Laptops are not a one size fits all device.
When shopping for a product, you’ll have to consider your lifestyle. Do you solely use a computer to binge-watch “The Office?” Are you an avid gamer who needs a crisp visual display and intense hard-drive? Or do you need something that is work and commuting friendly, while on a budget?
For instance, if you’re in that group, maybe it’s worth investing in a cheaper and lighter, but also more limited option, such as a Chromebook.
So before you drop a few hundred (or even sometimes thousands) of dollars on a device, take some time to consider what you really need.
Once you’ve figured that out, the next step is research.
For every budget range, there are plenty of options. To help you save time and sift through a bulk of the devices, we’ve researched top brands like Apple and HP and compared them to independent testing data from sites like Consumer Reports to find out which devices are actually worth their price tag.
Whether you’re shopping for a wallet-friendly pick or are willing to splurge on all the bells and whistles, you’ll know exactly what you’re buying.
Note: The prices below reflect the listed retailer’s price on the date this article was published.
Acer Spin 1 Touch Notebook ($237.49; target.com)
Acer’s Touch Notebook can hold its own against high level and high priced laptops for a fraction of the cost. On independent testing site Consumer Reports, the device is a recommended option for 10-11 inch laptops and has an overall rating of 66 out of 100. Keep in mind it’s in the same rating range as options that are well over $1,000 and received a decent review when it comes to its rigorous testing methods. The device is a convertible laptop that can convert to four different uses (laptop, display, tent or tablet) by using its 360-degree hinge. When tested by Consumer Reports, the Spin 1 was among the fastest with web productivity and web-based tasks. It even could handle gaming, viewing and editing photos, and HD videos. A battery that lasts more than 14 hours sweetens the deal.
Samsung Chromebook ($179.99; samsung.com)
Let’s be clear: a Chromebook isn’t for everyone. A Chromebook’s operating system is built around a web browser, meaning you should be prepared to rely on the cloud for all of your data storage. This is great news if you’re the kind of person who primarily needs a laptop to binge-watch Netflix, check emails and prefers Google Drive over Microsoft Office. If you need a laptop for gaming, Photoshop or other data-heavy software, this isn’t for you. But if this checks all your boxes, a Chromebook can deliver on a relatively low budget. The Samsung Chromebook 3 — which features an 11-hour battery life on a single charge, a water-resistant keyboard and weighs around 2 pounds — is an ideal and budget-conscious pick. Plus, based on lab testing, the model retains most of its capacity even after 3 years, meaning you’ll get the most bang for your buck.
Dell Inspiron 11 3000 ($179.99; dell.com)
The last on our affordable list is also our cheapest option. As we mentioned, be aware that when you are buying a cheaper laptop, you won’t receive the hi-tech features you’ll find on a premium model. For instance, the Dell Inspiron doesn’t have a full-size keyboard and only comes with 2GB of memory. That being said, the device does the trick as a solid ultraportable option. With about a 10-hour battery life, it can get you through a day of work and then some. It also houses the basic features you will find in a budget laptop, and also includes 64-bit Windows 10 and long-range Wi-Fi connection to limit buffering. Independent testing service Consumer Reports rated the Inspiron with an overall “Good” rating, giving it extra marks as “Very Good” in its portability.
Dell Chromebook ($289.99; amazon.com)
A big issue that many of our other Chromebook and laptop options have had is that resolution is subpar compared to premium models. So if high quality resolution is critical for you, the Dell Chromebook delivers. When put through testing, the device showcased a realistic and natural looking display. There was also little to no glare on the screens, even when viewing in a brightly lit room or outdoors. Dell’s Chromebook also boasts an under 6-second boot-up time and over 12 hours in battery life. It’s functionality and quality visuals have helped this device garner Editor’s Choice awards from both Laptopmag.com and Computer Shopper.
ASUS Portable Lightweight Intel Laptop ($409.99; amazon.com)
For students with more modest computer needs, like writing papers and surfing the web, ASUS delivers with this laptop. It has a number of features, including an all-day battery life, an ultraportable design and a free year subscription to Microsoft Office 365 Personal. That being said, because it is on the lower end of prices for laptops, it also suffers drawbacks. The display resolution isn’t the greatest, and like most laptops in its range, it’s capable of doing minimal tasks, not intense computing. But for a 4-star rated product on Amazon and an impressive battery life, ASUS seems worth it for anyone who needs an affordable device.
Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook, $329.25; lenovo.com)
If you’re a bit of a klutz (no shame), then you’ll need a sturdy laptop that can handle being knocked around once in awhile. The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is light and thin, but built sturdy enough to handle a bump here and there. According to the brand, the Chromebook is MIL-STD-2180G tested. Or in simpler terms, it’s been tested against a U.S. military standard in 12 specification tests for durability. This means the device should survive shocks and even extreme temperatures. But fair warning, this isn’t spill-proof, so we’d suggest you keep water far, far away. It also houses a comfortable keyboard and long-lasting battery that, along with the other features, makes it a solid device.
ASUS Chromebook Flip ($429.99; amazon.com)
There aren’t many affordable laptop models that have received more than one excellent rating on Consumer Reports, but the ASUS Chromebook Flip isn’t like other devices. The product has received top marks for ergonomics, performance and versatility during independent testing, and was among the top rated Chromebooks. The device has a convertible touchscreen and an Intel Core processor for fast performance. It also supports Google Play, giving you access to a variety of Android apps. However, for $500, you’re not getting stellar sound (you’ll want to add speakers or use headphones if you’re an audiophile) or a superior visual display. But all things considered, it still hits the mark.
The Razer Blade ($1,749; razerzone.com)
Gamers know that it takes a special type of laptop to keep up with their lifestyle. That’s why RazerZone has created a device specifically with gamers in mind. Probably the two most important aspects for a gaming laptop are display and storage. To fulfill the intense visual demands of gamers, the RazerBlade comes in full HD or 4K UHD display options, or can even connect with a VR headset should you want a more immersive gaming experience. This laptop has state-of-the-art storage up to 1TB. Those factors, alongside rave Editor’s Choice reviews from PCMag.com and Laptopmag.com, make the Razer Blade one of the top gaming powerhouses on the market.
MacBook Pro (Starting at $1,149; bestbuy.com)
Recently, MacBook Pros have received a serious update. In the fall, when Apple launched the newest iterations of laptops, the results we’re solid in terms of display quality and overall performance, but as Consumer Reports noticed, the battery life varied from device to device. Some tested with 3-hour battery life, while others lasted 10. Because of that, Apple made a software update that increased the longevity of the battery — think 19 hours on a single charge. With the newest software, factored in with the MacBook Pro’s remarkable 97% customer satisfaction on BestBuy, the MacBook has stood its ground as a top functioning laptop.
HP Spectre x360 ($1,009.99; hp.com)
If you are a fan of versatile designs, like the Acer Spin 1, but are looking for something more heavy duty, then HP Spectre x360 is probably your best fit. In the same vein as the Spin 1, the Spectre x360 can adopt four different orientations, laptop for multitasking, media for streaming, tent for simplified presentations and a tablet for writing. It’s one of the fastest Consumer Reports tested for productivity tasks, editing media and for mid-range gaming. The device is also ultra portable, features a 15-hour long battery life and has a 4K display, making it an ideal choice for a work laptop, especially for daily presentations.