• Acer Aspire E 15 (2016, Intel Core i3, 1TB, 4GB RAM)

  • How We Tested

  • Other Budget Laptops We Tested

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Best Overall
Acer Aspire E 15 (2016, Intel Core i3, 1TB, 4GB RAM)

One of the best bargain laptops of 2016, this Acer Aspire crams great battery life, a big 15-inch HD screen, competitive Intel chips, and optional Nvidia graphics into a computer that rings the till at around $400. 4 GB RAM and a 1 TB spinning hard drive also come along for the ride, offering you a good chunk of storage to start with.

While it's bulky and thick, this powerful notebook is also easily upgraded, ensuring years of capable performance when running modern programs. You also get a nice trackpad and a backlit keyboard, which is almost unheard of at this price. We were blown away when we tried its slightly more expensive brother last year, and so we can heartily recommend this cheaper, slower Acer Aspire E15 as well.

How We Tested

The Tests

Here at Reviewed, we test laptops for their processing capability, graphics, battery life, and screen brightness. To industry-standard mix of industry standard and custom-made tests as well as specialized lab equipment in our Cambridge, MA testing facility. We use popular benchmarks like Geekbench and 3DMark to gauge how well the laptop multitasks, runs games, and more.

For battery testing, we set them up to continuously cycle through various websites at right around 60% brightness (200 nits) until they run out of power, estimating how much work you can get done on a single charge. We also use each laptop for an extended period of time, rating each on factors like build quality, price, portability, and design.

What You Should Know About Budget Laptops

  • Performance: The CPU, graphics chip, RAM, and storage inside your PC determine how well your computer can multitask, handle intensive tasks like gaming, and store all your files. The better the specs, the snappier the laptop will feel as you work.

  • Build Quality: Not only do you want a laptop that can take a beating (since you’ll probably be lugging it around with you), but you want one with a well-built keyboard and trackpad since they’re your primary form of interaction with the machine. A poor trackpad or finicky keyboard can really kill the experience.

  • Touch Screens, Portability, and Features: 2-in-1s have gained in popularity, but that touch screen and pen cost money to include. Similarly, cramming all those powerful components into a small, easy-to-carry package can often cost more than a larger laptop with fewer design constraints.

Operating System

Windows is still the dominant OS these days, and if you’re going to play games, edit photos and videos, or need certain software for work, you’ll probably stick with Microsoft’s offering. If you spend all your time on the web, though, a Chromebook may serve you better than you’d think—between Netflix, Gmail, Google Docs, and even online photo editors like Pixlr, you can do almost anything in a browser, and many of those web apps even work offline for those rare occasions you don’t have Wi-Fi. Chromebooks have the advantage of being cheaper (since they don’t need as much processing power) and virtually virus-free (since they run Linux under the hood).

Display Size

  • 13-inch laptops: These smaller laptops are great for carrying around, and more than suitable for light work like writing papers and browsing the web.

  • 15-inch laptops: Mid-sized laptops are a bit less portable, and won’t necessarily work in space-constrained spaces like airplane seats. But the larger display is useful for photo editing and watching videos.

  • 17-inch laptops: This is very large, and only recommended if you are doing video editing or other intensive work that requires a lot of screen real estate—and you don’t mind lugging it around.

There can still be varying sizes within those categories—for example, the XPS 13’s smaller bezels make it much smaller than most 13-inch laptops—and sizes in between, like the 14-inch Lenovo Yoga C930. But in general, picking a size range you’re comfortable with can help narrow down the field.

You’ll also want to consider how many USB ports the laptop has, whether you need HDMI and Ethernet, and how comfortable the keyboard and trackpad are to use—this can vary quite a bit from model to model, and it’s important to get something responsive and durable.

Under the Hood

Finally, you’ll need to consider the guts—the processor, graphics chip, RAM, and storage that determine your laptop’s capabilities. For browsing the web and using office software, lower-power chips like Intel’s i3 and i5 are more than adequate. 4GB of RAM is usable in a Chromebook, though even web browsing can eat up RAM these days, so 8GB is recommended if you tend to open lots of tabs, use lots of browser extensions, and want a laptop that’ll last you well into the future—I wouldn’t generally advise 4GB for most Windows laptops these days.

If, on the other hand, you run more intense workloads—whether that means heavy photo and video editing or running the latest PC games—you’ll want something with a bit more “oomph.” Intel’s higher-end i7 processors will make those video encodes run noticeably faster, and a dedicated graphics card will ensure your games run smooth as butter (instead of choppy like a bad flipbook). This is a good idea if you plan on getting a gaming laptop.

No matter who you are, I recommend erring on the side of more storage rather than less—people often underestimate how much space they’ll fill up with all their music, photos, and videos over time, and it’s a hassle to lug an external drive around. Storage can be expensive, though, so if you can’t afford a 256GB solid-state drive, consider buying a laptop with an SD card slot and using a high-capacity card for cheap, expandable storage. Keep in mind internal upgradeability, too—many modern laptops solder their components onto the motherboard, meaning you can’t swap in more RAM or a bigger storage drive down the line. So either buy a laptop that keeps its components separate or spend a bit more to buy the specs you’ll need in a couple years—not just what you need right now.

