Better, stronger, faster: Check out these second-gen laptops that are giving MacBook Air a run for its money.
HP Envy14 Spectre
The MacBook Air may have set the bar, but these new ultrabooks raise it, packing features into an ultrathin package. These four models run Windows 7 and have a speedy processor, 4GB of RAM, and a webcam. Which is the ultra-est?
HP Envy14 Spectre
At 3.9 pounds, this 14-inch ultrabook is heavy, but it does a lot. You can connect wirelessly to an HDTV or projector with an adapter and use near-field communication, or NFC, to transfer URLs from an NFC-enabled smartphone. The Gorilla Glass display, lid, and palm rest are durable, if slippery. Bootup took 20 seconds; copying a 250MB file to a thumb drive took 23 seconds. The keyboard sagged a bit, but audio was the best of the bunch. The battery lasts up to nine hours on a charge. Cost: $1,400
Acer Aspire S5
With the best performance benchmarks in our tests, the 13.3-inch S5 is our top pick. It weighs just 2.9 pounds, the same as the 13-inch MacBook Air, and it's an even slimmer 0.59 inches thick. A port panel on the back opens with the touch of a button, revealing two USB ports, an HDMI port, and a Thunderbolt port. The S5 boots up in 15 seconds and takes just 21 seconds to export a 250GB file. The keyboard sagged slightly, and audio was thin, but the only real sour note is the 6.5-hour battery life. Cost: $1,000
Samsung Series 5 ULTRA
The 14-inch Series 5 has an unusual perk for an ultrabook-an optical drive for playing DVDs and burning CDs. Unlike the other models we tested, it uses a 500GB hard drive instead of a lighter solid-state drive. Still, at 3.9 pounds, it is the same weight as the HP Envy, which has no optical drive. Bootup took 20 seconds, as did ripping a 250MB file to a thumb drive. The rigid keyboard was great for fast typing, but battery life suffers for the optical drive; it lasts just about seven hours on a charge. Cost: $950
Dell XPS 13
This 13.3-inch Dell really stands out for its top-notch display. At 2.99 pounds, the XPS is just a bit heavier than the Acer S5. It's also a hair thicker, at .71 inches, but its 12.4-inch width (displays are measured diagonally) gives it a slightly more compact profile. The keyboard is rigid, and video playback quality was the best in our tests, with rich, realistic colors. Bootup time is 16 seconds, and copying a 250MB file to a thumb drive took 22 seconds. The battery caps out at about nine hours. Cost: $999