My main laptop has been a 12 incher for nearly two years now and I believe that you’ll find the best balance between speed and portability in this size class, as 12 inch laptops are still compact and light enough to easily carry around, but also large enough to pack a decent keyboard and powerful hardware.
Over the years, there used to be two distinct 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 changed, as most of the once affordable 12 inchers have been discontinued, or were pushed towards the smaller 11.6 inch standard, as it seems like those slightly more compact devices are cheaper to manufacture. At the same time, the premium entries have grown a bit, towards a 12.5 inch standard, and many producers still offer business mini laptops with 12.5 inch screens.
Thus, while this post is still divided in affordable and premium 12 inchers, you’d better see our other post on 11.6 inch notebooks if you’re looking for some good budget options. There are still some exceptions, cheap 12.1 and 12.5 inch laptops, but those are fewer by the day and most of them are difficult to find in stores.
Of course, this post is not a top, but a list of recommended devices, based on my previous experience with them, plus expert opinions and user reviews from those who bought them and shared their experience with us.
The affordable 12 inch mini laptops (up to $500)
Like the title says, here are the “budget 12 inchers”. They are powerful enough for your daily tasks, multimedia and even some older games. However, they will choke if pushed too much.
As I’ve already explained above, most of the laptops listed here are a bit old, thus you might have a hard time finding them in stores. There very few exceptions, but for a larger variety of compact, snappy and affordable machines, see this other post on recommended 11.6 inch laptops.
Asus 12.1 inch laptops used to be extremely popular a while ago, as their 1215 series was a big hit. There were several different notebooks in this line, some of the very popular, but today, finding them brand new is going to be tricky.
The most impressive member of the 1215 family was probably the Asus EEE PC 1215N. I reviewed the 1215N a while ago and back then, this was one of the most powerful platforms in the class, with decent multitasking performances and good graphics, thanks to the dedicated Nvidia graphics. Then came the Asus EEE PC 1215B, built on the same body as the 1215N, just powered by an AMD platform. I’ve reviewed the EEE PC 1215B with a Zacate E350 heart and was genuinely impressed with it. Later, it was replaced by the Asus EEE PC 1225B series, an 11.6 inch machine. Last but not least there was the Asus EEE PC 1215P, powered by an ATOM N550 platform and abble to offer 8+ hours of battery life with everday use.
Asus also had a buffed up version of the 1215 line, branded by the Italian sports-car manufacturer Lamborghini. Their latest option, the Asus Lamborghini VX6S, came with an aggressive looking case and decently fast hardware (it was powered by a dual-core Intel Atom D525 processor, Nvidia ION + Optimus, 2 GB of memory). More details about it are available in this post here on the site. The VX6S was expensive when launched, starting at around 700 bucks, but these days you might find it cheaper.
And then there were some other 12 inchers, from HP, Dell or Samsung. The 12.5 inch Series 3 Samsung business laptop is still available in stores BTW. This is an average priced, but sleek and powerful machine. The Series 3 is light (weighs 3 pounds), slim (0.85 inches) and encased in this beautiful and sturdy aluminum and plastic body. Overall, it’s actually a bit more compact than other 12.5 inch machines, as you can see by the slimmer bezel around the screen. It also packs a good keyboard and pretty accurate trackpad.
Inside there’s an Intel Core i3 processor, 4 GB of memory, 500 GB hard-drive, 6 Cell battery and Windows 7 Home Premium.
The price tag is rather steep though, set at around 650 bucks for the config mentioned above. However, these days you’ll find the Samsung Series 3 12.5 inch laptop just under $500, since it’s built on an Intel Sandy Bridge hardware platform, but this link will give you accurate and up-to-date details on the prices.
Samsung also offers the Series 2 and Series 4 notebooks in some parts of the globe (mostly in Western Europe), both solid built and sturdy 12.5 inch business laptops, with the Series 4 even considered a premium portable device and a potential alternative to Lenovo’s ThinkPads (details about those bellow).
Besides the Samsungs though, most of these devices listed on top are more or less gone, but like I said, you might be able to find them greatly discounted in some stores. In which case, they can be decent options.
