Tech

The 4 best budget laptops in 2021 for working, learning, and gaming

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
The Pixelbook Go is our favorite budget laptop for its great performance, sturdy keyboard, and impressive webcam.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 is a great choice for those looking for a dependable budget 2-in-1.
The laptops on our list excel in basic productivity, though we've included a gaming laptop for good measure.

It used to be that if you wanted a laptop with power and features, you needed to spend $1,000 or more.

While top-of-the-line models still fall in that price bracket, budget laptops in the $300 to $700 range are more than capable of everyday tasks. That's all thanks to improvements in processors, graphics, and other chipsets, as well as standardization in features like USB and HDMI.

There are a few important factors you need to consider before making a purchase, such as operating system preferences, size, and above all else: what you intend to use it for.

We consider a “budget” laptop to cost about $650 or less, but we aim to recommend models that are even cheaper when possible. Gaming laptops are an exception because they typically cost more than general-purpose laptops.

Laptop seekers should keep in mind that Amazon Prime Day is expected to take place in June. This sales event is a great time to look for deals on laptops of all price ranges.

Here are the best cheap laptops of 2021:

Best budget laptop overall: Google Pixelbook GoBest budget Chromebook: Samsung Chromebook 4+Best budget gaming laptop: Dell G3 15Best budget 2-in-1 laptop: Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5

Updated on 6/1/21 by Sarah Lord: Updated pricing throughout and added more information about new laptops we look forward to testing.

The best budget laptop overall

Google Pixelbook Go

The Google Pixelbook Go‘s ease of use, excellent keyboard, and long battery life make it a top choice for those who prioritize simplicity in a laptop. 

Screen: 13.3-inch, starts at 1,920 x 1,080 touch screenProcessor: Starts at Intel Core m3Operating system: Google Chrome OSMemory and storage: Starts at 8GB of RAM, 64GB storageRead our full review of Google’s Pixelbook Go

Pros: Excellent keyboard, long battery life, 1080p webcam, decent screen

Cons: Upgrade options are expensive, no biometric login

Google’s Pixelbook Go is one of the priciest options on this list, but there’s a good reason why. It nearly matches premium laptops that are almost double its price in a few ways, particularly when it comes to keyboard quality, general ease-of-use, and battery life.  

Google’s “Hush” keyboard is part of what makes the Pixelbook Go stand out, offering a comfortable yet unobtrusive typing experience that even rivals that of Lenovo’s laptops, as our full review mentions. It even has a 1080p webcam, a rare find even on laptops that cost over $1,000. That’s especially important now that we’re spending more time video conferencing and socializing virtually.

The base model comes with an Intel Core m3 processor (CPU), 8GB of memory (RAM), and a Full HD (1080p) touch screen. You’ll also get two USB-C ports, and Google says it should last for 12 hours on a single charge.

Like other Google laptops that have come before it, the Pixelbook Go is a Chromebook — meaning it’s designed for those who primarily use their laptops for web browsing, note taking, and other light tasks like streaming YouTube or Netflix. It runs on Google’s Chrome OS, a lightweight interface optimized for security and speed that’s designed to work best with an Internet connection. You can, however, access Google Play Store apps and save documents, spreadsheets, emails, and other data for offline use. 

Sadly, the Pixelbook Go doesn’t have the same 2-in-1 design as its pricier Pixelbook predecessor, so it doesn’t double as a tablet. It also doesn’t have any biometric login options like a fingerprint scanner, which is now fairly common on most laptops. But it’s perfect for anyone in need of a fast, lightweight laptop for basic productivity and entertainment.

The best budget Chromebook

Samsung Chromebook 4+ showcase

The 15-inch Samsung Chromebook 4+ crams an insane amount of value into its below $300 list price, with hardware and features found in laptops twice its price and within a good-looking package.

Screen: 15.6 inches, 1,920 x 1,080Processor: Intel Celeron N4000Operating System: Chrome OSMemory and storage: 4GB RAM, 32GB storage29 tech gadgets we use to boost our productivity and comfort when we work from home

Pros: Decent display, long battery life, lots of ports

Cons: Small local storage, low amount of RAM, no top-firing speakers

Anyone looking to get the absolute most value possible out of a Chromebook that might look a bit more premium in ways than even our top pick, we suggest the 15-inch Samsung Chromebook 4+. There’s no question that this Chromebook makes for a close second to our former top pick,  Acer Chromebook 15, as the best budget laptop period.

