If you’re now working at home, if your kids are now learning at home, if you’re just stuck at home and looking for a good computing experience, you may be in the market for a new laptop. Unfortunately — especially for those who need to watch their pennies — tech isn’t cheap. But take heart: there is actually a lot of tech out there that will provide a great experience but won’t cost you as much as you’d imagine.
What follows are reviews of a variety of laptops that you might want to consider for the use of yourself and your family. It includes relatively low-cost Windows 10 systems and lower-cost Chromebooks. (It does not, as you might imagine, include any Apple computers — however, if you’re looking for a macOS system, you might want to check out our article on how to buy refurbished gadgets.)
Note: not all these laptops are what you would call cheap. However, they are less expensive than you would expect for what they deliver. So take a look and decide what suits your needs best.
Windows 10 laptops
At a $649 list price (it’s about $680 on Amazon at time of press), the question isn’t “Does the Acer Swift 3 laptop knock your socks off?” The question is “Does it get the job done, and where are you asked to compromise?” The compromises exist, but the gist is that, for Google Docs work, Zoom calls, streaming, emailing, and other tasks that many students spend the day doing, the Swift 3 does the trick. And it offers the combination of portability and durability that’s perfect for a campus experience or other on-the-go lifestyles.
Dell’s G5 15 SE is focused. It’s not the best-looking gaming laptop or the fastest out there, but starting at $879.99, its AMD Ryzen processor and RX 5600M graphics chip make for a great tag team. Along with other speedy components like fast RAM, an NVMe SSD, and a 144Hz refresh rate display, this Dell gaming laptop undercuts and outruns the competition in its price range.
Almost everything about the new Swift 5 is fine. The screen is fine, the performance is fine, the battery life is fine, and the price ($899.99 to start, $999.99 as tested) isn’t outrageous for the specs included. There’s not a ton to complain about here, but the Swift 5 isn’t top of its class in these categories. Where it stands out is portability — and compared to previous Swift models, it asks remarkably few sacrifices in exchange.
Traditionally, the Envy line has been HP’s midrange option; it’s a rung above the budget Pavilion, but a rung below the flagship Spectre. This model, which starts at $699, really blurs the latter line. It’s easily the best laptop under $1,000 that you can buy right now. Not only does the 2020 Envy x360 look as nice and perform as well as last year’s Spectre x360 (which starts at $1,099), but using it also feels quite similar to using HP’s $1,500 Elite Dragonfly, one of the best business notebooks on the market.
Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet is far from flawless. But when you’re evaluating a device that starts at $279, the question isn’t “Is this a perfect device?” The question is: “Is this better than other stuff you can get for that price?” Lenovo has certainly cut some corners to shave the Chromebook Duet down to that price point. But at the end of the day, they feel like cut corners, not like major missteps that significantly hamper the device. And after several days using the Duet as my primary driver, I feel comfortable saying it feels much more like a Surface Go with some concessions than it does an ultra-budget PC.
Two big factors set Acer’s Chromebook Spin 713 apart from the rest. The first is its 3:2 display. Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook, Asus’ Chromebook Flip C436, and many of last year’s top contenders like the Pixelbook Go all used a 16:9 aspect ratio — a more square 3:2 screen is taller and gives you significantly more vertical space. The second is the price. The Spin 713 starts at $629 (and has been on sale for $529 already). That’s fairly midrange as Chromebooks go, but it significantly undercuts some competitors from Samsung, Google, and Asus. By unveiling the Galaxy and the C436 at CES 2020, the companies essentially posed the question: can a Chromebook be worth $1,000?