When taking about laptops, we first look at its specifications. People never consider user experience which is possibly the most important factor for any mobile device.
If you are building a PC then this isn’t the case. Your setup’s ergonomics is independent of your internal components. This is not the case with laptops, even with all the i5s and i7s, working on them can still be inconvenient. The displays can have back light bleed or typing on them may make your fingers and wrists hurt.
One cannot help but think of Apple’s MacBook, when user-friendliness is at stake. The $800 price tag is, sadly, difficult to swallow. Especially, if you are about to begin school and are looking for a lot cheaper alternative.
We have investigated different options that might be available. Starting from Windows 10 laptops under $300 price, refurbished devices and of course Chromebooks.
Windows 10 Laptops under $200
The most important factors to look for in a laptop at this price are: User-experience, storage, display and battery-life. Windows 10 is a heavy operating system but developer have done a good job cramming it into a drive as tiny as 15GB.
Windows 10 always requires a whole bunch of additional programs from Microsoft Office to Chrome and all of them would require space on your storage. Considering a USB Flash Drive for extra storage is highly recommended for most of these laptops.
HP 14-an013nr – AMD Laptop with 1080p IPS display
The chief selling point of this laptop is its $220 price point. The processor is an AMD E2-7110 which is an ancient quad-core chip clocked at 1.8GHz along with 4GB of RAM. Next up, we have a 32GB of eMMC storage which is neither fast nor large but is an understandable choice at this price point. This also helps in cutting down the weight to 3.9lbs or 1.8kgs.
Using the USB ports or SD card slot to expand your storage is essential. You are getting a Windows 10 Home edition which means huge applications and software like Microsoft Office would definitely need additional storage. For connectivity, we have 802.11 ac, Bluetooth, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 USB 3.0 port and an Ethernet adapter. For external displays you get an HDMI and a VGA port as well.
The display is a 1920 by 1080 IPS panel and is 14” diagonally. For emails, document editing or streaming high definition media on YouTube or Netflix this device is perfect.
The battery can provide up to 5 hours of backup for continuous use which could have been much better had they used an Intel U-processor. Everything considered, this is a good device for college students and casual users if you want something under $300. The price will go above $220 when you expand your storage.
Lenovo IdeaPad110 15.6” 500GB HDD
The lower end IdeaPad110 from Lenovo has fills in the gaps created by the HP 14” that we just reviewed. It comes with an Intel N3060 Celeron processor which has 2MB of Cache has 2 physical cores with no hyper-threading and is clocked at 1.6GHz with a burst up to 2.8GHz. Remember that this is not your typical turbo boost technology of Intel, the higher clocks are for relatively short periods of time. The RAM is again 4GB DDR3 which is becoming harder and harder to justify in 2017.
What this laptop lacks in raw specs, it makes that up with storage and build quality. It comes with a 500GB of HDD providing plenty of leg room for your applications and files. The keys are spread comfortably which means greater speed and accuracy while typing. Also as the display is 15.6” there’s also a numeric keypad on the right. The hard plastic body is tough and robust for a laptop this cheap.
The display resolution is, disappointingly, at 1366 by 768 and spans 15.6” diagonally. This isn’t the ideal resolution and if you have a better monitor lying around consider using the HDMI out for better screen real estate. 1366 by 768 resolution is still quite common at this price point but many other devices with smaller 14” or 13” screen provide higher pixel density and thus look much better even if when the resolution is still the same.
For connectivity, we have 1 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, an HDMI and an Ethernet port. Wireless 802.11 ac and Bluetooth 4.0 combo is also available. The weight of the device is slightly less than 2.2kg or 4.85lbs which is a little heavier than the HP 14-an013nr that we just saw. It does have an Optical drive which adds to the weight of the device.
The battery performance is similar to the HP 14-an0310nr, which is about 5 hours of continuous use this isn’t bad and can last up to several lectures if you are using this for school or college. If you can’t afford a storage upgrade or just prefer internal disks instead of USB sticks or microSD cards then this can be a good purchase for you.
