The Microsoft Surface Pro 4's unique display and powerful hardware contribute to it being the best 12-inch laptop you can buy right now.

Best overall

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

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You can't mention the Surface Pro 4 without bringing up the touch display — it has a 3:2 ratio at 1824p, it has beautiful color and contrast, and you can use the Surface Pen with it to jot notes, create art, and more. If you're not into the touch function, attach the keyboard and enjoy a full notebook experience. You get up to an Intel Core i7 processor, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to a 1TB SSD — this is pretty close to desktop performance from something that weighs only about 1.7 pounds (0.77kg). Configurations start at about $900.

Bottom line: The Surface Pro 4 is the best laptop you'll find at 12 inches or under.

One more thing: Check out the Surface Dock for when you want to connect your Surface Pro 4 to a couple of external monitors and a bunch of peripherals.

Why the Surface Pro 4 is the best 12-inch laptop

Buying a small laptop doesn't mean you have to cut performance.

You can't deny the Surface Pro 4's appeal — you have a ton of customization options, and while the price is up there, you get a quality product with a beautiful display and great hardware.

With a relatively unique 3:2 aspect ratio, the Surface Pro 4's 12.3-inch touch display has a 2736x1824 resolution. The color and contrast are as close to perfect as you can get, and it is bright enough to be used pretty much anywhere. The included Surface Pen is ideal for both quickly jotting down notes and creating elaborate digital works of art.

When you're not in the mood for a touchscreen, connect the keyboard and touchpad — the kickstand on the back of the Surface Pro 4 allows you to prop up the display for a real notebook experience. Get up to a 6th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD; this is a tablet that doesn't know it's a tablet.

The battery life will last you through a workday, and you have several options for connectivity, including one USB 3.0 port, one microSD reader, one Mini DisplayPort, and a Surface Connect port. As an added security bonus, the front-facing camera is compatible with Windows Hello. Configurations of the Surface Pro 4 start at about $900.

Best ultrabook

ASUS ZenBook 3

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The new ASUS ZenBook 3 is truly a beautiful machine. It is less than a half-inch thick, weighs only about two pounds (0.9kg), but is constructed from durable aluminum that won't bend and is resistant to wear. Inside you get a 7th-generation Intel Core i7 processor with up to a 3.5GHz clock speed and 16GB of RAM to keep things running smoothly. A 512GB PCIe SSD gives you incredibly fast boot times, and you won't be disappointed with the 12.5-inch, 1080p display. This configuration starts at about $1600.

Bottom line: If you're not interested in a convertible design, the ZenBook 3 should be your first choice.

One more thing: A fingerprint reader offers extra protection for your sensitive information.

Best budget

Lenovo Ideapad 100s

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Starting at only about $200, Lenovo's Ideapad 100s is a great budget option. An Intel Atom Z3735F processor and 2GB of RAM are enough for word processing and light web browsing, and the 32GB eMMC drive is backed up by 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage that comes with your free one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal. This is a great device to carry with you for classes or work, as it is only 2.2 pounds (0.99kg) and is only 0.7 inches (1.77cm) thick.

Bottom line: For a great budget laptop that you can use for Office documents and web browsing, have a look at the Lenovo Ideapad 100s.

One more thing: Choose from white, red, blue, and silver colors options.

Best gaming

Razer Blade Stealth

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Gaming laptops don't have to be big and bulky — the Razer Blade Stealth sits at just 2.84 pounds (1.28kg) and is only about a half-inch (1.32cm) thick. The 12.5-inch touch display has a crisp 2560x1440 resolution and is powered by Intel HD Graphics 620, which is integrated with the new 7th-generation Intel Core i7-7500U processor. Toss in 16GB of DDR3 RAM and a 512GB PCIe SSD, and you have a very fast machine that can run many current games. This configuration starts at about $1400.

Bottom line: For the best gaming laptop in this size, go with the Razer Blade Stealth.

One more thing: Looking to add more graphics power to your Blade Stealth? The Razer Core is designed to add a desktop-grade GPU to your laptop.

Best photography

Toshiba Satellite Radius 12

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Photographers love a 4K screen and convertible design, and the Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 delivers. The 12.5-inch display is truly beautiful, and the touch function is precise — you'll find delight in working with your photos. Included is a 6th-generation Intel Core i7-6500U processor and 8GB of RAM that can deal with multitasking and multimedia editing. A 512GB SSD will boot Windows 10 in seconds, and the host of ports, including two USB 3.0, one USB Type-C, and one HDMI, allow you to connect external devices for charging or data transfer. This configuration starts at about $900.

Bottom line: The best 12-inch laptop for photographers is the Satellite Radius 12.

One more thing: Get extra security thanks to Windows Hello facial recognition.

Best 2-in-1

Huawei MateBook

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The Huawei MateBook has a beautiful 12-inch, 1440p touch display with great color and contrast, and it only weighs 1.4 pounds (0.63kg) when not attached to the keyboard. Inside is up to a 6th-generation Intel Core m5 processor with a clock speed up to 2.70GHz, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 512GB SSD. You'll have no problems handling a decent daily workload, and the battery won't give up halfway through the day. Add a fingerprint reader compatible with Windows Hello to the already impressive hardware, and you have a great package with configurations starting at about $700.

Bottom line: For a great 2-in-1 laptop that is light and relatively cheap, check out the Huawei MateBook.

One more thing: Make sure you pick up the MateBook's companion keyboard at the same time; get it in black, brown, beige, or orange.

Conclusion

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 sits atop all other laptops in the 12-inch and under category, but another great 2-in-1 option is the Huawei MateBook. If you're looking for a budget option, you'll love the Lenovo Ideapad 100s, and if you want strictly an ultrabook, the ASUS ZenBook 3 shouldn't be passed up. Photographers should check out the Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 for its 4K display, and gamers who want a compact laptop should look at the Razer Blade Stealth.

Best overall

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

See at Microsoft

You can't mention the Surface Pro 4 without bringing up the touch display — it has a 3:2 ratio at 1824p, it has beautiful color and contrast, and you can use the Surface Pen with it to jot notes, create art, and more. If you're not into the touch function, attach the keyboard and enjoy a full notebook experience. You get up to an Intel Core i7 processor, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to a 1TB SSD — this is pretty close to desktop performance from something that weighs only about 1.7 pounds (0.77kg). Configurations start at about $900.

Bottom line: The Surface Pro 4 is the best laptop you'll find at 12 inches or under.

One more thing: Check out the Surface Dock for when you want to connect your Surface Pro 4 to a couple of external monitors and a bunch of peripherals.