Notebookcheck's Top 10 Subnotebooks

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

March 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-inch Late 2013
1st: familiar device, Apple's MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch Late 2013
2nd: the display giant, Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus 940X3G
2nd: the display giant, Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus 940X3G
2nd: Apple MacBook Air 11-inch 2013-06
2nd: Apple MacBook Air 11-inch 2013-06
new in 3rd place: Asus Zenbook UX302LG-C4014H
new in 3rd place: Asus Zenbook UX302LG-C4014H
3rd: Dell Latitude E7240 Touch FHD
3rd: Dell Latitude E7240 Touch FHD
3rd: Toshiba Portégé Z30-A-12U
3rd: Toshiba Portégé Z30-A-12U
3rd: Lenovo ThinkPad X240
3rd: Lenovo ThinkPad X240

Apple's MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch 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 also ranked in our Top 10. It 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.

A Samsung model of the elite Series 9 (top premium class) is second. 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.

The currently fastest Apple MacBook Air 11 (Intel Core i7-4650U) model is even lighter (1.08 kg/~2.4 pounds). It also achieved a rating of 89%. In our in-depth review, the expensive model performs slightly better than the model with Intel i5 CPU. The lightweight device delivers solid performance, which can handle office tasks with ease. In addition, its realistic battery life of above 13 hours is convincing. The ATIV Book 9 Plus 940X3G cannot keep up in this aspect with a battery life of six hours.

Although we had top-class contenders under review, only the review update of the Asus Zenbook UX302LG-C4014H could jump into our Top-10. Only a single percent point separates the 13-incher from the leading devices. Contrary to the ATIV Book 9 Plus, the MacBook Pro Retina 13 and the Air 11-inch the Asus ultrabook features an Nvidia GeForce GT 730M. It is an entry-level graphics card, but it is extremely rare in slim ultrabooks. The review update to the Zenbook UX302LA-C4003H sister model was necessary due to the improved graphics performance, faster SSD and Full HD display. The manufacturer justifies the price of just under 1600 Euros (~$2225) for the test model with a bright IPS display, long battery life, good build quality, high performance, and a backlit keyboard. There are hardly disadvantages. A glossy surface appears to be usual for touchscreens.

The Dell Latitude E7240 brings a touchscreen into the mobile business range. The 12.5-incher with Core i5-4300U and SSD achieved a very good score since it is balanced. Build quality and input devices are high-end, the battery life is good and the display has high brightness, excellent viewing angles (IPS) and a good contrast. The Latitude E7240 even features a docking port, which improves the slightly limited connectivity. The price of the model with Core i5-4300U, 128 GB, and FHD IPS panel, which can only be bought via Dell, is about 1350 Euros (~$1877). Several online shops offer a model with a TN HD panelIts quality is significantly worse than the FHD model's (display rating: 78% instead of 85%). We assigned our Editor's Choice award to the Dell Latitude E7240 Touch for its balanced solution in January 2014.

A second business model is in our Top 10, the Toshiba Portégé Z30-A-12U. It comes with similar interfaces (docking port), features, and good input device as the Dell Latitude E7240. However, the battery life of the light device with magnesium case (1.2 kg; ~2.65 lbs) is significantly longer 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.

Acer's Aspire S7-392 is still third. 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.

With the same rating, Lenovo's ThinkPad X240 got third, too. The 12.5-incher with powerful low voltage CPU was designed for business customers. The 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.

3rd: low cost goes premium, Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E145
3rd: low cost goes premium, Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E145
3rd: Asus Zenbook Infinity UX301LA with Retina resolution
3rd: Asus Zenbook Infinity UX301LA with Retina resolution

Apart from premium subnotebooks like the Aspire S7, a budget model maintains a third position: Lenovo's ThinkPad Edge E145 achieved an impressive 88%, but it only costs a fraction of the Zenbook Infinity UX301LA with the same rating. How come a 340 Euros (~$473) budget notebook with weak AMD E-Series E1-2500 (Kabini) made it into our Top 10? Because of its ThinkPad quality could be the simple answer. The 11.6-incher is a typical student notebook with low performance, but it features excellent input devices, a stable case, low emissions and very long battery runtimes. Together with low weight, these are the most important criteria of the total rating. Despite the great praise, potential customers should note the lower performance compared to Intel Core CPUs, and the bluish display with low contrast.

