Ask Adrian: the best laptop on a budget
Our tech editor ADRIAN WECKLER tackles your trickiest technology problems
QI need some advice as to the purchasing of a laptop. I’ve got a desktop PC but it’s very old. I need something for everyday use, such as banking, downloading, shopping and printing documents — the usual everyday stuff. I would like a 13 or 14 inch machine, nothing too big or bulky. I will be using it for air travel. I would need it to have good storage and battery life. My budget would be around €500. Is it worth me looking at a Chromebook?
AThe top model I’d recommend is Lenovo’s 320 series, as you get a relatively thin, well-designed laptop with decent battery life, and the option of a lot of storage if you want it. The 13-inch 320S version (€450 from lenovo.com/ie) has an Intel i3 chip and 128GB of storage whereas the 15-inch model (€430 from lenovo.com/ie) has a whopping 2,000GB of storage. (The price to be paid for the extra storage is that it’s an older type of storage drive that whirs and clicks and makes the laptop a bit heavier.)
In general, there are very few laptops on the market that have fast, quiet, longer-lasting solid state
(SSD) drives for under €500. At this price level, the vast majority have the older type.
However, if you can live with this, HP, Asus and Dell also have a few models in this price bracket. Dell and HP are generally decent choices, although Lenovo is probably the best in the budget category.
Your budget rules out options such as Apple MacBooks, which start at over €1,000. It also means you won’t be getting fancy features such as fingerprint security locks or so-called ‘ultra high definition’ (also known as ‘4K’) screens. And you’ll be restricted to relatively modest power combinations, meaning you wouldn’t want to suddenly gain an interest in video-editing or gaming. But from the tone of your question, I’m assuming that you don’t need any of these features for the activities you describe. As for portability and weight, the good news is that few of today’s new laptops are bulky anymore. That said, for the lightest, slimmest laptops, you’ll pay a premium.
As for Chromebooks, they generally have the advantage of being very affordable (usually under €300). However, they also have limitations. In particular, they tend to have very limited storage capacities (usually no more than 64GB), because their operating model is to use ‘the cloud’ for everything instead of a physical hard drive. This starts to bite for things like storing photos or downloading episodes of Netflix.
They’re also quite limited in a situation where you’re offline as, again, they’re really meant to work in an ‘always on’ connected environment.
Given that you say you’re going to use it a lot for air travel, I wouldn’t put a Chromebook at the top of your list.
You also have the option of a tablet, but other than the iPad (which is a very different system to a Windows laptop), there aren’t many plausible choices for this budget range, especially taking the need for a keyboard accessory into consideration.
RECOMMENDATION: Lenovo 320S 13 (€449 from lenovo.com/ie)