All of the laptops featured on this list are pretty solid choices, but if we had to pick one and call it “the best” it would have to be the Acer Chromebook Spin 15. It’s a sturdy 2-in-1 laptop with a 15-inch display, exceptional battery life, and decent performance if you decide to go the ChromeOS route. And just like the other laptops on this list, you can get it for less than $500. But no matter which laptop you choose, you can be sure to trust our picks: Digital Trends has reviewed hundreds of laptops over the years.
If the Acer Chromebook Spin 15 isn’t quite what you’re looking for, keep scrolling to check out our four other budget-friendly options. One of them is bound to catch your eye and save you money.
Microsoft’s Surface Go is the baby of the Surface range but that doesn’t mean it’s not a capable little machine. Starting at a price well under our $500 limit, you might think that this is a little cheap, even for what we’re looking at, but you’d be mistaken. Borrowing many of the excellent features from its more costly siblings, the Surface Go is a sturdy, well built 2-in-1 that works just as well in tablet mode as it does as a laptop. You will need to shell out a little extra for the Type Cover if you want the full laptop experience, but that does leave you with the option of upgrading later if you want to spread out your costs.
Although its screen isn’t quite as detailed as something you’d find on a dedicated tablet like the iPad, the Surface Go’s display is one of the best we’ve ever seen for a convertible laptop at this price point, even competing with our favorite laptop ever, the Dell XPS 13, when it comes to contrast and color support.
It’s not the fastest device in the world and games are not easily run on the Surface Go, but it packs a decent battery life and at this price point, you aren’t going to find a Windows 2-in-1 that can better it.
Acer Chromebook Spin 15
Chromebooks offer some of the most affordable portable computing thanks to the lightweight Chrome OS making what hardware they do have, go far further than it might otherwise do on a Windows machine. The Acer Chromebook Spin 15 offers capable hardware in the form of an Intel Pentium N4200 and 4GB of RAM, along with 64GB of onboard eMMC storage.
Perhaps its biggest selling point though, is that it’s so large. Rarely do you find a 15-inch 2-in-1 that works well as both a laptop and a tablet, but the Chromebook Spin 15 achieves it. It edges towards hefty when in tablet mode, with its 4.63 pound weight feeling practically gargantuan compared to super portable 2-in-1s like the Surface Book 2. But then that particular device is well north of $1,000 more.
The Spin 15 also has exceptional battery life, lasting well north of 13 hours in our video loop test, making this a fantastic movie device for long commutes on public transport, or a solid all-day workhorse. The keyboard on this laptop is a little small and the display strays into mediocre territory, with a hefty bezel around it, but for web browsing, work, and media viewing, the Acer Chromebook Spin 15 is hard to beat.
Lenovo IdeaPad 330S
Although there is a newer, 2019 model of Lenovo’s fantastic IdeaPad 330s, the 2018 version is almost as capable and crucially, it’s much more affordable. Coming in well under our $500 budget, it sports an Intel eighth-generation Core i5-8250U CPU, offering four cores for powerful multitasking capabilities. Its 4GB of memory is enough for most tasks outside of high-end gaming (though 8GB would be nice) and with 16GB of Intel Optane memory, its 1TB of hard drive storage should be fast enough to make the system feel lightweight and snappy.
The display isn’t the most detailed, at a 1,366 x 768 resolution, especially when stretched across 15.6-inches, but it’s enough to watch movies at a reasonable clarity and offers plenty of screen real estate for working and web browsing.
With seven hours of battery life on average, you won’t want to stray too far from a charging point, but the Lenovo IdeaPad 330s is one of only a couple of dedicated Windows laptops we recommend in this category. Its full-size keyboard is a real boon for typists and with an attractive paint job that eschews the more typical greys and blacks of its contemporaries, this laptop is a great buy for those who want a full Windows experience and don’t care for tablet-like interaction.
Samsung Chromebook Plus V2
The second iteration of Samsung’s Chromebook Plus is one of its better affordable laptop releases in recent years. It upgrades the original with an Intel Celeron 3965Y CPU and pairs it with 4GB of RAM for solid performance in Chrome OS. 32GB of storage space isn’t huge but its features elsewhere are some of the best you’ll find under $500.
Battery life in this machine is among the best, with no problem lasting all day whether you’re watching HD videos, web browsing, or working. It’s also fantastically sturdy. Rarely do 2-in-1s offer this level of structural integrity for just a few hundred dollars, but the Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 does and does it well.
The downside to that stability is that this convertible laptop is a little on the hefty side. At 0.7-inches at its widest point, it is a little thick and its three pound weight isn’t heavy, but it’s far from the lightweight designs we see in some dedicated tablets. While the bezels are similarly thicker than some of the competition, the screen itself is surprisingly lovely. At 1,920 x 1,200, it can handle full 1080p video with ease and it’s bright and colorful.
It’s no powerhouse under the hood, but the Chromebook Plus V2 is still a great option when buying a budget laptop.
Dell Inspiron 15 5000
The Dell Inspiron 15 5000 offers a hell of a lot of hardware for your money. You can choose between AMD and Intel, with seventh and eighth-generation CPU options in the case of the latter. Most of them come with 8GB of memory too, which is a rare boon in the budget-laptop space.
With Intel hardware, you get the choice of a seventh-generation i3-7020 CPU, or an eighth-generation i3-8130. Each of those comes with Intel’s onboard HD 620 graphics core, but if you’d like a little more graphical power for entry level gaming, the AMD option might be preferable.
Either option comes with 8GB of RAM, though there is also an Intel option with 4GB and 16GB of Optane memory to speed up the 1TB of hard drive storage. Any of those configurations will be great for day-to-day usage, though if you wanted to perform heftier workloads, the 8GB option would be preferable.
The 15-inch 1080p display is solid no matter what other options you pick, though you’ll have to jump just outside the $500 budget to add touch-screen functionality. Since this laptop isn’t a 2-in-1 though, that is less of a concern for this sort of money.