Samsung’s Chromebook 4+ is a sharp, slight 15-inch laptop that’s wrapped in a platinum-colored plastic frame featuring a 15.6-inch, 1080p screen, with power from an Intel Celeron CPU supported by 4GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD. That’s expanded upon by two USB-C ports, one USB 3.0 port, and a microSD card reader — as well as Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Bluetooth 4.0 — for wireless connections.

This all comes driven by a battery that can reportedly last up to 10 hours and 30 minutes per outing. Finally, we love the addition of Google Assistant for voice-based search queries and other assistive tasks. While lacking biometric security and more local storage, this laptop leaves nothing else off the table. 

The best budget gaming laptop

Dell G3 laptop

The Dell G3 15 is an affordable gaming laptop with the latest Nvidia GeForce discrete graphics.

Screen: 15.6 inches, 1,920 x 1,080, 120Hz refresh rateProcessor: Starts with 10th generation Intel Core i5, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 TiOperating system: Windows 10 HomeMemory and storage: 8GB RAM, 256GB storageThe best gaming laptops of 2021

Pros: Compact design, specs on par with more expensive models

Cons: Shallow keyboard and touchpad, dim screen

If you enjoy gaming, but don’t want to shell out $1,000 for a gaming PC, the Dell G3 15 might be a decent option for you. 

A few factors make the G3 15 a solid option for gamers. The $734.99 base model comes with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, a 10th-generation  Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive. Those are solid specs that should be able to smoothly run most games you want to play, though you’ll want something more powerful if you’re trying to run more demanding tasks like VR. At 5.2 pounds, the G3 15 is also lighter and more compact than most budget gaming laptops

Dell recently released two new G15 laptops – one with Ryzen processors and one with the latest 11th generation Intel CPUs – for those interested in portable gaming on a budget. 

Though we have yet to review these units, they have intriguing specs for a reasonable price. The G15 Ryzen Edition particularly stands out as it features AMD Ryzen 5000 series processors, Nvidia GeForce RTX 30 graphics cards and user-upgradable RAM. You can also choose a display with 120Hz, 165Hz or 360Hz refresh rates. Both Ryzen and Intel versions of the G15 laptops start at $899.99.

For a computer of this price, you’ll be missing out on some features of higher-end gaming rigs. For example, reviewers found the display on the older model to be a bit dim, and the colors to be washed out. The keyboard and touchpad are also a bit shallow.

The best budget 2-in-1 laptop

Lenovo IdeaPad 5

The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 offers solid specifications and a flexible design that allows it to double as a laptop and a tablet at a price that’s hundreds of dollars below the $1,000 mark.

Screen: 14-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 touchscreen with flexible hingeProcessor: AMD Ryzen 7Operating system: Windows 10Memory and storage: 8GB RAM, 256GB storageLearn more about the best time of year to buy a new laptop

Pros: Great value, good performance, durable and attractive design

Cons: Fans can get noisy, dim and lackluster display

The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 15 is a solid choice for anyone in need of an affordable, general purpose laptop.

It has a 360-degree flexible hinge so that you can use it as a laptop or tablet, and it comes with extra features less common on laptops in this price range. These include a physical webcam shutter for privacy and a fingerprint reader for logging in. 

For $479.99, you’re getting specifications that are definitely sufficient for handling tasks such as web browsing, watching Netflix, checking email, and taking notes with ease. I’ve been testing a configuration that comes with an AMD Ryzen 5 processor, and I’m impressed with its comfortable keyboard, smooth trackpad, and long battery life. 

The IdeaPad Flex 5 comes in several different configurations that vary in availability, but elements like the reliable keyboard and trackpad should be consistent no matter which model you choose. 

That’s especially notable because the keyboard and trackpad are two areas where the gap in price between premium and mid-tier laptops can be very obvious. Lower-end models can sometimes have keyboards and touchpads that feel cheap, shallow, or finicky, but this is no problem with Lenovo’s budget 2-in-1. 

