Budget laptops were slow, poorly made, and probably lasted around six months to a year before the frequent Windows updates caused them to take more time booting up than you would using them. True, installing a fresh Linux distro did revive many, but often the budget laptop included components that weren’t always supported by the Linux drivers of the day – which led to some element of the laptop not working, or not working very well.
These days, on the other hand, the budget buyer has a wealth of choice available, and with some excellent brands too. Let’s take a look at four that are available with a mix of technologies and specifications.
Lenovo IdeaPad 5
What we think:
Lenovo’s quality of laptops has greatly improved over the last decade or so, and it’s nice to see the company pushing into the consumer market, as opposed to being strictly business. The IdeaPad 5 is an interesting mix of components, and it’s certainly one to keep your on if you’re in the market for an all-round, good laptop that’s suited for most aspects of modern life.
Build quality is very good indeed, with an excellent and responsive keyboard and trackpad. It has a 14-inch TN anti-glare screen, which while isn’t touchscreen, is more than clear enough for photographers to enjoy and hit a HD maximum of 1920 x 1080.
As for ports, it includes a single USB-C, two USB 3.1, HDMI, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a 4-in-1 memory card reader. There’s a HD webcam included with a privacy shutter, and built-in dual speaker – which are okay, but a little tinny for our personal tastes. However, that can easily be rectified with a small external speaker if necessary.
Inside you’ll find a quad-core AMD Ryzen 3 4300U Processor running at 2.7Ghz with a boost to 3.7Ghz when the machine needs it, together with AMD’s Vega 5 GPU; this puts the IdeaPad 5 somewhere in between an Intel i3 and i5, in terms of processing power. There’s 8GB of DDR4 memory, and a 128GB SSD along with Bluetooth 5 and dual-band AX 2×2 WiFi.
It measures 17.9 x 321.5 x 211.6mm and weighs in at around 1.4Kg. Battery life is good and rated at 11.5 hours, but in reality you’ll be looking at around nine hours when conducting normal work, and a little less if you’re watching a video or doing a spot of gaming.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 5 is a good sub-£500 laptop. It’ll certainly be more than capable in a productivity setting, ideal for back to school, college or university, and it’ll even handle photography and video editing to some extent. Gaming isn’t going to be great, but then what do you expect from a laptop below the £500 mark. Expect to be able to play the likes of Minecraft, Fortnite, CS:GO and so on without too much trouble, but anything else will need the graphical details dropped significantly, and the more technical modern games are probably out.
Overall, it’s perfect for the student, or those wanting a nice little workhorse that can manage near anything you throw at it.
Acer 314 Touch Chromebook
What we Think:
Before we look at the Acer 314 Touch Chromebook in any great detail, it’s worth mentioning from the off that this laptop isn’t going to significantly change your digital life. However, that said, it’s going to do a good job of keeping up with you for less than £300!
Acer has a good history when it comes to producing quality laptops at affordable prices, and while this particular model might well be at the bottom of that list, it’s certainly worth taking a look at.
This is a 14-inch, IPS LCD, full HD 1920 x 1080 touchscreen enabled laptop running the latest Chrome OS. It features a pair of USB-C ports and two USB 3.1 ports, and a 3.5mm audio jack. Inside there’s a dual-core Celeron N4000 CPU at 1.1GHz, with a boost speed of 2.6GHz. There’s 4GB of DDR4 memory and 64GB storage in the form of an eMMC chip. There’s also dual-band AC, 2×2 WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, built-in webcam, and it’s Chromecast enabled.
Build quality, for the most part, isn’t great, but it’s functional. The screen is good, though, and the touchscreen element is very responsive. The keyboard does feel a little weak to the touch, like it won’t take too much punishment before keys start to pop off, but again, the multi-touch trackpad is more than capable of handling some rough attention.
Battery life will give an estimated 12.5 hours, and in reality it’s not too far off that. Due the 314 running Chrome OS, there’s very little drain on resources, so it doesn’t get too hot or burn through the battery life quite as much as a Windows laptop would. But, the 314 does measure 20 x 325 x 232mm and weighs in at just 1.4Kg.
While the review of the Acer 314 Touch Chromebook may feel a little negative, it’s not meant to be. This is a decent laptop, and it will suit a student, or someone as their first laptop; it’ll even suffice as a by-the-side-of-the-sofa laptop for those times you want to quickly look something up or chat to someone via the webcam.
Chrome OS has always left us feeling a little short changed, but that’s usually only because we, as reviewers and tech fanatics, demand more from our operating system. For most folk, Chrome OS is a good choice.
To conclude, the low price, excellent battery life, and good screen more than make up for this laptop’s weaknesses. If you’re in the market for something cheap that can do a good job, then this is the one for you. For those wanting more productivity and performance, then look to a Windows-driven laptop.
Acer Aspire 3
What we think:
Another Acer now, but one that’s very different to the previous model. The Acer Aspire 3 is a Windows 10 pre-installed laptop that runs the dual-core AMD Ryzen 3 3250U processor at 2.6GHz, with a 3.5GHz turbo boost. There’s 8GB of DDR4 memory, that can be expanded up to 12GB, and a 129GB SSD.
Connectivity consists of two USB 2.0 ports, a single USB 3.1 port, HDMI, gigabit Ethernet port, and a 3.5mm audio jack. There’s dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, and a built-in webcam.
