Itís not an incredibly strong PC, sure, but itís still fast enough to stream movies, browse the web, write up Word docs, or generally do anything else youíd do with a computer, just on whatever TV or monitor you have sitting around. If you have an iPad, itíll work there too. Itís more than useful as a basic family desktop or a portable PC for those who are often on the go.But why use a cheap computer when you can build one of your own? Raspberry Pi has been a favorite of hardware tinkerers for years, but if youíre harboring some weird project ideas of your own, a beginnerís set like CanaKit's will help you start bringing them to life.Itís got all the little pieces youíll need to get the mini PC up and running, along with a friendly, detailed manual thatíll walk you through setup. The Pi is famously accessible to just about anyone, so if you or a young one have any interest in programming, it should prove a fun and educational experience.Weíre always running out of room. Whether you pair it with a Xbox One or a XPS 13, a no-frills external hard drive like the Seagate Expansion will free up space for your next photo album, game download, or home movie with ease. There are faster alternatives, but the Expansion is serviceable enough for the basics, and gets you a whole lot of gigabytes per dollar.
Most of us are already committed to our brave new screen-filled world, but for the last remaining hold-outs, the walls havenít caved in completely. The Blu Tank II is a basic feature phone. It does basic feature phone things. But if you donít want to be looking down all day, first, bless you, and second, this gets the job done. If nothing else, itís cheap, and itís useful for globetrotters looking to shave off roaming fees.On the exact opposite end of the spectrum lies the Samsung Gear VR, the new and seemingly improved virtual reality headset made by Samsung and Oculus. Youíll still need a high-end Galaxy phone to actually use it, but itís not like the Galaxy S6 and Note 5 are no-name devices. And unlike the fun-yet-basic Google Cardboard, this is much closer to a full-fledged VR experience a la the Oculus Rift. Itís a luxury purchase, yeah, but for $100, itís an unusually accessible way into an exciting new method of game-playing and media-viewing.An iPad is many things to many people ó a mini TV, an e-reader, and a super portable laptop all at once. But for the creative types among us, itís also a canvas, one that just needs a good drawing tool to be unlocked. The Sensu Artist Brush & Stylus is that: The rubber nib on one side is surprisingly precise for sketching and getting around iOS, while the digital brush on its back lets you paint broader strokes in a handful of drawing apps.
Typing this feels wrong, but not all selfie sticks are created equal. If you want a more luxurious way of taking photos of yourself from a couple feet farther away, the DigiPower Quikpod Extremeís waterproof build and raised rubber grip help it feel much sturdier than your basic metal pole. Itíll make you feel better about enabling your friendís Instagram addiction.He found that even his one-year-old maxed out MacBook Pro, which is more powerful than a MacBook Air, was rivaled by an iPad in performance benchmarks. In a way, Gruber actually makes the case for the new iPad Pro as a replacement for a laptop where most people and critics would disagree.The US Patent office granted a patent to Apple on Tuesday for a device that looks an awful lot like the Surface Book, Microsoft's first-ever laptop with a detachable screen.According to Patently Apple, the patent was filed way back in 2011, but it was only granted on Tuesday.
In the patent, the detachable screen is touch-sensitive, meaning it could be used as a tablet, just like the Surface Book's touch display can also be used as a tablet.The patent lists several ways the screen could be detached from the keyboard base, including manual mechanical latches, or automatic electronic switches, like the Surface Book's button that electronically releases the screen.The patent also says the keyboard base could include a bunch of hardware, like processors, batteries, ports for things like power or USB. It's only a patent, but if an Apple laptop/tablet hybrid had all of these components, it would have more than the Surface Book's keyboard base, which only contains an extra battery with an optional graphics processor; most of the Surface Book's components live behind the display.It's also listed that Apple hybrid's keyboard base and all of its components could continue to communicate with the screen even after being detached, including wireless power. That's something Microsoft can't boast about the Surface Book.
Buying a budget laptop is an exercise in compromise. Thereís no one category of tech where the old ďYou get what you pay forĒ axiom rings truer ó you simply arenít going to find many affordable notebooks that are close to being objectively good buys the way a Macbook Pro or Dell XPS 13 is. On average, their screens are grainy, their builds are flimsy, and their internals arenít very fast. Mediocrity is the norm.But theyíre cheap. Itís perfectly understandable why legions of plastic $400 notebooks are swiped off of Best Buy and Walmartís shelves each fall: Even if itís the safer purchase in the long run, dropping $1,000 on a better-made machine is a schedule-changing investment. And itís not as if every laptop buyer needs higher-end materials in their stuff.That said, if youíre going to buy cheap, you might as well get the most from your dollar. So instead of writing off the category and demanding you save your money for a better notebook, we dove headfirst into the sea of budget laptops to find the ones that are worth buying.
