There is little doubt about the direction in which mobile electronics are going these days: as much as possible towards slimness, lightness, and portability. While many people still prefer classic 15.6” laptops, for instance, due to the larger screen and incomparably more comfortable keyboard, many others are going for their downsized versions, choosing instead 14”, 13.3”, or even 11.6” laptops. These latter models can’t even be considered laptops anymore, as you can quite easily hold them in one hand and type with the other. What’s more, many of them are also convertible laptop/tablet models, which are specifically designed for such use and thus enter the palmtop category.
There are a couple of important disadvantages too, including the keyboard size, screen size, and performance of the components that can be fitted in such a small body. However, for many people, it’s worth the price. Often, a 11.6” mini laptop is less than 1.2kg, and some are even under 1kg, being less than half the weight of a classic laptop. They’re also very slim and you can take them with you quite quickly, especially compared to the bulky gaming-oriented laptops. It’s also a question of price: though MacBooks, for instance, are about as expensive as they could get, things like Chromebooks are specifically designed to be completely affordable, with a large number of models under $200.
There are a couple of laptops that, from our point of view, stand out among the crowd. Here’s a small list of them, not necessarily in order of how good they are:
1. Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series – i3148-8840sLV
One good classic mini, not convertible or anything like that, this Dell Inspiron is, for all practical purposes, a scaled-down laptop. It has a fairly classic (some would say “fairly boring”) design, with rectangular shapes and sharp edges. We just think it looks vintage and, regardless of that, it performs very well. At just 3.1lbs (1.4kg) it’s also pretty light, but nowhere near the lightest around.
The laptop is based on a 4th generation Intel i3-4030U, dual-core, 1.9GHz, equipped with Intel HD 4400 integrated graphics. It has 4GB DDR3L RAM and 500GB HDD storage, which complete the very classic overall picture of this laptop. The screen is a satisfying HD LED-backlit 11.6” and it has all the necessary ports.
2. Samsung Chromebook 3 XE500C13-K02US
At only 2.53 lbs (1.15kg), this Chromebook is both a lot lighter and half the price of our #1. It also looks like a Samsung; whatever some people may say, there are certain design elements which show that it’s unquestionably a product of the renowned Korean company. For instance, the color, sleek lines, and overall sexy shape are all in line with every other Samsung computer or smartphone.
This model is powered by an Intel Celeron N3050, 1.6GHz and up to 2.16GHz with Intel Burst, as well as 4GB DDR3L SDRAM. It only has 16GB storage, but that’s to be expected from a Chromebook. It’s not even that much of a problem since it has a microSD slot which can host a 64GB extra storage no problem. What’s more, the battery is one of the best around, with 11h endurance rating. All in all, if you’re interested in Chromebooks, you should take a look at this.
3. Lenovo Yoga 700
The price starts brutally escalating right here. This is pretty expensive for such a tiny item. It’s also a bit lighter than even our Samsung Chromebook, at only 2.4lbs (1.08kg). Also unlike the others, it’s a convertible laptop, meaning you can flip the screen over and use it as a tablet. It has a pretty design itself, with silver exterior and black interior, and aesthetic lines.
The CPU is an Intel Core m3-6Y30, 900MHz and up to 2.2GHz with Intel Burst, coupled with Intel HD Graphics 515. It features 4GB DDR3L RAM and a neat 128GB SSD, which is to be expected from such an expensive item. It has an FHD LCD capacitive touchscreen with 10-point multi-touch support, the basic necessary ports, and the also necessary SD card reader.
4. Acer Aspire Switch 11 V SW5-173P-61RD
A different kind of convertible laptop, this Aspire Switch model, is, in fact, more like a tablet with a docking keyboard. This makes it a lot slimmer than all other models, at only 0.4” (10.2mm) thickness. It’s not a particularly awesome design; it looks fairly much like any other tablet, which is honestly a bit of disappointment on behalf of Acer.
This model is equipped with an Intel Core M-5Y10c, dual-core, 2GHz, with HD Graphics 5300, and 4GB DDR3L SDRAM. It has an FHD Capacitive touchscreen, as well as a 128GB SSD, which, again, is the least to be expected from such a pricey item. The connectivity is not amazing, but it nonetheless has all the necessities.
5. Apple MacBook Air MD711LL/B
We just had to have a MacBook, didn’t we? This model is the absolute most expensive thing on this list, and we honestly wouldn’t pay that much for it, but we cannot question the fact that it works perfectly and it’s beautiful in the meanwhile. In fact, that’s what Apple means: consistent performance and pretty design, and this model display them as well. It’s a light design, at only 2.4 lbs (1.08kg) and it’s fairly slim too, at 0.65” (17mm).
This MacBook Air features, surprisingly, an Intel Core i5, 1.4GHz and up to 2.3GHz with Turbo Boost, Intel HD Graphics 5000, and the usual 4GB DDR3 and 12GB SSD. The screen is not the famous Apple Retina, but it’s still HD, and it looks great.
6. Lenovo S21e 80M4002DUS
The second Lenovo model on this list is not, like the other, convertible. What it is, on the other hand, is pretty; in fact, we believe that this is among the best designs we’ve seen on such a small laptop (excluding MacBooks, which are in a world of their own). It’s also fairly slim and light, at only 0.74” (19mm) and 2.75lbs (1.25kg), and we’re especially pleased with the AccuType keyboard which Lenovo seems to have downsized and fitted into this small machine. Hands down, the best keyboard on this list.
