Best Laptops for under $300 in 2020
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When we are fishing in the shallow end of the pool for a frugal yet useful laptop to buy, we need to be very careful. While there are certainly some decent machines to be had, you do tend to have to search around a bit more to find something worth your while.
Equally, if you are not careful, you can easily pick up a right stinker that also fits into the same price bracket. As laptops go up in price, there is less and less chance of this happening, but in this cheap category, you are open to abuse and ending up with something which is borderline useless almost from the second you take it out the box.
True story: Last year the kid’s grandparents bought my two children a low-cost Windows S machine from HP each for Christmas. Forward on a few months, and not only do they not have enough inbuilt storage to install the latest Windows update, but I physically can’t delete anything else from the meager flash memory they come with to sort out the issue. They are barely worth their place in the house as doorstops anymore.
Let’s be careful out there and have a look at where your money can be much better spent.
How We Picked
This is a tricky old category as it encompasses a lot of simple needs groups. We looked for machines that would be good all-rounders to browse the internet, do homework on, and be relatively durable as the risk of accidental damage rises as the ages of the user potentially drop. What we also found was a good spread between ChromeOS, Windows S, and Windows 10.
Best Laptops for under $300 in 2020
- Long battery life
- ChromeOS so 32GB storage less significant
- Low res screen
- Only 32GB storage of you need more room
HP’s Chromebooks are among the most popular out there with good reason. A great choice of models and specifications means they can be configured to squeeze into even the tightest of budgets.
Of course, we aren’t going to get too many bells and whistles for under $300, but for a little workhorse that might be good for the kids, you can certainly get something suitable.
I would be wary about getting one with the low-end 32GB eMMC storage as that’s the pitfall I found myself in as described in the intro, so if the budget can squeeze to a slightly better configuration, it will be safer in the long run. Having said that, most of the drive isn’t taken up by a bloated Windows 10 installation so, carefully managed, you will be okay.
The low-resolution screen shouldn’t prove too much of a problem for the uses this will be put to, and its long battery life should see it through most of the day of work.
- 2-in-1 style machine
- Gorilla Glass
- Have to hunt around to get it under budget
Acer Chromebook Spin
Initially, this would not have fit under our budget but with the price of many of its parts coming down, it is now possible, with a little looking, to find it in a form that fits under our $300.
Google’s ChromeOS isn’t as restrictive as it once was, and it seems you can run more and more on there with every passing week. Where the Spin truly stands out, however, is the smart 2-in-1 design allowing you to configure into a tablet mode like much more expensive 2-in-1 machines. It’s perhaps a novelty at this level but useful if it’s intended recipient is a child who may be used to something like an iPad – it might be an interesting way to bridge them onto a full computer keyboard in the long run.
Speaking of kids, the screen is covered with Gorilla Glass too, making it more durable than many. That takes some of the brightness from it, but in terms of it not being smashed into a million pieces if it dropped, especially in tablet mode, that is a small price to pay!
- Perfect for small hands
- Windows S
- Terribly low storage with just 32GB with Windows taking up a lot of it
HP Stream 11
The Stream looks a bit like a toy. We need to get over that before the start. It comes in a range of colors that can probably be described as kid-friendly.
This is one of the lightest laptops you will find and easily fits in any bag and isn’t too heavy for young hands to grab hold of.
This is a value laptop of the highest order, the screen isn’t great for watching on, but do kids watching YouTube care that much. The 32GTB of memory is far from sufficient. A Windows install, and a copy of Microsoft Office for homework and so on and ours was creaking. We’d heavily suggest external storage or using Word on the Web or Google Docs if net access is no problem.
If the screen or storage isn’t great, the built-in audio speakers are really good, far better than I was expecting.
As long as you expect to get what you pay for the Stream will do you proud. If you are transitioning your kids to a “real” laptop, there might well be no better proving ground.
- Good looking
- 14” screen
- Only 64GB storage
Lenovo makes great laptops we know that already. They also make good quality budget laptops, and generally speaking, you know you are on a good thing when you pick one up. The IdeaPad is no exception.
It all starts well with a 14” HD screen, 4GB of RAM and 64GB eMMC of storage. This extra amount gives a decent safety net as your Windows installation blooms over time.
The IdeaPad is a smart-looking machine for the money too. It looks a lot more expensive than it actually is. It’s lightweight in a good way rather than a cheap and nasty way, and it has lots of ports too.
Like all machines at this level, multi-tasking is undoubtedly not its forte, but for occasional web use or writing, it’s a pretty good choice.
- 128GB storage
- Full Windows 10
- 14” screen
- Build quality isn’t amazing
Dell Inspiron 13
Dell is back with its great Inspiron series that seems to have been around an eternity. There’s a good reason for that though, and that shines through here.
There are three configurations, and it’s the middle-0tier we are looking at here as it’s the better of the under $300 options.
Graphically this is a strong machine with an Intel UHD 605 GPU being pushed all the way by the Pentium Silver N5000 processor that sits beside it.
It also has a 128GB SSD, which is the biggest we have found in this round-up, and for the kinds of tasks, this will set should be more than adequate to avoid any extra expense in the future.
This is a good machine to leave on your coffee table for occasional browse around the internet. It’s powerful for that kind of task and a lot more too.
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When we are down to this level of budget, we are firmly behind the Chromebook. The problem with Windows installs is that they are cumbersome for the amount of storage generally on offer, and as well all know they don’t exactly get smaller as times goes on. ChromeOS is almost the perfect operating system at this level, despite its restrictions, which to be fair are getting smaller and smaller.
With that in mind, either of the two Chromebooks here will prove great machines. We are going with the HP version with the caveat that if you can find the Acer Spin on sale, we would probably lean that way instead.