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Ask HN: Smallest laptop that is decent for coding?
52 points by krm01 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 162 comments
I'm looking for something as small as possible but can still be used in a decent way for coding. The goal isn't to code super complex things but use it more as a tool to quickly write tiny JS/PHP/Html programs. The small form factor is important so I can keep it with me like you would keep a physical paper notebook with you

MacOS: check out the latest MacBook Air 13", the one just released - it has a new keyboard, better base disk configuration and it's cheaper than before.

Windows: Dell XPS 13 has been the go-to laptop for years, they keep refreshing it, so make sure to get at least the 2019 model (which has a camera on the top of the screen, not the bottom), or ideally the 2020 model, which features a new keyboard and even smaller bezels (and a new, 16:10 screen).

Windows runner up: look at Surface Pro 7 (x86) and Pro X (ARM), if the form factor, performance and ergonomics fit your needs, they might be preferable to the XPS 13. The Pro X is quite a wild card, since the compatibility is not quite there yet, but it's closer to a paper notebook than laptops or even the Pro 7.

I would advise against anything smaller than 13", because it will be fairly suboptimal to type on.

Also the new MacBook Air is significantly faster:


I am currently typing this on my mid-2013 11" Macbook Air and it's still going strong. It's too bad that Apple is not making anymore 11" laptops anymore because I think it's exactly what OP wants. I had the same exact criteria when looking for a laptop and I work with similar technologies, but I've also done Android/Kotlin (using Android Studio) and C#/.NET (using full Visual Studio) with this laptop without any problems. I also play games via Steam (mostly indie games, not big AAA ones) on it. I have a bag¹ (side bag/satchel) that it fits perfectly into and makes it easy to carry around. It's been great taking this on vacation with me, super light.

I am looking to upgrade though and the new 2020 Air does look good but with the modifications I want brings the price close to $1699 and I'm not ready to spend that yet

¹ https://www.scaramangashop.co.uk/mini-leather-satchel-11-inc... <-- bought it from this company but they don't make my exact bag anymore, but this is the closest except mine is the "portrait mode" of this

edit: Forgot to add that I've also used Xcode on this in the past but I am not on Catalina yet so I have not touched Xcode in a while.

I did most of my PhD on that machine, including tons of coding. With a nice window manager, it's doable. A higher resolution 16:10 screen would improve the experience, though.

It was Linus Torvalds daily driver for some time. I also wiped out OS X and went with Linux, deployed directly as an EFISTUB so no bootloader. Being all-Intel, sans a mediocre Broadcom wireless card, the machine had perfect Linux compatibility.

+1, 2013 11" MacBook Air is still going strong! I need to be a little vigilant about not too many Chrome tabs to keep it from getting too sluggish, but it's excellent for coding, Gmail, Google Docs, video chat, Netflix.

Dell makes garbage compared to Lenovo. Why not get an x390/x13 with that delicious keyboard?

bezels? it's not just aesthetics; thin bezels is a pretty important feature on an ultraportable imo, maximizes screen real estate for the space it takes up in your bag.

What? No.

They are already ultraportables. Once they are that small as a class of computer reliability and quality becomes important.

God help you with support and returns if something goes wrong with your dell. I’ve been there before and it’s hell on earth.

The $100 core i5 upgrade on the latest Macbook Air in particular. It's a big bang for buck (especially by Apple standards) since it goes from 2 cores to 4 and adds boost clock headroom.

What about the $250 upgrade for i7 - worth it for $150 more than the i5? I'm going to be getting it and I want to have it for 4-5 years as I have with the 2015 MBA, getting the better processor seems like a decent future-proofing.

I mostly develop in Python and Go, but I do want to get into Rust and I understand the compilation is demanding.

I would say not worth it. Very minimal ghz boost you probably won't notice and an additional 2MB (6->8mb) of L3 processor cache you probably won't notice.

I haven't seen any benchmarks, but I doubt you'll get a big return going to the i7, certainly nowhere near the return on investment the dual core i3 to quad core i5 is. Macbook air is mostly going to thermally limited under sustained load anyway, so the i7 benefits are likely pretty limited.

Oof! 16:10 display in a 13" chassis is tough to beat. Those extra vertical pixels make coding on it that much nicer. Way to go Dell! If only I could get 16:10 in a ThinkPad; I'm a sucker for their keyboards and trackpoint.

Yeah that aspect ratio change is huge.

Honestly, it's way overdue. The widescreen style laptop has some uses ... but it really is a pain for so many things.

12" MacBook is quite a bit smaller than the 13" Macs.

True, but it's also quite a bit more discontinued :(


I carry a 12" in this role and it's great. Surprisingly long battery life, weighs nothing and, assuming you spend most of your time in an editor, fast enough.