This S21 model is based on an Intel Celeron N2840, 2.16GHz, Burst up to 2.58GHz, with Intel HD Graphics. It unfortunately only has 2GB DDR3, but, according to the reviews, it seems to be plenty. It also has a 32GB SSD, which is still sufficient and not bad for the price. In all honesty, one of the best mini-laptops here.
7. Asus Chromebook C202SA-YS01
Another Chromebook, this time from Asus, has come to impress us with its low price and rugged design. The C202SA is made to endure, and Asus made no effort to hide it: the Chromebook is shock-resistant (up to 4’ fall on concrete), as well as having an 180o flip screen, splash-proof keyboard, and reinforced rubber guards. It’s made so that you can take it with you when you teach 1st grade without being afraid of what the kids may throw at it. This ingenious piece of equipment is fitted with an Intel Celeron N3060, clocked at 2.48GHz, and it comes with either 2GB or 4GB (for extra $20) DDR3L SDRAM and 16GB flash storage. It has a good-quality anti-glare display and an excellent battery, which ranks second on our list with a maximum 10-hour lifetime. All in all, while it’s not as sexy as its Samsung counterpart, this Asus Chromebook does indeed show a bit of muscle and a bit of armor as well.
There are a couple of things you want to take into account when purchasing a mini-laptop, some of which are pretty different from a normal notebook. Some of these are related to you: how much you’re willing to spend on one and what you’re planning to use it for. Others pertain to manufacturing issues, such as the following:
While it’s nearly impossible to get a seriously strong processor in such a small laptop, try to get the best CPU model you can find. As a rule of thumb, the newer the CPU, the more energy-efficient it is; the higher the clocking speed, the more work-efficient.
CPU models you can find in mini-laptops often belong to the Intel Celeron and Atom families, with models like N2840 or N3050. These are relatively inexpensive and fairly good. AMD processors, while cheaper than their Intel counterparts, don’t perform quite as well and, in all honesty, if you have a choice, you should pick an Intel-based notebook. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with AMD either, but make sure to read some CPU reviews first.
2. RAM and storage
The more, the better; the faster, the better. Mini-laptops have DDR3, DDR3L, and LPDDR3 RAM, which are not quite as fast as the DDR4 which is now standard for normal laptops. However, the CPUs above only support these, so there’s nothing to do about it. Try to get 4GB, if at all possible.
As far as storage is concerned, small laptops usually have flash memory instead of an HDD, due to space issues. It’s not a bad thing, but don’t be surprised if you see laptops with 16GB or 32GB storage – it’s just how things work. A bigger SSD is always more expensive, so you’ll have to pay quite a bit more if you want something like 128 or 256GB, while sub-$200 32GB units are fairly common.
A 15.6” notebook’s keyboard is not much different from a full-size desktop keyboard, and it’s about as comfortable for typing. Not quite the same is an 11.6” laptop. Obviously, the numeric keyboard altogether disappears, and the other keys shrink a lot as well.
What’s the problem? Well, unless you have Barbie-small hands, you’ll experience quite the discomfort before getting used to the keyboard. Check the reviews for typing quality before buying; it can save you a whole lot of trouble. The water-resistant keyboard is also a great perk if you can find one.Battery life
4. Battery life
Mini-laptops are a whole world of contrasts when it comes to battery life. Some of them have a 3-cell battery that lasts for like 3 hours or so and then dies right when you’re about to save your graded essay. On the other hand, some of them have an astonishing 10-hour rating or even more than that. Even better, many of them aren’t all that expensive – Chromebooks, for instance, generally have excellent battery life for very low price tags.
Just make sure you read the reviews and don’t stumble upon one of those horrible batteries.
While Windows-oriented laptops are the rule, there are some notable exceptions as well. Indeed, there are few MacBooks this small, but there are plenty of Chromebooks 12.3” or less. They use Chrome OS, a version of Linux modified by Google.
The advantage of a Windows laptop is that you’re probably used to it already. Even if it’s Windows 10, it’s still easier to get accustomed to it than it is to work with Linux. What’s more, many apps and games are only compatible with Windows.
On the other hand, Win10 is quite bulky itself and takes up a lot of resources. Chrome OS, just like any other Linux, is correspondingly light and leaves most of your laptop’s resources for you to use. The problem is that it’s nothing like you’re used to, unless you’ve used Ubuntu or something like that before. What’s more, the only things you can do on it are reading, writing, web surfing, and some multimedia things.
Obviously, small laptops have no room for a DVD-RW. They also cannot accommodate too many ports, which can become a problem in the long run. Try to find something with as many USB ports as possible, a mini-HDMI if there’s any, 3.5mm audio combo, and maybe a USB Type-C. The more, the better. An SD reader is a particularly useful addition, as it allows you to get a good amount of extra storage on an SD card.
These are the things you should pay special attention to when shopping for a mini-laptop. Whatever else, like how cute the laptop is, is a matter of preference and we won’t tell you what to like. Our favorites are listed in the top above, but your possibilities are endless.