Samsung Chromebook Plus (XE513C24-K01US) Review

From $400 Best

  • 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.
  • 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 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.

Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA Review

From $469 Best

  • Sleek, lightweight aluminum build puts many in mind of a MacBook Air.
  • 360-degree hinge 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. 
  • 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.

Acer Swift 3 (SF314-51-39NE) Review

From $500 Best

  • All-aluminum body gives a quality look and feel.
  • Nice, sharp 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.
  • 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.

Dell Chromebook 3189 2-in-1 Review

From $320 Good

  • 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.
  • 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.

Acer Chromebook R13 (CB5-312T-K5X4) Review

From $360 Good

  • 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.
  • 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, this sharp-screened, fairly versatile machine is definitely worth a second look.

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 (2nd Generation) Review

From $549 Good

  • 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 and ample storage.
  • Long battery life; as many as 12 hours on a single charge.
  • Surprisingly good speakers for a cheap laptop.
  • 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.

Where to buy

Lenovo IdeaPad 110s (80WG0001US) Review

From $148 Think Twice

  • Incredibly cheap for a Windows laptop.
  • The keyboard is responsive and the touchpad works well, according to reviewers, although it could be bigger.
  • Small and lightweight -- good for travel and general portability.
  • Relatively short battery life, according to expert tests and user reviews.
  • Only 2GB of RAM (experts recommend at least 4GB for Windows-based laptops).
  • On-board storage is skimpy for a Windows-based system; eMMC flash drive not as fast as an SSD flash drive.
  • No USB-C ports; adapters needed for some external connectors.
  • Dim, low-resolution screen could stand to be much brighter.
  • Experts say the speakers are weak and the webcam is also of poor quality.

Takeaway: Experts agree the Lenovo ThinkPad 110s is by no means meant to serve as a primary machine -- it's a backup laptop or a model for the kids, at best. It simply doesn't have the have the on-board power to manage more than the most basic of tasks, and these it'll have to take one at a time. For this older version's super-low price, that may be just fine for some, but we'd definitely be hard-pressed to justify the expense of the latest model. It costs nearly $100 more, and seems to have improved only in looks -- base specs remain virtually the same.

Where to buy

Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook (ZA270025US) Review

From $270 Think Twice

  • Very inexpensive, even by Chromebook standards.
  • Features a durable design that can take some punishment.
  • 360-degree hinge allows for multiple positioning options.
  • Can access Android apps (in beta mode).
  • Touchscreen works quite well, and the speakers are surprisingly loud, according to reviewers.
  • Has a USB-C port to support latest connector types.
  • Below average battery life, according to expert tests and user reviews.
  • Keyboard is "shallow" and overly sensitive, making inputting text on this laptop a far from optimal experience.
  • Dim, low-resolution screen could stand to be much brighter.
  • All-plastic casing is rather clunky and unattractive.

Takeaway: The Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook, which is geared toward educational use, is just powerful enough for basic multitasking and classroom activities, but don't ask much more from it than that. You'd expect this laptop to be light on specs given its price, and it does performs well enough, but its low-quality display and uncomfortable keyboard might prove to be deal breakers for many potential buyers.

Where to buy

Buying Guide

Choosing a Laptop

The best cheap laptops have evolved considerably over the past few years. Chromebooks are shoving traditional laptops out of the budget price range, and we're now seeing "convertible" 2-in-1 laptops under Cheapism's $500 ceiling. New features cropping up in cheap laptops include flash storage, faster USB ports, and faster wireless connections. Manufacturers are also starting to use metal or textured plastic finishes to give even their most basic models a more upscale feel. We researched budget models that have caught the attention of expert reviewers and earned praise from consumers to determine the best affordable choices with solid performance and sought-after features.

Laptop Brands.

The top manufacturers of budget laptops include a host of familiar names such as Dell, Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard, Asus, and Acer. These companies offer a variety of cheap models designed to balance performance and cost. While Apple MacBooks still lie well beyond the Cheapism price range, we're now seeing companies typically known for more expensive products, such as Samsung, vying for position as a player in the entry-level laptop market. With seemingly endless configurations available from all these brands, potential buyers should have no problem finding the right set of features to suit their individual needs and spending limits.