Downsides are (a) butterfly keyboard and (b) tiny screen. If you do anything that requires compilation, get something with a CPU fan like the new 13" Air.

Get the 16GB model either way.

I loved mine (the original 12"), keyboard and all. Kept it with me all the time in a little sling bag... like a gun in holster. BANG! BANG!

Rocked it til it broke, and I'm still missing it 3 years later. I guess I need a new one.

Hah. I'm trying to find a non-dorky way to clip it to my belt. It's my "hey I gotta go to a meeting and take notes but I don't want to mess up my desktop" laptop.

Also I killed 2 via running Jetbeans. (Client requirement not my choice...)

The MacBook is 16:10 to, which I found very nice.

This is a great list but if they want something smaller than a 13 inch, I would add the surface go too. Seems like what they are asking for.

The Surface Go is an amazing device for work on the... go, but the ergonomics of the display and cramped keyboard make it suboptimal for any longer period of time (be it a coffee shop, your bed or anything like that).

If you plan to work only at your desk, where you connect it to an external display (USB-C, ideally, to get both power and video) and external keyboard and only use it as a tablet otherwise, then sure, it would work well. But using it as a standalone machine would be rather inconvenient.

I've used it as such for extended periods of time during a long working holiday. Not ideal but it worked well enough, and the form factor is very portable indeed. The screen cover keyboard is a must though.

Nearly all comments are completely missing the most important point in the OP question: "The small form factor is important so I can keep it with me like you would keep a physical paper notebook with you".

When one says a physical paper notebook, it means something that is small and portable and you can put it in your pocket or a small bag, not a 13" laptop that weighs 2 kilos that you need a special and when you open it takes up huge space so you need to clear the table. Even a 10-11" laptop is not really something you would keep with you all day long.

I recommend a mini laptop that is at most 8" in size. I don't have spare cash for a second laptop at this moment and I use a 14" Latitude for all coding, but I would love to have something with the following form size: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07L7DVDL3

As someone who has bought a OneMix 2s specifically for coding, I'd recommend against it - there are difficulties using it for typing, much less programming. I use it in an emergency for SSH'ing onto a server to fix something, or debug a live issue, as it fits in an inside coat pocket and I can set up an encrypted linux partition on it (with some difficulty, but it is doable) but unless you have excellent eyes and tiny tiny fingers, you'll never be as productive as you would be with an 11 inch laptop.

(also, the Q key is where I would want the tab key to be. It's a little thing, but one I use a lot.)

That said, it does have uses. 10 years ago, when I used to travel on the train a lot, it would have been ideal. The model I have is also impressively performant.

I do not recommend extensive work (full-time job) on such a small device. In fact I do not recommend doing a full-time job on anything smaller than 14". One can really ruin the finger joints, risk RSI even more on smaller keyboards, ruin the neck, ruin the spine and really ruin the eyes even at 11". In fact you need a proper chair and proper desk and proper keyboard and proper monitor at eye level, to do a full-time job and not ruin your health.

But, I understood the OP question as not about being productive but being capable of doing some small work if needed when on the move, a the device is small enough to be with you everywhere you go and not consider it a brick load in your bag after 10 hours of carrying it with you, but still performant enough to be able to make a patches and shorter coding session on the move.

I can't imagine being productive on such a small machine. I feel like I need three screens to keep things moving smoothly.

Not sure if Sony makes them still, but they used to have small VAIO portables with keyboards.



It's a standalone company now, last I checked they only sell in Japan; but I loved my Z Series so much I had to poach another one when the old one gave up the ghost.

I can't forgive them for the interior design, and how the lynchpin of the entire laptop is a PFC with two of the most awkwardly placed sockets I've ever attempted to repair; but I'll be damned if it isn't one of the most pleasantly ergonomic laptops to use.

Just try to avoid having to open up the case at all costs.

I had these same issues.

The problem I've found with small laptops (<13") is that the keyboard quickly becomes less useful to me for rapid typing.

So there's a tradeoff between portability and usuability for coding.

If you want to go really small you can get something like https://www.www3.planetcom.co.uk/cosmo-communicator but I'm not sure I'd like to try programming on it.

I wonder what the best compact wearable display + chording keyboard combination for coding is.

I can say that I've found a configuration which works for me, but it's good enough just for occasional quick patching, not for writing long form programs.

See my another comment in this thread for a link to the description of my wearable computer.

The MacBook air is only 1.3kg. And it really doesn't take up a lot of space. No more than an A4 notebook. If you're keeping it in a bag, then I think it ought to be small enough.

A notebook is typically 100 grams, and fits into your pocket.

