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Thinner Lighter Better

Best 12-inch laptops and 2-in-1s in 2020 – small and punchy mini notebooks

By Andrei Girbea - @ andreigirbea , updated on November 18, 2020

You should consider one of the available 12-inch laptops out there if you’re looking for a good-quality mini computer these days, and we’ll discuss the available options in this detailed guide.

That’s especially the case if you’re after fast hardware, premium builds and modern features, as otherwise, if you’re on a tight budget, you’d be better off with one of the well-balanced 11-inchers which we cover in this separate article. That’s because there aren’t many affordable 12-inchers anymore, as most of the options in this class targeting a higher price-tier, with a few exceptions.

With that in mind, we’ve split the devices we’re going to cover into two main sections, based on their type:

It’s also important to add that this is not just a superficial article like the many others you can find online. We’ve been reviewing compact laptops for more than 10 years now, both here on TLBHD.com and on Ultrabookreview.com, and we have hands-on experience with most of the devices mentioned here. I’ve also used a 12-inch laptop as my main driver for many years in the past, and while I have switched to the Dell XPS 13 in recent years, which is a compact 13-incher, I still think many 12-inchers provide that sweet balance between size, weight, and features you might look for in an ultraportable.

Convertible 12/12.5 inch mini laptops

Most 12-inch options pack touchscreens these days and are available in some sort of a convertible form-factor. At the same time, you get to choose between two main formats: tablets with detachable keyboard folios, and 2-in-1 convertibles with 360-degree screens. The former are good for desk use and excellent as tablets, but not that practical on the lap, while the latter are great laptops, but not as practical in tablet mode, due to their increased thickness and weight.

As you’ll see down below, most options fall into the first category, with only a few 12-inch convertibles still available.

Microsoft Surface Pro – the all-rounder

Microsoft’s Surface Pro is still the go-to in this class, despite the fact that is started to show its age. The later iteration at the time of this update, the Surface Pro 7, is just an incremental improvement of its predecessors with updated hardware, better wireless and finally, a long-awaited USB-C port. Microsoft’s newer Surface Pro X, on the other hand, is much slimmer, smaller and overall a more modern design.

Even so, it’s impossible to fault this in terms of quality. Magnesium is used for the entire construction, and a 12.3-inch 3:2 high-resolution screen occupies the front-face of this tablet, albeit with fairly large bezels by today’s standards. A pen can be bought as extra, for inking and drawing of this screen while for laptop use Microsoft offers a matching keyboard folio available in a few different colors, an excellent typer with illumination and an Alcantara-like finishing.

Hardware-wise, the Surface Pro 7 is built on an Intel 10th gen platform with improved performance and graphics power over the previous generations. The base Core i3 models are fanless and perfectly quiet, while the higher-tier configurations require a fan to keep cool.

Performance-wise, all these variants will easily handle everyday tasks, with the i5/i7 variants able to tackle more demanding loads as well. Microsoft still offers the base-model with just 4 GB of RAM, though, and I’d recommend staying away from it, that’s hardly enough even for daily use. Instead, go with an 8 GB configuration, or even one of the 16 GB variants if within your budget, as prices ramp up quickly once you spec this tablet up.

In fact, pricing is the major aspect that would keep most of you away from a Surface Pro. The base model starts at $799, but that’s without the keyboard folio or the pen, which go for an extra $200 combined. You’ll have to pay $999 for the i5/8GB variant with still very little storage, while a top-specced variant quickly goes to $2000 and beyond. Microsoft offers bundles and discounts on these MSRP prices, as well as various discounts for students/veterans, etc. , so you’ll want to take advantage of them if you’re into the Surface Pro.

Samsung Galaxy Book2 – best for creators

This is a very similar product to the Microsoft Surface Pro and primarily an option for graphics artists, creators and those who need good-quality pen-support on their Windows tablet. The Galaxy Book2 gets a Galaxy Pen that doesn’t require a battery and offers improved precision and lower latency than the Surface Pen, bringing the experience closer to the iPad Pro and its Apple pen. It also gets an awesome AMOLED high-resolution display, with excellent contrast and punchy colors.

Hardware-wise, this is available in two options, with either Intel Core or Qualcomm Snapdragon hardware. The Qualcomm option is especially interesting, although the Book2 is not as capable as a Windows computer in this variant, because it’s based on a Qualcomm processor. That means most apps will work fine, but you’ll run into compatibility issues and poor-performance with some older or specialized software. We’re not going to get in-depth here, just google “Windows 10 or Qualcomm problems” for more details.

On the other hand, there are specific benefits to having an ARM hardware platform inside: improved efficiency and battery life, always-on connectivity and included LTE, which are all missing from the Surface Pro.

