The best mini laptop
Whether it's to keep up with work from the office, stay on top of school assignments, or just browse the web, most of us need a travel-ready device to keep us connected to the rest of the world when we're on the go. A smartphone or tablet certainly comes in handy, but touchscreen keyboards aren't always the best option for more detailed work. Laptops make it easier to type, but they can be big and bulky -- which is where the mini laptop comes in. It's smaller and more compact than a traditional laptop, but it offers a fully functional keyboard that makes sending off emails or finishing a term paper a breeze. Many people find the compromises you have to make on processing power and screen size well worth the added convenience.
With our buying guide, you have all the knowledge necessary to find the best mini laptop for your needs. We offer several specific product recommendations, like our top pick from Acer, which weighs only two pounds and features a battery that can run for up to 10 hours.
Considerations when choosing mini laptops
A mini laptop's processor (CPU) is the workhorse that handles the main processing functions for the computer. A faster processor allows a mini laptop to manage a bunch of tasks at the same time, but a quicker, more powerful CPU usually drives up the price of a mini laptop.
Many mini laptops feature less efficient Intel Celeron or Intel Atom processors. A Celeron processor is faster than an Atom, but it doesn't have the power that Intel Core processors found in other computers do.
A CPU's speed is referred to as clock speed. The faster a CPU is, the more functions it can carry out simultaneously. Clock speed is measured in GHz, and slower mini laptops usually run at just above 1 GHz. More efficient mini laptops can have a clock speed of 2 GHz or faster.
RAM, or random access memory, is the area of a computer dedicated to temporary storage of data currently in use. This makes it easy for a mini laptop or other computer to access the information it needs. The more RAM a model has, the faster it can work, but you pay more for more RAM. A budget mini laptop typically offers just 1 to 2GB of RAM, while more expensive models can have 4 to 8GB of RAM.
When it comes to hard drive storage, most mini laptops offer flash storage through a memory card or solid-state drive, which is also referred to as SSD. The advantage of this type of storage is that it doesn't require as much storage space as a hard disk drive or HDD. Some mini laptops do use HDD storage, so read the product specifications for any model you're considering.
Can't decide between a mini laptop and a tablet? Consider a 2-in-1 mini laptop, which allows you to detach the touch-capable display screen. That means you can use the device as a tablet or a laptop, depending on what tasks you're performing.
The majority of mini laptops run on the Windows operating system (OS), but some use Chrome OS. A few models even run on Linux or Android OS.
Most mini laptops have built-in WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity capabilities, so you're able to easily connect to wireless networks or sync devices to your laptop.
A laptop's screen is measured from one corner to the other on a diagonal. For a mini laptop, you're looking at a screen that's 11.6 inches in size or less.
A mini laptop's screen resolution is measured in horizontal pixels by vertical pixels. You can find models with a variety of resolutions, but the best models offer full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution.
You usually pay between $100 and $1,000 for a mini laptop. The most basic models with a lower screen resolution and slower processor go for $100 to $200, while mid-range mini laptops with faster processing power and features like a 2-in-1 design typically cost between $200 and $400. The fastest models with the most RAM and best screen resolution can go for $400 to $1,000.
Q. How long does a mini laptop's battery last?
A. It depends on the model, but a mini laptop usually offers a battery life of 8 to 12 hours.
Q. How much does a mini laptop weigh?
A. Mini laptops generally weigh three pounds or less.
Mini laptops we recommend
Best of the best: Acer's Chromebook 11
Our take: An excellent mini laptop for work or school that comes loaded with Google apps and can also be used as a tablet.
What we like: Only weighs about two pounds. Features an Intel Celeron N3060 processor. Battery runs for up to 10 hours. 16GB storage.
What we dislike: Can't support high-design software, but works well for communication software and apps.
Best bang for your buck: RCA's Galileo Touchscreen Tablet Computer
Our take: A high-performing mini laptop that works well for both children and adults who enjoy various forms of media.
What we like: Features detachable keyboard. Screen is larger than those for most mini laptops. Excellent for streaming media without needing much buffering.
What we dislike: Battery only lasts for seven hours.
Choice 3: Samsung's Chromebook 3
Our take: A light, compact laptop that's perfect for all essential computing apps and software.
What we like: Uses Chrome OS, which limits its processing requirements. Offers an 11-hour battery life. Features 4GB of RAM at an attractive price point.
What we dislike: Doesn't offer full HD resolution.
Jennifer Blair is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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