School is expensive, but you don’t have to give up computing power or durability in order to save money on a back-to-school laptop. Machines that cost less than $500 were best avoided for a long time, but over the last couple of years, the sub-$500 price point has become more and more attractive owing to smart upgrades by nearly every major computer manufacturer. One big trend in the sub-$500 range is the flexible device that can go from laptop to tablet to movie screen, some of which pop up in this buying guide. All of the laptops (convertible or not) are dual-core at least, and will work well for relatively simple activities like shopping online deals, streaming music, rocking social media, and writing emails. They all run Windows 10, too, which means that they can support word processing software easily. All of them come standard with 4GB RAM (some manufacturers allow you to add more, which is recommended if you can afford it — at least to 8GB), and all of them offer a day’s worth of up-time, averaging about 8 hours in the battery department. That will come in handy if you’ve got four lecture courses back-to-back.
There are some differences among the laptops in this buying guide (largely having to do with graphics and how well the physical laptop converts to a tablet), but each one is a sure bet for an active lifestyle: compact, effective, and reliable. It really comes down to your personal style.
Acer Aspire Switch 11V ($499.00)
The Acer Aspire “Switch” refers to your ability to detach the screen entirely to use it as a tablet, or reattach it backwards to use it as a presentation screen. Or, you could just use it like a laptop. In any event, it’s the next generation of Acer’s Snap Hinge-meaning it’s easier to, indeed, “switch” for quick conversion from solo lab work to a quick explanation of isotopes to your lab buddies who napped through the lecture.
If Acer goes to so much trouble to create a flexible screen experience for the user, certainly its screen technology is up to par, right? In the case of the Aspire Switch 11V, yes-the company’s trademarked LumiFlex technology beats glare no matter the screen angle and the full HD display makes everything from the darkest movies and the brightest PowerPoint slides look great. For all those dark, moody movies, the sound on the Aspire Switch is also on point, and although the company claims that its TrueHarmony technology is stunningly rich (presumably to watch movies alongside dorm-mates), the real test is when you’ve got your headphones on during your crosstown commute to your internship. Aspire Switch’s HD audio-with Dolby Audio enhancement option-gives you all the highs, lows, and middles you need.
The specs are good, too. Windows 10 Home is your environment, and the entire system operates on an Intel Core M processor — a relative newcomer to the market that Lenovo and Dell have also picked up in the last year. The Intel Core M (dual core) processor boasts a lower running temperature and an eight-hour battery life. Another benefit of lower running temperature is less heat dissipation, meaning manufacturers like Acer can ditch the bulky fan (no more incessant whirring), creating ever-thinner products such as the Aspire Switch. The standard memory on this is 4GB, which is enough for all of the basics that you need at any one time. There are two USB ports — one on the keyboard and one on the tablet/screen — which give you on-the-go flexibility to transfer files to a classmate via jump-drive without logging in to a cloud service. All in all, this is the machine you want if you want a reliable device that lets you “switch” between work styles.
Buy the Aspire Switch 11V now