There's a laptop for just about every budget, whether you need an inexpensive Chromebook for browsing the web or a high-powered machine for video editing or gaming. But for some people, the sweet spot is about a grand or lower.
If you're looking for the best in terms of performance and portability, we'd recommend spending a little extra. Among the sub-$1,000 laptops, we fell in love with the new Apple MacBook Air M1 (available at Amazon for $799.00) for its 12-plus hour battery life, smooth and responsive trackpad, gorgeous Retina screen, and blazing fast performance that beats other laptops twice its price. If MacBooks aren't your style, you've got plenty of other options, and we're here to help you find the best one for you.
Apple MacBook Air (2020)
With north of a dozen hours of battery life, a crazy-powerful M1 processor, and an incredibly smooth trackpad and keyboard, it should be no surprise that the MacBook Air M1 shoved our previous top laptop out of its spot.
Compared to the mid-2020 MacBook Air, the M1 version is almost identical. The only changes are the switch from Intel to the Apple-made M1 processors and the total lack of fans. Apple claimed this new M1 chip would be so amazing that we’d want to ditch our old Intel Macs. They delivered, with the M1 processor packing 7,667 points in Geekbench 5, over 1,000 points higher than our third-highest laptop of 2020, the Dell XPS 15 7390 with a 9th gen Intel Core i9 processor. Basically, this $1,000 laptop performs better than most laptops twice its price.
But it’s not all about performance. The most astonishing feature of the MacBook Air is its battery life. Our battery test always pulls fewer hours from the laptops than they claim to give, so we expected the claimed 15-hour battery life to turn into nine hours—instead, we got over a dozen hours. In short, it shattered the record for longest battery life we’ve seen from a laptop running Chrome (the previous record was nine hours and 44 minutes from the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 3). We went days on end without charging this laptop.
The MacBook Air M1 comes with the same aluminum chassis and Retina screen we loved in the earlier 2020 Intel MacBook Air, although we’d love to see a redesign for the MacBook Air’s next iteration (thinner bezels, perhaps?). This is one of the most surprising releases we’ve seen in years, and we can’t imagine anyone not falling in love with the M1 MacBook Air.
Editor's Note June 28, 2022: We're currently evaluating the latest version of this laptop as the model we reviewed here appears to be no longer available. If you must get a laptop now we recommend checking out one of our other top picks.
Fast, beautiful, and affordable, the 15-inch HP Envy x360 is a dream for those in need of a larger laptop that won't break the bank. We're usually wary of $500 laptops, but this one proves that you can get great laptops without making sacrifices. Inside its beautiful body, the 15-inch Envy packs an AMD Ryzen 5 processor that trades blows with laptops twice its price—perfect for photo editing, light gaming, and even a bit of video editing.
What's even more impressive is that it can hit all the marks while still delivering almost seven hours of battery life. While it doesn't outdo the MacBook Air, it stands on par with the Air's competitors, like the HP Spectre 15 or the Dell XPS 15. It's undoubtedly the best 15-inch laptop in its price range, and we doubt we'll see a worthy contender for its crown anytime soon.
Microsoft’s mainline Surface Laptop 4 packs just about everything you could need in a slim, portable machine. It has a beautiful high-resolution display with a 3:2 aspect ratio perfect for web browsing, a smooth and accurate trackpad, and a quiet backlit keyboard with 1.3mm of key travel—not quite as deep as we’d like, but good enough for typing longer documents. Plus, eight hours of battery life assures us that you can get through just about the whole workday on a single charge.
You also get face recognition for near-instantaneous login, a touchscreen, a USB-C, and a USB-A port—which is awfully nice during this transition period between the two standards. Plus, you get a Windows installation free of manufacturer bloatware. It does still have Windows 10’s usual pre-installed games like Candy Crush and Farm Heroes, but at least those aren’t bothering me with notifications all the time (like the antivirus trials that come on oh-so-many laptops these days).