Much like the Surface Pro, the Galaxy Book2 is not an affordable product by any means. It starts at $999 for the Qualcomm variant, with the Pen and keyboard folio included, but that’s still for just a 4 GB RAM /128 GB SSD configuration. The Intel variant, on the other hand, is listed at $1299 and up, but you’ll find both significantly discounted online. Follow this link for updated configurations and prices.

12-inch Chromebooks – simpler every day notebooks

Chromebooks are a different breed of computers. They’re based on a simple and secure operating system called ChromeOS, and they’re excellent for browsing, video streaming, text-editing, email and so on. In fact, they’re much snappier and easier to use than a Windows notebook with these daily chores, as you’ll find out from this guide that better explains what to expect from a Chromebook.

On the other hand, these are not meant to run the specialized software you get for Windows. They can run certain Windows/Linux apps, but with a sacrifice in performance and compatibility issues, so don’t get one of these if you need a computer for specific work/school applications that only work on Windows, or for playing games.

Bottom point, the average user that spends most of its time on the Internet will get an excellent value with these. There are many good Chromebooks out there, of various types and sizes, and we’ve gathered and compared them in this detailed article, while down below we’ve only listed those with a 12-inch touchscreen:

  • Asus Chromebook C302CA – available for around $400 – a 12-inch convertible with an FHD IPS touchscreen, premium metallic build and backlit keyboard. It’s a slightly older model and only available with 4 GB of RAM (which is Ok for a Chromebook, thanks to their lighter and better-optimized software), but still competitive these days and aggressively priced. Check out our full review for more details.
  • Samsung Chromebook Plus – available for around $420 – another 12-inch convertible based on fanless Core M hardware, but with a 16:10 IPS display, non-backlit keyboard, and smaller 39 Wh battery. A fair alternative if the C302CA is not available in your region.
  • Samsung Chromebook Pro – available for around $500 – still a 12-inch convertible, but with a slimmer and lighter construction and a nicer 3:2 screen with EMR support and a built-in pen.
  • HP Chromebook 12 X360 – available for around $350 – an affordable alternative to the Samsung Plus, with a 3:2 HD+ touchscreen and convertible form-factor, backlit keyboard and 40Wh battery. It’s based on a lower-tier Pentium hardware platform, thus is not as snappy as the other options with multitasking, hence the lower price.
  • Google Pixel Slate – available from $500 and up – a 12-inch tablet, similar to the Surface Pro or the Galaxy Book2. It’s a Google product with an excellently made magnesium shell, a high resolution 3:2 screen with EMR pen support, 47Wh battery and capable hardware. In fact, this is one of the few Chromebooks you can spec with up to 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of SSD storage. The keyboard folio and pen are not included by default, and cost extra.
  • Google Pixelbook – available from $900 and up – a 12-inch convertible, like the Asus C302CA or the Samsung Pro, but with a much nicer build, keyboard, and 3:2 high-resolution display. It can also be specced with the same RAM and storage options as the Pixel Slate, but it’s an expensive product for what it is, so not for everyone. I’d recommend this to power users and those who plan to run  Windows/Linux apps alongside the regular ChromeOS capabilities.

Follow the links for more details on each product, user review, updated prices and the option to get one for yourselves.

Some of the 12-inch Chromebooks above

Some of the 12-inch Chromebooks above: Asus C302CA, Samsung Pro and Google Pixelbook

 

HP Envy X2, Elite X2 and Pro X2

HP offers a trio of 12-inch Windows tablets.

The Envy X2 is available in two variants: a Qualcomm based product with long battery, LTE and always-on connectivity, just like the Samsung Galaxy Book2, as well as an Intel Core M powered version. You can find the former for around $500-$600 at this point, with the keyboard being included, which is not a bad deal for such a device, but keep in mind its capabilities are limited when compared to an Intel/AMD based Windows computer.

The Core M variant is available from $850, without the keyboard, so swims in waters where the Surface Pro is still king.

The Pro X2 is a business alternative of the Envy, available in more configurations and with extra security options. It gets a smaller screen with thicker bezels and a smaller battery, among others.

The Elite X2 is the newest addition to HP’s offer and the most compact and most powerful of the three. It’s based on higher-performance Intel Core U hardware with SSD storage and a 47 Wh battery, gets the same security options of the Pro X1, but it’s also very expensive, starting at around $1500 at the time of this update.

You’ll find more about all these on HP’s website or on Amazon.

The HP X2 Windows tablets: Envy, Pro and Elite, from left to right

Dell Latitude 5000 and 7000 2-in-1

Dell offers two business tablets very similar to HP Elite above: the same 12.3″ 3:2 1920 x 1280 px displays, same business features, and the same hardware specs (Core U processors, up to 16 GB of RAM, SSD storage).

