I’ve been using a 12 inch laptop as my main daily driver for a few years now and I’m confident devices in this class offer a proper balance between power and portability. And that’s because 12 inch laptops (with 12.1″ , 12.5″ or similar sized screens) are compact and light enough to easily carry around, but also spacious enough to pack a decent keyboard, enough ports and powerful hardware.
Over the past years, there used to be two types of 12 inch laptops on the market: the affordable ones, with decent features, but low-power hardware, and the premium ones, with almost anything you’d want, but pricey.
In the meantime, that has somewhat changed, as most of the once affordable 12 inchers have been discontinued, or were pushed towards the smaller 11.6 inch standard, as those slightly more compact devices are cheaper to manufacture. At the same time, the premium entries have grown a bit, towards 12.5 and even 13.3 inch standards.
Thus, while we’re going to talk about the remaining 12 inchers in this article, you should also see my post on 11.6 inch laptops and tablets, if you’re looking for some good budget options, or this other post on 13.3 inch notebooks and ultrabooks, if you want a larger range of products to choose from. But not before going through this post, of course, as you came here looking for a 12 inch laptop after all.
The convertible 12/12.5 inch mini laptops
While there are a few standard, classic laptops in this segment, most 12 inch notebooks these days pack touchscreens and some sort of a convertible form factor, which allows us to use them as regular laptops, as tablets, or as different things in between. ON top of that, most of the devices mentioned in this chapter are slim, light and powerful enough to bear the “ultrabook” branding, and you can find out more about ultrabooks from my other mobile-technology focused website, Ultrabookreview.com . Anyway, enough with, let’s get to the examples already.
Lenovo ThinkPad Twist – the “affordable” option
Not many manufacturers ofer 12 inch devices anymore these days, but Lenovo actually has a bunch of them in stores. The most affordable is the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist, which is in fact a hybrid ultrabook, or in other words and sleek and fancy tablet PC. It comes with a convertible screen that rotates to 180 degrees around its mid single-contact-point hinge, much like what we’ve seen on older tablet PCs several years ago. This way, the Twist can be used as a regular laptop, or as a tablet, when rotating the screen and having it lie flat.
There’s a bright IPS HD touchscreen on this ThinkPad, covered by Gorilla Glass, the famous Lenovo Accutype keyboard, a trackpad with independent buttons and the also famous TrackPoint, all tucked inside a solid body (weighs about 3.5 pounds) with a magnesium alloy frame. Hardware wise, Lenovo offers a large array of configurations for this laptop, with Ivy Bridge Core i3/i5 or i7 ULV processors, up to 8 GB of RAM and a few different storage options (HDDs or SSDs). And there’s not much you’re going to miss when it comes to the ports around the sides or the connectivity options, although a cellular modem is not available for this unit.
There is however one potential deal-breaker: the Twist packs a rather small battery and it will only last for about 4 hours of everyday use on a charge. That could be addressed by a future Haswell update, but for the time being, I haven’t heard anything about it.
Even so, if you’re after a strong, compact and fairly priced hybrid, the ThinkPad Twist should be on your list. The average config (Core i5 CPU, 4GB RAM, 500 GB HDD) sells right now for around $750 dollars on Amazon, with some hefty discounts applied, while the other different configurations are several tens of dollars cheaper or more expensive. See the link for more details.
Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga – the business hybrid
The ThinkPad Yoga takes the business hybrid concept even further.
While still thin (0.75″) and light (3.5 lbs), the ThinkPad Yoga packs a few extras not available on the Twist. For instance, there’s a digitizer embedded withing the screen, and a matching pen is tucked inside its place within the body. And speaking of the screen, we do have a Full HD IPS panel on this laptop, with a non-glare finishing. It’s still somewhat glossy, but not as reflective as most glass-covered touchscreens.
Then, the Yoga runs on Intel Haswell hardware, with Core i5 and i7 processors to choose from and up to 256 GB SSDs. And it packs a larger 47 Wh battery, which allows it to run for 6-7 hours of daily use on a charge, a clear improvement over the Twist.
