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Cheap Laptops: Apple, Asus, Lenovo workhorses on sale starting at $300

Nowadays, you no longer have to shell out north of $1,000 for a decent laptop. With so many competing manufacturers in the PC-making business, they’re finding new ways to outsell each other, including aggressive price cutting. If you look closer, you’ll find that even the cheapest laptops possess a processor powerful enough for use at home, school, or work. Four such laptops are the Asus ImagineBook, Lenovo IdeaPad S145, Asus VivoBook 15, and MacBook Air. Get them at Best Buy right now for as little as $300.

Asus ImagineBook — $300, was $500

If you need a good laptop for basic productivity work that won’t break the bank, the 14-inch Asus ImagineBook would fit the bill. It is a reasonably fast yet affordable laptop that’s light and attractive to boot. Right now, you can get it on Best Buy for just $300 instead of $500 — a huge $200 off.

The Asus ImagineBook laptop is stylishly simple with a clean Pure White finish and a textured lid. Considering its price, it is surprisingly elegant and doesn’t scream cheap. It tips the scales at just 1.7kg so it’s not going to weigh you down. Further, it has a quiet, fanless design that will allow you to concentrate while you work, making it perfect when working in libraries or cafes. This design lends it a longer battery life too and improves reliability by not sucking dirt and dust into the laptop. Although a fanless design does have its merits, this laptop, unfortunately, starts to get warm after a few hours of use and especially if you have multiple programs open. For connectivity, you get one USB Type-C port (very nice considering the price), a standard USB 3.1 Type-A and USB 2.0 ports, one HDMI port, and a microSD card reader. It doesn’t have a DVD/CD drive, but we expect that.

Inside the ImagineBook is an Intel Core m3 processor that’s suitable for everyday computing tasks. This isn’t the most advanced processor out there so we recommend not installing any CPU-intensive software on it. It comes preloaded with Windows 10 that offers full compatibility with a wide range of apps. Its Intel UHD Graphics 615 can handle everyday image quality processing for internet use, basic photo editing, and a bit of casual gaming.

For its price, we were surprised by how good this laptop’s display is. By no means is it the best screen out there, but nonetheless we’re quite happy with it. Colors didn’t look washed out and contrasts were good, although it’s not very bright and viewing angles are limited. The keyboard is also excellent. Keystroke was precise, nicely clicky, and the overall tying experience was a delight.

The Asus ImagineBook is unbelievably good for an entry-level laptop, garnering a terrific 4.4 out of 5 rating on Best Buy. Get it for the very reasonable price of $300 today.

Lenovo IdeaPad S145 — $350, was $380

The 14-inch Lenovo IdeaPad S145is primarily aimed at the budget-conscious market. With a base model that’s only $350 on Best Buy ($30 less than its normal retail price of $380), this is one of the cheapest portables that we’ve ever encountered. What you get is an all-plastic affair (unsurprising for the price) but it does appear robust and well-constructed. The plastic chassis also makes it super lightweight. You won’t have any difficulty lugging this laptop around.

The IdeaPad S145’s large 15.6-inch display provides plenty of screen real estate for doing productivity tasks, watching movies, or maybe even a spot of light gaming. But since it only packs 1,366 x 768 of pixel resolution, it is not very sharp and can prove lackluster to most people. It does lay flat at 180-degrees like all IdeaPad laptops, which permits other people a full view of your work presentation. Furthermore, this laptop’s keyboard is pretty good. The U-shaped keys are nicely clicky and have a slight bounce to them, and the sizeable touchpad is accurate and responsive. In terms of connectivity, this laptop has three USB Type-A ports. It doesn’t have a Type-C port but there is an HDMI port for connecting to an external monitor. There is also an SD card reader, but it’s a rather slow one.

This laptop is powered by an AMD Ryzen 3 processor that works alongside 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD. This isn’t the most powerful laptop chipset out there, so don’t expect it to be capable of taking on all computing tasks. The IdeaPad S145 is really designed for light use such as web browsing, emailing, or document writing, and not much else. Battery life is also underwhelming, only lasting a paltry four hours in our video loop test — two hours shy of Lenovo’s claim of six hours.

