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Technology Research Center Main

Best Laptops

Powerful. Portable. Priced for every budget.

by Mario Armstrong  |  Follow @MarioArmstrong

Are you looking to buy a new laptop? Digital Lifestyle Expert™, media personality, and Emmy Award winning TV host Mario Armstrong gives his picks for the best laptops on the market. Whether you need something ultra-budget or ultra-powerful, you'll find the perfect laptop. Mario is an on-air contributor to NBC's TODAY show, CNN, HLN, Fuse News and NPR. He regularly appears on Dr. Oz, Katie Couric, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey, and Inside Edition.

Chromebooks

If your budget requires you to spend under $300 on a laptop, then you're going to be looking at a Chromebook, which runs the Chrome operating system from Google. These laptops are light on the wallet but also light on features. They benefit tremendously from an Internet connection at all times, since Chromebooks are based around the Chrome browser, but Google Apps like Gmail and Drive will still work offline. If your home, office and coffee shop already provide Wi-Fi, that's a good start. If you're a heavy Google user and already know your way around Gmail and Google Documents, then you're definitely ready. Just know that if you can't do it on the Web, then you won't be doing it at all with these machines, as they can't run Windows apps like Photoshop or Office.

Acer® C710-Chrome 4096MB 11.6" Chromebook
Acer® C710-Chrome 4096MB 11.6" Chromebook

The Acer Chromebook packs a low-powered Celeron processor and also includes a generous 4GB RAM and 16GB solid-state hard drive. This is an ultra-portable machine with an 11.6" display, making it the smallest Chromebook on the market. It's light, too, at just 3 pounds. You'll really be able to pick this up and easily use it anywhere Wi-Fi is available. For your basic Web browsing, Google document editing and online video watching needs, this machine is the bare minimum I would recommend. For the price, the Acer C710 is impossible to beat.

HP Pavilion 14" Chromebook
HP Pavilion 14" Chromebook

If you're willing to spend a bit more on a Chromebook, I suggest upgrading to this HP Pavilion model sporting a significantly larger 14" screen. The extra 3 inches of screen size adds close to a pound to the weight, but at just under 4 pounds total, this Chromebook is something you can easily move between home, the office and anywhere else you need to get work done. Other nice additions include an HD Webcam for video conferencing, a multi-format card reader and a 16GB solid-state hard drive (SSD) that will ensure your Chromebook starts up quickly and wakes from sleep in an instant.

Best Laptops Under $600Acer V5 11.6" Touch Screen Laptop

Acer V5 11.6" Touch Screen Laptop

This laptop is perfect for those who only need to do some light work. The Acer V5 happens to be very small and light, at just 1" thin and 3 pounds with an undersized but certainly usable 11.6" screen. This laptop is best for light document editing and Web browsing. It can handle picture storage, though probably not much editing. However, the V5 does include a feature not expected at this price: a touch screen. You get the full Windows 8 touch experience, and once you use a Windows 8 laptop with touch, you won't want to go back. Plus, the HD webcam makes this a perfect laptop for video conferencing. I recommend this for someone who wants a full Windows 8 laptop for the Web and light workloads, but don't expect to play heavy games or watch high-quality HD videos on this machine.

HP Pavilion 15 N028 15" Laptop
HP Pavilion 15 N028 15" Laptop

A few years ago, the idea of a budget quad-core laptop with enough RAM and HD space to handle semi-professional tasks and could still get over 4 hours of battery life seemed ridiculous. Today, it's totally affordable at under $400 with the HP Pavilion 15. With this much power under the hood, the machine exceeds the needs of most consumers and business users who work with not just documents but spreadsheets, light programming,photo editing and even video. The tradeoff? A slow traditional hard drive means you'll have to be patient on this machine compared to machines with ultra-fast SSDs. But if your tasks depend more on processing power and storage space than how fast your machine wakes from sleep, this is the machine for you.

Toshiba L75D-A7283
Toshiba L75D-A7283

While budget in many respects, this Toshiba stands alone as the most affordable way to get a huge screen. At 17.3", this machine is practically a desktop and TV replacement in one. And while it may not have the fastest processor on the block, it does sport pretty good battery life with over 5 hours and built-in speakers with DTS for an awesome mobile movie-watching package. You could argue it's not particularly portable at just under 6 pounds and that the screen sports a less-than-ideal 1600x900 resolution, but you can't argue with the price for the power you get on this Toshiba.

Best Laptops Under $800

At this price point, laptop computers start to get even more exciting. You can either get something very powerful that can handle almost any task or a unique form factor to help you work and play in interesting, new ways. Check out these laptops under $600.

HP Pavilion 15-n046us

This laptop is perfect for those who only need to do some light work. The Acer V5 happens to be very small and light, at just 1" thin and 3 pounds with an undersized but certainly usable 11.6" screen. This laptop is best for light document editing and Web browsing. It can handle picture storage, though probably not much editing. However, the V5 does include a feature not expected at this price: a touch screen. You get the full Windows 8 touch experience, and once you use a Windows 8 laptop with touch, you won't want to go back. Plus, the HD webcam makes this a perfect laptop for video conferencing. I recommend this for someone who wants a full Windows 8 laptop for the Web and light workloads, but don't expect to play heavy games or watch high-quality HD videos on this machine.

HP Pavilion 15-n046us


Dell 14R Touch
Dell 14R Touch

Where other laptops in this price range compete on features and specs, the Dell Inspiron 14R Touch competes by offering two features you'll want to have in order to fully experience Windows 8: a touch screen and over 6 hours of battery life. Getting both these features in a Windows laptop is great, because it means you don't miss out on anything. Even with these two great features, the Dell 14R Touch is still comparable in terms of raw power to similarly priced machines. This Inspiron comes loaded with an Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM and a huge 1TB hard drive. But really, the widescreen HD touch display is what really sets this laptop apart from the pack. If you haven't tested a Windows 8 machine with a touch screen, be sure to visit a Staples store and give this one a whirl. You'll be amazed at what a difference it makes in your computing experience.

Lenovo Flex Dual-Mode Touch Screen Laptop
Lenovo Flex Dual-Mode Touch Screen Laptop

With touch supported system-wide in Windows 8, a touch-screen laptop often has no need for you to even reach for a keyboard and mouse, but sometimes these peripherals help you get things done. Lenovo solves this problem with the Flex, a machine noted for its ability to change easily between laptop and stand modes. Watching a movie or sharing a presentation? Flex allows you to turn the device into just a screen. Need to hunker down on some work, like data entry or photo editing? A quick twist and you've got a laptop again, with about as much power at your disposal as any other laptop in this price range.

The Professional

Toshiba S55-A5295 15.6" Laptop
Also available in touch screen
Toshiba S55TA5379 15" Touch Screen Laptop
Toshiba S55-A5295 15.6" Laptop

Many people who use their laptops to do work find it impossible to cram enough power into their computer because their workload always involves a lot of waiting for the CPU to catch up. Heavy-duty tasks, like batch-editing thousands of photos after a big shoot or trying to work with high-quality HD video in an editing environment, will bring most computers to their knees. For people with serious computing needs, only one Intel processor will do the trick: the quad-core i7. The Toshiba S55 doesn't stop there, however; this package also includes some killer harman/kardon speakers and is available with a touch screen upgrade for those who want everything. While I think the 4 hours of battery life isn't great for the price, the good news is that you'll put those limited hours to much better work on a machine with desktop-style power crammed into a svelte 15" body.



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