8 Best Budget Laptops of 2017: Some Have Specs That Will Surprise
In recent years, budget laptops have morphed from clunky gray slabs of plastic with creaky hardware to efficient Chromebooks and Microsoft Windows-based systems that offer respectable specs, increasingly slim and sleek styling, and significant cost savings. While the performance of cheap laptops is still decidedly modest, the best ones are quite capable of most everyday computing tasks: emailing, web surfing, creating documents, and streaming movies and shows online.
Cheap laptops may not impress serious techies looking for feature-packed machines with lightning-fast processors, but their low prices, able productivity, and easy portability will entice many thrifty yet discerning shoppers, particularly students heading off to school. The majority support 802.11ac Wi-Fi, for faster connections, and many incorporate smaller, yet more robust USB-C ports. Some even sport sharp, full 1080p high-definition displays. Though most scrimp on on-board storage space (there's the cloud for that), the trade is made in favor of eMMC and SSD flash drives that are quicker and cut down on the bulk of HDD mechanical hard drives.
Cheapism.com's top picks under $500 for 2017 include traditional laptops as well as convertible Chromebooks with touchscreen technology that double as tablets. Small business owners, and serious movie and music aficionados, might also be happy to see a slightly more expensive model that bucks the trend towards cloud computing to offer 1 terabyte of onboard storage.
Good Basic Chromebook Under $500
Price: $320 | Buy it on Amazon
Features: Chrome OS | Intel Celeron N3060 processor | 4GB memory | 16GB SSD flash drive | 11.6-inch (1,366 x 768) touchscreen display | 3.16 pounds
- Tough design, with solid, durable build; specialized Gorilla Glass helps protect screen.
- Can be converted into tablet.
- Keyboard, touchpad, and touchscreen are responsive and perform well, according to reviewers.
- Very capable speakers for a budget laptop.
- SSD drive is faster than cheaper eMMC drives found on many Chromebooks.
- Battery provides all-day power.
- Said to be slow at multitasking.
- Dim, low-resolution screen.
- Very little onboard storage.
- No USB-C ports; may require adapters to connect to many newer external devices.
Takeaway: Dell's Chromebook 3189 is typical of many Chromebooks on the market today. It's made with students in mind and offers affordability and basic functionality -- but it won't wow you with speed or display quality. It's a reliable budget laptop, with convertibility and solid construction to boot. Just don't expect any truly stand-out features for the price.
Good Chromebook With Full-HD Display Under $500
Price: $360 | Buy it from BestBuy
Features: Chrome OS| MTK M8173C processor | 4GB memory | 32GB eMMC flash drive | 13.3-inch (1,920 x 1,080 full HD) touchscreen display | 3.28 pounds
- Convertible with touchscreen; 360-degree hinge allows for even more positions.
- Full-HD display provides a crisp, clear picture from every angle.
- Handles most web-oriented tasks well, and ability to access Android apps (at least in beta) expands functionality.
- Aluminum lid adds a more expensive look.
- Excellent battery life of up to 13 hours in expert tests.
- Heavy for a Chromebook of its size.
- Plastic base means it may not be as sturdy as cover suggests.
- Performance isn't necessarily inspiring for the price.
Takeaway: Perhaps the best feature of the Acer Chromebook R13 is its extraordinary battery life -- users can go all day without a power-up. It's a bit harder to get charged up about its overall performance, though -- it's certainly adequate, but it just won't blow you away. At its list price of $400, there are better options; but on sale (as it is now), this sharp-screened, fairly versatile machine is definitely worth a second look.
Best Chromebook With Full-HD Display Under $500
Price: $469 | Buy it on Amazon
Features: Chrome OS| Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor | 4GB memory | 64GB eMMC flash drive | 12.5-inch (1,920 x 1,080 full HD) touchscreen display | 2.65 pounds
- Sleek, light-weight aluminum build puts many in mind of a MacBook Air.
- 360-degree hinge allows for multiple positioning options, from tablet to stand mode.
- Full-HD display has better-than-average sharpness, and backlit keyboard is a nice extra feature.
- Intel Core M processor is more robust than the CPUs powering many competitors' machines; 64GB of on-board storage is very generous for a Chromebook.
- Can access Android apps (in beta mode).
- Two USB-C ports support the latest connectors and provide faster data transfers.
- Good battery life: averaged around 10 hours in expert tests.
- A little pricey for a Chromebook.
- Limited ports mean users will need adapters for some types of connections (HDMI, USB-A, etc.).
- Display could be even brighter and speakers are kind of weak, according to one expert.
Takeaway: The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA has a lot of high-end features not found on other cheap laptops and also has zippy performance. Users who like the looks and light weight of MacBooks might be quite pleased with this much-cheaper alternative. An even less expensive, student-oriented version, the Flip C213SA, has recently been released and earned lots of expert interest. It may be worth a look for those willing to sacrifice a little of the C302CA's power.
Best Cheap Features-Packed Chromebook Under $500
Price: $400 | Buy it from Samsung
Features: Chrome OS| OP1 processor | 4GB memory | 32GB eMMC flash drive | 12.3-inch (2,400 x 1,600 Quad HD) touchscreen display | 2.38 pounds
- Attractive design, with full-aluminum case.
- Lightweight and very thin at just 0.51 inches.
- Bright, vivid touchscreen display bests the competition with resolution that's four times sharper than standard high definition.
- Convertible, and comes with a built-in stylus to draw and tap on screen.
