We recommend the Google Chromebook as the best cheap laptop for under £300
Article last updated: 12 June 2013
Many families are looking to replace an ageing, misbehaving laptop, but can’t stretch the family budget to pay £900+ for a premium laptop like Apple’s Macbook Air range.
How about a new laptop that’s as sleek and light as a Macbook Air, but for a quarter of the price?
A Chromebook could be just the ticket to meet a family’s everyday computing needs.
Chromebooks vs normal Windows based laptops
A Chromebook is powered by Google’s operating system, as opposed to standard laptop you’re used to which is powered by Microsoft’s Windows operating system.
This allows the Chromebook be sold at a cheaper price than a standard laptop, as the cost of the Windows software doesn’t need to built into the cost of the machine.
It does mean that a Chromebook can’t run the standard Windows software you might find on an everyday laptop.
You won’t be able to run Microsoft’s Office programs like Excel, Word, Powerpoint or Outlook. In fact, you won’t be able to run any Windows software you may have bought for your last family computer.
You also can’t hook up a printer directly to a Chromebook via a USB port like you would for a standard laptop.
There are workarounds to allow printing from a Chromebook, but this is a bit fiddly for an average user. So if printing is a “must have” for you, this might be a deal breaker which rules out the Chromebook from your shopping list.
Can’t run Office, can’t print – who’d want a Chromebook?
Now we’ve covered the things a Chromebook can’t do, let’s look at the great things a Chromebook can do.
The Chromebook can do all these standard family computing tasks just as well as a normal Windows based laptop.
- Surfing websites;
- Internet shopping;
- Watching YouTube;
- Watching BBC iPlayer;
- Running Google Docs – Google’s alternative to Microsoft Office comprising of a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation application;
- Running Google Mail (Gmail);
- Web cam video chat (but via Google Hangouts rather than Skype)
If you’re into watching video from You Tube or BBC iPlayer, a Chromebook can also connect to your tv via a cable to allow you to watch all the video goodies on your home tv.
Chromebooks can also do some things much better than cheap Windows laptops
- Lightweight: The Chrombook weighs only 1.1kg, compared with around 2.5kg for an equivalently priced Windows laptop;
- Quick to start-up and shut down: No need to grab a coffee while you weight for your laptop to boot up, a Chromebook starts up in a similar time to a tablet. It will also wake up instantly when you open the lid;
- Long battery life: The Chromebook lasts over 8 hours between charges, up to twice as long as standard laptops;
- Automatic backup and syncing: All your documents are safely stored in the internet in Google’s cloud service, Google Drive. You can also access all your documents from another computer or at another location such as the office if needed;
- Family member profiles: It’s easy to set up profiles for different family members and switch between users in seconds. Everyone gets their own files, apps and settings, and you don’t have to worry about your stuff getting messed up by someone else;
- Large choice of free and paid for apps You get access to Google’s Chrome WebStore, which has a range of apps including games that you can run on your Chromebook;
- Maintenance free computingChromebooks update their own operating system automatically when needed, so it requires no maintenance from its owner to install software updates;
- Built in virus protectionChromebooks do not suffer from viruses or malware that often plague Windows computers, so you don’t need to worry about performance problems or buying and running anti-virus software.
What the critics say about Chromebooks:
“For certain tasks, the Chromebook is even my favourite device thanks to that battery life, the very fast booting time and speed at which it works. Google may yet just time its maturity perfectly for when the web comes into a new age, and it’s certainly ahead of the pack now.”
The Telegraph Review: 3/5 stars
“The machine is fun to use, works brilliantly with Google Docs – something iPads simply can’t do well at all – and took very little time to become a favourite in the office. If you’re a writer – of fiction, articles, school reports, or the blogging variety – then this could be an almost perfect companion. Alternatively for those who just want to peruse Facebook, shop on Amazon, and write emails it’s also a fine choice.”
PC Advisor review: 3.5/5 stars
Feedback from owners of Chromebooks:
“I’ve only owned my Samsung Chromebook for two days and I’m already totally in love with it. I had trawled the internet for a device that offered a few very specific features: lightness/portability, simplicity of use, affordability, and some kind of word processor. I considered a keyboard case for my iPad (the quality of the keyboards just wasn’t good enough and they were often too small); following that I looked at dozens of netbooks, notebooks and laptops and everything was either too expensive (or not good value for money), too heavy, or too ugly.