We have quibbles with the Surface Laptop 4, but they’re small. The keyboard has just a bit of flex to it and Microsoft’s proprietary charger is more annoying to use than a standard USB-C charger would be. The charger does, however, have an extra USB port in the power brick, so you can charge your phone at the same time—a very nice touch. I also worry about the fabric keyboard discoloring over time—but these are minor nitpicks and, to their credit, Microsoft claims the fabric keyboard can be cleaned with soap and water once every month or two.
We tested the Intel Core i7 model, which was one of the fastest laptops we’ve reviewed so far, but there is also an AMD Ryzen model available with even better performance and battery life. We only managed to squeeze eight hours of battery life from our unit, but many users claim they can get north of ten hours or more. This inconsistency holds it back from being the best Windows laptop we’ve tested, but it’s still a darn good laptop.
HP’s Spectre line merges performance with a premium design, featuring an all-aluminum build, a convertible touch screen, and great performance in an incredibly small package. Like the Dell XPS 13, the Spectre x360’s bezels are super thin, so you pack a 13-inch screen into a much smaller chassis. But despite that, the keyboard is big, backlit, and surprisingly deep for the laptop’s size. Two USB-C ports and one USB-A port make for a versatile port selection, battery life hits a clean seven hours and forty-five minutes, and you can log in quickly with facial recognition or a fingerprint scanner.
Unfortunately, the Spectre had one big downside compared to its competitors: its trackpad is awfully small, making it hard to use comfortably. It’s a super sleek laptop, and it checks most of the right boxes, but its usability suffered enough that it doesn’t quite stack up to the other great models we tested.
Finding a good budget laptop that can keep pace with the premium ultrabooks is no small feat. The Dell Inspiron 3501 accepts it with grace: it’s thin, lightweight, and powerful enough to run any productivity task without issue.
While the Inspiron won’t win any beauty awards, the body feels rugged and does a great job of warding off fingerprints. The full-sized keyboard offers responsive keys that perfectly tow the line between soft and bouncy. Meanwhile, the decently large trackpad is smooth and has no issue picking up your finger’s movements. Unlike many of its budget peers, the Inspiron also manages to offer power without sacrificing battery life—it can go for almost eight hours before needing a recharge.
Our Intel Core i5 model was a workhorse, performing the same (or better!) as laptops that cost hundreds of more dollars. Whether you need dozens of Chrome tabs at the ready or find yourself working with Photoshop several times a week, this laptop will perform reliably. The only issue we had with the Inspiron was its dim screen, which may not be bright enough for those who work outside traditional office spaces. It’s not the fanciest, but boy does it get the basics right, offering a comfortable experience that won’t cost a fortune.
The Aspire 5 packs a lot of value into a small price tag. With a sleeker profile and a midrange processor, the Aspire 5 is ready to take on basic productivity tasks at home, work, and school. While its build isn’t as nice as pricier laptops, it has almost as much power and is perfect for someone that needs something just for writing papers, making Cricut cutting machine designs, or checking emails. Should you take it with you to your office or a coffee shop, you can squeeze a little over six hours of battery life out of the Aspire 5 before you’ll need to run to a power outlet.
Being such a low-priced laptop, the Aspire 5 had to make compromises to keep the budget so low. Its display is mediocre, with dull colors and brights that bloom the darks on-screen. Meanwhile, its mostly plastic chassis flexes under moderate pressure and may have trouble if you give it the rough treatment. The keyboard and trackpad are useable, although the keycaps have a gritty texture that’s off-putting. But, a surprising perk of the Aspire 5 is its large port selection, which includes USB-A, USB-C, Ethernet, and HDMI ports.
Despite its flaws, it’s a machine that can keep kicking for a few years if you treat it well. With a free storage drive bay inside, you can upgrade your storage later too, an option that’s become less common across laptops currently. The Dell Inspiron still stands above the Aspire 5 for our best laptop under $500, but if you want to spend the lowest amount of money possible on a machine that’s still convenient enough to use all day, then the Aspire 5 is a great choice, provided you are okay with its shortcomings.
