Back in the days, quickly after the 10 inch netbooks became popular, many realized that they are too small and underpowered for most of the everyday tasks.
Something with just a little bit larger screen, increased resolution, better keyboard/touchpad and more powerful hardware was needed, without eating too deep into the battery life. Thus, the 11.6 inch mini laptops were born, as an answer to a growing need.
During the last years, I’ve seen tens, maybe hundreds of small computers. Right now my main laptop is a 12.5 incher, but before that I owned an 11.6 inch Acer Aspire 1825PT, which at the time was chosen because it packed punchy enough hardware for my daily activities and a decent keyboard/display, while still compact and light enough to get along when traveling. I still feel that 11.6 inch machines are the best you can get if you need mobility, I went for the superior size class just because I needed more power for my work, power 90% of you guys won’t need.
In the lines below I’m going to tell you a couple of things about the 11.6″ laptops I consider the best picks right now, after playing and testing most of them. Like all similar posts on the site, this is not a top, it is a list, as all the devices mentioned in here are solid picks for some potential customers, but they are each meant to satisfy different needs and cope with different budgets. So it’s really up to you to pick the one that suits you best.
Budget 11.6 inch netbooks
If on a budget and consider a 10 inch computer unfit for your needs, you could go for a cheap 11.6 inch notebook. You won’t get the looks, power or the build quality of the more expensive options, but hey, for less than $300, you’re certainly getting a lot.
The 11.6 inch Samsung and Acer Chromebooks
Chromebooks are light, portable and very cheap computers, running Chrome OS and built around Google’s webservices. What’s the catch? Well, most of your content is stored online and most of your programs and web-based, which means that these computers do not run the regular Windows software, but a set of proprietary apps. Many of them are built around Google’s services, like Gmail, Youtube, Drive, Youtube, Maps, Music, Videos and so on. But you’ll find popular apps like Evernote, Facebook plus many games.
Of course, chromebooks are mostly useful when connected to the Internet, as all the content is stored online, but they can be used offline as well and have your work and content backed up locally.
Right now there are two good 11.6 inch chromebooks available in stores.
One sells for only $199 and is built by Acer, the Acer C7 Chromebook. It looks alright, it weighs about 3 pounds, it can go for 5 hours on a charge and is powered by an Intel dual-core processor, with 2 GB of RAM and a 320 GB regular hard-drive. You can easily upgrade those if you want to, BTW.
The other is the Samsung Chromebook and this one is slightly more expensive, starting at $249 . But it’s actually an entirely different machine.
It’s powered by a Samsung proprietary processor, comes with 2 GB of RAM and only 16 GB of internal storage. And that allowed Samsung to manufacture a far sleeker device, that only weighs 2.4 pounds, is 0.7 inches thick and is most of the time just as snappy as the Acer. As for the lack of internal storage, well, that’s hardly a problem since the entire computer is designed not to use local storage in the first place.
The Samsung is also more appealing than the Acer, packs a better keyboard and trackpad, offers an USB 3.0 port and lasts slightly longer on each charge. There’s also a 3G version, if you want to be always connected to the Internet.
All these being said, the Samsung Chromebook is going to be the more attractive package for many of you looking for an affordable 11.6 incher. And for good reasons, since it really is a great machine. In fact, it’s so popular these days that it topped the Bestselling Laptops list on Amazon for the last couple of months, which really means something.
Anyway, more details about these products, including pictures, user reviews and up-to-date prices, are available via these links:
- Acer Chromebook – starts at $199 (no 3G version)
- Samsung Chromebook – starts at $249 (3G version at $399)
And you can also check out Google’s Chromebooks section.
The Acer Aspire One family
If you’re after a regular 11.6 inch laptop with Windows and don’t want to spend much on it, the Acer Aspire One 725 (the Windows 8 version of the popular 722) and 756 should be your top priorities right now.
The two are very similar, just built on different hardware platforms: there’s an AMD C70 processor inside the AO725, and an Intel Celeron 847 processor inside the AO756. But which one should you choose?
The Intel platform is snappier in most tasks, including those graphics related (running FHD videos, playing light games). But the AMD options is not far behind. The 756 can also take two memory modules and up to 8 GB of RAM, while on the 725 there’s only one module (up to 4 GBs). The 725 however tends to last longer on a charge, around 5 hours of everyday use, with the Intel option is going for only about 4. Plus, on the AMD powered config there’s an USB 3.0 slot, which is missing from the Intel configuration.