The choices have expanded beyond the basic Windows laptops that dominated the segment in the past to include increasingly popular, cloud-based Chromebooks. Google's simpler Chrome operating system can't run Windows software, but there are web-based Chrome apps for just about every task you can imagine, from creating documents to editing photos, and plenty of Chrome substitutes for Microsoft programs. Also, with interest in Chromebooks growing, they are becoming more sophisticated, with better quality displays and more on-board storage than past models. Most are convertible laptop/tablet hybrids with touchscreen capabilities, also called 2-in-1 laptops.

This year two of our top three picks are Chromebooks: the Samsung Chromebook Plus (starting at $400) and the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA (starting at $469). Both models perform well and have superior features compared with similarly priced competitors.

Among our second-tier picks is the Dell Chromebook 3189 (starting at $320). Typical of Chromebooks these days, it's affordable and serviceable but doesn't pack any surprises. The Acer Chromebook R13 (starting at $360), another good pick, comes with a bigger price tag and a better screen. Its performance, like that of the Dell Chromebook, is modest but certainly good enough for most daily tasks. All of our Chromebook picks are 2-in-1 touchscreen laptops.

One Chromebook that didn't inspire us is the Lenovo Flex 11 (starting at $270). Mediocre specs, low-grade components, and poor battery life reported in reviews suggest that this model might be fine for young children but not for older students with serious workloads or anyone with more demanding expectations. While it does have a low price and durability in its favor, we'd still choose the Acer Chromebook R13 or Dell 3189 over this model -- especially if looks alone were the determining factor.

Windows Laptops.

For frugal computer users who are loyal to Microsoft's ecosystem, or who want more on-board storage than the typical Chromebook can provide, a Windows machine is the way to go. Cheap Windows laptops usually have larger hard drives, and SSD drives are increasingly common, which is a plus because they're faster than older magnetic hard drives. Nevertheless, computer makers usually have to sacrifice powerful components and some other amenities in exchange for the ability to run Windows programs on a machine that costs less than $500 -- so don't expect a lot of bells and whistles. The models we recommend can't double as tablets and you won't find touchscreens unless you're willing to pay extra.

Our pick for the best cheap Windows laptop is the Acer Swift 3 (starting at $500). For a budget laptop, this little PC has a lot of power; its Intel Core i3 processor is the most capable CPU driving any of our picks. It's also got a fairly sleek design and a full-HD display.

Our runner-up choice is the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 (starting at $549). It's got solid components and an equally solid build -- which is good for consumers who want or need a laptop that will withstand the bumps and bruises of travel. While it's currently just a tad over our $500 threshold, we've often seen prices drop below this mark.

Although it's not among our top picks, those looking for a Windows laptop under $300 might consider the HP Stream 14 (starting at $220). As to be expected with a machine this inexpensive, the specs and performance aren't exactly awe-inspiring. It's got a lower-grade hard drive and more limited storage, but if you need a "decent enough" Windows system and you're on a tight budget, this laptop may fill the bill.

A bare-bones model that we wouldn't necessarily recommend is the Lenovo IdeaPad 110s (starting at $148). This laptop is incredibly cheap for a Windows machine, but it seems a few too many corners have been cut where it counts to get to this price. (Lenovo has released a newer version starting at $230, but its specifications are nearly identical to the model we reviewed, so we don't expect significant performance improvements.)

Expensive vs. Cheap Laptops.

Laptops that cost more than our $500 limit tend to be faster, thinner, and lighter than budget models and have more powerful processors. Many also have larger displays with higher resolution. That said, the best affordable laptops are powerful enough for the usual daily tasks such as working on office documents, web surfing, and checking email. Most cheap laptops can also handle light multimedia, such as video streaming. They're not especially speedy, typically, but most models are functional enough.

Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table

(from $500.00)
2-in-1 No
Operating System Windows 10
Processor Intel Core i3-7100U
Memory 4GB
Storage Drive 128GB SSD
Display 14 inches 1,920 x 1080
Connectivity & Ports 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, USB-C, USB 3.0, USB 2.0
Weight 3.31 lbs.
(from $400.00)
2-in-1 Yes
Operating System Chrome OS
Processor OP1 (ARM-based)
Memory 4GB
Storage Drive 32GB eMMC
Display 12.3-inch touchscreen 2,400 x 1,600
Connectivity & Ports 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, two USB-C
Weight 2.38 lbs.
(from $469.00)
2-in-1 Yes
Operating System Chrome OS
Processor Intel Core m3-6Y30
Memory 4GB
Storage Drive 64GB eMMC
Display 12.5 -inch touchscreen 1,920 x 1,080
Connectivity & Ports 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, two USB-C
Weight 2.65 lbs.
(from $549.00)
2-in-1 No
Operating System Windows 10
Processor Intel Celeron 3865U
Memory 4GB
Storage Drive 128GB SSD
Display 13.3 inches 1,366 x 768
Connectivity & Ports 802.11ac, Bluetooth, 4.1, USB-C, three USB 3.0, OneLink+ dock port, HDMI
Weight 3.17 lbs.
(from $320.00)
2-in-1 Yes
Operating System Chrome OS
Processor Intel Celeron N3060
Memory 4GB
Storage Drive 16GB SSD
Display 11.6-inch touchscreen 1,366 x 768
Connectivity & Ports 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, two USB 3.1, HDMI
Weight 3.16 lbs.
(from $360.00)
2-in-1 Yes
Operating System Chrome OS
Processor MTK M8173C (ARM-based)
Memory 4GB
Storage Drive 32GB eMMC
Display 13.3-inch touchscreen 1,920 x 1,080 inches
Connectivity & Ports 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, USB-C, USB 3.0, HDMI
Weight 3.28 lbs.
(from $270.00)
2-in-1 Yes
Operating System Chrome OS
Processor MTK M8173C (ARM-based)
Memory 4GB
Storage Drive 32GB eMMC
Display 11.6 -inch touchscreen 1,366 x 768es
Connectivity & Ports 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, USB-C, USB 3.0, HDMI
Weight 2.9 lbs.
(from $148.00)
2-in-1 No
Operating System Windows 10
Processor Intel Celeron N3060
Memory 2GB
Storage Drive 32GB eMMC
Display 11.6 inches 1,366 x 768
Connectivity & Ports 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, HDMI
Weight 2.53 lbs.
(from $600.00)
2-in-1 No
Operating System Windows 10
Processor AMD A9-9400
Memory 8GB
Storage Drive 1TB HDD (5400 rpm)
Display 15.6 inches 1,366 x 768
Connectivity & Ports 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, two USB 3.0, USB 2.0, Ethernet port, HDMI & DVD drive
Weight 5.2 lbs.
(from $220.00)
2-in-1 No
Operating System Windows 10
Processor Intel Celeron N3060
Memory 4GB
Storage Drive 32GB eMMC
Display 14 inches 1,366 x 768
Connectivity & Ports 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, two USB 3.1, two USB 3.0, USB 2.0, HDMI
Weight 3.17 lbs.

Laptop Reviews: What We Considered

Laptop reviews tend to focus on higher-end systems, but smaller budget laptops, including Chromebooks and convertible models, are getting more attention from industry insiders as they become more popular. We relied on expert reviews for most of our information about the budget models we picked, consulting outlets such as PCMag, Laptop Mag, and Computer Shopper and technology sites including CNET, Digital Trends, TechRadar, and The Verge, as well as Notebook Review, which specializes in laptops. Most expert reviewers seem to have modest expectations for budget notebooks. These systems aren't designed for high-end graphics, video editing, or fast-paced PC gaming, but experts look for snappy performance in areas such as web surfing, email, and office work. Reviewers, like end users, also value responsive keyboards, touchscreens, and touchpads, as well as long battery life.

Speed and Performance.