Edit: I exagerated. Should have been more clear. A notebook that you would carry 12 hours or more with you is not a A4 notebook that weighs 1.3kg. It is something like this: https://www.amazon.com/AmazonBasics-NH130210120V-R-Classic-N... - 8" and 350g

If you REALLY value compactness, the smallest nice computer you can get is probably the discontinued 12-inch macbook. It really is amazingly small. It is underpowered but "quickly write tiny JS/PHP/Html programs" is about the least demanding thing you can do, work wise, so I think it would be fine.

It's a sacrifice for compactness though. It also has the "bad" keyboard, though some people don't mind.

The just released macbook air is probably an all around good choice though.

I’m using one as my daily driver for years now and I can definitely recommend it. It’s been more than enough to work on sane projects like a web app with a DB server running. Of course don’t expect to run Kubernetes with dozens of microservices on it. Mobile development can be a challenge though - Xcode is very resource-hungry.

I spent the last few years using one of these as my mobile development solution. I still use it for scala development - not too underpowered for this.

I feel I have been lucky with the keyboard, no real stuck keys and the keyboard doesn't feel cramped. And it slips into a small bag very easily.

I have replaced the screen once, when I dropped something on it and the battery, which is expensive. The bad thing about this form factor is how every small issue is back-to-workshop.

I love mine, going to get another one. Actually maybe I should the air or the pro just to see.

Really surprised not more people are mentioning the X1 Carbon. It is extremely lightweight, thin, loaded with ports, has great battery life and has tons of ports.

I use one plugged into a thunderbolt 3 dock so I can have a great desktop setup with a single wire, and quickly unplug when I need to move.

It's thin and light, but even with small bezels it's not that small due to the 14 inch screen. It's nearly a full inch wider than both macbook air and macbook pro 13 and it's a little deeper.

It's a shame lenovo stopped updating the 12 inch X series as it would be the obvious answer to this question.

X1 Carbon - 12.72 x 8.54 x 0.59 in

X280 - 12.11 x 8.26 x 0.7 in

X13 - 12.2 x 8.6 x 0.7 in

The X13 is the old X 12in size.

I would still take the Carbon probably. One thing I like about it that is underrated in reviews is its flexibility. People think they want a rigid, aluminum milled laptop, but I actually quite appreciate how the entire computer can bend slightly, as an alternative way to make it more durable.

I do something a bit different: I have a Surface Pro, which is OK in its own right. But I don’t develop straight on it. Instead, I spin up a VM on Azure with all my dev tools. I use RDCMan as a RDP client to connect to that, and code there. When at home or office, I dock the surface and have 2 big screens and a nice keyboard. When at a coffee shop, I just use the Surface as-is. If I upgrade my laptop or decide to use my MacBook etc, I just use that to remote into the dev VM instead. My dev environment is agnostic to the screen I use to connect to it. I’ve been doing this 5+ years and wouldn’t go back. I will say I’m more productive with 2 screens, but I routinely worked from coffee shop just fine.

That sounds like a great idea, could you please elaborate further?

Which instance and pricing are you using?

My use case is media work when abroad. So 16Gb RAM, as much disk space as possible, around 8h a day.

I have an MSDN subscription which gets me ~200/mo Azure Credit, I think. I use the F4 instance which is 4 core/8GB. I set it in azure to shut down around 10pm, and get an email asking me if I want to extend it. Doing this, I have a few bucks to spare on my credit each month for Azure App Service, etc. I use mRemoteNG to connect to it. I keep all code, databases, etc. in source control and on a separate disk. This way, if I want a new dev VM, I just spin it up, install dev tools (I have a chocolatey script for that;) and attach the disk.

It really is enabling to have my machine be separate from my dev environment. I used get so annoyed with all the cruft dev tools, SDKs, etc. add to a system, hog disk, and bog it down. Now I just have outlook, mremoteng, and office on the local machine.

May not be appropriate for heavy media work as 1) you need more RAM and 2) audio/video may be choppy through RDP. If you can afford it, though, I highly recommend this approach.

The 12" Macbook is probably your best bet size and weight-wise, but it is now a bit outdated and definitely overpriced within Apple's lineup itself (Given the MBA has a 10th gen processor, better keyboard and is $300 cheaper than the macbook now)

Take a look into a few chromebooks. The models with crostini have a full built in Linux dev environment complete with a terminal and the ability to run standard Linux apps like vscode. The pixelbook go had my favorite keyboard and is a nice size. You might like that! The discontinued slate is really nice too.

I'm using a Pixelbook, and I like it, but it does feel large and heavy coming from a 12" Macbook.

