Thirteen-inch lightweight laptop shootout

We've seen an influx of eye-catching, highly portable 13-inch laptops of late, so it's a perfect time to stack the Samsung Series 9 up against the 13-inch MacBook Air and the Toshiba Portege R835.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR | Gaming | Metaverse technologies | Wearable tech | Tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Dan Ackerman
Scott Stein
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[Update: It's worth noting that, is it did with last year's Portege R705 model, retailer Best Buy is selling one of the Portege R835 models at a steep discount. The Portege R835-P50X, with an Intel Core i3 CPU, Wireless Display, and WiMax, is available for $749, while its original list price is $899.]

If you're looking for a thin, stylish 13-inch laptop, this is your lucky month. We've seen an influx of eye-catching, highly portable notebooks making their way through the CNET offices, including the Toshiba Portege R835 and the Samsung Series 9. Add in the current second-gen 13-inch MacBook Air, and you've got a trio of worthy choices at this screen size (we're still waiting to get Sony's new 13-inch Vaio S, which also looks promising).

Thirteen-inch lightweight laptop shootout (photos)

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While the MacBook Air has been the gold standard of ultrathin 13-inchers, the new Samsung Series 9 NP900X3A has done its best to emulate the style on a Windows laptop. It certainly surpasses the MacBook Air in one important category: price. The real question is, do you actually need a superslim laptop if there's a nearly equally lightweight, slightly less-thin option that's much more affordable?

The Toshiba Portege R705 was an Editors' Choice laptop in 2010, and its successor, the Portege R835-P56X, ups the ante in 2011; it earned Editors' Choice honors, too. Its $900-range price is more palatable, and it even has an optical drive in its thinner-than-a-MacBook-Pro chassis.

Related links
Toshiba Portege R835-P56X review
Samsung Series 9 NP900X3A review
Apple MacBook Air review

Each of these three systems has its strengths and weaknesses, as well as fans and detractors. We gathered them in one place for a friendly head-to-head-to-head comparison. Check out our cheat sheet of specs below, then click through the rest of our feature to take a tour through our commentary on several key categories: size/weight, battery life, design, price, screen, keyboard, and touch pad. We're not sure there's a clear winner, but if you are, make your case in the comments section below.

System CPU RAM HDD Weight Price
MacBook Air 13-inch 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 2GB 128GB SSD 2.9 lbs. $1,299
Samsung Series 9 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-2537M 4GB 128GB SSD 2.9 lbs. $1,650
Toshiba Portege R835 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M 4GB 640GB 5,400rpm 3.2 lbs. $929