Nothing influences the performance of a laptop more than the processor, commonly known as a central processing unit, or CPU. In general, the more powerful the processor, the faster the laptop runs -- and, naturally, the more it's apt to cost. Most cheap Windows laptops, including all of our top picks, use an Intel processor, typically a Celeron or Pentium model, with Pentiums being a little more powerful. The Acer Swift 3 is one of the few budget models that uses an Intel Core i3 CPU, which is a step up from a Pentium.

You'll also occasionally come across a budget model with an AMD processor. AMD CPUs (sometimes called APUs) tend to be a little cheaper, whereas Intel processors tend to have slightly better performance. But this is a general comparison: The exact value and performance differences between AMD and Intel CPUs varies depending on the specific generations and versions of the CPUs being compared. Budget shoppers, and the average computer user who's not a serious gamer, likely will see little difference in performance between comparably priced Intel and AMD systems, all other specs being equal.

Chromebooks often use CPUs from other manufacturers that are designed for lightweight, mobile devices like phones and tablets. These ARM-based processors typically aren't as powerful as Intel or AMD CPUs, but Chromebooks also place fewer demands on their processors.

The performance of these other brands can differ quite a bit. For example, the Acer R13 and Lenovo Flex 11 use chips from manufacturer MediaTek, whose MTK processors are commonly found in ultra-budget devices. The Samsung Chromebook Plus runs on an OP1 chip trademarked by Google and purported to be optimized for Chromebooks. The biggest boon of this OP1 processor is it's designed to be compatible with Android apps (the Acer R13 and Lenovo Flex 11 can run Android apps from the Google Play store only in beta mode). Experts including a reviewer from PCMag say it provides speedy performance during startup and web surfing and handles media streaming and multitasking quite well. Some say the Samsung Chromebook Plus just might make converts of MacBook users.

PC Mag's reviewer suggests that the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA, with its Intel Core M processor, should be another favorite with those looking for a quicker computer or one that can stream 4K content with limited stuttering. This chip isn't quite as powerful as the one driving the Acer Swift 3, but it outshines Celeron, Pentium, and ARM-based processors. The Flip C302CA is also able to run Android apps in beta. For those who want greater access on this front, Asus has just launched a new model designed with students in mind: the Asus Chromebook Flip C213SA, which comes fully Android-app ready. It's similar to the Flip C302CA but has an Intel Celeron CPU. Although it may be a bit slower -- and also has a smaller, lower resolution screen -- other improvements, including front and rear cameras, as well as a lower price tag, definitely make it worth a second look. You won't find it at the Asus store online or on Amazon, but it can be purchased on a handful of sites, including (starting at $355). A version with a stylus is set to release in September.


The amount of random-access memory in a laptop also affects how well it performs. Higher-end laptops typically have more RAM, as well as video cards with their own memory built in, so they can process graphics separately and deliver faster multimedia performance. The integrated video processors in low-cost laptops should be fine for most users who aren't trying to run powerful games or do video editing, as long as they have enough RAM to handle the extra demand of heavier graphics loads. For a typical laptop, experts recommend at least 4 gigabytes of memory. All our picks have 4GB except the Lenovo 110s, which we don't recommend. With only 2GB of RAM, the Windows-based Lenovo 110s can struggle to keep up when performing even light tasks. Many users, like this one reviewing the laptop on Amazon, say it's so slow it simply wouldn't suit the average student or business person.


Until recently, most laptops were loaded with old, slow, and cheap mechanical hard drives, but the drives were massive, with many storing as much as 1 terabyte of data. That's changed considerably. With more and more users storing files in the cloud, today's cheap laptops often have little on-board storage, usually in the form of speedier eMMC or SSD flash drives, which have no moving parts. SSDs, or solid state drives, are the fastest of the two and often found on cheap Windows laptops. EMMC drives, which work with embedded memory cards, are more popularly used in Chromebooks and mobile devices. Chromebooks typically have smaller hard drives, but most of the models we recommend have at least 32GB of storage. The Dell Chromebook 3189 has 16GB.

