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9 best laptops under £500 that give you more bang for your buck

Fast, light and durable, these latest models are sure to impress

David RS Taylor
Tuesday 10 August 2021 15:46 BST
<p>Our top picks range from two-in-one tablet-like devices to more traditional models</p>

Our top picks range from two-in-one tablet-like devices to more traditional models

It might’ve been a bit tricky to get your hands on a new laptop over the past year or so. The great laptop shortage of the early 2020s, as it will doubtless be known, has been a challenge for laptop producers, with many parts in short global supply.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should just give up on finding the right laptop for you, especially if you’re looking for a product that can give you more for your money.

Nowadays, the term laptop is played with fast and loose. Gone are the heavy blocks of whirring computational heft that used to smother your legs. In their place are sleek, stylish products that have upped the laptop game with their performance and looks, from more traditional but slimmer devices, to tablet-like two-in-one units and Google-powered Chromebooks.

How we tested

We tested all the units below with an eye on battery life, screen quality, sound, processing speed and range of programmes and apps. We carried out work and leisure activities – think writing an article on Word and then switching over to YouTube for a much longer break than anticipated.

Alongside observing the technical specifications of each unit, we looked at aesthetics and portability. It’s all well and good owning a high-performance machine, but if it looks like a Nineties throwback, or would need its own seat on a plane, it won’t find much use in the modern world as a laptop.

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Some might be put off by a two-in-one laptop’s tablet-like look. After all, we’re used to tablets being inferior to a laptop, with fewer perks and more limited software. However, as computing technology keeps pace with the desire for ease and flexibility, products such as this are bound to take over as the most widely-used laptops on the market.

For those of us more traditionally inclined though, there are still plenty of good value releases that will perform more than adequately and should last you until the end of the laptop shortage. Stock comes and goes with all of the below, so be sure to shop around for the best price or similar products.

The best laptops under £500 for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Lenovo ideapad duet chromebook: £279.99,
  • Best Chromebook – HP x360 2-in-1 Chromebook: £499,
  • Best for the most seamless experience – Asus C434 Chromebook: £449,
  • Best cheap traditional laptop – Asus E410: £229,
  • Best value – Acer Chromebook 314: £229,
  • Best audio – Lenovo ideapad flex 5i 14in: £399.99,
  • Best traditional laptop – Asus vivobook X413: £399.99,
  • Best lightweight option – HP 14s-dq1508sa: £329.99,
  • Best for no-nonsense – Acer aspire 1: £229.99,

Lenovo ideapad duet chromebook

Best: Overall

Rating: 9/10

  • CPU: MediaTek Helio P60T Octa-Core
  • OS: Chrome OS
  • Screen: 10.1in FHD (1920 x 1200) touchscreen
  • Memory and storage: 4GB LPDDR4X; 64GB or 128GB
  • Dimensions and weight (HxWxD): 7.35mm x 159.8mm x 239.8mm (tablet only); 450g (tablet only)

This laptop is a quick, sleek and versatile piece of kit. It boots up rapidly, and the detachable keyboard – thanks to a five-point magnet design – is a handy aspect that keeps the duet as compact as possible. The fabric cover fits nicely, protecting or propping up the screen while also looking the part.

Software is streamlined on Chrome OS, so it depends on what you’re using your laptop for, but the duet would be more than enough for most activities, from word processing, to presentation writing, to art projects. The sound is surprisingly rounded for a laptop at this price point, and while memory isn’t great, Google Drive ensures that this isn’t a problem. Overall, the ideapad duet is great value for its specs, it looks much more expensive than it actually is, and is a great centrepiece or addition to anyone’s laptop roster.

HP x360 2-in-1 chromebook

Best: Chromebook

Rating: 8.5/10

  • CPU: Intel Celeron N4000 dual core
  • OS: Chrome OS
  • Screen: 12in IPS LCD (1633 x 912) touchscreen
  • Memory and storage: 4GB LPDDR4; 64GB
  • Dimensions and weight (HxWxD): 17.3mm x 216mm x 272mm; 1.35kg

The HP x360 looks and feels like a premium product. It’s at the upper end of what we consider “budget” (and there are other similar HP models with less processing power for a lower price), but the finish of the casing, the full HD touchscreen, the Bang & Olufsen sound system and lovely textured keyboard all suggest a product twice the price.

Chrome OS versions of apps like Microsoft Office and Skype are available and easy to use, and the screen and sound quality is ample for watching Netflix or making video calls. It really offers everything you need from a modern laptop, with bonus two-in-one flexibility. It’s only been pipped to the best buy post due to its price, but for what you’re getting, it’s worth it.

ASUS c434 Chromebook

Best: For the most seamless experience

Rating: 8.5/10

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-8500Y dual core/ i5-8200Y dual core/m3-8100Y dual core
  • OS: Chrome OS
  • Screen: 14in FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • Memory and storage: 4GB/8GB LPDDR3; 32GB (up to 128GB) with one-year subscription to Google One 100GB
  • Dimensions and weight (HxWxD): 15.7mm x 321mm x 202mm; 1.45kg

The C434 has a charge port on both sides of the body, which we now expect on every laptop. This might sound like a flippant aspect to concentrate on, but it’s what should be an obvious design point. After all, how many times have you been slightly annoyed by having to change position on the sofa because you need to charge your laptop and the charging port is on the wrong side for the nearest plug?