- Android-app support out of the box means greater Google Play access.
- Chrome OS-optimized processor delivers quick, competent performance, according to reviewers.
- Users can expect about 9 hours of battery life.
- More expensive than most Chromebooks.
- Limited ports, no HDMI or standard USB ports (USB-C only); adapters needed for some external connectors.
- So-so keyboard; according to experts, it's shallow and doesn't have the best feel.
Takeaway: Samsung's Chromebook Plus stands out from the pack. Its display resolution is much higher than average, and it's currently one of the few Chromebooks on the market that's specially-built for Android-app support. Users also rave about the included stylus, saying it's a great study tool that makes it easy to take lecture notes or add comments to documents. While it's a bit pricier than some others, and its keyboard might disappoint, in terms of overall performance and perks consumers get quite a lot for their money.
Good Windows Laptop Under $500
Price: $495 | Buy it from Lenovo
Features: Windows 10| Intel Celeron 3865U processor | 4GB memory | 128GB SSD flash drive | 13.3-inch (1,366 x 768) display | 3.17 pounds
- Excellent, full-size keyboard earns raves from experts and users.
- Designed to meet military-grade durability standards.
- According to experts, delivers performance on par with some more powerful machines.
- Wide range of ports, including USB-C port, HDMI port, and a special port to connect to proprietary docking station.
- Has an SSD flash drive and ample storage.
- Long battery life; it's safe to expect as many as 12 hours on a single charge.
- Speakers are surprisingly good for a cheap laptop.
- Expensive for an entry-level model.
- Low-resolution display lacks brightness.
Takeaway: There's a lot to like about Lenovo's ThinkPad 13. Its keyboard is outstanding, performance is better than many systems in its class, and battery life exceeds the average. It's on the pricier end of the Cheapism spectrum, especially when not on sale, but is a reliable workhorse that's made for business use and built to last.
Best Overall Windows Laptop Under $500
Price: $500 | Buy it on Amazon
Features: Windows 10 OS | Intel Core i3-7100U processor | 4GB memory | 128GB SSD flash drive | 14-inch (1,920 x 1,080 full HD) display | 3.31 pounds
- All-aluminum body gives quality look and feel.
- Display is nice and sharp, with good contrast.
- Provides truly solid performance thanks to more powerful Intel i3 CPU.
- Has an SSD flash drive and more on-board storage than many other cheap laptops.
- Offers full array of USB ports, from USB 2.0 to USB-C.
- Fingerprint reader adds extra level of security.
- Responsive trackpad works better than those found on many other budget systems, according to reviewers.
- Battery life is just average.
- The display could be brighter.
- Webcam images can be a bit grainy, according to one reviewer.
- Some users say fingerprint reader doesn't always work.
Takeaway: The Acer Swift 3 is a well-designed laptop that delivers strong performance and has a colorful display, though it's not especially bright. Battery life is below average, but it's faster and has a few more perks than many systems in this price range, especially Windows models.
Bonus Pick -- A Windows Laptop For Tighter Budgets
Price: $220 | Buy it from HP
Features: Windows 10 OS| Intel Celeron N3060 processor | 4GB memory | 32GB eMMC flash drive | 14-inch (1,366 x 768) display | 3.17 pounds
- Very cheap for a Windows laptop.
- Provides larger-than-average display for the price.
- Battery life is good; managed 8 hours in expert tests.
- Wide selection of ports, including two USB 3.1 (up to twice as fast as USB 3.0).
- Blue color gives it a stand-out style.
- Small amount of storage for a Windows system, though cloud storage options come free for first year.
- Poor overall screen quality.
- Mediocre keyboard and touchpad.
Takeaway: Consumers would be hard pressed to find a cheaper laptop that's worthy of consideration, especially one that runs Windows software. This inexpensive model has its share of shortcomings, but some could be fixed with the purchase of a few cheap accessories. And while it's not necessarily a powerhouse when it comes to processing skills, it can certainly get basic jobs done -- which is saying a lot, given the sub-$250 price.
Bonus Pick -- A Modern Windows Laptop With Some "Old-School" Perks
Price: $600 | Buy it from Dell
Features: Windows 10 OS| AMD A9-9400 processor | 8GB memory | 1TB hard drive | 15.6-inch (1,366 x 768) display | 5.2 pounds
- No steep learning curve; users say it's easy to set up and operate, with familiar features.
- 1-terabyte hard drive should provide more than enough on-board storage for most users.
- Built-in DVD drive with the ability to burn CDs and DVDs also offers additional back-up storage options.
- Ports include standard USB 2.0 and 3.0, an HDMI port, and an Ethernet port for those who require wired internet connections.
- Cheaper AMD processor may not be quite as powerful as those on Intel versions.
- Expect short battery life; some models in the series managed less than 5 hours in tests.
- Keyboard is functional, but keys are a bit stiff, according to reviews.
- Heavier than many laptops; additional components add bulk.
- No USB-C ports; adapters needed for some external connectors.
- Does not support faster 802.11ac internet connections.
Takeaway: While many newer laptop models have become totally dependent on wireless connections, streaming media, and external storage options, this modern but practical machine offers many conveniences users miss, like an included Ethernet port, plentiful onboard storage, and a built-in CD/DVD player. For those whose heads aren't quite so wrapped up in the clouds of today's computing landscape, Dell's Inspiron 15 5000 (5565) is a relatively affordable, reliable choice that packs just enough punch.