Since Windows software and the Windows 10 Home 64-bit operating system itself take up quite a bit of real estate (20GB just for the OS) laptops running Windows require more storage. The Acer Swift 3 and Lenovo ThinkPad 13 both have 128GB SSD hard drives. Here, again, the Lenovo IdeaPad 110s lags the rest with 32GB of eMMC storage. The HP Stream 14, the other incredibly cheap Windows-based option we mentioned, is similarly light on built-in storage, but it comes with a year of 25GB of Dropbox storage as well as a one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal, which includes 1TB of cloud storage.

Those who prefer to store their data the old-school way -- and save on the ongoing cost of cloud storage -- might look to the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (5565) (starting at $600). It's outside our Cheapism range, but it's a powerful machine that's faster than most of the laptops you'll find on our list, and it ships with a large 1TB drive. It also has a built-in DVD player -- a rarity these days, particularly in the budget segment -- that both plays and writes disks (upgradeable to Blu-ray), should users wish to save additional files that way. There are several versions of the Dell 15 5000, including both Intel- and AMD-based systems, as well as touchscreen and 2-in-1 versions. We picked the least expensive, with an AMD processor and no touchscreen, although the other options are also compelling.


2-in-1 laptops are becoming increasingly popular, even in the budget realm. Users can flip the lid back to use a 2-in-1 laptop as a tablets or fold it into "tent mode," which makes it easy to watch videos. A touchscreen is inherent in the 2-in-1 design. For those interested in a Chromebook, there are plenty of budget 2-in-1 options -- all our Chromebook picks are convertible models that can be used as Android tablets. Windows users have to spend more to access this sort of versatility, or settle for less powerful specs. Dell's Inspiron 15 5000 2-in1 (starting at $480), for example, has half the memory and half the storage space of its non-convertible counterparts. (We would also warn any potential buyer that data stored on a mechanical hard drive is prone to damage if accidentally dropped, which might be more likely when using the device as a tablet.)


Cheap laptops typically have displays from 11.6 inches to 15.6 inches. You're not likely to find a 17-inch laptop in the $400 to $500 range. The ideal screen size comes down to individual taste. A 11.6-inch to 13-inch laptop is smaller but more portable. The displays on all of our 2-in-1 picks fall within this range, with most erring toward the low end. Those who want more screen real estate for watching movies or playing games might prefer a model like the Acer Swift 3, which augments its greater processing power with a 14-inch display. The screen on the Swift 3 can run a little dim, however, and colors may seem a bit less vibrant, according to an expert at Trusted Reviews.

Most cheap laptops have 1,366 x 768 resolution, or 720p high definition, but some, including the Acer Swift 3, Acer R13, and Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA, boast 1080p, or "full HD," screens. The Flip earns praise from a CNET reviewer for a display that bests most budget competitors with its sharpness and extra-wide viewing angles. The Samsung Chromebook Plus has an even higher-resolution display, 2,400 x 1,600, and Notebook Review calls the screen simply "gorgeous."

Ports and Connectivity.

When shopping for a budget laptop, be sure not to overlook the array of ports and connection options it has. Most of our top picks have at least one USB 3.0 port, if not two, and sometimes also an older USB 2.0 port. USB 3.0 transfers data several times faster than USB 2.0, so it's ideal for tasks such as backing up data to an external hard drive. Newer USB 3.1 ports can be up to twice as fast as those featuring USB 3.0.

Some budget laptops now include one or two USB-C connections. USB-C ports are smaller, which allows manufacturers to make thinner laptops. They often support the 3.1 standard, so they tend to be faster, as well. While USB-C ports are becoming more prevalent, if a laptop has USB-C ports and not much else -- as is the case with the Samsung Chromebook Plus -- you may need adapters for external devices such as printers, monitors, or external hard drives.

Any laptop you buy today will have a built-in wireless card that supports 802.11n Wi-Fi connections. Support for a newer, more robust Wi-Fi connection, 802.11ac, is also showing up in many budget laptops, including all our top picks. Fewer and fewer laptops have Ethernet connections anymore. Ethernet ports are hard to fit into super-slim laptops, so more models are relying solely on wireless. Most inexpensive laptops support Bluetooth 4.0.

