While high-end models tend to get the glitz and marketing pictures, and gaming laptops may draw oohs and aahs from your friends, many brands also release another set of laptops with lesser specs that sell at affordable prices. Asus, in particular, is known for this — and the Asus Zenbook UX330UA may be the best cheap laptop ever made.
Asus Zenbook UX330UA
Why we picked the Asus Zenbook UX330UA
Asus has long been a top competitor in the budget space, but over the last five years the company has upped its quality, resulting in fantastic systems across a range of prices. The ZenBook line has become the flagship, and the Asus UX330UA — available for $750 (and often a bit less than that, on sale) — is the best value yet.
You might not expect quality from a laptop that barely costs more than a new iPhone 8 Plus, but this ZenBook is a pleasant surprise. Its metal, unibody chassis is barely more than six-tenths of an inch thick, and its overall weight is around three pounds. The latest version even packs a surprising amount of horsepower into such a small, and inexpensive package. Featuring an 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, the ZenBook easily outperforms its nearest competitors running last year’s hardware — comparable 7th-generation ‘Kaby Lake’ processors.
Better still, the laptop is a real pleasure to use. It has an excellent keyboard — one of the best on a 13-inch laptop at this price. It also offers a spacious touchpad and a 1080p non-touch display with a matte coating that nearly eliminates glare. This isn’t a 2-in-1, so you won’t be swinging the ZenBook UX330UA’s display around for use as a tablet, but its focus on conventional use helps Asus offer this system at a budget price.
And the ZenBook UX330UA won’t leave you stranded when you’re on the move. It has a large, 54-watt-hour battery, which in our testing delivered more than five and a half hours of battery life when browsing. An extra few hours can be squeezed out with more conservative use.
Acer Aspire E 15
Why we picked the Acer Aspire E 15:
Typically, the lower down the pricing scale you go with laptops, the more sacrifices you have to make. With the Acer Aspire E 15 though, those sacrifices are surprisingly minor. Sure it might have a pretty heavy chassis compared to many of its lightweight contemporaries, but for the kind of performance you get for this price, it’s an excellent budget laptop.
In our testing we found it surprisingly productive for its price point thanks to its eighth-generation Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM. If you opt for the version with the Nvidia MX150 discrete graphics chip, it even works well for entry-level gaming too.
Yes, its bezels are thick, but they wrap around a full HD display with great contrast. It also has decent battery life, a comfortable keyboard, and easy upgrade paths through more and faster RAM and expanded storage, so you don’t even need to buy the top configuration right from the start.
Acer Chromebook 15
Why we picked the Acer Chromebook 15
Chromebooks — laptops that run Google’s Chrome OS — have become a popular budget laptop over the last few years, and they’ve really won us over in the past few years. The Acer Chromebook 15 is a great example of their strengths. It has a 1080p display, fast Intel processor, and plenty of memory, all starting at $200. No Windows notebook comes close to touching its value.
If you’re looking for a budget laptop, Chromebooks are a good choice. These systems rarely sell for north of $500, with the obvious exception of Google’s Pixelbook, which is a bit too expensive for this category. The Acer Chromebook 15’s low price brings limitations, of course. You won’t find a budget Chromebook in this price range with a fast solid state drive, or an optional discrete GPU.
Still, the Chromebook 15 is well equipped for the category. The base model has a 1,366 × 768-pixel resolution, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of flash memory. That’s good for $200, but you’ll really get something you’re happy with the newer $400 model. It features a higher-end aluminum finish, a quad-core Pentium N4200 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of flash memory.