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Help Me, Laptop: What's the Best Laptop Under $400?

When you hear "budget laptop" you probably imagine a large, plastic brick with sluggish performance and a small, low-quality display. I don't blame you -- a lot of the budget devices we review are full of compromises.

However, every now and then we receive a low-priced laptop that punches well above its weight. That's what Laptop Mag reader sujjoooo is looking for: a sub-$400 laptop or 2-in-1 that can provide reliable performance.

"400 bucks in my hand now, looking for a reliable budget laptop or 2-in-1 tablet, any recommendations?" sujjoooo asked in a forum post.  

Best Laptops Under $400

The laptop that first comes to mind is the Acer Aspire E 15, which can be configured with a Core i3-8130U CPU, 6GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive for just $379. This clamshell laptop (sorry, no touch screen) has excellent battery life at nearly 9 hours, and its wide variety of ports means you won't ever need a dongle. There are always going to be trade-offs when you're on a budget. With the Aspire E 15, those include the laptop's relatively large chassis and the unfortunate amount of bloatware you'll want to uninstall.

If you want something sleeker that can fit into a small backpack, then Acer also offers the Swift 1. This $329 laptop won't give you the same performance as the Aspire E 15, but it's a much more portable device, coming in at just 2.9 pounds and 0.6-inches thin. Like the Aspire E 15, the Swift 1 has an excellent selection of ports, and it has even longer endurance than its chunkier sibling, lasting more than 10 hours on a charge. My biggest complaint with the Swift 1 is that, while it does come with a sharp 1080p display, the panel isn't very colorful.

Best 2-in-1s Under $400

Want a 2-in-1? Acer has you covered there as well. The Aspire 1 is one of our favorite 2-in-1 laptops because of its sleek design, sharp display and attractive looks. However, you'll need to haul around a charger since it only lasted six and a half hours on our battery test.

Another budget 2-in-1 worth considering is the Lenovo Flex 6 11. That is, so long as its smaller, 11-inch display isn't a deal-breaker. This bendback 2-in-1 lasts for more than 9 hours on a charge and has a comfortable keyboard, making it a great choice for students and travelers. Apart from its small display, the laptop's biggest shortcoming is that its screen is rather dull.

If you prefer a convertible tablet, then buy the Microsoft Surface Go. This $399 tablet has a stunning display and offers strong performance for the price. You also get the convenience of Windows Hello facial recognition login, which will save you a few seconds every time you use the device.  Despite all of its merits, I'm hesitant to recommend the Surface Go to our reader because it's only a true 2-in-1 once you purchase the $99 keyboard accessory, which brings the grand total to $498. Ouch.

Also Consider Chromebooks

Alternatively, our reader could purchase one of several great Chromebooks. The Samsung Chromebook 3, a very inexpensive option ($179!), has strong performance, a surprisingly great display, and very long battery life. 

However, if our reader can scrounge up a bit more cash, then they should spring for our favorite overall Chromebook: The $449 Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA, a 2-in-1 with a gorgeous display, an aluminum chassis and good battery life.

Credit: Laptop Mag

Phillip Tracy is a senior writer at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag, where he reviews laptops and covers the latest industry news. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Phillip became a tech reporter at the Daily Dot. There, he wrote reviews for a range of gadgets and covered everything from social media trends to cybersecurity. Prior to that, he wrote for RCR Wireless News and NewBay Media. When he's not tinkering with devices, you can find Phillip playing video games, reading, listening to indie music or watching soccer.