Top laptops: 5 best laptops in the US

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Choosing the right laptop is even more confusing than ever – so we’re here to help with our regularly updated guide to the best laptops. The release of Windows 8.1 has pulled the OS further towards the touch and tablet future, even if the Start menu has returned. This, along with the performance boost Windows 8.1 offers, is a boon for the vast array of laptop-tablet hybrids now flooding the market.

1. Acer C720 Chromebook

It comes as no surprise that the first and most affordable budget laptop we’re highlighting is a Chromebook. If you’re after something that will handle basic word processing and spreadsheets, browsing the web over Wi-Fi and watching YouTube clips then the Acer C720 is a steal. At this price you also have to expect compromises: the 1.40GHz Intel Celeron processor and Intel HD Graphics are up to a lot of tasks, and also help to secure 8.5 hours of battery life, but can’t cope with intensive tasks such as video editing. Storage is scarce too: a 16GB SDD is supplied, but then you’re expected to embrace the cloud and suck up the 100GB of free Google Drive space that comes with the purchase. The 11.6-inch TFT screen is also on the dull side with a limited viewing angle, and the keyboard refuses to offer decent feedback. But these are to be expected and the overall package is a bargain.

2. HP Chromebook 11

Light, sturdy and really quite stylish, our reviewer went a little squishy over the HP Chromebook 11. Setting aside the limitations of ChromeOS and the Chromebook concept itself, this is HP being as clever as possible with the specs. Instead of an Intel processor, HP chose the ARM-based Samsung Exynos 5250 and slotted in 2GB of RAM and 16GB of solid-state storage (bolstered by the usual 100GB of Google Drive space). When set to work together with a vibrant 11-inch IPS screen running at a decent 1,366 x 768 pixels, the overall effect is a smooth and responsive experience. The only surprising result – considering the low-power and efficient choice of specs – is the battery life, which was a head-scratching three hours on full load and then five hours after a few fine adjustments. The touchpad isn’t top notch either, and suffers from being oversensitive on occasion, but you’ll find the key connectivity ports are all there, such as USB 3.0 and HDMI, and the HP Chromebook 11 adds up to surprisingly well-built laptop.

3. Asus X102BA

On the face of it, the Asus Z102BA looks like a no-frills lightweight laptop, but it’s actually packed with a few surprising features that make it a good general purpose portable. First off, it’s kept the choice of OS fuss-free and pre-installed a full copy of Windows 8. Second, it comes bundled with a version of Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Student Edition. Finally, its otherwise unremarkable 11.1-inch screen, which has a resolution of 1,366 x768 and a limited viewing angle, is also a nicely responsive touchscreen. In fact, combine all these factors together with a good isolation keyboard for lots of typing, all the connectivity you need (including an Ethernet port) and plenty of space for photos, files and videos on its 500GB hard drive, and the Asus Z1023BA becomes a shoo-in for a student on a tight budget. The only major thing letting it down is that the battery lasted three hours in our intensive test. A mediocre result considering the Asus is geared towards energy efficiency with its AMD A4-1200 APU, which combines CPU and graphics on a single chip.

4. Acer Aspire V5

Looking at the quality build of the Acer Aspire V5-122P, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing it to the Aspire’s high-end siblings and end up grumbling over its performance. Its budget limitations are squarely reflected in the internals: AMD’s A6-1460, which includes Radeon HD 8250 graphics, backed by 4GB DDR3 RAM and capable of dealing with HD video playback, basic productivity tasks and some simple editing software, but not much more. Equally, the 1,366 x 768 native resolution of the 11.6-inch TFT screen is, as you may have spotted by now, pretty standard on budget laptops and in this case benefits from a bright LED backlight. Yet again, battery life rears its ugly head and only briefly, as the Asus achieves a measly 92 minutes against our Battery Eater test, and slightly more respectable two hours of general use. The Aspire V5 is a stylish looking budget portable but very much a mixed bag. Ultimately, it’s an adequate budget laptop running Windows 8 and, therefore, worth considering.

5. HP Pavilion 15

Sports car manufacturers might disagree, but its yet to be proven that the colour red will make a thing go faster on it’s own, but it does make the HP Pavilion 15 stand out from other less stylish laptops at this budget price. Make no mistake though, this is a budget laptop powered by an AMD APU, which combines both the graphics and the processor into one chip. The overall experience is still peppy in Windows 8, and unless you plan to use it for video editing, the Pavilion 5 will handle all the usual document and spreadsheet work, film watching and web browsing you can throw at its way. It will also give you a respectable 5 hours of battery life in the process. The 15.6-inch TN display isn’t going to make film watching an earth-moving experience, though and the keyboard, as is often the case at this price, isn’t very responsive. Take a look, if you’re looking for a tidy portable on a tight budget and need a full Windows 8 OS.