Other than that, the two are nearly identical, with only slight differences when it comes to their keyboards, trackpads and ports layout. The two glossy 11.6 inch screens are also the same and the two laptops are both running Windows 8.
Not even the prices can set the two apart. The Acer Aspire One 725 with an AMD C70 processor, 4 GB of RAM and 320 GB HDD sells for around $350 these days, with discounts. More details are available via this link.
On the other hand, the Acer Aspire One 756 with an Intel Celeron 847 processor, 2 GB of RAM and 320 GB HDD sells for just under $300 (more details here), but you do get extra RAM with the 725, so price wise, the two are very close.
So, which one is better? Personally, I’d go for the 756, because it is slightly faster. But the 725 has pros of is own, like the longer battery life and that USB 3.0 slot. A more thorough comparison between the two 11.6 inch Acers is available here, but it’s written in Dutch (Google translate is your friend).
Everyday 11.6 inch notebooks
If you’re after an 11 incher that just looks better than the ones above and slightly more powerful, you should look at the laptops we’re going to talk about in this section, with prices ranging from $350 to $600.
You’ll notice that many of the laptops in here are powered by AMD E Series processors, which are considerably faster then the AMD C series APU found on the Acers mentioned above. Have them next to Intel’s Core iX ULV platforms and they are going to loose, even in front of the Core i3 entry level CPU, but AMD powered ultraportables are a lot cheaper then the Intel motorized options and that’s why they are popular.
HP Pavilion dm1/dm1Z – value for money
HP’s offer in this class is one of the most well received around the world, packing good features and a proper price tag.
On the outside there’s a good looking plastic case that feels quite sturdy. It’s available in silver/black or Burgundy red. Opening the lid you get a glossy 11.6 inch display, 1366 x 768 px resolution and an ergonomic full-size keyboard with island keys. That trackpad with integrated click buttons is decent too, considering its reduced size.
In terms of hardware, the dm1z series is built around an AMD platform, with either AMD E-1200 or the faster E-1800 APUs, 4-8 GB of memory and several storage options. You also get Wireless N, Bluetooth, USB 3.0 and a 6 Cell battery rated at 8 hours of life on paper, which means like 5-6 hours in practice.
Prices start at $379 for the Pavilion dm1 series on HP’s website, where you can actually configure your own HP dm1 model.
Overall, the HP dm1, like the other AMD powered 11.6 inch laptops out there, is not the fastest or the sleekest ultraportable and is definitely not a match for an ultrabook. But if you’re after an affordable 11.6 incher for casual tasks, some videos and light games, it will do the job. For only around $400-$450.
Sony VAIO E Series – the looker
The Sony Vaio E is a fancy 11.6 inch mini laptop built on a similar AMD hardware platform as the HP on top . In line with the good Vaio tradition, it is better looking than many of its competitors, with an interesting design, although is still made from plastic. It is available in several colors though, including red, pink or light blue.
Opening the lid you get an 11.6 inch glossy display, an ergonomic keyboard with independent keys and a decent trackpad, just a little bit cramped.
Inside, there’s the AMD E-1800 APU, 4 GB of RAM, 500-750 GB hard-drive, top connectivity (Wireless N and Bluetooth) and Windows 8. A full selection of ports is lined on the edges and the whole thing will last for about 5 hours on a charge, which is not really bad.
The 11.6 Sony Vaio E starts at $450, for the above configuration, so it’s similarly priced to other AMD powered ultraportables.
All in all, this is a Vaio and not a bad one at all. Except for its design, there’s little setting it apart from its direct competitors, but the price is good, so you should definitely check it out. More details, including discounted prices, pictures and user reviews, are available via this link.
Asus VivoBook X202E / S200 – mini laptop with a touchscreen
The VivoBook X202E is the first ultrabook in this list. But unlike many of the others we’re going to mention in the next section of this post that speaks about premium 11.6 inch laptops, this one is very affordable. My full review for the X202E is available here, you should definitely have a look.