Finally, all of our picks have some form of built-in memory card reader -- a useful feature for extra storage, as well as for shutterbugs who want to view photos straight from a camera card. Given how little storage most budget laptops include, a memory card reader is definitely a selling point.

Keyboard and Touchpad.

Reviewers expect even a budget laptop to have a keyboard that's comfortable and lively and a touchpad that's responsive and large enough to use easily. Manufacturers often find a way to wedge a full-size keyboard into a small laptop, and for the most part reviewers are satisfied with the keyboards on the budget models we researched.

Lenovo generally has a reputation for making laptops with very good keyboards, and its ThinkPad 13 is a prime example, according to a reviewer from Computer Shopper. It even has a pointing stick for those who don't want to use the touchpad to control the cursor. The company seems to have missed the mark with the keyboard on the Flex 11, however; a Laptop Mag reviewer suggests its keys are too shallow and slippery. The budget-basic keyboard on the HP Stream 14 is pretty mediocre, as well, according to a CNET expert, and its touchpad doesn't earn raves either.

Some users also favor backlit keyboards, which are helpful when working in the dark, but these are still rare among budget laptops and often come at an added cost. The Asus Flip C302CA, which comes standard with a full-size illuminated keyboard, is an exception.


Laptop manufacturers have gone to great lengths to make their machines thinner and lighter, regardless of size. The 12.3-inch Samsung Chromebook Plus weighs only 2.38 pounds and is only about half an inch thick. Experts praise its slim profile, and at the same time point out that an aluminum frame gives it a more substantial, high-quality feel. Even among the bulkier or plastic-framed models among our top picks, none weighs more than 3.5 pounds. Expect much more heft from the Dell Inspiron 15 5000, however. With a sizable hard drive and a DVD tray built-in, this laptop tips the scales at 5.2 pounds and is nearly an inch thick.

Battery Life.

Battery life is crucial for anyone who frequently uses a laptop computer away from home and away from an outlet. In general, thrifty consumers can expect battery life of at least seven hours, but eight hours or more is preferable. Laptops that can go for more than eight hours usually earn a thumbs-up from reviewers. Note that different reviewers use different kinds of tests when assessing battery life, so while one expert may find that a particular model can run for nine hours on a single charge, another may test the same battery at seven hours.

At PC Mag, the ThinkPad 13 model they tested, which was powered by an Intel Core i3-7100 processor, proved to be an all-day machine; its battery held out for more than 12 hours, and one would expect even greater battery life with the less-powerful base model we list here. The Acer Chromebook R13 topped even that lofty mark with a battery that lasted 13 hours in a CNET test. Despite base specs that are fairly similar to those on the Acer R13, the Lenovo Flex 11 managed only about eight hours in Laptop Mag's tests. This places the Flex 11 below average compared with other models, including Dell's Chromebook 3189. According to Laptop Mag's tests, users can expect the Dell Chromebook to deliver about nine hours of battery life.

A final note to those considering the other Dell laptop we mentioned, the Inspiron 15 5000: Laptop Mag tests suggest that users should always have a charger on hand with this machine. The battery on the version they reviewed lasted a mere 4 hours and 30 minutes.

Additional Products We Considered

Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (5565) Review

From $600

  • No steep learning curve; users say it's easy to set up and operate, with familiar features.
  • 1TB 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 offers additional backup storage options.
  • Ports include standard USB 2.0 and 3.0, HDMI, and Ethernet for those who require wired internet connections.
  • 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 laptops; additional components add bulk.
  • No USB-C ports; adapters needed to connect some peripherals.
  • 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 Ethernet port, plentiful onboard storage, and a built-in CD/DVD player. For those whose heads aren't in the clouds of today's computing landscape, the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (5565) is a relatively affordable, reliable choice that packs just enough punch.

Where to buy

HP Stream 14 (ax010nr) Review

From $220

  • 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.
  • Small amount of 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.