The ThinkPad Edge E130 brother, which was also listed in our Top 10 until recently, uses the same chassis. But, the E130 is based on an Intel platform. Consequently, its performance is better, but its battery life is shorter. The E130 won our "Best Value" award in September.

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 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. But, the improved CPU performance made cutting-edge battery runtimes impossible. Throttling under full load remained within limits. Recently, the Vaio Pro 13 proved that this is not to be taken for granted in slim 13-inchers. As much as we praise the Zenbook UX301LA, it did not make it up to the Samsung and Apple models on the first five rungs.

These did not make it into our Top-10

Missed our Top 10: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2014
Missed our Top 10: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2014
Missed our Top 10: HP EliteBook 820 G1-H5G14ET
Missed our Top 10: HP EliteBook 820 G1-H5G14ET
Missed our Top 10: Samsung XE303C12-A01US Chromebook
Missed our Top 10: Samsung XE303C12-A01US Chromebook
Missed our Top 10: Toshiba Chromebook CB30-102
Missed our Top 10: Toshiba Chromebook CB30-102

Why could two premium ultrabooks of the top business class not make it into our Top-10? Simply, because a "very good" (88%) rating is currently necessary for this, but the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch 2014 and the HP EliteBook 820 G1 were rated marginally lower. The new Carbon from Lenovo courageously implemented a new keyboard concept: The F1 to F12 and the Fn keys were replaced by a variable touch bar. The traditional ThinkPad user might not like it, but those with the courage to try something new will profit from it. Especially the display was improved compared to the predecessor. The dull TN display (relatively narrow viewing angles) was replaced by an IPS touch panel (matte) with a resolution of 2560x1440 pixels. In addition, the battery life got slightly longer thanks to the more frugal Haswell core. Lenovo also improved the connectivity. HDMI and Ethernet are now available via an included dongle. Overall, the new 2014 X1 Carbon under review eliminated the weaknesses of the predecessor (86%). Despite significant improvements, the difference is still small because of our highly differentiated rating scheme.

HP's EliteBook 820 G1-H5G14ET, which also features an Intel Core i7-4600U and a fast SSD, follows on the heels of the Lenovo. The 14-incher was designed for demanding business customers, which also consider ThinkPads of the T series or Latitudes of the E series. The EliteBook 820 G1 is not too heavy at 1.4 kg (~3.1 lbs) (not an ultrabook), but its price of 1700 Euros (~$2364) is steep. Unfortunately, the customer does not get an IPS display, but only a modestly bright TN panel with narrow viewing angles. This is the only real weakness, since excellent build quality, high-end input devices, easy maintainability, low emissions and long battery runtimes are pros.

Chrome OS is not dead! Especially in the US, the OS has significant market shares. We reviewed the US model of the Samsung XE303C12-A01US. The manufacturer hopes that the cheap surf book (250 to 300 Euros; ~$350-$420) will finally also be successful in Europe. Samsung uses real mobile communications hardware. A Samsung Exynos 5250 Dual works inside the 11.6-inch device. It is sufficient for simple multitasking and everyday tasks like Internet surfing, video playback and text processing. But, the battery life of only four hours (WLAN test) is too short for the purpose of the device. Toshiba cuts a better figure with the Chromebook CB30-102 (Intel Celeron 2955U) - seven hours are a different league. Both notebooks have rather poor displays and cheap-looking rather wobbly construction.

Awards of the previous months in this category

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E130 NZUAXMB: Low-Cost in ThinkPad quality
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E130 NZUAXMB: Low-Cost in 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 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
4
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
5
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
6
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
7
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
8
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
9
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
10
83% v4
Review Update Dell Latitude E7240 Touch Notebook
Dell Latitude E7240 Touch
Review Update Dell Latitude E7240 Touch Notebook
Intel Core i5 4300U, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 12/16/2013
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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Notebookcheck's Top 10 Subnotebooks
Author: Redaktion, 2014-03-14 (Update: 2014-04- 1)