And then there’s the form factor. The Yoga’s screen flips 360 degrees over its hinges, towards the back, thus you get a few different modes for you to use this, besides the classic tablet and laptops ones. I’m not a big fan of this approach, because it leaves the keyboard exposed in tablet mode, but Lenovo found a smart way to block the keys completely in this case, as you’ll see from the video below.
All in all, the ThinkPad Yoga is a versatile convertible, powerful and long lasting. All these don’t come cheap though, as this laptop starts at around $1300 and the top configurations will quickly get even more expensive.
Dell XPS 12 – the stylish ultrabook
The Dell XPS 12 is another great device in this category. It comes with a Full HD IPS touchscreen, Intel ULV hardware inside (either Haswell or Ivy Bridge platforms), good keyboard and all the standard goodies (although there’s no SD card slot on this one).
Unlike other convertible ultrabooks though, on the Dell XPS the screen rotates inside its own frame, and the entire solution feels imh more robust than any of the others I’ve seen. Besides that, the XPS 12 is one of the most beautiful and solid built ultrabooks on the market. However, the battery life on the Ivy Bridge isn’t impressive, averaging around 4.5 hours of everyday use. The Haswell upgrade performs better, going for 6+ hours of use on a charge.
On top of these, the Dell XPS 12 is well priced for what it has to offer. The Haswell version starts at $999, while the base IvyBridge model starts at $899, with an Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD. And of course, you can find all of these slightly discounted online.
Toshiba Satellite U925T
The Toshiba U925T is another 12.5-inch tablet/laptop hybrid with a slightly different design, as its screen slides and folds on top of the body when used in tablet mode, or the other way around when used as a laptop. The entire mechanism feels a bit flimsy and you’ll need some time to actually get used to how it should work without breaking it.
Other than that, the entire laptop looks alright, despite its weird form factor, but having the screen always exposed like that doesn’t make me very comfortable, although it is covered by a layer of protective glass.
What else? Well, the hardware inside this Toshiba is standard, with Intel Ivy Bridge processors and SSD storage. The keyboard is alright, while the trackpad is way too small. The screen is also rather bad, especially when compared to that awesome display on the Dell XPS 12, with only HD ready resolution. And given that it can’t bend forward, you might have problems viewing the content on it. And then there’s the battery life, around 4 hours of daily use, which is once again short of impressive.
So are you willing to spend around $900 for all these (or even less)? Well, you could and you’d get yourself an unique looking device, but different is not necessarily better, that’s why I do feel that your money could be better spent on other similar devices.
The Panasonic Toughbook C2
Last but not necessarily least in this category comes the ToughBook C2 from Panasonic, a truly rugged 12.5 inch laptop built for the harsher of conditions.
Hardware wise, this is a tablet PC built on Intel’s latest mobile hardware solution, like the ThinkPad X230 Convertible tablet mentioned earlier. It comes with a bright IPS toushcreen and a pen, LTE modem embedded, decent keyboard and 10+ hours of battery life with an extra battery.
Hardware and software aside though, the Toughbook C2 is a beast. Its magnesium frame and chassis is designed to last, and the laptop can survive falls from around 2 m high, is waterproof, dust-proof and so on. You can even step on it and it won’t care. And then come all the security software and hardware features built into this machine.
Of course, it’s obvious that this is not a laptop meant for the average Joe, it’s meant for those who need a tough business laptop in the most difficult conditions, like in the Arctics, in mines, on constructions sites or Oil rigs. And those in fact will not mind paying $3000 or more for the Panasonic ToughBook C2, as they get an awesome product with 3 year warranty and Panasonic’s unbeatable customer support. See Panasonic’s website for more details on this unit.
The classics – old style 12 inch laptops
If you’re after a simple, classic business 12 inch machine, you should know that there aren’t many left out these, but I’ve gathered the few available in this chapter, and I’m going to tell you a few things about each one of them.
