Tested: The Lightest Laptops for 2020

Charles Lindbergh knew a thing or two about traveling light. When preparing The Spirit of St. Louis for his transatlantic flight in 1927, the pilot jettisoned everything—from his parachute and radio to the traditional leather seat. (He used a wicker chair.) He even designed special lightweight boots.

You probably delegate worries about your plane’s range and fuel capacity to the airline, but odds are you hate to carry any excess ballast in your carry-on. That’s why laptop vendors strive to trim every ounce from their designs, and why we at PCMag pay so much attention to the results—starting with this guide to the lightest laptops you can buy.

How We Define “Light”

What defines a lightweight laptop? Most would agree that the upper limit is three pounds, possibly stretching to four for a system with a big 15.6-inch screen (although the 15.6-inch featherweight champion, the Acer Swift 5, is a remarkable 2.2 pounds). Neither of those figures counts the computer’s AC adapter, an often-overlooked bit of baggage that can be anything from a compact shirt-pocket gadget to an ungainly brick.

For manufacturers, crafting an ultralight laptop is all about compromise. A smaller battery pack will save weight, but it won’t last as long—a risky move in a market where many buyers expect to get through a full workday plus a Netflix movie in the evening. Exotic chassis materials like carbon fiber and magnesium alloys weigh less than vanilla notebooks’ plastic and aluminum, but they also increase cost. A touch screen is convenient, but its glass overlay adds a few grams.

Acer SwiftM.2 SSD module, if you can crack the case to access it).

Other choices will be, well, in your face, starting with the obvious one: the display panel.

Screen Size: Weight vs. Squint

At the risk of insulting your intelligence, the biggest factor in laptop weight is the physical size of the chassis. And for a laptop, that correlates with screen size. If you’re cool with an 11.6-inch display, you’ve got plenty of ultralights to choose from; if you want a jumbo 17-inch screen, your only choice, to our knowledge, is the LG Gram 17, a Core i7 system carved from 2.95 pounds of nano carbon and magnesium. The flagship of the lightweight Gram line offers 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and a 2,560-by-1,600-pixel native screen resolution.

Most weight-savers, as you’d expect, are smaller than that, though it’s up to you how small is too small. Many shoppers don’t realize that the 2.8-pound MacBook Air is not Apple’s traditionally lightest laptop—that’s the now-discontinued 2.03-pound MacBook, though you may prefer the former’s 13.3-inch to the latter’s 12-inch display. (The MacBook can still be found in refurbished and used form.)

Apple MacBook AirLenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and the special Retina resolutions of Apple’s Mac machines.

While it can be tempting to revel in the ultrafine detail of a 3K or 4K display for applications such as image editing or video streaming, don’t be ashamed if your needs (and budget) favor the everyday productivity of a 1080p panel. Besides getting a perfectly adequate screen (something that can’t be said for the older standard of 1,366 by 768 pixels), you’ll get substantially better battery life, all else being equal.

Slim Bezels Are Better

Excess bulk is the enemy of light weight, so look for a laptop with a high screen-to-body ratio—in other words, thin rather than thick bezels surrounding the display. (Ditto for a unit without wide borders on either side of the keyboard.)

The Dell XPS 13 was an early pioneer of nearly frameless screen design, so much so that Dell has long described the 2.7-pound system as a 13-inch laptop in an 11-inch chassis. For years, however, the drawback to the Dell’s skinny screen borders was that the top bezel didn’t have room for a webcam, resulting in the XPS 13’s camera being mounted below the display instead of above. There, it gave your Skype conference partners an unlovely view of your chin and nostrils.

Dell XPS 13 2020MateBook X Pro and Acer’s latest Swift 7 are embedded in the top row of the keyboard, favoring your neck instead of your face.

The Detachable Alternative

What if you’d like to indulge your inner Lindbergh and redesign your laptop for travel? There used to be notebooks that let you replace their optical drives with empty weight-saving slices, but modular designs of that kind and optical drives are both history.

You can opt, however, for a tablet that lets you remove its keyboard cover. This gives you two choices: carry just the tablet, if you’re viewing videos or jotting short notes with a stylus, or take both parts if you need to type something. A tablet plus its thin keyboard cover or folio usually weighs less than a conventional clamshell laptop.

Microsoft Surface ProMicrosoft Surface Pro 7, for example, weighs 1.7 pounds without and a bit over 2 pounds with its Signature Type Cover. (For the Type Cover accessory, Microsoft, unlike many makers of detachable 2-in-1s, charges extra.)

Of course, detachables aren’t the only 2-in-1 hybrid laptops—there are convertibles whose screens flip and fold from laptop to tablet mode, propping up for kiosk or easel-like presentation modes in between. Several of these qualify as light (the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is 2.9 pounds), though their versatile hinges add some weight compared to clamshells. (The Dell XPS 13 is 2.7 pounds, not a huge difference in this case.)

Silicon Compromises

If you’re an avid gamer, you should know that nearly all ultralights rely on their processors’ integrated graphics instead of faster dedicated graphics—a discrete GPU is one of the first things that gets taken off the cargo roster when designers are trying to hit a weight target. The Razer Blade Stealth 13 is arguably the exception to this, but adding a discrete GPU option nudged the weight from 2.8 pounds to 3.1 pounds, making it notably heftier than many others on our list.

Light laptops also tend to have fewer ports and expansion options than their heavier cousins. The late Apple MacBook, for instance, has a headphone jack and one USB Type-C port—that’s it, that’s all. The Dell XPS 13 does better with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a USB Type-C port, a microSD card slot, and an audio jack, but you’ll still need a dongle (which is included) to connect a USB Type-A device and another (not included) to connect an external monitor.