The premium 12 inch mini laptops ($500+)
Like I mentioned in the beginning, modern 12.5 inch devices are a bit expensive, as their are mostly targeted at business and high end buyers. But not all of them.
Of course, when compared to those older 12 inchers, the newer options are superior in terms of looks, build quality, power and features, as you’ll see from the rows below.
The Lenovo ThinkPad family
As a Lenovo ThinkPad X220 owner, I cannot but recommend their 12.5 inch lines. Of course, they are not perfect, but they are some of the best in this segment. There are however several different 12.5 inch ThinkPads available right now, each built for slightly different types of customers.
The most affordable is the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 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 180 degrees. This way, the Twist can be used as a regular laptop, or as a tablet, when rotating the screen and having it lie flat.
Thus, the ThinkPad Twist is meant to be a road warrior, with a bright IPS touchscreen, excellent keyboard, solid construction and snappy hardware inside. However, there’s a deal breaker: it will only last for about 3.5 hours on a charge or even less, which should never happen on an ultraportable.
However if you’re after a compact laptop with decent tablet capabilities (it runs Windows 8 BTW), the ThinkPad Twist will do. The average config (Core i5 CPU, 500 GB HDD) sells right now for around $750 dollars on Amazon, with some hefty discounts applied, or you can configure your own model on Lenovo’s website, starting at around $770 for the Intel Core i3 option.
And then come the top-of-the-line Lenovo 12.5 inch business laptops, the ThinkPaD X230, and it’s tablet-pc version, the ThinkPad X230T.
Unlike the other machines above, that pack low-power hardware (ULV processors), these ones are motorized by full-voltage latest generation Intel platforms (the ones usually found on multimedia 15 inch laptops), thus are significantly more powerful.
The ThinkPads come with a classic design and are very sturdy, thus truly meant for life on the run. You can configure these devices however you might want, with options for the fastest Core i7 processors, up to 8 GB of memory, fast HDD or SSD storage, top connectivity with mobile broadband, big 9 cell batteries and even extended ones that will push the battery life to 15+ hours. Plus IPS matte displays with a bunch of resolution options to choose from. Unfortunately, there’s no option for a higher resolution screen, but I for one can live with that.
Thus, if you want a rugged and classic looking notebook with fast hardware, awesome keyboard and long battery life, you’ll hardly find competition for these ThinkPads. But all these don’t come cheap. The X230 starts at a little under $850 , while the X230 Convertible Tablet starts at around $1300. You can configure your own models on Lenovo’s website by following the links before.
The 12.5 inch hybrid ultrabooks
Ultrabooks are a special breed of thin, light and powerful laptops, as they are built on Intel hardware and have to meet a special set of requirements in order to get the “ultrabook” brand.
Among them, hybrid ultrabooks have some special features of their own, as they are meant to be used either as tablets or laptops, thus pack convertible touchscreens and run Windows 8. The Lenovo ThinkPad Twist mentioned above is one of these hybrids. There are a couple of other 12 inchers, and I’ll tell you more about them below, but if you want to find the best ultrabook hybrid, regarding of screen size, you should definitely check out this article from my other mobile-technology focused website, Ultrabookreview.com .
Back to the topic of this post, the Dell XPS 12 is another great device in this category. It comes with a Full HD IPS touchscreen, Intel ULV hardware inside, good keyboard and all the standard goodies (although there’s no SD card slot). Unlike other convertible ultrabooks though, on the Dell XPS the screen rotates inside its own frame, and the entire solution definitely feels 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 is once again lower than we’d expect, averaging around 4.5 hours of everyday use, although you can definitely do worst with other options.
But then, the Dell XPS 12 is more expensive than its competitors, starting at no less than $1200, and in this price range there’s really no room for mistake. More details are available on Dell’s website.
The Toshiba U920T 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 seems 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 and feels solid, despite its weird form factor, but having the screen always exposed like that doesn’t make me very comfortable, although it is covered in protective glass and should be just fine.
What else? Well, the hardware inside this Toshiba is standard, with Intel 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 $1,149 for all these? 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.
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 500 dollars price category. Producers migrated most of the cheap entries towards the smaller 11.6 inch class, while the premium entries 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 best ultrabooks you can buy these days.
As for this post, is going to be constantly updated in time, 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 here to reply.