In fact, you can get a VivoBook X202 (or S200, as it’s called in Europe), for under $500 these days. And that’s only a little bit more expensive than those devices above, but you get a lot more.
The laptop’s body is made from a mix of matte plastic and aluminum, it comes with an 11.6 inch touchscreen and is powered by an Intel Core processor. Yes, it’s a Core i3, so it’s not going to be very fast, but is still snappier during daily use than those AMD hardware platforms, and even when dealing with multimedia content.
The X202E also has a decent keyboard and a fairly accurate trackpad, plus can go for about 4-5 hours of average use each charge.
Are those good enough? I’d say yes, especially for less than $500. And I’m not the only thinking so for sure, as this laptop is already very popular and appreciated by those who bought it. See this link for the latest prices, more details and a bunch of user reviews. And you should also check out my Asus X202 Video review, embedded below.
Acer Aspire V5 – power for money
If you’re after a powerful, but yet affordable 11.6 inch mini laptop, you should definitely check out the 11.6 inch version of the Acer Aspire V5. Design wise, the V5 isn’t impressive. It’s thicker than that VivoBook above, but is still portable, weighing about 3 pounds. A mix of plastic and aluminum is used for the exterior and the result looks and feels alright, but that’s about it.
However, the hardware your getting for the money you’ll be paying is definitely noteworthy. An Aspire V5 packing an Intel Core i5 processor, 6 GB of RAM, 500 GB HDD and running Windows 8 sells for just under 500 bucks, while an Intel Core i3 configuration goes for under $450. Yes, there’s only a regular 11.6 inch display, no touchscreen, but like I said, the V5 is more about delivering excellent features as cheap as possible, while leaving most of the fanciness on the sides. And it does a great job at that.
Thus, there’s no wonder the Acer Aspire V5 is appreciated, as you can see from this link, where you’ll find more details about this unit, pictures, user reviews and up-to-date prices. Go ahead and have a look.
Lenovo ThinkPad x131e – the poor man’s ThinkPad
The ThinkPad x131e is Lenovo’s take on an 11.6 inch proper laptop, offering the solid and classy ThinkPad casing and a couple of extra goodies that you can’t find on most 11.6 inchers.
It is however more expensive than the 11.6 inchers with similar hardware specs, but for some of you it might be worth the pennies, as it’s solid and offers a good non-glare display, plus excellent keyboard (AccuType) and trackpad (and TrackPoint). Features like the fingerprint reader or the embedded cellular modem available as an extra option are just some of the few that set it apart from the competition.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X131E is available in two different hardware configurations, one built around an AMD E-1800 plaform and the other around an Intel Core i3 Sandy Bridge (!) processor. The first starts at around $550, the other at $620. Both include 4 GB of memory, 320 GB 7200 rpm HDD, Wireless N, a 6 Cell 57 Wh battery and Windows 7 or 8 operating systems.
Bottom point, the X131E ThinkPads are pricey and unless you really want a rugged mini laptop, the matte screen and that excellent keyboard, you’re probably going to be just fine with many of the other options listed above in this article.
Premium 11.6 inch mini laptops
If money are not a concern, these are the devices to get. They offer the best in terms of hardware, build quality and looks, but with appropriate price tags, of course. So have a look at the options below, but also check out this other post about the best 11.6 inch ultrabooks available these days.
Asus Zenbook UX21A – the top 11.6 inch ultrabook
The Asus Zenbook UX21A is the second member of the 11.6 inch Zenbook family and fixes many of the issues we noticed with its predecessor, the UX21E. It keeps the aggressive looks, slender body (only weighs 2.4 pounds) and high quality materials. Opening the lid though, you’ll get a new keyboard and an improved trackpad. And there’s an IPS Full HD display, with a non-glare coating, so definitely an awesome option in this class.
Inside, the Zenbook UX21 houses Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, 4-8 GB of RAM and 128-256 GB SSD storage, thus it’s a beast, but packing all these in a thin body has some repercussions: the battery life goes to only about 4 hours of daily use and the laptop is going to run very hot when pushed. For standard daily use, it’s going to be fine though.
The Zebook UX21A starts at around $999 in the US, for a Core i5 configuration, with 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD. More powerful versions with Core i7 processors are a bit more expensive, but you should see this link on Amazon for up to date prices and discounts.