Thin laptop portsthe best battery life laptops and the best ultraportables. But rest assured that we factored battery life into our top picks here.

Which Light Laptop Should I Buy?

By now it’s clear—you don’t have to strain your arm and shoulder to carry real productivity power. Below is our current list of the best light laptops we’ve tested. It’s not comprehensive, since we review so many systems, but we refresh it frequently. Meanwhile, safe travels and happy landings.

Where To Buy

  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 (2019)

    Pros: Thin, light, and very sturdy. ThinkPad-typical comfortable keyboard. Long battery life, as configured with 1080p screen. Many screen options. Optional Intel vPro. Full-size HDMI output.

    Cons: Small touchpad. Requires (not-included) Ethernet adapter.

    Bottom Line: With a sturdy, lightweight carbon-fiber exterior, an excellent keyboard, and plenty of security and manageability features, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 is the best laptop you can buy for your business.

    Read Review

  • Acer Swift 5

    Pros: Unbelievably light for its screen size.
    Sunny 1080p screen.
    Good battery life.

    Cons: No Thunderbolt 3 port or SD card slot.
    Screen is reflective.
    Beaucoup bloatware.

    Bottom Line: The lightest 15.6-inch laptop the world has ever seen, Acer’s 2.2-pound Swift 5 is a design landmark whose portability outweighs its minor imperfections.

  • Apple MacBook Air (2020)

    Pros: Improved keyboard action and feel
    Sleek, lightweight design
    Multiple color options
    Long battery life
    Reasonably priced, for a Mac

    Cons: As ever, no touch screen
    Limited port selection
    Lackluster raw computing performance
    No support for Wi-Fi 6

    Bottom Line: If you’re a macOS fan who primarily uses a laptop to write and browse the web, the 2020 Apple MacBook Air’s redesigned keyboard and lower price make it easy to recommend.

    Read Review

  • Asus ExpertBook B9450

    Pros: Super-light design.
    Astounding battery life of more than 24 hours video playback.
    Angled keyboard is comfortable for typing.
    LED number pad built into touchpad.
    2TB of SSD storage.

    Cons: Heavy-duty users will want a peppier CPU.
    A lot of chassis flex in and around the touchpad.
    Finicky calculator activation button.

    Bottom Line: A record-setting battery-life monster, the Asus ExpertBook B9450 is a super-light “Project Athena” business laptop with loads of handy connectivity. You can find speedier and better-built laptops, but it’s a great choice for long-haul travelers.

    Read Review

  • Dell XPS 13 (9300)

    Pros: Sleek styling
    Improved touchpad
    Excellent 16:10 display
    Narrow screen bezels
    Long battery life

    Cons: Expensive as configured
    Limited port selection

    Bottom Line: The 2020 version of the Dell XPS 13 is an excellent ultraportable laptop, with head-turning looks and plenty of power for everyday tasks.

    Read Review

  • HP Elite Dragonfly

    Pros: Extremely light weight.
    Exceptional build quality.
    Supports Intel vPro.
    USB Type-A and HDMI ports.
    Standard three-year warranty.
    LTE connectivity.

    Cons: Frequent fan noise.
    Uses older-generation CPUs.
    Only available in dark blue.

    Bottom Line: The HP Elite Dragonfly is a no-compromises, no-nonsense business laptop that manages to stay under 2.5 pounds while including a 360-degree convertible hinge.

  • LG Gram 17 (2020)

    Pros: Astonishingly light.
    Improved keyboard layout.
    Roomy 1TB of storage space.
    Vivid 17-inch WQXGA display.
    Ample port selection.
    Long battery life.

    Cons: Expensive.
    Stodgy design.
    No touch screen.
    Lackluster multimedia and graphics performance.

    Bottom Line: A few design improvements to the LG Gram 17 make the world’s lightest 17-inch laptop an excellent choice for frequent travelers who need all the screen real estate they can get.

    Read Review

  • Acer Swift 7 (2019)

    Pros: Incredibly thin and light. Good battery life, considering minimal battery space in chassis. Satisfying screen. Two Thunderbolt 3 ports, plus HDMI/USB dongle.

    Cons: Costly. Marginal performance. Finicky keyboard layout. Keyboard-deck webcam mandates unflattering angles. No microSD card slot.

    Bottom Line: It’s no speed demon and the webcam is subpar, but the Acer Swift 7 is the slimmest and lightest 14-inch ultraportable we’ve seen—an under-2-pound fashion statement that will tempt elite travelers.

    Read Review

  • Lenovo Flex 5G

    Pros: Excellent battery life
    5G connectivity
    Stylish design
    Comfortable keyboard
    Fanless, silent operation

    Cons: Expensive
    Occasional app compatibility issues and sluggish performance
    Limited availability of 5G coverage
    No Wi-Fi 6 or Thunderbolt 3 port
    Relatively cramped 256GB storage drive

    Bottom Line: Lenovo’s first 5G PC promises superfast download speeds (it depends very much on your location) and delivers extraordinary battery life. But the Snapdragon 8cx-based Flex 5G is an otherwise average 2-in-1 convertible with a whopper of a price tag.

    Read Review

  • VAIO SX12

    Pros: Extremely light and compact.
    Physical ports galore.
    Elegant build quality.

    Cons: A bit pricey.
    No Thunderbolt 3 port.
    Stiff keyboard and tiny touchpad.
    Small screen takes sharp eyes.
    Weak sound.

    Bottom Line: One of the smallest and lightest laptops you can buy, the VAIO SX12 is a finely crafted 12.5-inch ultraportable with great connectivity, but one or two ergonomic gotchas.

    Read Review

About the Author

August 12, 2020

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