The screen is a decent 14-inch TFT LCD at 1920 x 1080, but not touch-enabled. It’s worth noting that the LED backlighting does a great job of making the screen stand out from the competition, despite this being just a TFT panel. Colours are vibrant, and there’s a good level of brightness to it. Plus, as an added hardware bonus, the Acer features narrow bezels around the screen, making it ‘feel’ bigger than it actually is.
Build quality is very good all round. The keyboard, while still a membrane, feels much better than its budget implies, and the multi-touch trackpad is excellent too.
The Aspire 3 measures 19.9 x 328 x 236mm and weighs 1.9Kg, so it’s the heaviest we’ve looked at so far in this line up.
Battery life is rated at 9.5 hours, but expect to manage around eight hours for normal duties and less if you’re pushing the CPU to the max with gaming or watching HD content.
Although the build quality is good, and the Aspire 3 does have a lot going for it, we were surprised to see it missing the likes of USB-C, a memory card reader, or more advanced WiFi and Bluetooth. But the inclusion of a gigabit Ethernet port is welcome, and the screen quality more than makes up for any shortcomings in connectivity.
Overall, the Acer Aspire is a great choice for those who want to get most from their productivity, while still being able to enjoy a spot of lightweight gaming, and viewing HD content. It’s not going to win any awards, due to the lack of some features we’ve come to find necessary in a modern laptop, but for £379 it’s going to see you well for some time to come.
Dell Inspiron 14 3481
What we think:
Although Dell’s machines tend to lean toward the business side of things, the company does offer the consumer a good selection of products, such as this model, the Inspiron 14 3481.
This is an 2.3GHz Intel dual-core i3-7020U processor driven laptop, with 4GB of DDR4 memory, and a 128GB SSD on which you’ll find Windows 10 pre-installed.
Connectivity comes in the form of a pair of USB 3.1 ports, single USB 2.0, HDMI, gigabit Ethernet, and the usual 3.5mm audio jack. There’s dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1, a HD webcam, and an SD memory card reader, too.
The screen is a 14-inch full HD, 1920 x 1080 TFT with anti-glare and LED backlighting. Sadly, although the panel is the same spec as the above Acer Aspire, and with the same LED backlighting technology, it’s not as vibrant as the aforementioned Acer. Although it’s good, there’s just not the depth of colours being displayed. While for the most part this won’t affect most users, those who want a cheap laptop for displaying images or watching content may feel a little underwhelmed by it.
The build quality, though, is very good. Dell has a long history of delivering good, solid business laptops that can take a beating, and this has trickled down into its consumer products. The keyboard is solidly built and the multi-touch trackpad is equally as good too.
It measures 21 x 339 x 241.9mm and weighs 1.79Kg, and has a battery life rated at 9.6 hours, which we have to admit, it did surprisingly manage. During normal working load – which is using Word, PowerPoint and so on, browsing the Internet and the usual work-related tasks, the battery did indeed get to nine and a half hours before being drained enough to shutdown Windows. But, when watching video, the battery didn’t fare as well as the previous laptops, lasting just under two hours – which when we tested it with the Justice League movie, probably wasn’t such a bad thing.
On the whole this another example of a good all-round laptop. There are some minor bugs, as with the previous model, such as lack of USB-C ports and better WiFi and Bluetooth, but on the whole the Dell Inspiron 14 3481 will do the job of productivity, content viewing and light gaming nicely.
What we think:
Now here’s an interesting addition to the list that although may need a little more technical knowledge to get up and running, is a great choice for those who are a little more tech savvy.
The Asus M509DA from Ebuyer.com boasts a dual-core AMD Athlon Silver 3050U 2.3 GHz CPU, with a boost up to 3.2GHz, 8GB of DDR4 memory, and a decent sized 256GB SSD. There’s a USB-C port, a single USB 3.1 port along with HDMI, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, microSD card reader and the 3.5mm audio jack. As an interesting addition, the trackpad also includes a fingerprint sensor, with support for Windows 10 Hello login. Dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1 are also included.
The screen is a 15-inch full-HD, 1920 x 1080, FHD panel, which gives it a wider viewing angle than traditional TFTs, and a crisper display with good colours. There’s a HD webcam built in to the top of the display, too, so in case we end up in lockdown again you can still keep in touch with friends, family and work colleagues.
The M509DA weighs in at 1.8Kg, so while it’s not as light as some of the examples we’ve seen, it’s still okay to carry around for the commute into school, college, uni, work etc. It’s dimensions are 360.2 x 234.9 x 22.9mm, which isn’t too unwieldly either.
Battery life is rated at around 11-hours, which it does nearly manage when being used primarily for work-like duties. Get some gaming on, or watch a video, and that time does drop to around five hours, but that’s still decent enough.
Now for the part we mentioned with regards to the technical side of things. The Asus M509DA from ebuyer.com, while great on paper, doesn’t come with an operating system. For a lot of folks, this isn’t a problem. You can easily install a Linux distro for free on the laptop and it’ll still cost you the £349.98, but if you want to install Windows 10 then you’re looking at an additional cost of around £120 – which still puts the laptop in the under £500 category.
Obviously, you’ll need to install the OS yourself. That’s not a difficult task, but if you’ve never done it before we can understand how it may feel a little daunting. Hopefully, you’ll have a family or friend IT expert to hand who can do it for you – or have a crack yourself, there’s plenty of support online in the form of YouTube video and the like.
Overall, the Asus M509DA is an excellent specified laptop. It’s powerful enough for work and play, and thanks to a good build quality it’ll happily see you through your uni years, for example. the lack of OS may put some people off, but it shouldn’t. So it’s certainly worth checking this model out for your next upgrade.