> I'm looking for something as small as possible

ASUS Eee PC.[0]

FTR, The smallest laptop — Ben NanoNote.[1]

BTW, I would recommend instead just use any Android device + Termux app + compact Bluetooth/WiFi/USB-keyboard.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asus_Eee_PC

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_NanoNote

I used to have an ASUS EEE PC from about 2010 (I think it was 1215P). It was an incredible machine -- it was cheap for a student, fairly powerful for internet browsing, text editing, and a bit of coding. The battery easily lasted over 6 hours, so forgetting the small charger at home was not even a concern. Lastly, the keyboard was actually decent as well.

I have never really seen many as well-executed machine since (although I have not been looking too hard).

> I have never really seen many as well-executed machine since (although I have not been looking too hard).

To be honest, there was some small Sony VAIO laptops (in same scale as ASUS Eee PC), but its price is too high.

Totally agree. I use 8" Samsung tablet with LTE and use a Microsoft BT keyboard - the universal one in which the cover is audio stand for phone or tablet. Program using vi in termux session. Works brilliantly especially for travel.

Smallest? Notebook sized? Consider the 7" (seven) inch GPD Pocket: https://uk.gearbest.com/tablet-pcs/pp_613003.html

I believe there's an updated version too.

I own a GPD Pocket and I love it for traveling, but I wouldn't want to use it for any serious coding. The keyboard layout is just way too cramped and awkward.

Thinkpad X2xx - 12", very reliable, coreboot-able, excellent keyboard.

second that, though now they converted to 13" and last model became x390 (x270, x280, x390). pay attention to ram amount. it is soldered in the last model, and, not upgradable)

OpenPandora, the Pyra would be better but not readily available immediately. Fit in pocket easily, keys might be a tad too small for you? Another pocket sized device is GPD Win, which I believe you can install Linux onto the first version. Just some options, leaning more on the small form factor side/.

I love my ASUS ZenBook 13!

  * The best laptop keyboard I've ever typed on!
  * Great screen
  * Weights 1 kg
  * Solid 8 hours of work on battery

>The best laptop keyboard I've ever typed on!

Will definitely check that out just to see the keyboard. Getting really fed up with all the new Apple's keyboard design / experiences.

they went back to scissor from butterfly...

But at reduced Key Travel. The new scissor may be more reliable ( we dont have data yet ), but it certainly isn't the old scissors. It doesn't feel anything like it, in fact even with 1mm key travel, 0.3 more than the 0.7mm butterfly, it still felt very "butterfly" to me.

Bummer. The keyboard feels near as close to perfect for me. I just don’t have the 2k to get the laptop that I want right now.

Do you use windows or linux ? If so, which distribution ?

I use popOS on the UX330UN, not the exact same model, but fairly similar. I haven't had very many major issues with pop, but it is the only distro that hasn't given me any.

Windows 10 with Ubuntu 18.04 on VirtualBox

GPD Pocket 2?


It should be okay for note taking and basic coding.

Does it run linux?

Two words: MacBook Air.

You can't go wrong with that little workhorse. The new one (high spec) will even do Java development just fine and run two 4K screens.

Not small or light any longer, since they killed the 11" model.

Actually, while indeed heavier, I was surprised that my 2018 13" fit in the sleeve of my older 11" MBA. A bit snug, but the screen width seems to have expanded inside the frame. And yes, while the widths are fairly similar, the depths are not.

I have a Surface go, and I use to write scratch ideas in F#/C# Typescript in visual stuidio code. I then punt them via git to my main dev box later. It's a really nice way of keeping ideas flowing with out letting them go flat, or forgetting about them. You will need to purchase a keyboard (Doesn't have to be a microsoft one), but not a stylus. Battery life is about 6 hours for me. It's small, fits under myarm, in my bag. I can code on it, look up recipies on it, messaging, Spotify etc.

I like compact devices, I miss 11" form factor netbooks Samsung NP netbooks, great for sticking in my bag and just using/code with.

I have written small js/html tools on my iPhone with help of a Bluetooth keyboard. No PHP though as iOS doesn't allow code execution environments except for the browser. In my experience the biggest drawback on these kinds of setups is the small screensize (I strongly prefer coding with three giant displays), and this limitation cannot easily be overcome while keeping the device tiny. I'm looking forward to the Lenovo X1 Fold though to see if this reduces the pain a bit. And I love my Asus ZenScreen as a second-screen solution that easily fits in my backpack.

I have tried many, believe me. First thing, if it has glossy screen I would quickly discard it - your vision health is worth much more than a pretty picture in Facebook. Having said this, I would go for dell XPS family. They are not cheap but they are very robust. In addition, screen border is almost nonexistent so all it's size is for your screen. Very good Linux support (there is a a version that ships with Ubuntu). Keyboard is fantastic and the combination of carbon fiber with aluminium works great, in my opinion. Give it a try.