Lenovo ThinkPad X240
This is Lenovo’s latest business ultra-portable, succeeding the X230 and the X220 before it (which is the laptop I’ve been using for the last 2 years).
Aesthetically, this is a simple and classy machine, with a matte rugged exterior. It’s designed to withstand the daily hassle characteristic to business environments and tested against different parameters, like vibrations, high humidity, dust and others. Now, this is not something you can take in a mine or at a building site, it’s still mostly a laptop for indoor use, but it’s stronger and more reliable than most others.
All these were achieved without sacrificing portability. The ThinkPad X240 is compact and weighs just around 3 pounds, but is a bit thicker than other ultrabooks, with a 0.9 inches height, mainly because it has to accommodate a large selection of full-sized ports. There’s also an embedded 3 Cell battery (23Wh) inside the case, plus room for an extra one, with up to 6 more cells(72Wh). According to Lenovo, the X240 with the largest battery combo can go for 17 hours on a charge, in practice you should expect around 12 or so, but that’s still impressive.
Moving on, I should also mention the screen options for this ThinkPad. The base model gets a matte 1366 x 768 TN panel, but you also get a similar resolution IPS panel or a Full HD non-glare option, plus two Touch Versions for all these IPS models, if you’re interested in them.
Last but not least, the ThinkPad X240 packs Intel Haswell hardware, with Core i3/i5 or i7 ULV processors and optional vPro support, up to 8 GB of RAM and various types of storage drives (including mSATA modules support). And to make the bundle complete, you also get Wi-Fi AC, a fingerprint-reader and a 4G/LTE modem (again, as an option).
OK, all these being said, we should finally talk about the prices. However, given the multitude of options, I’ll tell you that the X240 starts at around $900 these days and if you want to create your own configuration, you can play with this tool on Lenovo’s website.
Dell Latitude E7240
This is Dell’s business 12 incher. Like the Lenovo above, it also packs a 12.5 inch screen and a rugged, heavily tested body, ready for a tough corporate life. It’s also available in a multitude of configurations, both when it comes to the screens (HD and FHD resolutions, matte or touch) and to the hardware options. And of course, the Latitude E7240 does pack the latest Intel Haswell platform, with up to Core i7 processors with vPro, up to 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSDs for storage.
The E7240 is also compact and thin, tipping the scales just under 3 pounds. And it bundles a fingerprint-reader, the optional 3G/4G modem and most of the needed ports on the sides (with some extras that are not available on the X240).
In other words, these two business laptops are fairly similar in many ways. Of course, they don’t look the same and pack slightly different and keyboards and trackpads. I for one do find the ThinkPad more appealing and the AccuType keyboard more comfortable to use, but you might see things different. On the other hand, I do appreciate the multitude of accessories available for this Latitude, including slice batteries and docking units, which can prove quite useful.
Bottom point, Dell put up a great 12 inch ultrabook with the Latitude E7240. However, it is significantly more expensive than the Thinkpad X240, starting at around $1150 for what Lenovo asks less than $900. And frankly, I don’t see why anyone would pay that much for this Latitude, when the X240 is just as good and much more affordable. So Dell, a word of advice: work on your pricings if you want our hard earned bucks with this little fellow.
Ok, that’s about it with my list of recommended 12 inch laptops, for now.
Like I already said, these days you don’t get as many laptops in this class as you used to, especially in the affordable sub 800 dollars price category. Most manufacturers migrated their cheap entries towards the smaller 11.6 inch class, while the premium 12 inchers got slightly bigger 12.5 inch screens, but do pack solid performances and sleek looks, alongside quite hefty price tags. And I believe that we’ll be seeing even less 12 inch mini laptops in the future.
In the end, if you’re looking for more affordable mini laptops, i would also suggest taking a look at the list of recommended 11.6 inch devices. And if you’re just after a compact and portable laptop, you might also want to check out my list of the best ultrabooks you can buy these days.
As for this post, I’m going to be constantly update it each couple of weeks, so be sure to check it out periodically for changes. Also, feel free to add your comments, remarks and questions below and I’ll be around to reply.