Initially, I overlooked the Chromebook, put off by what I thought to be a complete lack of offline functionality. Thank goodness I did my research! Now that certain things can be downloaded to the (fairly limited) on board memory, allowing offline access to documents saved on Google Drive, as well as reading previously downloaded email and composing new ones–all of which synchronises once you have internet access–the Chromebook not only becomes a viable option for working on the go, it beats much of the competition.”
Amazon user reviews: 4/5 stars (350+ reviews)
I spent a great deal of time looking for something that would book up in seconds, be more useful than an iPad and have the feel of a laptop. My initial though went towards the Chromebook but then went towards a full Intel i5 based laptop only to go full circle back to the Chromebook. Now having purchased the Chromebook from JL a few months ago I can only say good things about it. I am more of a laptop user by nature having had one for work for many years and my wife has an iPad. The Chromebook is a sleek, lightweight device and does exactly what it claims to do. It is fast to boot up from scratch, much faster than most other similar devices, and returns from sleep mode almost instantaneously.
John Lewis user reviews: 4.5/5 stars (15 reviews)
An alternative to consider: the best Windows based laptop available for around £300
If you really need a Windows based laptop so you can run Office or hook up a printer, a budget of £300 won’t go far. However, there is one standout pick available from John Lewis or Amazon.
Lenovo Ideapad S400
The Lenovo S400 is a slim, lightweight and stylish laptop with good looks usually found on much more expensive models.
At £350 it doesn’t quite meet the “under £350″ requirement, but the value for money provided by this laptop warrants serious consideration in this category.
The Lenovo S400 has a 14 inch screen, and comes with an Intel Pentium processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive which should meet the requirements for everyday family use.
The strong points of the laptop are its looks and weight (1.8kg). However the downside of the slim build is a short battery life of under 3 hours.
What the critics say about the Lenovo IdeaPad S400:
“The IdeaPad S400’s advantages are its low weight, slim design, low power consumption, quiet operating noise and good application performance. All of these traits make the device a very portable laptop. However, the short battery life puts a spoke in the wheel because the device always has to be used near an outlet. Apart from the short battery runtime, the dark and low-contrast screen is a downside of the IdeaPad S400.”
Pros: Attractive chassis; Very affordable; Comfortable keyboard; Solid performance and graphics
Cons: Very short battery life; Narrow viewing angles
The Verdict: The Lenovo IdeaPad S400 offers Windows 8 bargain hunters a sleek, portable design with solid performance, but short battery life.
Laptop Magazine 3/5 stars
What owners say about the What the critics say about the Lenovo IdeaPad S400:
Great product and quality for the price. I have an earlier Lenovo which has a far cheaper feel to it than this one so very pleased so far. Not so sure about Windows 8 but can’t blame Lenovo for that!
Amazon user reviews: 4.5/5 stars (5 reviews)
Where to buy the Lenovo IdeaPad S400
Don’t forget you’ll need to buy Office if you really need it
Keep in mind that a Windows laptop like the IdeaPad S400 comes with Microsoft Windows, but it doesn’t come with Microsoft Office installed.
You can buy the latest version of Office – Office 365 – for your home computer from Microsoft. However in a new twist Microsoft now sell Office as an annual subscription of £79.99 per year or £7.99 per month. You can find out more about Office subscriptions from Microsoft’s site here.
Alternatively you can buy the previous version of Microsoft Office – Office 2010 – outright from Amazon* (£97).
What about getting a second hand laptop or brand new no-brand laptop from Ebay?
For an average family, I wouldn’t recommend this option. Laptops are fiddly and vary dramatically in their performance and reliability. Second hand laptops are especially vulnerable to performance and reliability issues.
If you buy laptops directly from John Lewis or Amazon, you know these retailers have reliable returns policies that will allow you to return the laptop for a refund if you are not satisfied with the machine.
John Lewis is partially recommended, as all their laptops and tablet computers are sold with a free two year warranty which gives you great peace of mind for your first two years with the machine.
If you buy from eBay and something goes wrong with your laptop or if you change your mind about your purchase, you may struggle to get your machine repaired or returned for a refund.
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