Recently I ordered a matte screen protector for my MacBook Pro, and it works really well. I would not immediately write off all laptops with glossy screens.

(Note I don't have a recommendation for a particular screen protector, I used a local supplier in my tiny little European country).

Glad to know people can now work with glossy screens. It still seems a workaround to emulate what I consider a must, though.

Seconded. I use one on my Surface Pro 6 and it makes it a substantially more versatile system.

I would add: matte, IPS screen. The latter cannot be fixed with a screen shield.

+1 for Linux support on Dell's laptops. Usually everything works straight after installation, contrary to Lenovo and HP. I do not recommend HP hardware at all BTW.

I love my XPS 13 and have written a fair bit of code on it in various circumstances. It's small enough to use during takeoff and landing and the battery life is enough to last a full day. No numpad but otherwise full sized keyboard.

Anything with SSD and 8-16GB RAM should do the work. Personally i would buy a 13" macbook pro.

Do not buy a 13 inch MBP! The keyboard still hasn't been upgraded to the "good" version on that. The 16-inch macbook pro and the macbook air it.

I have a 15 inch MBP with the dodgy keyboard, but it's bearable and 95% of the time I use an external Apple keyboard and a 4K screen.

Buy (up to) 2015 one, keyboard's good there

iPad Pro 11"?

I mean there aren't that many "small" laptop, just reading between the line of your needs.

Today most laptop starts at 13". I am not sure if that fit your definition of Small. But the new MacBook Air is pretty decently priced for an Apple product.

I own two iPads, and I really don't think it is there yet in terms of writing any serious code.

I have a MacBook Pro 15", which is too big and actually pretty much resent and hate.

an iPad Pro 11" which I absolutely love, but is abysmal and no where near any good for coding on.

And currently eyeing that MacBook Air with a massive 2TB, 16GB, and i7 option for still less than the lowest end 16" MacBook Pro and just barely more than the stock 13" high end MacBook Pro.

I've used a fully loaded MacBook and it works well. It's quite slow compared to a desktop but it's fast enough and has the Retina screen. This laptop is basically a tablet in laptop form factor; it is ultra tiny and very nice to use from a physicality standpoint.

I'm currently using an X1 Carbon ThinkPad Gen 4 with a 4K screen and it is pretty nice too. It's a step up both performance wise and size wise from the MacBook.

Great timing on this post as I'm looking for something to replace my aging Dell Inspiron 1420n from 2008. Thanks for asking! It sounds like you just need something to run an editor (maybe VIM?), PHP and a browser... Like others have mentioned, if you need to run docker it will require something quite modern.

What's your budget?

Can anyone chime in about the Asus Eee PCs, or the Dell Inspiron Mini series? Or anything else near the 10 to 11-inch form factor? Would they be hard to type on for someone under 6ft tall?

I'm personally looking for something that can run Linux (perhaps even as slimmed down as Puppy Linux), Vim (or maybe VSCode) can run a browser (preferably Firefox but Pale Moon or other might be fine). Just bought an Asus VivoBook X202E on Ebay, but that's an 11.6" display, so I'll see how it goes.

What I'd really love is to find a blog post of the "Best Linux-compatible Netbooks Through the Ages". Has anyone come across anything like this? Would help me search Ebay for successively older machines until I get to the price point I'm looking for.

No mentioned yet, https://system76.com/laptops/galago might not be the smallest of the bunch, but well worth it if you need the performance to compile and test while on the go. I run several VMs and QUME instances with your fave VIM scripts. :) For size vs perf, Air 13” is hard to beat... I had a Pro X (arm) for about a week and I tried to get Linux on it ASAP after all the issues, even then it was flaky at best, running VIM on Windows is usually a hard sell even if you are running the Windows Subsystem for Linux and you spend the hours of getting to where you like it, only to find glitches after glitches... only if the thinkpad came in 16:9 :) I have an older one and it’s horrid only after an hour... I tend to leave it...

Galago Pro owner here: I do not recommend this laptop. It's my daily driver at home, and I mostly love it. However, it's only usable because I have an external mouse and keyboard. The built-in keyboard has keys that are hard to press, the trackpad is almost unusable, and the speakers are also laughably bad and quiet. The laptop's build is thicker and heavier than it looks. If you removed the System76 labeling from the laptop and asked me what brand I thought it was, I would guess Acer, and that is not a compliment.

I traded in my MacBook Pro for this one because this has native Linux support, and the cost was the same at $1,600. The hardware qualities are night-and-day different. Granted, a small company like System76 doesn't have the economy of scale that Apple does, but this knowledge doesn't make me feel much better about my purchase.

