K.I.S.S.: Laptop Edition
November 8, 2013 3:27 PM   Subscribe

What's the best reasonably priced laptop (under $700) for someone who only needs it for basic personal entertainment use (e.g. storing/listening to music, Flash games on the internet, and movie-watching)?

Another "Recommend me a laptop" question! What's the best reasonably priced laptop (under $700) for someone who only needs it for basic personal entertainment use (e.g. storing/listening to music, Flash games on the internet, and movie-watching)?

Someone dear to me is looking to buy a new laptop. He doesn't want to spend more than $700 and doesn't need anything super high-tech or flashy. He mostly uses his current laptop to store/listen to his enormous music collection, play basic games on the internet (nothing more complicated than Flash), and watch movies on Netflix or other streaming services.

As far as the physical aspect, he is looking for something medium-sized, and the only thing he has a real preference on is the screen: When looking at the new batch of laptops on the market, it seems that a majority of them have touch-screens and/or that kind of screen that is glossier and reflective--he doesn't like either of those features. He is 99% sure he doesn't want a tablet, nor one of those laptops that converts into a tablet. He is planning on buying an iPhone in the next few months and and wants something that is going to be a headache to sync it with BUT doesn't want an Apple (cost-prohibitive anyway)--not sure if that makes any difference.

Knowing that he isn't looking for anything super advanced and doesn't like some of the physical aspects of the newer ones, I'm almost wondering if he should be exploring used laptops, but we wanted to ask about new ones first in case there is a decent option there. (Bonus question: If you do think that gently used is the best way to go, what is the best resource for that? Would rather not go the Craigslist route since that seems like it could be sketchy, but could be convinced...)

I'm sure there are components we haven't considered, so if you need more info please inquire away.
posted by lovableiago to Technology (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh brother--that should say "wants something that is not going to be a headache to sync [an iPhone] with."
posted by lovableiago at 3:31 PM on November 8, 2013

fwiw, I like my lenovo. The site seems to have the best prices.
posted by luge at 3:54 PM on November 8, 2013

Take a look at http://www.dfsdirectsales.com/.

I have purchased a number of machines from them (both laptop & desktop) and been very happy.

You're generally buying off-lease business-grade hardware. It is much better (IMHO) than the general retail stuff you get elsewhere. For the price point you mention, you can buy a capable laptop, add RAM if needed, and update the O/S, and still have $$$ leftover.

Just a thought.

posted by sandpine at 3:57 PM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: buy the nicest thinkpad or u series you can get on lenovo outlet.

it seems that a majority of them have touch-screens and/or that kind of screen that is glossier and reflective

Which is why you want a thinkpad. There some of the last laptops with high quality, "matte" screens that aren't touch screens. And the entire thing is built like a brick shithouse and will last until long after it's useful for modern stuff.

You want something like this.(or alternatively, this older one with a FAR superior screen, but hey, it's older)

An ideapad u series is also a good option, and a much thinner and lighter machine. Thinkpads are unbreakably well built. Those are nice, but not amazing. I can't directly link to them because they're constantly selling out on there, but look for a u410 with the nvidia graphics. Sometimes they're as little as $350(!!!) for one with a solid state drive and a hard drive, which will feel fast as hell.

Basically the thinkpad is heavier duty, but the u series will be higher performance and more portable. the screens are about the same quality and the same resolution with the exception of the much older thinkpad.

You will likely spend about $500 in the end though, spend another $60 on this. Because remember, it's better to spend a few bucks now on an external hdd to make a backup copy of all your stuff and not cry later. Spend another $100 on a couple years of backblaze. Now you have a quality machine, an external drive for a local copy of stuff and extra files, and offsite backup cloning both your internal drive AND the external. take the last $100 or so and tell them to just save it or get something else they want. Maybe some nice headphones?
posted by emptythought at 4:06 PM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, and all windows machines will be about the same to sync an iphone too. Many lenovos have one of those "charge even when the computer is asleep" usb ports, which has some silly name as a feature with various manufacturers. How easy it is to sync and manage an iphone is more of a function of what OS you're using, not what hardware. iTunes is the same software on windows and mac, so after the first time you plug in the phone when windows has to dig up all the drivers from the itunes install(which takes a couple minutes) you'll be fine and dandy.

If part of the question was "will plugging and unplugging my phones cable 1000 times make the port fall apart", well, that's part of what thinkpads are good for. I have as of yet never even seen a beat up one being sold used with a bad USB port, despite seeing that on every other manufacturers models including macbook pros. I can't vouch for the u series ideapads which are probably about the same as any other mid-range laptop, but the thinkpads are peerless in mechanical integrity of the ports, including never getting crappy failing charging sockets.
posted by emptythought at 4:10 PM on November 8, 2013

Best answer: I also really like my Lenovo Thinkpad. Many of their machines are out of your budget, but not all. Their outlet site has lots of deals on discontinued models, refurbished units, and cosmetically-imperfect ("scratch and dent") laptops that might be easier to fit into your price range. They come with warranties. A recent Thinkpad will probably suit your friend just as well as a brand new one, considering the things he wants to do with it.

As I sit here, there are a bunch of refurbished T530 and E530 Thinkpads on the outlet site, all well within your budget. I've been on a T530 for the last year and a half and I adore it. It's a 15.4" size which is great for what your friend wants to do (larger laptops are better for basically everything but portability) and as others have mentioned the build quality is rock solid. The screen is matte. They have excellent keyboards, too.

One thing I will mention, though this might push things out of your price range, is that you should try to get a higher-resolution screen than the usual 1366x768 if you can. Pretty much all laptops (not just Thinkpads) seem to come with that resolution as standard these days, and it's crappy and small. If you can swing an upgrade then it's going to be more worth it than just about any other feature upgrade I can think of.

If you are up for it, it's relatively straightforward to buy a new, higher-resolution display panel for a T530 (and presumably other Thinkpads) and install it yourself (though doing so would void your warranty). I've done this on my laptop, and it was very much worth it and much cheaper than buying it that way. It gets even cheaper if you sell the old panel on eBay as a working spare.
posted by Scientist at 4:26 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love Thinkpads but my T420 has an exceptionally awful screen. Anything other than text looks very dull. It's functional, no dead pixels or anything even at three years old, but I bought it assuming that the screen would be on-par with my R60 (which wasn't known for having a great screen.) Nope. It's significantly worse than the R60. Just be forewarned--I'm more or less used to it by now but I was very disappointed when it arrived. On the plus side, I got it for $300 on ebay and it's still under Lenovo warranty because the business that had it bought an extended warranty and the warranty goes with the machine rather than the user.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:49 PM on November 8, 2013

re: thinkpad screens, I too did the thing Scientist mentions about buying a T530 with a crappy screen and replacing it yourself with a fantastic one. It's really easy, there are directions online. A good option if it's in your budget, imo. all the research I did before I bought said the lower-resolution screens on thinkpads were not just "normal-bad" but remarkably bad, which seems to fit with needs more cowbell's comment above.
posted by a birds at 7:03 PM on November 8, 2013

If you end up going the screen replacement route, this is the tutorial I used for my own machine. It worked like a charm. You can read through it and decide if it's something you feel you would be up for.
posted by Scientist at 9:26 AM on November 11, 2013

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