Best Budget Laptops of 2017

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TOP LAPTOPS

Budget laptops have morphed in recent years from clunky gray slabs of plastic with creaky hardware to efficient, highly portable machines with respectable specs and increasingly slim and sleek styling. While the performance of cheap laptops is still decidedly modest, the best ones are quite capable of most everyday tasks, from emailing and web surfing to creating documents and streaming media. Cheapism.com's top laptops under $500 include traditional Windows-based laptops as well as convertible Chromebooks with touchscreens that double as tablets. For small business owners and movie and music aficionados, there's also a slightly more expensive model that bucks the trend toward cloud computing to offer 1 terabyte of on-board storage.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

DELL CHROMEBOOK 3189 2-IN-1

Good Basic Chromebook Under $500
Price: $320 | Buy it from B&H

Features: Intel Celeron N3060 processor | 4GB RAM | 16GB SSD flash drive | 11.6" touchscreen (1,366 x 768) | 3.16 lbs.

Pros:
- Solid, durable build with specialized Gorilla Glass to help protect the screen.
- Can be converted into a 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 the cheaper eMMC drives found on many Chromebooks.
- Battery provides all-day power.

Cons:
- Said to be slow at multitasking.
- Dim, low-resolution screen.
- Very little on-board storage.
- No USB-C ports; may require adapters to connect to many newer devices.

Takeaway: The Dell Chromebook 3189 is typical of many Chromebooks on the market today. It's made with students in mind and won't wow you with its speed or display, but it's a reliable, affordable 2-in-1 laptop with solid construction to boot. Just don't expect any truly standout features at this price.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

ACER CHROMEBOOK R13 (CB5-312T-K5X4)

Good Chromebook Under $500 With Full-HD Display
Price: $349 | Buy it from Best Buy

Features: MTK M8173C processor | 4GB RAM | 32GB eMMC flash drive | 13.3" touchscreen (1,920 x 1,080) | 3.28 lbs.

Pros:
- Convertible design with a touchscreen and 360-degree hinge that allows for even more positions.
- Full-HD display provides a crisp, clear picture from every angle.
- Handles most web-oriented tasks well, and can access Android apps (at least in beta).
- Aluminum lid lends a more expensive look.
- Excellent battery life of up to 13 hours in expert tests.

Cons:
- Heavy for a Chromebook of its size.
- With a plastic base, it may not be as sturdy as the aluminum 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 the overall performance, though. While it's certainly adequate, it won't blow you away. At the list price of $400, there are better options; but on sale (as it is now), this sharp-screened, fairly versatile 2-in-1 machine is definitely worth a second look.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

ASUS CHROMEBOOK FLIP C302

Best Chromebook Under $500 
Price: $460 | Buy it on Amazon

Features: Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor | 4GB RAM | 64GB eMMC flash drive | 12.5" touchscreen (1,920 x 1,080) | 2.65 lbs.

Pros:
- Sleek, lightweight aluminum build puts many in mind of a MacBook Air.
- 2-in-1 design with a 360-degree hinge that allows multiple positioning options, from tablet to stand mode.
- Full-HD display with better-than-average sharpness.
- Backlit keyboard.
- Intel Core M processor is more robust than the CPUs powering many competitors.
- 64GB of on-board storage -- 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: around 10 hours in expert tests.
- PCMag, Laptop Mag, and TechRadar Editors' Choice.

Cons:
- A little pricey for a Chromebook.
- Users 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 C302 has a lot of high-end features not found on other cheap laptops, along with zippy performance. Users who like the looks and light weight of the MacBook Air might be quite pleased with this much-cheaper alternative. An even less expensive, student-oriented version, the Flip C213, has recently been released and earned lots of expert interest. It may be worth a look for those willing to sacrifice a little power.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

SAMSUNG CHROMEBOOK PLUS (XE513C24-K01US)

Best 2-in-1 Chromebook Under $500
Price: $449 | Buy it from Best Buy

Features: OP1 processor | 4GB RAM | 32GB eMMC flash drive | 12.3" touchscreen (2,400 x 1,600 quad HD) | 2.38 lbs.

Pros:
- Attractive design, with full-aluminum case.
- Lightweight and very thin, at just 0.51 inches.
- Bright, vivid touchscreen display with resolution 4 times higher than standard high definition.
- Convertible design with a built-in stylus to draw and tap on the 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.