Other Budget Laptops We Tested

HP Chromebook X2 12-F014DX

If you’re looking for a Chromebook that also happens to be a tablet, the HP Chromebook x2 is a great choice. Between the long battery life, convertible design, and vibrant display, there’s a lot we love. My only complaint is that it’s a little heavy/bulky for a convertible and it’s not the fastest Chromebook we’ve ever tested. That said, if you’re only checking e-mail or watching Netflix, performance shouldn’t be much of an issue.

We really like that the keyboard and stylus are included. This is a nice perk because they tend to cost a pretty penny as standalone accessories. It’s more lap-friendly too, meaning it didn’t wobble quite as much as other convertibles we’ve tested. Plus, the color scheme is sharp. It looks a lot like the Google Pixelbook, but that’s perfectly fine, as imitation is considered the highest form of flattery.

Lenovo IdeaPad 120S

The cool thing about this Lenovo is that it looks more expensive than it actually is. Between the speckled lid and mineral grey color scheme, it's really sophisticated-looking for the price. In addition to the chic design, battery life is excellent too. It lasted about five hours on a single charge at 250 nits. You can probably squeeze another hour or two out of it if you dim the screen.

The only drawback is that it's not great for heavy tasks like gaming or photo editing. With its Intel Celeron N3350 processor and 64GB of eMMC storage space, it's just not built for power users. You're going to run out of space pretty quick if you're not careful. The one saving grace is the MicroSD card slot, which provides additional space.

Samsung Chromebook Plus

Weighing just a little over two pounds, the Samsung Chromebook Plus is remarkably lightweight. Not only is it super portable, but the 360-degree hinge also allows you to swing the screen around and use it as a tablet. This is great for drawing or taking notes. It even comes with a pen, so you don't have to pay extra for a standalone accessory.

In addition to running Chrome OS and supporting Android apps, according to this article from The Verge, the Plus now supports some Linux apps as well. This means you can do a lot more with your machine.

My favorite thing about it? It looks and feels more expensive than it actually is. The silver shell is clean and attractive, and I didn't notice any flex in the screen or keyboard.

Acer Switch 3 SW312-31-P946

Not only does this 2-in-1 come with a keyboard cover and pressure-sensitive pen, but the display is also bright too. The viewing angles are good and colors are vivid and shadows don't lose definition. The image quality is shockingly good, as most budget-friendly laptops tend to cut corners with the display.

The U-shaped kickstand is a bit finicky. It's not the most intuitive thing in the world, as you have to pull it out from the back, but I wouldn't say it's a deal-breaker. Much to the amusement of my coworkers, I did end up fighting with it for a solid minute or two. When using it in laptop mode, it doesn't really balance on your lap either, as it's pretty wobbly.

Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA

The Flip is one of my personal favorites. With its sleek design, superb 1080p display, and zippy performance, there's a lot to love. It's also a convertible, meaning you can flip the lid around 360-degrees. If you're not married to Windows OS, you should really give Chromebooks a try, as they're known for their rugged builds and long battery life.

This Asus is a little expensive for a Chromebook, but we think it's well worth the money. While most Chromebooks are pretty inexpensive, they're not ultra-powerful machines. With the Asus, you're getting 4GB of RAM, an Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor, and a 1080p display. That's a good amount of power right there.

Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook

If you can look past the utilitarian design, this Lenovo laptop is one of the most resilient Chromebooks money can buy. It has a spill-resistant keyboard and trackpad, which is great if you're a bonafide klutz like me. There's also a 5 mm rubber ring surrounding the machine, protecting it from unexpected bumps and shocks.

It's seriously bulky, though, so if portability is at the top of your list, this may not be the best option. While I don't personally mind hauling this thing around, it could be too heavy for some folks. Despite the bulkiness and dated design, if you need an affordable laptop that's built to last, you can't get much better than this.

Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (i5568-0463GRY)

We liked Dell's mid-range Inspiron 5000 2-in-1 laptop series, which is moderately priced and available with a wide array of the latest Intel chips. Shoppers will appreciate the comfy keyboard, pretty HD screens, and premium niceties like an optional IR face detection camera for Windows Hello logins.

If you want a 2-in-1 instead of just a regular laptop, Dell's put together a nice package in the Inspiron 5000 series. Even though the base-level Pentium chip might be a little pokey when paired with a spinning hard drive, there's no denying this Dell has solid essentials and a versatile design.

Acer Chromebook 11 CB311-8H-C5DV

The Acer Chromebook 11 is a great choice for the everyday user. For the price, you're getting zippy performance, a good selection of ports, and a comfortable keyboard. Plus, the indigo-blue color scheme is really eye-catching. The plastic shell is surprisingly rugged, too. But while we like the long battery life and the low price point, we still had a few gripes.

The display is dimmer than we like, as shadows tend to lose definition. The audio is also underwhelming, so you may want to plug into external speakers. Drawbacks aside, if you're on a tight budget, this is the laptop to get.

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