HP Stream 14-ax010nr / 11-y010nr
The HP Stream series is probably the most popular laptop on our list. The striking blue or violet-purple colour, whichever one you prefer, is definitely going to draw a lot of attention.
Apart from that, the next thing to notice about this laptop is how light it weighs. The 14” model weighs 3.2lbs or 1.5kg and the 11” model weighs even less. The build quality is not the greatest but it is robust enough for you to carry around carelessly throughout your campus or office.
Looking inside, you will find a dual-core Intel Celeron N3060 clocked at 1.6GHz with a burst which can go up to 2.8GHz. Celerons don’t have the turbo-boost technology. They only show a burst in their clock-speed when there’s too many jobs for the processor to do, unlike turbo-boost which is long-lived quite stable.
The specs are identical to IdeaPad110 that we saw previously. HP Stream has an eMMC storage of about 32GB out of which about half will be taken up by the Windows 10.
The 14 inch model has an SD card reader, 2 USB 3.1 gen1 ports and 1 USB 2.0 port. The 11 inch model has a microSD slot instead and 1 USB 3.1 port and 1 USB 2.0. We also have wireless 802.11 AC but no Ethernet port. The battery can last from 6 to 8 hours.
The 11 inch model is my personal favourite, it has an anti-glare coating on it and also the lower resolution is much more tolerable with smaller displays. The 11 inch model is priced at $207 and the 14 inch is at $210.
As an added bonus, the HP stream comes with a one year of free subscription of Office 365 showing HP’s confidence in this product.
Dell i3552 15.6” Laptop
This is the first model on our list with a whole lot of customized options. There’s an option to choose between having an optical drive and opting out of it. Choices between Celeron and Pentium and a choice between a 128GB SSD or a 500GB HDD. As the SSD models are not available on Amazon at the time of this writing we will ignore them for now.
We will focus on the Pentium model with an optical drive as this is the cheapest one at $250 and the Pentium chip does actually perform slightly better than the Celeron N3060. The Pentium N3700 is a 4-cores/4-threads product and can handle basic web browsing stream 1080p content. It is clocked at 1.6GHz and can burst up to 2.40GHz and has 2M of Cache.
It has 4GB of DDR3L RAM to support reasonable multitasking and browsing without any hitches. The display is at 1366 by 768 and is spread over a 15.6” screen. This makes the images look pixelated. At $250 there is little room to complain.
For connectivity we have an Ethernet port, 802.11 bgn, Bluetooth 4.0, 2 USB 2.0 Ports and 1 USB 3.0 port. The battery life is 5 to 6 hours and build quality is up to the mark. The base of the laptop is a slanted the far end gets raised to provide ventilation for cooling.
It weighs 4.8lbs which is quite heavy for a budget notebook. If you can find it, the one with an SSD and no optical drive would be much lighter.
ASUS L402SA – 4GB RAM and 32 GB Flash Storage
A competitor to the HP Stream is the L402SA from Asus. We will get into the differences but first let us cover the basics. The CPU is a Celeron dual core clocked at 1.6GHz with 2M of cache. The RAM is the usual 4GB and for storage we have 32GB of flash storage.
It comes in 14” and an 11.6” model. Both have the same 1366 by 768 resolution. The design and aesthetics are simple and professional. The build quality feels robust. You won’t feel like procrastinating on your next assignment because typing and document editing is super-comfortable on this laptop.
To make matters even, it also has a one year free subscription to Microsoft Office 365 and a 100GB of One Drive cloud storage.
For peripherals we have 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, HDMI and an Ethernet port and a VGA port which is handy for giving presentations on older projectors. The 14” model weighs 3.6lbs or 1.6kg which is slightly heavier than the HP stream but it does provide a little extra stability while using the device. Also it is $10 cheaper at $200 on Amazon.
All in all, this is a good purchase for bloggers and college students. Light-weight browsing, checking your emails, streaming Netflix or YouTube and writing articles for hours without charging is the real selling point of this laptop. This is also a good device for your kids to introduce them to the technological world.