Cons:
- More expensive than most Chromebooks.
- Limited ports: no HDMI or standard USB (USB-C only); adapters needed to connect some peripherals.
- Keyboard is shallow and doesn't have the best feel, according to experts.

Takeaway: Samsung's Chromebook Plus stands out from the pack. It's currently one of the few that's specially built for Android-app support, and the display resolution is much higher than average. Users 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 this 2-in-1 Chromebook is 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.

Photo credit: Courtesy of lenovo.com

LENOVO THINKPAD 13 (2ND GENERATION)

Good Windows Laptop Under $500
Price: $494 | Buy it from Lenovo

Features: Intel Celeron 3865U processor | 4GB RAM | 128GB SSD flash drive | 13.3" display (1,366 x 768) | 3.17 lbs.

Pros:
- Designed to meet military-grade durability standards.
- Performance on par with some more powerful machines, according to experts.
- Excellent, full-size keyboard earns raves from experts and users.
- Wide range of ports, including USB-C, HDMI, and a special port to connect to a proprietary docking station.
- SSD flash drive with ample storage.
- Long battery life; as many as 12 hours on a single charge.
- Surprisingly good speakers for a cheap laptop.

Cons:
- Expensive for an entry-level model.
- Low-resolution display lacks brightness.

Takeaway: There's a lot to like about the Lenovo ThinkPad 13, a reliable workhorse that's made for business use. The 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 it's built to last.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

ACER SWIFT 3 (SF314-51-39NE)

Best Windows Laptop Under $500
Price: $500 | Buy it on Amazon

Features: Intel Core i3-7100U processor | 4GB RAM | 128GB SSD flash drive | 14" display (1,920 x 1,080) | 3.31 lbs.

Pros:
- All-aluminum body gives a quality look and feel.
- Nice, sharp full-HD display with good contrast.
- Intel Core i3 processor is more powerful than those in many similarly priced laptops.
- SSD flash drive and more on-board storage than many other cheap laptops.
- Full array of USB ports, from USB 2.0 to USB-C.
- Fingerprint reader adds an extra level of security.
- Responsive trackpad works better than most, according to reviewers.

Cons:
- Battery life is just average.
- Display could be brighter.
- Webcam images can be a bit grainy, according to one reviewer.
- Fingerprint reader doesn't always work, some users say.

Takeaway: The Acer Swift 3 is a well-designed laptop that delivers truly solid performance and has a colorful display, although it's not especially bright. Battery life is below average, but this model is faster and has a few more perks than many others in this price range, especially Windows laptops.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

HP STREAM 14 (AX010NR)

Bonus: Windows Laptop Under $300 
Price: $220 | Buy it from HP

Features: Intel Celeron N3060 processor | 4GB RAM | 32GB eMMC flash drive | 14" display (1,366 x 768) | 3.17 lbs.

Pros:
- Very cheap for a Windows laptop.
- Larger-than-average display for the price.
- Battery life is good; 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 standout style.

Cons:
- Not much storage for a Windows system, although cloud storage options come free for the 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, it can certainly get basic jobs done -- which is saying a lot, given the sub-$250 price.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

DELL INSPIRON 15 5000 (5565)

Bonus: Modern Windows Laptop With Some 'Old-School' Perks
Price: $550 | Buy it from Dell

Features: AMD A9-9400 processor | 8GB RAM | 1TB hard drive | 15.6" display (1,366 x 768) | 5.2 lbs.

Pros:
- No steep learning curve; users say it's easy to set up and operate, with familiar features.
- 1TB hard drive provides far more on-board storage than most cheap laptops offer these days.
- Built-in DVD drive with the ability to burn CDs and DVDs offers additional backup storage options.
- Ports include standard USB 2.0 and 3.0, HDMI, and Ethernet for those who require wired internet connections.

Cons:
- Cheaper AMD processor may not be quite as powerful as Intel versions.
- Expect short battery life; some models in the series managed less than 5 hours in tests.
- Keys are a bit stiff, according to reviews.
- Heavier than many new laptops; components like the hard drive and DVD drive add bulk.
- No USB-C ports; adapters needed to connect some newer devices.
- Does not support faster 802.11ac wireless connections.

Takeaway: While many newer laptops 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 Ethernet port, plentiful onboard storage, and a built-in CD/DVD player. For those not so high on the cloud, this Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (5565) laptop is a relatively affordable, reliable choice that packs just enough punch.