Laptops: How to buy one on a budget
At Moneywise we often write about ways you can save money and earn a little extra cash online, from selling on eBay and getting cashback to completing surveys and moving to paperless bills. Of course to do this, you need the right kit.
You can pay a fortune for a new computer, but it’s also possible to get one on a budget. And if you aren’t doing much more than browsing the internet, a laptop can be a very affordable – and far more flexible – choice, with top buys available for less than £300.
So to help you find the right laptop to get online and boost your income, we’ve taken a look at the key decisions you’ll need to make to find the right device for you.
Is a laptop right for you?
The huge benefit of having a laptop rather than a traditional desktop computer is its portability. You can take it with you wherever you go, whether that’s perched on your knee while watching TV, or while enjoying a glass of wine in the summer sun – and still shop, save and earn.
But there are trade-offs. It’ll usually have a smaller screen than a desktop, and craning over a screen while sitting on the sofa without decent back support isn’t good for your posture. Battery life isn’t unlimited, so you will need to plug it into the mains most days to recharge, and you do pay more for the same features.
If these inconveniences don’t bother you, a tablet could also be an option. Even more portable than a laptop, touch-screen tablets, such as iPads and Kindle Fires, allow you to go online and also take advantage of money- making apps. You can even get hybrid laptop-tablet devices, giving you the best of both worlds.
However, if you want a little more flexibility in how you use your computer, and not just where, a laptop – at the right price – is an asset you can’t afford to go without.
Picking a laptop - PC, Macbook or Chromebook
There are three main types of laptop, each with their own operating system (OS), which enables software to run on them. The type you choose each has its own pros and cons.
PC – PC laptops are the most common and usually run the Windows OS – the latest version is Windows 10. There is a huge range of PC laptops available, from basic notebooks to state-of-the art gaming machines, so you will be able to find one that fits your budget.
Macbook – If you’re already using an iPhone, you might be tempted to splash out on a MacBook (Mac), which runs on Apple OS X. These are at the premium end of the market, hough there are cheaper options. Many Mac users swear by the performance, user experience and design, even if they pay a little more than they would for an equivalent PC.
Chromebook – The newest and most basic of the bunch, Chromebooks can be incredibly cheap. These simple laptops run software through the Chrome OS and are designed for browsing the web with a long battery life. Unlike PC and Mac laptops, Chromebooks require an internet connection to run, have very little internal storage, and you can’t install third party software, such as Microsoft Office – but there are web apps to cover most uses.
Getting the right specification laptop
What you don’t need is just as important as what you do. With the bulk of the money-making websites, you only need access to the internet via a web browser, and maybe the ability to upload photos from your mobile phone or camera. This means you can forgo many of the extras that make a laptop more expensive.
High-end machines will have super-fast processors and graphics cards designed for video editing and gaming. If you don’t need these, you can dramatically cut the cost.
The idea of future-proofing also isn’t really relevant as you won’t be putting your machine through the paces. It could well be cheaper in the long run to upgrade when your laptop fails instead of buying a top-of-the-range model that will last longer.
You’re likely to pay much more if you go for a super-slim laptop or one with a bigger screen. These are personal choices, so take a look at the machines in a shop to see if you’re happy with the weight and size of the laptop for how you intend to use it. Two things worth considering paying a little more for are the size of memory (RAM) and the amount of storage.
However, with storage it’s relatively cheap to buy hard drives you can connect to your laptop if you find there’s not enough space to save your documents, photos or music.
How to buy a cheap laptop
With any big purchase there are ways to save even more, and it’s no different with laptops. Our top tips to get a cheap deal are:
Shop around: Compare prices on websites such as iDealo.co.uk, and use uk.CamelCamelCamel.com to track prices on Amazon, so you know the best time to buy and get alerts when prices drop.
Price match: If you find the laptop you want at a decent price, see if John Lewis stocks it, as you can take advantage of its two-year guarantee if they match the price.
Get an extra discount: It’s rare to see discounts on MacBooks, but if you have family studying or working at schools or universities, ask them to help you out with the educational discount Apple offers to students and teachers.
Buy ‘good as new’: Big savings can also be found on refurbished or returned laptops, which retailers can’t sell as new. Shops, such as Argos and PC World, have ‘warehouse’ or clearance stores on eBay.
What to watch out for
Pay on credit card: If your laptop costs more than £100, pay on credit card. If something goes wrong, this means you’ll be protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Rights Act and you could get a full refund from your card provider. If it costs under £100 or you pay on debit card, you may still be covered under the similar Chargeback scheme, but this is a service guarantee and unlike Section 75 isn’t enshrined in law.
Check your insurance cover:
It’s worth checking your home insurance to see if your new laptop will be covered. If included in the policy, most low-cost laptops won’t need to declared, though there could be exclusions around taking them away from the home and accidental damage. If you decide on something a little pricier, you may need to increase your level of cover to avoid under insuring your contents.
Top three laptops under £300
ASUS X555LA-XX290H - £300
Operating system: Windows 10
Specifications: 15.6in (1366x768, 100dpi) TN glossy display 1.9GHz Intel Core i3- 4030U Intel HD Graphics 4400 4GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM
PC Advisor says: All-round value laptop for work and play.
HP 255 G4 - £269.99
Manufacturer: Hewlett Packard
Operating system: Windows 10
Specifications: 15.6-inch (1366 x 768) 100dpi TN matt anti-glare 2.2GHz AMD A8-7410 (2.5GHz boost) 4C, 4T AMD Radeon 5 integrated GPU 4GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM 1TB 5400rpm SATA HDD
PC Advisor says: Ideal if you’re on a tight budget and don’t need lots of speed or a high-quality screen.
Toshiba Chromebook 2 - £269
Operating system: Chrome OS
Specifications: Display: 33.8 cm (13.3”) 16:9 aspect ratio with 1366 x 768p (HD) IPS display Intel integrated 16 GB eMMC plus 100 GB free Cloud storage via Google Drive, 3 2 GB DDR3L (1600MHz)
PC Advisor says: The device is light, fast, and the screen is worth the money alone.
Note: Prices do vary, so shop around. Source: PC Advisor May 2016.
Issued by a bank as part of a current account and, in a nutshell, serves as electronic cash. Unlike a credit or charge card, where you get an interest-free period before you have to settle the bill, the funds spent on a debit card are withdrawn immediately from your current account. Unless you’ve arranged an overdraft, if you don’t have the cash in the account, you can’t spend it.
Used by the holder to buy goods and services, credit cards also have a monthly or annual spending limit, which may be raised or lowered depending on the creditworthiness of the cardholder. But unlike charge cards, borrowers aren’t forced to pay the balance off in full every month and, as long as they make a stated minimum payment, can carry a balance from one month to the next, generating compound interest. As the issuing company is effectively giving you a short-term loan, most credit cards have variable and relatively high interest rates. Allowing the interest to compound for too long may result in dire financial straits.