M (UX302LG-C4014H).

These did not make it into our Top-10

Fujitsu LifeBook S904
Fujitsu LifeBook S904
Fujitsu LifeBook U904 non-reflective
Fujitsu LifeBook U904 non-reflective
HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1
HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1
Asus VivoBook S301LA-C1073H
Asus VivoBook S301LA-C1073H

Why could three premium ultrabooks of the top business class not make it into our Top-10? This question is particularly interesting in case of the Fujitsu LifeBook U904-0M75A1DE. We reviewed a model with matte 3200 x 1800 display. The noble 14-incher looses many points because of its weaknesses including an odd keyboard and a low battery life (4 hours during WLAN use). Fujitsu sells the non-touch model with a HDD. So, it also lost points in performance.

Easy to confuse: the 13-inch Fujitsu LifeBook S904. It also features a huge resolution (2.560 x 1.440, glossy) and tries to justify its steep price with very good battery runtimes (8:27 hours in our WLAN test), a bright, contrast-rich display, an LTE modem, and a docking port. Unfortunately, it is loud and the CPU performance falls quite quickly below the standard clock under load.

HP's EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 proved to be a neatly designed ultrabook, which lacked perfection in keyboard, touchpad, and display. The TN display with poor viewing angles and low contrast is not suitable in its price range. It spoils joy of many well-designed aspects including security features, high-end build quality, and low emissions.

Asus VivoBook S301LA-C1073H is a real consumer for a very cheap price. While the build quality is excellent, the input devices including touchscreen are only average. The brightness of the touchscreen is much too low, the colors are unbalanced and the viewing angles are limited. But, we liked the low case temperature without throttling during the stress test.

Awards of previous months in this category

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E130 NZUAXMB: budged ThinkPad quality
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E130 NZUAXMB: budged ThinkPad  quality
A balanced bundle for little money: ThinkPad Edge E145
A balanced bundle for little money: ThinkPad Edge E145
Acer Aspire V5-131-10172G50akk Notebook: long battery life for little money
Acer Aspire V5-131-10172G50akk Notebook: long battery life for little money
Editor's Choice in January 2014: Dell Latitude E7240 Touch FHD
Editor's Choice in January 2014: Dell Latitude E7240 Touch FHD

Updated Daily, automated top list

of the last 8 month
1
89% v4
Review Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 Late 2013 Notebook
Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2013-10
Review Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 Late 2013 Notebook
Intel Core i5 4258U, Intel Iris Graphics 5100, 11/05/2013
2
88% v4
Review Acer Aspire S3-392G Ultrabook
Acer Aspire S3-392G
Review Acer Aspire S3-392G Ultrabook
Intel Core i5 4200U, NVIDIA GeForce GT 735M, 03/25/2014
3
85% v4
Review Update Dell XPS 13-9333 Touchscreen Ultrabook
Dell XPS 13-9333
Review Update Dell XPS 13-9333 Touchscreen Ultrabook
Intel Core i5 4200U, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 03/21/2014
4
85% v4
Review Toshiba Portégé Z30-A-12U Notebook
Toshiba Portege Z30-A-12U
Review Toshiba Portégé Z30-A-12U Notebook
Intel Core i7 4500U, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 01/02/2014
5
85% v4
Review Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus 940X3G Ultrabook
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus
Review Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus 940X3G Ultrabook
Intel Core i5 4200U, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 10/09/2013
6
84% v4
Review Update Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch 20A7-002DGE Ultrabook
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch 20A7-002DGE
Review Update Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch 20A7-002DGE Ultrabook
Intel Core i7 4550U, Intel HD Graphics 5000, 03/27/2014
7
84% v4
Review HP EliteBook 820 G1-H5G14ET Subnotebook
HP EliteBook 820 G1
Review HP EliteBook 820 G1-H5G14ET Subnotebook
Intel Core i7 4600U, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 03/17/2014
8
84% v4
Review Lenovo ThinkPad X240 Ultrabook
Lenovo ThinkPad X240
Review Lenovo ThinkPad X240 Ultrabook
Intel Core i7 4600U, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 12/04/2013
9
83% v4
Review Fujitsu LifeBook S904 Notebook
Fujitsu LifeBook S904
Review Fujitsu LifeBook S904 Notebook
Intel Core i7 4600U, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 04/08/2014
10
83% v4
Review Update Asus Zenbook UX302LG-C4014H Ultrabook
Asus Zenbook UX302LG-C4014H
Review Update Asus Zenbook UX302LG-C4014H Ultrabook
Intel Core i7 4500U, NVIDIA GeForce GT 730M, 02/26/2014
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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Notebookcheck's Top 10 Subnotebooks
Author: Redaktion, 2014-03-14 (Update: 2014-04-22)