One of the most surprising things about the Windows 8 era has been the revival of 11-inch laptops. After a couple of years of seeing very few PCs with smaller displays, we've reviewed half a dozen 11.6-inch systems in the past two months alone.
This is especially interesting to me, as ultraportable laptops, with their 11-inch screens (along with a few 10- and 12-inch stragglers), have had a very uneven history.
Ultraportables were once, typically, extremely expensive brag-worthy laptops that could cost $2,000 or more, back when miniaturization and thermal issues were much more difficult to navigate than they are now. Then a tide of low-cost Netbooks made small laptops, powered by Intel Atom processors, easy to buy, but also easy to hate, leading many PC makers to de-emphasize smaller screen sizes for a time.
Today, Apple and Sony make excellent high-end 11-inch systems, while Asus and Samsung offer low-cost alternatives that still serve a useful purpose. Other examples, mostly hybrids that combine the features of a laptop and tablet, fill in the gaps between $600 and $900. Below are some of the noteworthy 11.6-inch systems we've reviewed since the launch of Windows 8. Pay special attention to the ones with Intel's updated Core i-series CPUs. In those cases, you're also getting the kind of all-day battery life an ultraportable laptop really deserves.
The HP EliteBook Revolve 810 feels like a new spin on that old swivel-top design. It's a good first step toward a very portable business laptop-tablet hybrid, but lack of a killer battery life hurts it. An updated Haswell processor (with better battery life) and a lower starting price could help the Revolve be a mainstream hit. Read the full review of the HP EliteBook Revolve 810.
Lenovo ThinkPad Helix
In person, this detachable-screen hybrid still has a very ThinkPad-like look and feel. The hybrid part comes into play when you activate the small hinge-based latch to remove the display from the rest of the body. In this case, the screen pops off much like any other hybrid's, but then can reattach after being rotated 180 degrees, leaving the screen facing out from the back of the system. Read the full review of the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix.
Many Atom-powered Windows 8 tablets tend to fall in the $500-to-$800 range; to see one with a more powerful Core i5 processor is rare, and the P3 runs from $799 to $899, which includes the portable keyboard case.
If anything, the 11-inch Yoga feels like a better fit for the unique body design than the original 13-inch version did. Only the outdated CPU (the company offers no guidance on when a Haswell version might be available) keeps us from giving it an unreserved recommendation.
MacBook Air (11-inch, June 2013)
This year, the $999 entry-level model has a 128GB solid-state drive, and the battery life is an awesome 10-plus hours. In its size class, the 11-inch Air has become a seriously perfect little laptop, if you can forgive its year-over-year sameness. Read the full review of the MacBook Air (11-inch, June 2013).
The Pro 11 we reviewed comes well-equipped for its base price of $1,149 with a fourth-gen Intel Core i5 processor; a 1080p touch-screen IPS (in-plane switching) LCD; and battery life in excess of 6 hours, which can be up to doubled with an add-on battery. Read the full review of the Sony Vaio Pro 11.
Even six months later, the Asus X202E stands out from the crowd as one of the least expensive Windows 8 touch-screen laptops. That it manages to do this with an Intel Core i3 CPU (admittedly a last-gen one) rather than an Atom chip is even more impressive. Read the full review of the Asus VivoBook X202E.
At under $250, this Chrome OS ultraportable is almost an impulse purchase. It can handle basic e-mail and Web surfing, with a full keyboard and touch pad, but being cloud-based, it only includes a 16GB SSD for storage.
Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these laptops and hybrids head-to-head.