The Best Laptops Under $500
Though we can do almost anything from our phones these days, using a computer is often more comfortable. A decent computer is essential for completing work and school assignments. Posting to social media, sending emails, and watching videos and movies also tend to be easier with a bigger screen and keyboard. While the best computers still can set you back over a thousand dollars, there are a surprising number of decent budget laptops out there for under $500.
There is a lot to consider when choosing a laptop. Processor speed is important, because if it's too sluggish it will drive you crazy. Memory (at least 4GB but preferably 6 or 8) and storage are both important. If you are carrying your laptop with you often, size and weight will matter to you. Display often isn't as good as higher priced laptop models, but concessions need to be made somewhere. Your laptop should support 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Without good battery life, you'll find yourself constantly searching for an outlet. Finally, of course, if you are reading this review, price plays a big factor for you. We've limited this review to laptops under $500.
Top Choice: Acer Aspire E Series E5-575-33BM
This Acer Aspire laptop is a budget-friendly pick that runs on Windows 10 Home operating system. This computer measures 15 inches by 10.2 inches by 1.2 inches and weighs 5.27 pounds. It has an Intel Core i3 dual-core processor. As long as you're not planning on gaming, an i3 processor can work for most people. The computer tends to slow down if you're running too many programs (including watching videos and downloading large files) at once but otherwise speed is fine. The two speakers don't provide the best audio quality, but they are about what you would expect in a budget laptop. The keyboard feels fine to type on and the trackpad is responsive. This Acer Aspire laptop includes two USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C port, VGA connection, and HDMI output. It connects with fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Reviewers note that battery life is approximately 10 hours.
Runner Up: Acer Swift 1 NX.GPNAA.002
The Acer Swift 1 is a budget computer with a sleek metal body. It measures 12.58 inches by 8.86 inches by 0.59 inches and weighs 2.87 pounds, so just a bit more than some of our other picks. It has an Intel Pentium Quad-core processor and Windows 10 Home operating system. There is an SD card slot, two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, HDMI output, and one USB 3.1. Battery life is decent at up to 10 hours. The keyboard is easy to type on, though there is no backlight so typing in the dark would be difficult. The trackpad is smooth and responsive. The Acer Swift features 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity. Basic games can be played on it and moderate multitasking is not so problematic. The camera results in grainy images which are typical for low budget laptops, and the audio is ok but not amazing. An embedded fingerprint reader can be used for added security to access your laptop. If you are just needing a basic computer for typing documents, surfing the web, and streaming video, this is a nice budget computer that has a sleek design comparable to a MacBook.
Chromebook Pick: Samsung Chromebook Pro
The first thing that you need to know about this Samsung laptop is that it is a Chromebook, which means instead of operating on Windows, it uses Chrome OS. It is primarily intended for use while connected to Wi-Fi and with mainly cloud-based storage. That being said, you could download and work in Google Docs somewhere offline if you know in advance. This Chromebook measures 11.06 inches by 8.72 inches by 0.55 inches and weighs in at a lightweight 2.38 pounds. The display can rotate 360-degrees for a tablet experience, and there is a built-in stylus that can be tucked out of the way in the Chromebook when not being used. The keyboard felt a bit cramped to reviewers and isn't backlit, but we do appreciate that it is spill-resistant because accidents do happen. There are two USB-C ports, a headphone/mic combo port, and MicroSD slot. Battery life is decent at about 9 hours.
Good for Students: HP Stream 14
The HP Stream 14 is a laptop priced at just over $200 that comes with a 1-year subscription to Office 365. It measures 13.27 inches by 8.9 inches by 0.7 inches and isn't too heavy at 3.17 pounds. This HP operates on Windows 10 Home 64 and has an Intel Celeron N3060 processor, which is best for only basic computer operations. It has a 32 GB hard drive and 4 GB of memory, and there is an SD slot. It comes with quite a bit of bloatware, so you can remove that to free up space on your computer. The 14-inch HD display (1366 x 768) doesn't display perfect color, but it's certainly good enough. The two speakers aren't the best, so we recommend using a pair of headphones with this laptop. There is 1 USB 2.0 port, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 2 USB 3.1, 1 HDMI port, and 1 headphone/microphone combo. The front-facing VGA webcam does not offer the most impressive performance, resulting in grainy images. This computer is certainly not for gamers, and it slows down noticeably with multiple tabs open.
Most Budget-Friendly: Lenovo IdeaPad 120S
The Lenovo Ideapad 120S is a low-price laptop with an 11.6-inch HD display. It measures 11.33 inches by 7.87 inches by 0.69 inches and weighs just 2.53 pounds. It has an Intel Celeron N3350 Processor and Windows 10 Home operating system. The processor is appropriate for day-to-day tasks but not gaming. It has just 2GB RAM, which is less than what we generally recommend, and 64GB storage. The gray plastic casing features a Lenovo logo on the top. The antiglare display with 1366 x 768 resolution offers ok images for the price however they aren't so crisp or vibrant as higher priced computers. The two speakers are nothing to write home about, so we would recommend using headphones for your audio needs. You can use this for basic activities but with such little storage included, you're likely going to want to invest in external storage as well with this computer. The webcam does not result in good selfies, with reviewers reporting blurriness and washed out images. The keypad feels fine to use and the trackpad was responsive. One thing that is nice is that there isn't too much bloatware that needs removing. It comes with McAfee LiveSafe and Microsoft Office.
Our top recommendation for a budget laptop under $500 is the Acer Aspire. Reviewers appreciated the Intel Core i3 dual-core processor, 1 TB hard drive, and the ability to easily upgrade RAM. The Acer Swift is our second-choice pick, which worked well enough for everyday use and has a sleek metallic body that reviewers loved. While a Chromebook may not have gotten as high of reviews in years past, the Samsung Chromebook Pro was pleasant to use with nice resolution, a decent processor, and a lot to offer from the Google Play store in terms of usable apps. The HP Stream comes in candy-color hues and could be used by students from middle school to college, as long as you remove the bloatware first. Finally, the Lenovo Ideapad is a fine budget-pick for day-to-day activities, providing that you invest in some external storage.