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Affordable laptops aren’t just ‘good enough’ anymore, they’re amazing

Budget laptops have been a problem for as long as they’ve existed. They’re popular, because most people would rather not empty their savings for a new PC – but the cost cutting usually meant a terrible experience.

Netbooks were the pinnacle of price-over-function. They reached prices never seen before. But they were so awful that, after a brief explosion, sales collapsed as rapidly as a super-giant star gone supernova, sucking the reputation of all PCs down a black hole.

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But even as laptop sales stagnated, design has improved, and quality has quickly escalated in recent years. In fact, laptop makers seem to have perfected the formula for a good laptop – even at affordable prices.

What’s good for you is good for me

You may think that a great laptop is a matter of opinion. That’s likely right. A good laptop, though, is not. Every system needs to share certain traits: acceptable performance, light and thin design, a pleasant keyboard, touchpad, and display — you get the picture.

Laptops have, for most of their existence, failed to provide all these traits. Most fail to offer even a majority of them. They’re complex beasts, cramming even more components than found in a desktop PC into one slab of plastic or metal. But today, finally, we’re seeing everything come together.

Acer Swift 3

Acer Swift 3

Consider Acer’s Swift 3, just announced at IFA 2016. Set to arrive in October, it will offer the latest Intel Core processors, a 14-inch 1080p display, and an all-metal chassis only 0.7 inches thick, which weighs 3.3 pounds. It even has solid state storage.

The price? $500.

That’s incredible value. For less than a flagship smartphone you can purchase a laptop that’s fast enough to last years, yet portable enough to satisfy frequent fliers. The Swift 3 could be improved on, but all of its basic traits are adequate. No, not just adequate – good.

It’s not alone. There are others that fit into this category, such as the Asus UX305CA/UA, the Lenovo IdeaPad 710S, and Acer’s Aspire S 13.

Complexity does not mean quality

Take a closer look at the list above and you’ll realize they share common traits. All of them are proper laptops – not 2-in-1s. They don’t have touchscreens. They don’t fold into tablet mode. They’re very traditional.

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Now don’t take this to mean 2-in-1s are awful. There are some solid options available, and the fundamental concept isn’t misguided. Tim Cook famously called out 2-in-1s by saying “You can converge a toaster and a fridge, those but aren’t going to be pleasing to the user.” But how often do you use your toaster? If the answer is “less than once a week,” would you be OK with sticking a few slices of bread into a slot just above the ice dispenser?

Lenovo Yoga 910

Lenovo Yoga 910

Matt Smith/Digital Trends

It is true, though, that every good 2-in-1 is based on a good laptop. Take the Lenovo Yoga 910, which won Digital Trends’ Best Tech of IFA 2016 award for Computing. It’s alright when folded over as a tablet, but it won the award because it’s a beautiful, portable laptop packed full of cutting-edge technology. Like the less extravagant options already mentioned, it’s nailed the fundamentals.

The real era of good-enough computing

A decade ago, the concept of “good enough” computing started to surge into reality. Designers, journalists, and engineers began to speculate we’d reached a point where basic processing capability was more than adequate for what most people need day-to-day.

Time has proven that right. It’s a major contributor to slumped PC sales. People are keeping hardware for a very long time.

But the concept of “good enough” computing never considered the user experience. A laptop from five years ago is likely still fast enough for day-to-day use now. But how much does it weigh? What’s the screen look like? How’s the keyboard? Speed aside, laptops from even a few years ago had to make sacrifices.

Not anymore. Systems like the Acer Swift 3 herald a new, better era of computing. All the measures of what’s good in a laptop are aligning with what people are willing to pay – and the result is awesome.