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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