System76 just came out with a new version of their Lemur laptop, which is slimmer and more portable. It may be worth a look. See here: https://system76.com/laptops/lemur

I managed to get my hands on a Lenovo X280 before they were discontinued. I think it's fantastic and really hits the sweet spot between weight and performance - it's my main driver and weightwise I have a hard time telling it apart from my iPad Pro 11 with a keyboard case.

I spent a number of hours coding in and around Berlin parks with my trusty Acer 1810TZ (11.2", ca. 2010). It was portable, and compact, but it wasn't too convenient with the 1366x768 resolution and the tight keyboard does cause an extra typo or two here and then, but it got the job done.

Because that was a tad too small, I then went for a 17" workstation, which turned out to be a little bit too big.

So now I've settled on a 15.6" Asus FX-505. Love the design and hardware, hate having to use Windows 10. Not quite ready to make the jump to Linux, yet.

Overall, I settled for one device compromising size, comfort and portability. I think I could go for a 13-14" device, if I wanted more portability, but 11" is just about the limit for comfortable coding, IMHO.

How large is the paper notebook? :D

I.e. fit into messenger bag? Maybe even Macbook Air would fit. You actually have some selection of smallish notebooks around ~10 inch, or x86 based tablets. Old EeePC line might be a good fit, if you don't need much power. You might even opt for iPad and keyboard-cover.

Personally, I have bought myself an underpowered arm-based 10' lenovo chromebook. Has decent enough keyboard for touch-typing, and I can run most of my dev-setup with the linux support.

Do you need to go smaller? You are then entering a niche teritory, where you might want to try Gemini PDA (a Psion 5MX clone running android or linux with surprisingly good keyboard that can fit your pocket), but every time I considered it, I figured it is too expensive for what it would give me.

Dell Latitude 7390: it's basically a better XPS13.

Same size, same small bazel, weighs meaybe 100g more, but has all of the ports you could need and ram, disk and battery are easily replaceable. Probably has better thermals too, since less compromises were done in head dissipation.

I can't really understand why people are buying the XPS13 when the Latitude 7390 is available (probably for less money).

<edit> the size is 13", basically the size of an A4 sheet of paper. My 7390 from work is equipped with an 8th gen i7 (4c8t) and 16gb ram and an nvme add, more than enough to do most things. Lower end models exist too of course. </edit>

If youre looking for something on the cheap, probably an used thinkpad will do: X or T series, 40-50-60 series (X2[456]0, T4[456]0)

As others have pointed out, 8" is probably a bit too small, and you'll have to make a painful tradeoff between performance vs. battery life as well. I'd go with something in the 10-11" range. There are plenty of tablets that you can get keyboard covers for, but those are IMO poor choices due to lack of a real OS supporting real apps (though they can be great as "terminals" for real systems elsewhere).

The two I'd consider would be the Microsoft Surface Go or the Asus Chromebook Flip C101. One is Intel (but Windows). The other is real Linux underneath (but ARM). Both are pretty cheap and seem to do well on most measures considering their size.

https://www.asus.com/Laptops/ASUS-Laptop-14-M409DA/ - Ryzen 5 (better than i5), NVME SSD, thin-and-light.

RAM upgradable to 16gb

Good enough for android dev.

JS/PHP can pretty much run on everything from 2018+. When adding Docker or NPM and some non-interpreted compilation involved that's where machine's power shines.

Pretty much any 8th gen / 10th gen ulta-low-voltage quad core would be more than sufficient.

As suggest, If you'd like the lockdown. the 2020 MacBook Air is finally an Apple machine balancing it all for developers.

The Lenovo Carbon X1 is also a power machine.

Main advantage choosing non-Mac machine is ability to replace key components. Most PCs even the slimmest, allow replacing at least the NVMe so you could get even 2TB for ~200$.

Smallest size you could go imho is 12". but keyboard is the 2nd key factor for a dev I guess.

I used to write some code on a 11.6" chromebook years ago. Nowadays the smallest laptop my eyes are comfortable with is 14". Preferably a Thinkpad for the way superior keyboard.

I love my pumped-up T495, can only recommend. And it's 1.5 Kg - not the lightest compared to HP Spectre and the likes but much more computing power.

Been using 2016 13" MBP. No issues with web or app development.

Also been using iPad 10.5" with keyboard as a thin client to do dev work on Linux VPS. With Blink shell and Working Copy, it is quite enjoyable. Also I got Shadow PC for my game dev projects (my MBP is not powerful enough to do that), I can use Shadow PC app on iPad and it is mostly usable.

I am definitely using iPad as a carry around notebook. I just wish it had real local dev environment so I don't need to worry about wifi.

