The introduction last year of computers with the new Windows 8 operating system was met with a less than enthusiastic reception. Many consumers found Windows 8 confusing to navigate and difficult to learn. And finding Windows 8 laptops with the right combination of features at an attractive price has been challenging.
But now there are plenty of reasonably priced Windows 8 laptops, with more on the way. And Microsoft is preparing to launch a Windows 8.1 update to iron out many of that operating system’s issues. (This update will be available as a free download if you already have Windows 8.) Buyers who want touch screens will find that they’re now available at more reasonable prices—while those who decide they can live without touch screens can get even more appealing deals.
Meanwhile, the latest generation of processors is helping Windows laptops deliver better battery life than before.
Five affordable and appealing Windows 8 laptops (prices may drop further as the holiday buying period nears)…
Best big screen at a small price: Dell Inspiron 17-3721. This Dell’s 17.3-inch screen isn’t just big, it’s also sharp—1,600 x 900 pixels. Most budget laptops with screens this size provide much lower resolution—typically 1,366 x 768. The Inspiron 17-3721 is relatively compact and lightweight for a laptop, with a large screen and built-in DVD drive. And its battery life of nearly four hours is very respectable for a laptop with a such a big screen. Best of all, it costs hundreds less than most laptops its size.
Details: 17.3-inch screen, 6 pounds, base model equipped with 1.9GHz processor and 4GB RAM.
Recent price: $400.
Best for affordable portability: Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E431. This Lenovo is well-made and lightweight—not as lightweight as an Apple MacBook Air, but then it won’t leave your wallet nearly as light, either. What stands out about it is something that many buyers of compact laptops fail to consider—the keyboard. “Key travel”—the distance keys move down when pressed—often is sacrificed to make compact laptops as slim as possible. But limited key travel renders keyboards challenging to use. This Lenovo features an excellent keyboard offering adequate key travel despite being less than one inch thick.
Details: 14-inch screen, 4.7 pounds, base model equipped with 2.3GHz processor and 4GB RAM. Available with either Windows 7 or Windows 8.
Price: Starts at $540, but it’s worth paying $10 extra for the optional battery upgrade from Lenovo if you don’t mind a few ounces of extra weight.
Best for affordable touch screen and long battery life: Acer Aspire M5-583P-6428. Windows 8 is designed to work best on a touch-screen computer, and this Acer provides a responsive touch screen at a very reasonable price. The slim, lightweight Aspire M5 also features Intel’s new power-sipping fourth-generation Core i5 processor, resulting in incredible battery life of more than eight hours in tests—that’s virtually unheard of for a laptop with a sizable screen.
Details: 15.6-inch screen, 5 pounds, base model equipped with 1.6GHz processor and 8GB RAM.
Recent price: $650. (This model is a Best Buy exclusive.)
Best for both audio quality and touch screen at a good price: ASUS VivoBook S500CA. Most laptop shoppers don’t give audio quality much thought before buying, but it’s an important consideration if you intend to use your laptop to listen to music, watch movies and TV shows or make Skype phone calls. This well-made laptop manages to deliver rich, loud, clear sound, even though it is just 0.8 inch thick. It also features a responsive touch screen.
Details: 15.6-inch screen, 4.6 pounds, base model equipped with 1.7GHz processor and 6GB RAM.
Recent price: $650.
Best for fast processing speed at a reasonable price: Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p (59369999). Fast processing speeds aren’t just for fans of computer games. They’re useful for anyone who does lots of multimedia work, such as video or photo editing. This Lenovo IdeaPad features the very fast fourth-generation 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor and a sharp high-definition screen. It also features a discrete graphics card—rather than the more common integrated graphics card. This is a specialized component with its own memory dedicated to processing graphically intense content, so it is great for watching movies or editing videos. Other laptops that offer all that tend to cost—and weigh—significantly more.
Details: 15.6-inch screen, 6 pounds, base model equipped with 2.4GHz processor and 8 GB RAM.
Recent price: $820.