Need a new laptop? If it’s for working from home, here are my basic-spec recommendations:
- Intel Core i3 processor or better
- 8GB of RAM or more
- SSD (solid-state hard drive)
- 15.6-inch full-HD display (because anything smaller starts to feel cramped for full-time work)
Two of the three machines below meet those requirements; one has a slightly smaller screen. But they’re all priced at $400 to $500, meaning they’re about as affordable as Windows laptops get — and they make few compromises along the way. Take a look — and also take a listen to the latest episode of the Cheapskate Show podcast, in which we talk about this very subject.
If you can live with a 14-inch screen, Gateway’s model offers a lot of bang for the buck. In addition to a 10th-gen Core i5 processor, you get 16GB of RAM (twice what the other two laptops offer), plus a 256GB SSD and a fingerprint scanner. It even has a THX-tuned audio subsystem.
Gateway offers the system in your choice of colors, a refreshing change from the usual any-color-as-long-as-it’s-black.
You can get out the door with HP’s 15.6-inch laptop for as little as $400, but because you can customize the system, allow me to recommend a few upgrades.
After clicking Customize & Buy, add the following:
- 15.6″ diagonal, FHD (1920×1080), IPS, micro-edge, BrightView, 250 nits ($40)
- Full-size, backlit, natural silver keyboard with numeric keypad ($0)
- Intel® Wi-Fi 6 AX 200 (2×2) and Bluetooth® 5 combo (Supporting Gigabit file transfer speeds) ($10)
This last is definitely optional, but it’ll help future-proof the laptop toward the Wi-Fi 6 standard. All told, these upgrades add just $50 to the total price.
You might also want to double the storage to 256GB ($50). Either way, this Core i7-powered system should supply ample horsepower for everyday computing tasks.
The 15.6-inch IdeaPad closely matches the aforementioned HP — with the various upgrades applied. You get an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 15.6-inch full-HD display. Integrated graphics, too, but the slightly older Wi-Fi spec.
Ultimately, it boils down to whether you have a brand preference — or you’re in a hurry: The custom HP will likely take at least a few days to ship (and it could be longer due to demand), while the Lenovo should go out immediately — and might even be available for in-store pickup.
Get a Harman Kardon Citation One smart speaker for $70
I love when I can get premium-brand audio gear for the price of lower-quality no-brand audio gear. Case in point: For a limited time, and while supplies last, Back Market has the mint-condition refurbished Harman Kardon Citation One Smart Speaker with Google Assistant for $69.95. That’s for the gray model only. Price at Best Buy for a new one: $230.
The Citation One stands just over 7 inches tall. It supports both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, multiroom setups and dual-speaker pairing for true stereo.
CNET hasn’t reviewed it, but reviews I’ve seen elsewhere note its punchy, bass-forward audio and simplistic operation, the latter attributable to built-in Google Assistant.
Back Market offers a 30-day money-back guarantee and 12-month warranty — meaning there’s zero risk involved. Indeed, if this is anything like the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones I ordered from the company, it should arrive in good-as-new condition. At $70, I’m liking this a lot.
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