All in all, the UX21 is a solid alternative to the MBA, but only for Windows users. Apple’s ultra-portable still packs a better keyboard and trackpad, but except for those, the UX21 is on par or superior to Apple’s ultraportable. And it is more affordable too.
Sony Vaio Duo 11 – the 11.6 inch business ultrabook
The Vaio Duo 11 is a hybrid, a device that can be used either as a laptop, or as a tablet. It runs Windows 8, it offers an awesome touchscreen with a Full HD IPS panel and is powerful enough to cope with all of your requirements. On top of that, it comes with an included pen and digitizer, so you can use it to take notes, sketches, drawings and so on.
Those being said, in a few words, there are plenty of things you’ll like on this Sony. But there are at least a couple that you won’t. For starters, there’s the keyboard. Since this computer is a slider, with the screen sliding on top of the keys, there was limited space to fit the keyboard. And that’s why the end result is extremely cramped, so it will take a lot of time to actually get used to it. Then, there are the issues involved with the entire screen sliding mechanism, which feels flimsy and does not allow you to easily adjust the screen’s vertical viewing angles. And last but not least, the battery life you’re getting with this laptop is not impressive.
But if you really want an unique looking hybrid ultrabook (BTW, check out this post if you’re after a hybrid ultrabook with a touchscreen), I guess you could live with those. And perhaps you won’t mind paying $1200 or more for a Vaio Duo 11 either. You should see Sony’s website for more details about the prices and the available configurations.
Long story short, the Sony Vaio Duo 11 is definitely an interesting machine. It feels solid, is powerful, beautiful and unique between 11.6 inchers. But that doesn’t necessarily make it better, that’s why many of you might rather go for a classic looking laptop, like the Asus Zenbook or the Apple MacBook Air.
11.6 inch Apple MacBook Air
Today, the MBA is still one of the sleekest 11.6 inchers out there and packs awesome looks and good performances, but it does seem a bit overpriced and outdated for what you’re getting.
Looks wise, there’s little you can say wrong about it. This one is thin and light (2.4 pounds), and its aluminum casing is both beautiful and sturdy. The backlit keyboard is also very good and the trackpad is probably the most reliable you’re going to find on any 11.6 inch laptop these days. The hardware is up-to-date as well and you can choose between several configurations, with Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, 4-8 GB of RAM, 64, 128 GB or bigger SSDs and so on.
There are however some aspects where the MBA is no longer on par with its competitors. First, you’re getting a very limited selection of ports on it, but most importantly, the 1366 x 768 px LCD display on this laptop is not a match to the IPS panels offered by many of the other premium 11.6 inch ultrabooks.
And on top of that, the Air is pricey. The 11.6 inch MacBook Air starts at $999, with an Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB SSD, while beefed up versions can get a lot more expensive. You should see Apple’s website for details, but Amazon usually offers solid discounts on Apple laptops, so you should check out this link too if you’re after the MBA.
Bottom point, the Macbook Air is still one of the most popular 11.6 inch ultraportables of the moment, but feels a bit old these days when compared to the ultrabooks recently released. I do expect this to change soon though, so stay tuned for updates.
As proven in the article above, there are still a couple of good options for 11.6 inch mini laptops and ultrabooks these days.
Those machines listed in the first sections of this post as mainstream picks are probably going to be the best picks for the average user, with good features and excellent value for money. The AMD Fusion options can really offer good everyday performances, handle multimedia content or some games, while being rather affordable. And if you need more power for your everyday tasks and a bit better battery life as well, those Intel Core iX devices should be the ones to focus around, especially since these days you can get an Intel Core powered laptop for less than $500.
Last but not least, there are those premium 11.6 inchers and I expect to see others in this category in the next months or so. More details about premium 11.6 inch laptops are also available in this article over at Ultrabookreview.com.
Of course, if you still haven’t find a proper ultra-portable for your needs and budget, you should also check out my lists of 10 inch netbooks or 12 inch mini laptops. Or just look at this massive post about ultrabooks.
Anyway, that’s about it for now. This list is being constantly updated, so don’t forget to check it out from time to time for updates. And as always, if you need any help in picking an 11.6 inch laptop, have any questions or just something to add to this post, don’t hesitate to leave a comment, I’ll be here to reply.