Not surprisingly, the returns were thin. We settled on a rough guideline of laptops under $550, but since this side of the market is filled with such a diverse range of devices, we included our favorites from a selection of full-on notebooks, 2-in-1 convertibles, Chromebooks, and ultra-affordable Windows machines, like the HP Stream.Per usual, we settled on the following laptops after scouring the web for reviews and performing our own hands-on testing. We assigned them a BI Rating, which you can read more about here. And as always, we plan to update this guide over time to reflect the many new notebooks that'll arrive in the coming weeks.There really aren't many quality options in this price range, so what youíre looking for here are small victories. It's too much to expect a solid state drive, 1080p display, and fast performance in one of these things, but if you can get a few qualities along those lines in a package that isnít substantially lacking elsewhere, itís worth considering. You need to to put aside good, and embrace good enough. Here are a few notebooks that fit that idea.
Update (1/26/16): We've completed our first major refresh of this guide. Our Asus Zenbook UX305 and Toshiba Chromebook 2 entries are now fully updated to reflect their newest models. The HP Pavilion x360 11t Touch Select has been removed. The Acer Aspire E5-571-58CG makes way for the Aspire E5-573G-52G3 as a midrange desktop replacement pick. The Lenovo Ideapad 100s replaces the Asus Eeebook X205TA as our favorite ultra-budget Windows notebook. We'll continue to keep an eye out for promising choices, and will update further as we continue our testing and research.Actually, letís hold off a second. Just to hammer home how starved for quality this segment is, weíre quickly breaking the guidelines we set above. If thereís any way you can add a little more to your laptop buying budget, do it, and pick up the Asus Zenbook UX305CA. Value for dollar, itís nearly unmatched. The difference between it and almost every other general purpose laptop available for slightly cheaper is easily vast enough to justify the higher premium.
This is a $900-1000 Ultrabook masquerading at a lower price. Itís less than a half-inch thick, it weighs a hair over 2.5 pounds, and itís sturdily built from a handsome coat of aluminum. It comes with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid state drive, both of which are superb for this price point. Its battery lasts a good 9-10 hours, and its matte 1080p IPS display is sharp, glare-free, and fitted with great viewing angles. The Zenbook packs a ton of high-end components, but costs had to be cut somewhere to meet its mid-range price. Its keyboard, for instance, is generally serviceable, but doesnít have any backlighting. Its Bang & Olufsen-aided speakers are surprisingly thin and under-powered. Its webcam is rough. And that 13-inch screen, while very nice for the money, has some issues accurately reproducing colors when held up to other Ultrabooks. But for $700, all of that can be hand-waved easily enough. The bigger point of contention is its Core M processor. Itís a new, sixth-gen (or, Skylake) chip, but as weíve noted in our laptop buying guide, itís weaker than a more standard Core i5 or Core i3. Itís still far from an entry-level option, so most everyday tasks run just fine, but itís best to avoid gaming or going all out. On the plus side, having a less intense processor allows the Zenbook to be fanless, making it wonderfully quiet in practice.
Still, if you need more power, itís worth noting that thereís a UX305LA model that packs a (fifth-gen, but still stronger) Core i5 chip for $50 more. Itís a tad thicker and louder as a result, but itís still very much a great value among Ultrabooks. Itís also gold.If you absolutely canít shell out that kind of dough, though, this configuration of the Acer Aspire E5-573G is the most respectable buy we could find around $550. Itís nowhere near as thin, light, or aesthetically pleasing as the Zenbook, but for a 15.6-inch desktop replacement, itís not as unwieldy as it could be, and its black textile plastic is fine. More importantly, it gets most of the specs right. It runs on a fifth-gen Core i5 chip, along with 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive. Although thatís not the newest processor around, the power and speed here is admirable. It isnít a headache to multitask and get things done. Support for (1x1) 802.11ac WiFi and a collection of necessary ports help with that as well. Surprisingly, thereís a discrete Nvidia GeForce 940M graphics card on board too. Again, thatís not the latest GPU, but itís enough to play many newer games on moderate settings should the desire arise. You donít get that option in the first place with most notebooks in this range.