Dell Inspiron i3162-0003BLU 11 inch laptop – Cheapest of them all
The Dell Inspiron i3162 is suspiciously cheap at only $150. The specs however are identical to those of HP Stream and Asus L402SA. The places where it falls short are the free Microsoft Office 365 subscription and the 14 inch screen option. These are not major drawbacks, mind you.
The specs are nothing extraordinary, Intel Celeron N3060 seems to be every manufacturer’s choice for budget devices and a 4GB of DDR3 RAM provides decent specification at $150. The storage is again a 32GB eMMC storage which is neither to large nor too fast but can get the job done.
The body is made up of hard plastic and has several options in color, blue being the most popular. The build quality isn’t great, the screen flexes a lot under pressure and the glossy exterior is an annoying finger print magnet. The keyboard is quite impressive for a $150 laptop. The keys are spaced apart to keep the inaccuracies to a minimum. Also the arrow keys are similar to that of a typical full-sized keyboard which is nice. The display is a 1366 by 768, 11” TN panel with poor color reproduction and viewing angles. However, it does have an antiglare coating on it to make the outdoor usage friendlier to your eyes.
For connectivity, we have a good few options, starting from 802.11 ac and Bluetooth 4.0 for , an HDMI port, 2 USB 2.0 port and 1 USB 3.0 port. There’s also a microSD slot, but unfortunately no Ethernet port.
If you don’t mind the lack of free Microsoft subscription and a smaller screen, this is really a better option as it is super light at 2.8lbs or 1.2kg and still manages to give almost 6 to 7 hours of battery backup.
HP Pavilion x2 Detachable Premium Laptop 10.1”
The monotony of your Celerons and typical laptop form factor is broken by this nifty little 10.1” device. The Pavilion x2 is a convertible laptop. It has some compromises made in terms of weaker processor and just 2GB of RAM which makes recommending it difficult for us.
However, if you do want to experience a laptop-tablet hybrid this is a good budget option at $230. It comes with an IPS touchscreen display which is needed for the tablet mode. The processor is an Intel Atom X5-Z8300 which is a quad-core chip at 1.44GHz
The device can be used in two modes. The first mode is where it is your typical laptop with full Windows 10 Home experience with a keyboard and mouse or touchpad. The second mode is the tablet one where the screen snaps off and Windows goes to tablet mode. The screen hinges are magnetic and wouldn’t wear off easily.
For connectivity HP has provided 1 USB 3.0 another single 2.0, a micro HDMI port and a microSD slot. All of these are on the detachable screen so you don’t have to worry about bringing along the keyboard for additional connectivity. The wireless is 802.11 ac in case you are wondering.
The display is an IPS panel with an odd resolution of 1280 by 800 which is designed to strike a balance between the tablet mode and the notebook mode. It supports a full 10 finger touch but the fingerprints on the display can get annoying at times.
HP claims that the battery can last up to 9.5 hours but realistically you can expect it to last somewhere between 8 to 9 hours, which is still quite impressive.
Budget Chromebooks Under $200
Google is trying to expand into the notebook market ever since it came with its Chrome browser. Most computers, regardless of Operating System, are running Chrome to browse the Internet.
Seeing that the budget laptops are used mostly for browsing the Internet and streaming videos, the Chrome OS is something you can consider. Google developed Chrome OS as something which is supposed to be always on the Internet.
If Internet connectivity is an issue for you, you might not want to consider this. Document editing is not big deal with Google Docs catching up with MS Office. Also MS office does have an online version to use in your browser.
That said, it does have some perks over Windows 10. First, Chrome OS is meant for low spec devices. It consumes less energy, it can run off of weaker processors and it need very little space on you storage. Making it a worthy contender on the budget notebook range.
Let’s dive in and look at some of the Chromebooks in a greater detail.
Asus C202SA-YS02 – Compact, tough and long-lasting
With an Intel Celeron N3060, 16 GB of eMMC storage and 4GB of RAM the Asus C202SA is your typical low end Chromebook. The storage may seem less but it is comparable to the 32GB Windows 10 notebooks in which the OS itself takes up to 16GB of storage. The Chrome OS is lighter and you get ample storage left for your files and programs.