The difference between the two lines is minimal and hides in the details. The Latitude 5290 is available in a darker shade, gets a slightly flatter keyboard dock, a 42 Wh battery and is available with lower-tier specs, while the Latitude 7200 is more configurable and gets a smaller 28 Wh battery. You’ll find more about these two on Dell’s website or on Amazon.

Dell’s Latitude 5000 and 7000 2in1s

The classics – clamshell 12-inchers

There are still a few simple, classic 12-inch notebooks left and we’ll talk about the best ones in this section. For what is worth, though, most OEMs go with 13-inch chassis these days for their best devices, and we’ve covered these options in a separate article on Ultrabookreview.com . For the most part, I’d recommend going with one of those instead, you’ll get better designs, improved performance and slightly larger screens in similarly sized packages.

Apple MacBook

The Apple MacBook is perhaps the only significantly different 12-inch notebook without a direct pier within 13-inch models, but it’s also an older product with distinct particularities that won’t cater to everyone.

That’s because this is a fairly expensive product primarily designed with portability in mind. It’s compact, thin and lightweight, it packs a nice screen and lasts for around 6-7 hours of daily use on a charge, but it’s only powerful enough for basic everyday tasks. Used lightly, it will do fine. Pushed, it will choke.

My main nits with MacBook are the keyboard and the IO, though. The keys are Apple’s Butterfly design, with short travel and known reliability issues. As for the ports, well, there’s only one, a USB TypeC connector on the left edge, used for charging the device, transferring data, outputting video and connecting peripherals, with the help of dongles and docks. None are included in the pack.

The base version of the MacBook 12, which includes a fanless Core M processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD, sells for under $700 these days, if you can still find in stocks. That’s competitive for what this product is, just make sure it’s capable enough for your needs and you can live with its quirky particularities. Follow this link for more details and potential discounts.

12-inch business ultraportables: Lenovo ThinkPad X280, Dell Latitude 12 5000/7000

Both Lenovo and Dell have recently moved towards the 13-inch segment with their prime business ultrabooks, but you can still find the 12-inch models in stores.

These have a few things in common: 12.5″ displays, competitive Core U hardware with good amounts of RAM/Storage, business features, proper IO, nice keyboards and fairly compact, sturdy and light shells, at around 2.6 – 2.8 lbs. Keep in mind you’ll actually find both smaller and lighter options with larger screens these days, many under 2.2 lbs / 1 kilo.

It’s also important to note that unlike the 12-inch hybrids that get 16:10 or 3:2 displays, these laptops only get 16:9 screens with rather mediocre IPS panels. That means midling contrast, brightness and colors, and even poor resolution. Lenovo at least offers an FHD touch panel for the X280, but Dell only offers HD matte IPS screens on the Latitude 5290 and 7290.

On top of that, none of these is available with the latest Intel 10th gen hardware, and won’t get further updated since the move to those 13-inch models aforementioned (Thinkpad X390 and Latitude 7300).

These aspect do translate in competitive pricing, though. If you can accept the lower resolution screens, the 12-inch Latitudes are excellently built, excellent typers, solid performers and last for a long while on a charge, thanks to their big batteries: 68 Wh on the Latitude 5290 and 60 Wh on the Latitude 7290. The ThinkPad X280 doesn’t trail very far behind either with its 48 Wh battery, and gets the more competitive screen option and pricing.

Follow these links for updates on configurations, availability, and prices at the time you’re reading this article: Dell Latitude 12 5000, Dell Latitude 12 7000 and Lenovo ThinkPad X280.

!2 Inch Business Laptops: Dell latitude 5000 and 7000, Lenovo ThinkPad X280

Wrap-up

That’s about it with my list of recommended 12-inch laptops.

These days there aren’t as many laptops in this class, especially in the affordable sub-800 dollars price category. Most manufacturers migrated their cheap entries towards the smaller 11.6-inch class, and kept the 12-inchers as their more premium options, with high-end features and powerful hardware specs which don’t come cheap.

Thus, if you’re looking for more affordable mini laptops, you should also check out at my detailed list of recommended 11.6-inchers. And if you’re just after a compact and portable laptop and don’t mind something with a 13/14-inch screen, go through this list of the best ultrabooks you can buy these days.

As for this post, I’m going to constantly update it each couple of weeks, so be sure to check it out periodically. Also, feel free to post your opinions, remarks, and questions in the comments section below, I’m around to reply and help out if I can.

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Andrei Girbea, aka "Mike", Editor-in-Chief at TLBHD.com. I absolutely hate carrying around heavy stuff, that's why I'm fond of mini-laptops and portable computers. I'm primarily using such devices and have been testing them for many years now. Get in touch in the comments section below.

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