Besides this hill that we’re now willing to die on, the C434’s Chrome OS works seamlessly. And the NanoEdge 14-inch display touchscreen is a level up from many Chromebooks, offering a supremely clean, attractive picture. The screen size is slightly squat, meaning there’s a widescreen feel to the laptop, but this shouldn’t be a problem for most people and actually works nicely when you flip it round on its hinges to use as a tablet. A flexible, good-looking machine.

Asus e410

Best: Cheap traditional laptop

Rating: 8/10

  • CPU: Intel Celeron N4020 dual-core
  • OS: Windows 10
  • Screen: 14in HD (1366 x 768)
  • Memory and storage: 4GB DDR4; 64GB
  • Dimensions and weight (HxWxD): 18mm x 325mm x 217mm; 1.3kg

Asus brings the fight to the budget laptop game, producing plenty of decent options. The E410 is a good entry-level laptop. It’s lightweight, and offers nice design touches – like the Asus yellow enter key and nifty NumberPad included on the main trackpad, handy for any financial work or trying rude words on a calculator. It doesn’t have the best screen on the list, with contrast issues at different angles, and isn’t the quickest, but offers 1TB of cloud storage and a good twelve hour battery life. You’d expect to pay more for it.

Acer Chromebook 314

Best: Value

Rating: 8/10

  • CPU: Intel Celeron N4000 dual core
  • OS: Chrome OS
  • Screen: 14in LCD (1366 x 768)
  • Memory and storage: 4GB LPDDR4; 32GB
  • Dimensions and weight (HxWxD): 16.95mm x 323mm x 232mm; 1.7kg

Acer is famous for being a brand that makes solid laptops at refreshingly low prices. The Chromebook 314 is great value, with a quality feel and good tech specs. The screen is bright and impressively clear, with fewer contrast issues than most other laptops at this price, and the machine works at a more impressive rate in general, too. The sound isn’t bad, either, though it is worth nothing that the speakers are on the bottom – serving to boost audio when the laptop is placed on a hard surface, so no carpets for this Chromebook. The 12 hour battery life and built-in malware protection round off a laptop that is serious value for money.

Lenovo ideapad flex 5i 14in

Best: Audio

Rating: 8/10

  • CPU: Intel Core i3-1115G4 dual core
  • OS: Windows 10
  • Screen: 14.0in FHD (1920x1080) touchscreen
  • Memory and storage: 4 GB DDR4, 128GB
  • Dimensions and weight (HxWxD): 17mm x 310mm x 214mm; 1.35kg

Lenovo’s two-in-one IdeaPad flex 5i might not have the curves of its Chromebook sibling, but what it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in performance. The screen is clear, with very little contrast loss when looking from different angles, and Dolby Audio performs well, especially in tablet mode and when playing music.

The flex 5i has both USB-A and USB-C ports, making the slow march towards a fully USB-C world a little easier. Another appreciated little touch is the privacy shutter on the webcam – no more sticking blu-tack over the camera when not in use. Battery life is pretty good, and stated as up to ten hours: we were averaging out at about seven hours, even with heavy media usage (such as going down a YouTube rabbit hole).

Asus vivobook X413

Best: Traditional laptop

Rating: 8/10

  • CPU: Intel Core i3-1135G4 dual core
  • OS: Windows 10
  • Screen: 14in TN LCD (1366 x 768)
  • Memory and storage: 4GB DDR4 (up to 24GB); 256GB
  • Dimensions and weight (HxWxD): 19.1mm x 324 mmx 215mm; 1.4kg

The vivobook X413 is the best option under £500. The quality is obvious from the moment you switch it on. It’s lightweight but feels sturdy, and the backlit keyboard is a pleasure to use. The audio is the best of any Asus laptop we tested, especially when playing full, rich music. The screen uses Asus NanoEdge display, with minimal colour drain or contrast issues, and general processing is fast and effortless. The unit we tested is currently out of stock, but should be back soon.

HP 14s-dq1508sa

Best: Lightweight option

Rating: 7.5/10

  • CPU: Intel Core i3-1005G1 dual core
  • OS: Windows 10
  • Screen: 14in FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • Memory and storage: 4GB DDR4; 256GB
  • Dimensions and weight (HxWxD): 17.9mm x 324mm x 225mm; 1.46kg

HP’s range of more traditional laptops is a safe bet for anyone wanting a reliable machine that will last. The catchily-named 14s-dq1508sa is a solid option for those who want an on-the-go laptop with a good-size screen and decent ten-hour battery life. While the display can have a few contrast problems at step angles, the anti-glare panel works brilliantly in sunlight, and the dual front-facing speakers produce a strong sound. It’s easy to take with you too – you can hold it in one hand easily, which is a good sign for carrying it around in your bag all day.

Acer Aspire 1

The Acer Aspire 1 is a no-frills laptop for less than £200. It runs on a basic Intel Celeron processor, which is perfectly adequate for everyday tasks like note-taking, writing and researching, and it has plenty of storage in its 128GB solid state hard drive. Compact at 14in and weighing just 1.4kg, it’s ideal for carrying to and from school without any bother. The eight hour battery life will fuel a full day of work without needing to be plugged in, while the 1080p screen is great for watching videos in your spare time.

The verdict: Laptops under £500

The laptop shortage is still an issue when it comes to getting a laptop at the budget end of the market. However, Chromebooks seem to have been hit less hard than traditional laptops, and perform admirably, especially at a lower price point.

The Lenovo ideapad duet Chromebook looks great, is easy to set up and use, and performs at a high level. The duet offers everything you’d need for everyday use in an attractive, lightweight package, for an impressively-low price.

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For more purse-friendly laptops, check out our best Chromebooks that deliver on long battery life and fast connection

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