The laptop looks thick and bulky for a very good reason. It is targeted towards young students and is thus reinforced with a rugged rubber coating. The robust design also allows you to open the lid to a full 180 degrees. Damaging the device or getting hurt by it is unlikely because of the lack of sharp edges. It is lightweight at only 2.2 pounds or 1kg. This can survive a rough life and can be carried around in a backpack carelessly.
The battery life is around 9 to 10 hours which can easily last an entire school or college day. You get an additional 100GB of Google Drive file storage which is valid for two years. Needless to say, this means an additional dependence on your Internet connection to access your personal files.
The display is an 11.6” 1366 by 768 TN panel and although it is nothing special, it can get the basic jobs done on it. For children who are curious to learn, one can’t recommend this device enough. It also has an antiglare coating on the display encouraging outdoor usage. Asus has advertised this to be completely serviceable so you don’t have to worry about replacing the entire laptop if something breaks.
Of course, for a device which depends upon the Internet, it needs the fastest available Wireless technology and so we see 802.11ac available in it.
It also has 2 USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port and SD slot providing plenty of connectivity options for you. The keyboard has a standard layout without the numeric pad, but it does provide a good enough key travel for an enjoyable typing experience. The price is $200 and you will not necessarily need to expand your storage, so that is all you will be paying.
Samsung Chromebook 3 XE500C13-K02US
This 11.6” chromebook is the third iteration of Samsung’s record-breaking chromebook that came out first in 2012. This device is just as user-friendly and well designed as the previous generation of the Samsung chromebook. The newer Celeron N3050 chip is a little slower at 1.6GHz but the Chrome OS can still run smoothly on it.
For storage you get a16GB eMMC drive and a 4GB of DDR3L main memory. The keyboard is spill-resistant and typing experience is mediocre. Unlike Asus, Samsung has made their device look much more sleek and premium rather than providing a ton of rubbery protection. It weighs 2.5 pounds or 1.13kg, adding little to no bulk to your backpack.
The battery life is also quite impressive around 8 to10 hours depending upon the type of workload. It has the usual 802.11 ac wireless and Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless connectivity and 1 USB 3.0 and 1 USB 2.0 and a display port for peripherals.
Typing, editing and web browsing is easy, even outdoors, with the antiglare coating on the 1366 by 768 display. Again, this display may look meagre but on an 11.6” screen it is not going to hamper the sharpness of the image a lot.
All in all, a good and compact device for $180 which is a little more than the Asus.
Lenovo 14″ IdeaPad N42-20
So far all the chromebooks were tiny at 11.6” display size and for some of us that may be a little too small to be useful. If you like having at least two windows open at a time or need a larger display for you to focus on your work the Lenovo N42-20 is a good fit.
It is essentially identical to the Asus C202SA in terms of internal specs with a couple of major differences in design and external user experience. It has an Intel Celeron N3060 clocked at N3060 and 4GB of DDR3 memory and the 16GB of eMMC storage just like all the other Chromebooks at this price point.
The display, of course, is what distinguishes it from the other devices. Even at the price of $175 Lenovo has managed to add a 14” display at 1366 by 768 resolution and an antiglare coating. The larger display does come at the expense of heavier laptop. Making it weigh 4.8lbs or 2.2kg.
The connectivity options include 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, an HDMI and an SD card slot. We also have wireless 802.11 ac and Bluetooth included.
The typing experience is much better with a larger area for your hands to rest on. Not to mention the extra weight provides stability while typing. The body is of hard plastic and quite tough and durable. All in all, this is a good purchase if you want a 14” display at an extremely low price.
HP Chromebook 14-ak050nr – 14” 1080p
Getting out of the 1366 by 768 resolution would require us to stretch our budget. The 1080p laptop from HP is the first 1080p chromebook on this list. For a $250 price tag you get a 1920 by 1080 high resolution display. Powered by a quad-core Celeron N2940 at 1.85GHz and 4GB of RAM, this chromebook does it all at a high resolution and at greater speeds.
