Should You Buy a 10-Inch or an 11-Inch Laptop?

The smallest laptops are just right for tight spaces and everyday computing tasks, but they lack processing power

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If you’ve ever tried to get some work done in the middle seat of a cross-country flight, you know that the biggest, most powerful laptop isn’t always the best tool for the job.

For situations where compact size and light weight matter more than sheer power, your best bet could be a 10- or 11-inch laptop. These laptops tend to be inexpensive, too, often costing just half as much as 14-inch models.

The 10-inch Surface Go, for example, starts at around $400—that's a very good price for a full-fledged Windows 10 laptop. And you can often find even better deals.

More on Laptops

“These laptops are small and light enough to carry around all the time, and most have battery life long enough to rival larger laptops,” says Antonette Asedillo, who oversees computer testing for Consumer Reports. The machines have smaller batteries, but require less power to operate.

There are downsides to such laptops. You'll give up screen real estate, storage, and processing power when you step down from a larger laptop.

Here's a rundown on the strengths and weaknesses of small laptops, which should help you decide whether one is right for you. (Consumer Reports also tests Chromebooks, which can be a good option for people willing to work mainly online, and to do without Windows applications.)

Processor: Excel? Yes. Photoshop? No

Laptops this size tend to have Intel Pentium or Celeron processors, rather than powerful Intel Core processors. These chips are "good for battery life, but also score lower in performance tests,” says Asedillo. However, the performance worries shouldn't dissuade you if you simply need to use applications such as Microsoft Office and Google Docs.

The Microsoft Surface Go uses an Intel Pentium processor and scores only a Fair on performance ratings. That's not a great score if you want to run video-editing software, but that's not the point of the machine. You'd buy a Surface Go to get something lightweight, portable, and elegant.

“These laptops are if you want the ultimate in lightweight computing,” says Richard Fisco, who oversees electronics testing for Consumer Reports.

Storage: You'll Rely on the Cloud

These smaller laptops don't have big drives for storing applications and files. The drives may be as small as 64GB—that's less storage than you get in many smartphones. And you can even find an 11-inch laptop with a 32GB drive.

“A 64GB drive is the smallest drive size I would personally go with," says Asedillo. "And that's if most of your work is already stored in the cloud, so you wouldn't need a lot of local storage.”

In practical terms, even a diminutive 64GB drive won't fill up quickly if you have nothing bigger than text files and spreadsheets. If you're handling videos and photos, storage could get tight quickly.

Battery Life: No Shortage of Juice

Thanks to their Hobbit-like dimensions and use of relatively underpowered components, 10- and 11-inch laptops can deliver all-day battery life with enough juice left over to watch a bit of Netflix or YouTube before quitting time.

According to Asedillo, the 10- to 11-inch laptops in our ratings last about 3 percent longer on some tests than their 14-inch counterparts. As an example, the small Asus VivoBook clocks in at 12 hours of battery life, beating some larger laptops from companies, including Dell, Samsung, and HP.

Headshot image of Electronics editor Nicholas Deleon

Nicholas De Leon

I've been covering consumer electronics for more than 10 years for publications like TechCrunch, The Daily (R.I.P.), and Motherboard. When I'm not researching or writing about laptops or headphones I can likely be found obsessively consuming news about FC Barcelona, replaying old Super Nintendo games for the hundredth time, or chasing my pet corgi Winston to put his harness on so we can go for a walk. Follow me on Twitter (@nicholasadeleon).