However, don’t push the IdeaPad Flex 5 too hard: the fans can get a little noisy if you have too many web browser tabs open.

What is a Chromebook?

Budget laptops we look forward to testing

Dell Inspiron 14 and 15: Dell’s new Inspiron laptops, which launched on May 4, are taking a page from the company’s well-received XPS 13 laptop line. The new Inspiron models have an updated design with a nearly border less screen, making them look more modern and providing additional screen space in a compact design. They also come with improved webcams with noise reduction for clearer conference calls. Both the 14-inch and 15-inch models start at $550 and come with an 11th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB in the base models

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2: Samsung’s original Galaxy Chromebook from CES 2020 had an attention-grabbing design that’s uncommon for a Chromebook, but its high price and short battery life limited its appeal. Now, Samsung has addressed those criticisms with the Galaxy Chromebook 2, a revamped version of its Google-powered laptop that comes at a cheaper starting price of $549.99 compared to the previous model’s $999.99 price tag. With a premium design, 13.3-inch QLED touch screen, and hopefully longer battery life, the Galaxy Chromebook 2 seems like it could be a promising option for those on a budget.

Asus Chromebook Flip CX5: With a roomy 15.6-inch screen, Intel’s latest 11th generation processors, and Harmon Kardon speakers, the Asus Chromebook Flip CX5 seems like a promising option for those who want a laptop for light work and entertainment. It will be configurable up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, which is a lot for a Chromebook, and should last for 12 hours on a single charge. Asus announced the Chromebook Flip CX5 at CES 2021 in January and has not revealed pricing. But a product page on Google’s Chromebook Store suggests that the version with an Intel Core i3, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage could cost $549.

Acer Chromebook 314: This Chromebook is lightweight, runs on a MediaTek MT8183 processor, offers a 14-inch full 1080p HD display, and a USB-C port for enhanced connectivity.  However, what really makes this Chromebook stand out is Acer’s claim of up to 15 hours of battery life on a single charge. If true, this computer would be an incredible choice for anyone who spends their days away from an outlet. The Chromebook 314 will be available in July 2021 and starts at $269.99.

Acer Chromebook 317: Those looking for a Chromebook with a large screen might want to check out the 17.3-inch 1080p display on Acer’s forthcoming Chromebook 317. It comes with thin bezels, anti-glare coating, as well as an optional touch screen version.  It’s powered by Intel Celeron processors, offers two USB-C ports for connectivity, and Wi-Fi 6 for fast internet browsing. The Chromebook 317 is launching in June 2021 and starts at $379.99 .

How to buy a budget laptop

There are a variety of factors you should consider when purchasing a laptop, particularly how much you want to spend and what types of tasks you intend to use it for. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you make your decision. 

Operating system: There are a few major computer operating systems out there. You’re probably most familiar with Windows, as it’s by far the most-used operating system, but there’s also Apple’s macOS, which is found on the company’s Mac computers (we didn’t include any Macs because they didn’t meet our price requirement for a budget laptop). And, the newest, there’s Google’s Chrome OS, which is targeted to those with basic computer needs revolves around Google’s web-based apps (Chrome OS relies heavily on cloud computing, meaning that a lot of the processes happen online).

Specs and features: Some computers are more powerful than others. Things like the processor and amount of memory (RAM) will dictate how quickly your computer runs, while the amount of storage indicates how many files you can keep on your computer at once. There are also other factors, like the graphics chipset being employed. The type of software you run could also dictate how well a laptop’s components perform; for example, Google’s Chrome browser is notorious for being a memory hog.

The features have also improved. Premium components like a touchscreen and high-speed ports, like USB 3.0 and USB-C, have trickled down from high-end laptops to budget models. As you research, look for these or if the laptop is still utilizing older tech.

Size: Laptops come in a range of different physical sizes, however, the smaller ones generally sit in the 10- to 11-inch range, while the larger ones can get as big as 17-inches. That’s handy for watching movies, but it comes at the cost of portability.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Source: The 4 best budget laptops in 2021 for working, learning, and gaming

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