Thin and Light / Ultraportables

Thin and light notebooks serve as a bridge between netbooks and full-fledged laptops, offering a smooth blend of performance, portability and battery life. This segment was previously reserved for super-expensive laptops that tried to emphasize all of these features while offering superb design and build quality. Although some luxury systems will fit that description, nowadays you can get very decent alternatives from $700 and up.

The typical thin and light sports either a 12- or 13-inch display, Intel's Core i3 and i5 processors, 2GB to 4GB of RAM, and 120GB to 500GB of storage – via SSDs or HDDs. Dropping the optical drive for the sake of portability and using a low-voltage CPU alongside a long-lasting battery is also a popular trend in this category but not necessarily the norm.

Samsung 9 Series

The feature-rich and beautifully designed Samsung 9 Series features a 13.3-inch screen, an LED-backlit display with 400 nits of brightness, Intel Core i5-2537M dual-core processor running at 1.4GHz, 4GB of RAM, and one speedy 128GB SSD for storage.

This ultra-thin system is clearly a viable MacBook Air competitor as it is just 0.62 to 0.64 inches thick – compared to the latter's 0.68 inches. The price tag is still pretty expensive, however: the 13-inch with Windows 7 Home Premium is $1,600, while the Windows 7 Professional flavor goes for $1,700. There's also an 11-inch model which starts at $1,200.

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $1,600
Processor: Intel Core i5 Processor 2537M 1.4GHz Graphics: Intel® HD Graphics 3000
Memory: 4GB DDR3 Storage: 128GB SSD
Display size: 13.3" LED backlit display (1366x768) Optical: None
Weight: 2.89 lb Battery: 6-cell

Apple MacBook Air

Touted as a cross between the iPad and MacBook Pro, the new MacBook Air is quicker, smaller, and more power efficient than its predecessor while moving to all-flash storage and adding full multi-touch support through its glass trackpad. Systems are available in 11.6- and 13.3-inch models with two set configurations for each. Starting at $999, the 11-inch features a 1366x768 screen, Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics, a 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of DDR3 1066MHz RAM, and 64GB of storage.

Meanwhile, the 13-inch Air costs between $1,299 and $1,599, packing a 1440x900 resolution display, a 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB of RAM (optional 4GB), and a GeForce 320M. The price difference boils down to storage – 128 or 256GB – but you also get the option to upgrade to a 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo for $100. All versions of the latest MacBook Air come with a webcam, one Mini DisplayPort, two USB 2.0 ports, as well as 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR connectivity.

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $1,299 (13-inch base model)
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 320M 256MB
Memory: 2GB DDR3-1066 Storage: 128GB SSD
Display size: 13.3" (1440x900) Optical: none
Weight: ~2.9lbs (~1.3 kg) Battery: ~7 hours

Lenovo ThinkPad X220

The X220 was just introduced in March and represents Lenovo's latest ultraportable ThinkPad. Living up to its reputation, the company has kept its focus on build quality and performance for this system, while also paying attention to battery life and portability.

Highlights include a 12.5" 1366x768 IPS display, a solidly built thin frame and starting weight of three pounds, all without sacrificing performance courtesy of Intel's new mobile processors. The ThinkPad X series refresh is available in various configurations, from the Core i3-2310M all the way up to the high-end i7-2620M

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $1,299
Processor: Intel Core i5 2520M 2.5GHz Graphics: Intel HD 3000
Memory: 4GB PC3-10700 DDR3 (1 DIMM) Storage: Hitachi 320GB 7,200RPM hard drive
Display size: 12.5" IPS display (1366x768) Optical: None
Weight: < 3.0lbs (1.3kg) Battery: 5.5 hours (11h with 'slice' companion)
Other noteworthy options in this category

Sony Vaio S

This 13.3-inch system is outfitted with the latest hardware from Intel and AMD. Starting at $999, the base Vaio S comes in black or white and offers a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M, a 512MB AMD Radeon HD 6470M, 4GB of DDR3-1333 RAM and a 320GB hard drive.

Price range: $999 - $2500

Toshiba Portege R835

The Portege R705 was among our favorite ultraportable laptops last year. Now, refreshed with the latest Intel Sandy Bridge processors and greatly improved integrated graphics, the 13-inch R835 is looking like a another winner from Toshiba.

Price range: $899 - $930