The local storage is only 16GB and is a bit slower but you also get an additional 100GB on the Google Drive like most chromebooks, for 2 years. The user experience is way too premium for what it is worth. The design is sleek and very professional. Giving a professional presentation will not be an embarrassment if you use this instead of a bulky gaming laptop with RGB all over it.
It comes in two colours blue and silver. Battery life is about 6 to 8 hours of casual usage and that too with a 1080p screen is an impressive deal.
The weight of this device is 3.75lbs or 1.7kg and it comes with all your typical connectivity support which includes 802.11 ac, 2 USB 2.0 and a USB 3.0. It is about $70 more than the other chromebooks we have seen so far, but if you can afford it, it is a great bang for the buck.
Refurbished Laptops – What to Except and What to Avoid
The refurbished electronics is a scary market for consumers. You are already stretched thin on the budget but you want something with decent specs. At the same time, if you mess up and buy something broken then you are worse off than when you began.
Fortunately, there are reliable sellers for refurbished laptops who can make sure that you don’t get conned. When a technical professional spends time and resources in fixing a device that is going to show up on the price tag too. So the line between being economical and reliable is very hard to navigate.
To make matters easier for you, we have looked at two most promising laptops on Amazon sold after being professionally restored to their original working condition.
Lenovo IdeaPad T420 (Certified Refurbished)
This device shows us the fact that new doesn’t mean better. It is a decent performer with an i5-2520m processor clocked at 2.50GHz which can turbo-boost up to 3.2GHz, it has 2-cores/4-threads with hyper-threading and also 3M of cache. There plenty of room for your applications to run, with 8GB of RAM. If raw specifications are all that you care about, then this laptop is the obvious choice. At $250, you’d be hard pressed to find a better alternative.
For storage we have a 320GB HDD and it comes with Windows 10 preinstalled in it. The device weighs 4.5lbs and is quite bulky to carry around. Also the battery can hardly last 4 to 5 hours of continuous use which gets reduced further if you use it for heavier workloads.
Being an older device the peripherals are also out-dated. You will find an optical drive, a VGA port, an HDMI and a couple of USB 2.0 ports in this. Also included are an Ethernet port and Wi-Fi 802.11 bgn.
The user experience is pretty decent, once you get used to all the hotkeys spread around the standard keyboard layout, this device can really boost your productivity. The display is at an odd resolution of 1600 by 900 but it does have an antiglare coating on it.
For shear computational performance, this device is an obvious choice. However, if you want something which is much more pleasing to the eyes you may want to check out our last device on the list.
Acer 14-Inch FHD Flagship Chromebook (Certified Refurbished)
The Acer’s chromebook is really worthy of its flagship title. It has a Celeron N3160 clocked at 1.6GHz which is good enough to manage most of your daily productivity tasks like presentations, word editing or browsing heavy webpage.
Furthermore, it has 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage which is more than enough for all the typical documents and photo collections of an individual. You can also edit MS Office documents using an online version of MS office tools. It has 802.11 ac, an SD card slot, HDMI port and 2 USB ports on it to connect to your peripherals and the Internet.
The real attraction of this chromebook is its 14 inch, 1920 by 1080 resolution IPS display which can entertain you for about 7 hours without the need for charging. It weighs 3.45lbs which is alright for a laptop of this size.
Needless to say, being a flagship it has an excellent build quality and looks and feels premium to use. The sleek design and lightweight would be hard to get at $230 but thanks to refurbished products on Amazon, you can get one.
Too many options…
To paraphrase Steve Jobs, we often misinterpret abundance as availability of many good options. More often than not, this is not the case. Before making a purchase, just ask yourself what your individual needs are and then use our reviews to find the one best suited for your job.
Need Windows 10? Forget about the Chromebooks. Don’t want to stress your eyes get a higher resolution display at 14 inch size. Honestly evaluate your needs and then make an informed unbiased decision about what to get.