The Lenovo IdeaPad S145 comes in more powerful configurations, but this one is pretty decent when it comes to overall performance. It’s not the most powerful machine out there, but for $350, it’s a great value.

Asus VivoBook 15 — $620, was $720

There are plenty of sub-categories in Asus’ VivoBook line. You’ve got the top-end Pro series, the midrange S series, and the convertible Flip series. The VivoBook 15 belongs somewhere in the middle, and we can say with utmost confidence that it’s a good blend of performance and affordability. The company claims that it offers flagship-class performance for a relatively low price. Does it deliver on that promise? Let’s find out.

The VivoBook 15’s plastic chassis is reasonably sturdy and resists bending when pressure is applied to it. It sports a clean, sleek design that looks surprisingly elegant considering the low price point. Boasting Asus’ trademark ErgoLift hinge design, the keyboard is raised by an angle of two degrees to aid typing and improve thermal ventilation. The keyboard offers a satisfying typing experience. The key action is soft and squidgy with almost no “click” to the action. The touchpad beneath it is large and responsive and supports Windows Precision Drivers for accurate tracking. In terms of connectivity, you get pretty much everything you need in an UltraBook: Two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port, a USB-C Thunderbolt port, an HDMI port, a headphone jack, and a Micro-SD card slot.

This laptop flaunts a 15-inch Full HD LCD display with very slim bezels surrounding it. Asus normally nails it in this department, but sadly the VivoBook 15’s screen left us a bit unsatisfied. It sorely lacks brightness which is pretty evident when used outdoors, although it is bright enough for indoor use. Plus, terrible viewing angles mean colors look washed out even with a slight movement away from the central focal point.

At least it’s good performance-wise. Powered by an eighth-gen Intel Core i7-8565U processor, this laptop is very capable of usual daily computing chores, such as web surfing, document writing, spreadsheet calculations, and media playback. However, battery life is just average. Under moderate usage, this laptop can barely keep up at just five hours tops.

The Asus VivoBook 15’s performance is quite good even if you use it for processor-intensive programs. Get it at Best Buy for just $620 instead of $720 — a huge $100 worth of savings.

MacBook Air — $900, was $1,100

The MacBook Air is now thinner and lighter than ever, yet still possesses the same power and solid build quality typical of Apple devices. Today, though, there are other MacBooks and laptops out there that are thinner and lighter. Even if it’s not the featherweight champion anymore, the MacBook Air still has an excellent build quality, thanks to its eco-friendly aluminum chassis. This is one sleek-looking laptop, with the same clean aesthetic as the rest of its MacBook kin. The latest version of the MacBook Air normally retails for $1,100, but right now you can purchase it at Best Buy for $900 — a huge $200 off.

The MacBook Air looks almost exactly like the previous one, with a few significant hardware and software upgrades. The older version is outfitted with a single Thunderbolt 2 port and two USB 3 ports; the latest one has two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports instead. Although both models have a 13-inch LED-backlit screen, the newer MacBook Air’s display is made better thanks to Apple’s True Tone technology. The screen now has the power to adapt to your environment’s ambient light to make images appear more natural, with accurate colors that aren’t oversaturated. It’s not the best screen we’ve encountered on a MacBook though (that honor goes to the MacBook Pro) since it doesn’t go as bright as we hoped for, but it still looks fantastic.

Working alongside an Intel i5 processor, this MacBook Air has 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal memory. It proved speedy and performed well when tasked with normal daily workflow, like streaming videos, working in Photoshop, word processing, and web browsing. We did, however, notice a bit of a slowdown when we had multiple browsers, apps, and programs open simultaneously, but not enough to raise concern.

The MacBook Air can last up to eight hours with light web browsing. While not exactly a bad number, that falls well short of Huawei’s MateBook X Pro, which managed 9.5 hours in our test.

If you’re determined to buy a MacBook but don’t want to shell out too much money, then the MacBook Air is for you. It’s a well-rounded portable laptop that boasts a solid performance and premium build quality. Get the latest version of the MacBook Air for $900.

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