Review: The best 13-inch laptops for Windows 10

Laptops and convertibles from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft square off in our performance, workability, and battery tests

With Windows 10 out but customized hardware only starting to appear, there may never be a better time to buy a discounted Windows 8.1 machine -- whether you intend to keep Win 8.1 or upgrade for free to Windows 10. With an eye toward making the upgrade, I put six of the best and most popular 13-inch laptops through my extensive, real-world, “can I really live and work with them” test.

All six machines that ran my gauntlet of usability, performance, and battery tests -- the Acer Aspire R13, the Asus ZenBook 13, the Dell XPS 13, the HP EliteBook Pro 1020, the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 -- have unique advantages. A few are classic clamshells. A few are contortionists suited to both laptop and tablet duty. One, the Surface Pro 3, is a slate with a strap-on keyboard and laptop aspirations.

After giving them all a first-class workout with Windows 8.1, I upgraded them to Windows 10, using a standard in-place installation. That’s the same installation method you would use right now with the “Get Windows 10” notices you’ve no doubt seen. In every case, the upgrade to Windows 10 went smoothly.

What differentiates these best-of-breed machines? More than anything, besides price, it’s the form factor. Ultimately, that is a very personal choice.

If you’re going to use the laptop as a desktop adjunct or replacement -- or if you’re going to haul it off to meetings and you don’t anticipate using it in contortionist positions, like on an airplane -- you may prefer a traditional clamshell. (I do.)

If you want a clamshell and money is no object, the Dell XPS 13 is the machine to beat. Its gorgeous screen and excellent performance belie its tiny size, though there are still shortcomings. For a couple hundred bucks more, the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 isn’t as small, and its screen doesn’t have as many pixels, but it’s sleek, the keyboard is less cramped, and the battery lasts longer.

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