While we're brainstorming and day dreaming about ideal tiny rigs, has anybody ever heard of a good paperwhite/e-ink screen for programming? Imagine an e-ink tablet that only had a terminal emulator. Plug a keyboard into it, ssh to your workstation, save your eyes the strain of a bright screen. I've seen e-inks with an additional red color, but imagine if you could get just a handful of colors. I would read my code in light-themes for the first time ever.

I would also love to code with a screen that doesn't emit light. However, I don't know of any e-ink like display that has fast enough refresh rate to enable the instant typing feedback that we are used to, especially now that we have hot reload.

I'm reminded of this project from a year and a half ago. https://alternativebit.fr/posts/ultimate-writer/

It comes up a lot here, if you search you'll find something, but to save you the effort the answer is it's crazy expensive and very bespoke.

Looking for the same thing made me actually jealous of my tiny friend. She's maybe 5"1 90lbs. Her small hands comfortably handle smaller keyboards and phones while my fat meat sticks constantly mash the wrong letters. Same with laptops. We got these little Chromebooks for data entry at a co-op job and it was just hell for me. Before then I really hadn't thought about the inadequacy of "one size fits all" technology.

I was using an ancient Acer Aspire One for years. The thing was gutless, so I had to customize the linux installation heavily to be able to do things like run my app's build script and chrome at the same time.

These days I'd probably use it as a terminal for an AWS workspace instead.

These new touch-screen tablet/PCs with a detachable keyboard, plus a virtual remote server, may be the future for this kind of thing.

I did some coding on my old aspire one - but in the end I find the keyboard too cramped, not to mention the screen.

The surface pro typecover is surprisingly good - AFAIK it's the best keyboard option for any new laptop these days. And the surface kinda-sorta can be lugged about like a notebook.

Going smaller... A foldable/clamshell Bluetooth keyboard to pair with your phone? Optionally a suitable size android tablet?

I have a Lenovo X1 Yoga (7th), the new Dell XPS 13 and a X1 Carbon.

My preferred one is X1 Carbon with FHD display which saves battery, it's also pretty lighter and thinner than the X1 Yoga. If you like touch screens and embedded pen, I'd go with the Yoga, still better than XPS13 for me.

Reasons? Better ports (HDMI, USB3.0) and better keyboard (yes, you can switch the Fn and the CTRL keys, it's a BIOS option).

I had an X1 carbon, but I thought the screen was 14 inches. Regardless, it is a solid machine.

I've used two things in the past that have worked very well for me. I used an 11 inch sub 100 dollar chromebook for a couple of years as my mobile workhorse. For true transportability, I've used a tablet (with a terminal emulator for some local capabilities, and with ssh for broader capabilities) and a folding bluetooth keyboard. I keep these in my bag.

With these requirements, there is not a lot to choose from. Basically, you are looking for 11" sub-1kg laptops:


It would seem that a feasible option is HP EliteBook Folio G1 or Apple MacBook 12.

I have used an iPad in a keyboard/case combo that was absolutely fantastic as a form factor, but I'm not sure that would meet your needs based on the application.

Maybe a different tablet device that can run Linux or an Android variant capable of providing the tools you require.

A nice thing about tablets is instantaneous sleep to on even vs. modern desktop OS.

I have written software on a Toshiba Libretto 70CT [1], also have an original ASUS EE Pc 701.

My Pinebook is probably a bit bigger that you are asking for but it is light in weight.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toshiba_Libretto

Used an Asus Zenbook 3 UX390UA-GS041T for a very long time for exactly that purpose. Ran Linux on it, loved the keyboard, didn't like the trackpad so much but since it was really only for writing (code) on-the-go it worked perfectly fine. Not sure if there's an updated version of that.

GPD P2 Max is 8.9", probably the smallest 'real' laptop out there


I'm guessing since you said "laptop", you want something bag-sized rather than pocket sized but for pocket, there are products like the GPD Pocket: http://gpd.hk/gpdpocket2

I really wish there was something modern like the ThinkPad 701c[0], which had a really ingenuous folding keyboard:

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLj3aCfqzOM

Have you considered a wearable computer then? https://github.com/andrey-utkin/wearable-computer/wiki

Lenovo Yoga Book - 10.1"

I have an old 11” MacBook Air that I sometimes use for development on the go.

It’s a bit weak on vertical screen resolution but perfectly capable of building and running small web apps.

It weighs almost nothing and the keyboard is comfortable.

I'm still loving my 2013 MacBook Air 13" with an i7 and 8 GB RAM.

I mostly do Python development with Vim (web, DevOps, ML/NLP) and Dart/Flutter stuff with VSCode. For bigger workloads I ssh into my iMac.

Maybe the Cosmo Commnicator?

