The Laptop: Cheaper but still a workhorse

Dec 23 2013, 02:11 IST
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SummaryWhen people think about mobile computing these days, chances are they’re thinking about smartphones

When people think about mobile computing these days, chances are they’re thinking about smartphones and tablets. But the laptop computer has remained a workhorse, even if it is no longer consumers’ gadget du jour. The laptop has also become lighter, more flexible and—best of all—less expensive.

Perhaps because of that competition from new devices, laptops are available in many styles and configurations for less than $400. Four or five years ago, the low-cost options were limited.

Be forewarned: Laptops

under $400 will not be the fastest speed demons with the most dazzling displays, but the choices are enough to meet a variety of needs. They include traditional-looking laptops that can convert to tablets, conventional laptops with a wide selection of features, and Google’s cloud-reliant Chromebooks.

In this realm, however, the

basics of computer shopping still apply. Features to focus on include battery strength, storage space, screen size, screen resolution, expansion ports, wireless capabilities, warranties and weight. It is also important to make sure your performance expectations are met. The processors offered in this range can handle everyday computing tasks, though not at top speeds. And, yes, those technical specifications matter. Paying attention to the little details can help you tell a good deal from a bad one.

Conventional laptops

These are available in a variety of sizes and configurations. On the lower end of the price scale, from Toshiba, the Satellite C55-A5302, is $300 at some Best Buy stores. It comes with a 15.6-inch screen, 500-gigabyte hard drive, 6 gigabytes of memory, a DVD drive, three USB ports, an HDMI port and Microsoft’s Windows 8 OS.

A unit with a faster processor, the Dell Inspiron I15RV-3767BLK, is $360 at Micro Center. It has a 15.6-inch screen, 6 gigabytes of memory and an Intel Core i3 processor. A step up from the Pentium, the i3 has better performance—though still below others like the i5 or i7. The i3 is available in a number of other units with 15.6-inch screens, including the Toshiba Satellite C55-A5384, at Amazon for about $370 and the Hewlett-Packard 2000 2d62NR, at Micro Center for $330.

For a more compact unit, the Acer Aspire V5-131-2629 is about $360 at PC Connection. It has an 11.6-inch screen and comes with Windows 7, a Celeron dual-core processor, 500 GB hard drive, 4 GB of memory but no DVD drive, and it weighs 3.3 pounds.

Touch screens and convertibles

Touch has improved significantly in laptops, and several models in the

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