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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.

CNET/Matt Fitzgerald

[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).

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