Compared to the 2019 Zenbook 13, the AMD-based Zenbook 14 trades in its 8th gen Intel processors for markedly better performance and battery life while maintaining the Zenbook line’s admirable portability. We were a little disappointed to see the premium build quality go on the cheaper models, but this is still a good midrange buy with some of the best battery life and weight in its class.
When you open the laptop, the comfortable keyboard stands out. It’s deep and easy to type on, and it’s not as cramped as the Zenbook 13’s keyboard. The extra inch makes a difference. This model’s trackpad isn’t the glassy glider from, say, a Macbook, but it’s nonetheless comfortable to use thanks to its width and its excellent fingertip detection.
However, we were not impressed with the Zenbook 14’s screen. This matte 1080P panel gets darker than last gen’s glossy screen, but it’s also 70 nits dimmer at max brightness. Its colors are also a bit more washed out than those of the Zenbook 13’s display.
One aspect where the Zenbook 14 far surpasses its predecessor is in performance, arguably the aspect that most affects your experience with a laptop. Its new Ryzen 5 4500U processor is blazing fast, crushing the old Intel Core i5-8500U in benchmarks, and its lower power consumption means the Zenbook 14 has a battery life of almost eight and a half hours. Overall, this is a great budget laptop for those in need of a powerful but uber-portable traveling companion.
I’m Whitson Gordon, and I’m a freelance tech writer charged with testing laptops here at Reviewed. I’ve been writing about tech professionally for almost 10 years, from building computers to setting up smart homes, and served as the editor-in-chief of Lifehacker and How-To Geek before freelancing for publications like the New York Times, PCMag, and Reviewed. This isn’t just my day job—it’s my calling. I’m obsessed with researching, testing, and finding the best possible gadget in a given category, so much so that my brother made it a central joke in his best man speech at my wedding.
I’m particularly picky about laptops, which need to achieve a delicate balance of processing power, battery life, portability, and build quality. If a keyboard, trackpad, and hinge aren’t going to stand the test of time, then the laptop isn’t worth buying. Thankfully, manufacturers have innovated a lot in recent years, finding new ways to stand out from the pack.
Hey there, I’m Adrien Ramirez, laptop staff writer here at Reviewed. I’ve been working professionally with tech and PCs for six years, from game development to reviewing and everything in between. Before I came to Reviewed, I had worked with Lifewire and the MIT Game Lab. I’m passionate about all things tech, although I especially enjoy working with PCs. When I’m not testing and evaluating laptops, I’m planning new keyboard and small form factor desktop builds, playing games in virtual reality, or nerding out about graphics cards.
Here at Reviewed, we test laptops for their processing capability, graphics, battery life, and screen brightness. We use popular benchmarks like Geekbench and 3DMark to gauge how well the laptop multitasks, runs games, and more. We also test multiple platforms, from Windows laptops to Macs and Chromebooks alike.
To test battery life, we set up our laptops to continuously cycle through various websites at a brightness of 200 nits—which is around 60% for many of these mid-range models—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
$1,000 is a lot of money, but it’s actually more midrange when it comes to laptops. At this price point, you’re getting good performance for most everyday tasks that won’t feel sluggish after a year or two of use, plus solid build quality and a few nice bells and whistles like facial recognition. Still, you’ll likely have to make some choices about what’s most important to you. You’ll need to consider:
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.
In addition, consider which operating system you need. 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 and want to save some money, though, a Chromebook may serve you well.
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- and bloatware-free (since they run Linux under the hood).
From there, you’ll need to look a bit deeper at the form factor. You’ll usually find laptops in one of three main sizes, measured by the diagonal length of the display:
13 inches and under: These smaller laptops are great for carrying around, and more than suitable for light work like writing papers and browsing the web.
15 inches: 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 inches: 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 C740. 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 the Intel Core i3 processor—are adequate, though midrange chips like the i5 are ideal if you can get them. 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—we wouldn’t advise 4GB for most Windows users 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).
No matter who you are, we 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 of years—not just what you need right now.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.