The Gemini might be better for dedicated programming. It's cheaper, and the Cosmo Communicator has terrible stand-by battery life (although usage doesn't significantly affect life). You would miss out on the light-up keyboard, though.

I'd very much prefer the Cosmo because of the backlit keyboard. I guess battery usae is going to improve with future firmware updates. Some progress has already been there if I remember correctly.

25 ears ago i would have recommended the amazing IBM PC110 Palmtop.

It's funny how these devices keep appearing but never gain a real foothold. My first thought was the HP 95LX.

12" MacBook with the i5 or i7 (it's rare now, though). I've made do with the m3 version and while PHPStorm runs slow, it's bearable.

I've written JS + HTML code on my phone using Termux in the past. If you use a small bluetooth keyboard it works surprisingly well.

I‘d recommend buying a Surface Go. Using WSL you can tool up, like on any other machine. However, remember to grab the 8GB model.

if you are looking at Macs, mac book air.

Chromebook is a fantastic option in terms of price, though everything may have to stay in the cloud.

I've not tried it, but I think you can install Ubuntu within a container on a Chromebook[1] without jailbreaking or removing ChromeOS.

[1] https://ubuntu.com/tutorials/install-ubuntu-on-chromebook

No it’s even easier and better than that. There is a built in Linux container internally called crostini, you just turn it on and it’s a fully featured Linux install with admin privileges and a terminal.

You can repave a lot of Chromebooks with Linux, and should, if you're using one as a dev machine.

The lack of one modifier key left of the keyboard is an issue to me. Equivalent Windows laptops cost about the same and have an extra key.

And can run Linux just fine.

Caps Lock is useless. Map it to Control and the search key to Super, and you have all the modifiers you need, and in a more comfortable configuration besides.

That's still one key short.

What do you use hyper for? It's cool that DEs support binding it, but I've never found a use.

I use Emacs. I have use for as many keys as I can add to a keyboard (on my desk I have a PC 122 model M by Unicomp)

I mean, I do too, have for over a decade now. I'm still much more likely to bind under a prefix than directly to a meta chord.

macbook air, is no good for programming. sketching and frontend things yes, but when you start running environments within it like docker for example. it will crash.

The use-case is “quickly write tiny JS/PHP/Html programs”. I do that on my Air. I have never used docker and don’t really know what docker is besides a tech-de-jour.

JS means using npm and node, ive heard my laptop fans go crazy at times. I'm MBP 13 inch, i7, SSD, 16GB Ram

That's not really true though, and I know this from personal experience in the company that I work for.

We have a fairly large development team all using MacBook Air, the previous version. It's a little workhorse, but you gotta know its limitations.

It struggles a little with Java development (i.e. running NetBeans or IntelliJ), but the new version (i.e. 2019 model) will do that just fine.

If you spec it out to about 2000$, with the i7 upgrade, 16 GB of RAM, 1TB SSD, I'm pretty sure it will be plenty powerful for the majority of developers. Probably as good as the 5 year old MacBook Pro everyone still uses.

Bonus: you get a function key row

You don't need to run docker for every single thing

Yes, you don't need Docker for the development environment. I do that sometimes though for convenience and for projects that I develop on only now and then.

Depends on the environment. You can easily run Docker containers on the new Air.

I own a Samsung Chromebook 3 with GalliumOS, it has 4Gb of RAM and it pretty fast thanks to that lightweight Debian distro.

You can run Emacs on virtually any laptop.

12" Macbook would probably be optimal.

Surface Go is an option to consider, however it can't really be used on a lap.

Any tablet + x2go or apache guacamole

Oh do I love x2go.

Most important for me is a descent keyboard. I always bring my k800.

Has anyone tried the Dell XPS Ultrabook for coding?

Panasonic RZ series

iPad Mini (or an iPhone Pro Max) + external or foldable keyboard is a decent compromise if you really value a small form factor.

The new Dell XPS 2020 or the MB Air.

Two words: Pinebook Pro.

get a secondhand or refurb macbook, the completely solid ones. Just plain ol macbook, now discontinued. I love mine.

No no no. No!

Don't take it from me. Take it from Drew here:


As he says: > The best laptop ever made is the ThinkPad X200

In these sad deprived days, coding means typing text. For text, you need a good keyboard.

And Lenovo made the best keyboards in laptops, later than anyone else... until they went chiclet. As chiclets go, Lenovo's are good, but they're still chiclets and chiclet keyboards are inferior.

Trackpads are large, hard to be very accurate, and you accidentally hit them while typing. All you need is a Trackpoint.

And if you're some kind of current-kit fetishist, or some poor sucker working in Javascript or worse still some Electron abomination, then you can stick a new motherboard in it for your hideous bloatware to get the CPU cycles it needs to pointlessly burn.


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