Best tablet or very lightweight laptop for under $600
April 1, 2018 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I'd like a tablet + keyboard combo or very lightweight laptop that I can use while traveling. The goal is to have something a little more pleasant to read and watch things on, and more comfortable to type longform on, than my phone, without having to lug around a laptop. The kicker: must run Android or be able to run Linux. So while something like a Surface is exactly what I'm looking for, it's out of the running. What's the Android or Linux-friendly equivalent?
posted by rhiannonstone to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: i meant to add: My fallback plan is to get a used Pixel C, which it looks like I can get for around $400. But maybe there's something better out there if I'm willing to spend just a little more?
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:53 AM on April 1, 2018

I learned at a baby shower yesterday that you can run Ubuntu (and some other variants) on Windows 10 (I haven't personally tried it). Would that make a Surface usable for you?
posted by batter_my_heart at 10:00 AM on April 1, 2018

If running Crouton to have Linux available on a Chromebook satisfies your needs, the Asus Chromebooks have very good keyboards for the money, meh but usable screens, and an attractive price point. And they'll also run Android apps, with some caviats. Their convertible 12.5 inch model is a little large for a tablet but works decently for reading on compared to a laptop form factor.

You can find refurbed XPS 13s at the top of your price range and they're pretty nice little beasts.
posted by Candleman at 10:16 AM on April 1, 2018

Response by poster: batter_my_heart I appreciate the suggestion, but I'd rather not use Windows at all, and don't want to mess with virtual machines etc. for this.
posted by rhiannonstone at 10:18 AM on April 1, 2018

The Wirecutter recommends these Android tablets. You can put Linux on a Chromebook without too much trouble, and some Chromebooks have pretty decent screens.

For a cheap laptop, again, I would look at the Wirecutter's recommendations and put Linux on it yourself.
posted by blob at 10:27 AM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To clarify, when it comes to potential laptops, "very lightweight" is just as important as "cheap" here. Like, if netbooks were still a thing. OK, no more threadsitting!
posted by rhiannonstone at 10:31 AM on April 1, 2018

There are 2-pound 10.1" screen Chromebooks. That's basically your netbook sequel.
posted by fings at 10:55 AM on April 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

I, too, would go for a Chromebook and put Linux on it, as a single boot since I'm not interested in Chrome OS. Make sure that you get a Chromebook with an Intel processor since most distros don't run on ARM. I would probably use Lubuntu.
Here's a tutorial so you can get a feel for the process.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:09 AM on April 1, 2018

Acer's about to release a very affordable Chrome OS tablet if you don't mind finding a standalone keyboard for it. It will have a built-in stylus, if that's of any interest.
posted by halation at 11:13 AM on April 1, 2018

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 has a (bluetooth?) keyboard cover. Also consider the Lenovo Yoga Book with Android, which is slim, but may not have a great typing experience.
posted by cnc at 11:40 AM on April 1, 2018

I have a cheap-and-cheerful RCA Viking 10.1 tablet with an optional keyboard that I ordered from the RCA online shop when I registered that tablet - it came with a coupon :) It's pretty basic but does me just fine.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 4:07 PM on April 1, 2018

I was in a similar boat recently having to replace my trusty netbook. Cheap won out over most things for my needs. I picked up the latest Fire HD10 and rooted it. There are no custom ROMs, but it's simple enough to load a decent launcher and the Play store and deactivate the Amazon bloatware. It runs pretty fast and smooth. I use it mainly for doing schoolwork on my lunch break. I have been pleasantly surprised by the lack of trouble it's given me.

I pair a Logitech K380 keyboard with it that has proven surprisingly nice to type on. I was suspicious of the round keys, but they're surprisingly not noticeable. I rarely type for more than 45 minutes or so on it, but it's proven just fine for those bursts. I have used it with a USB mouse attached via a cheap Chinese OTG adapter, but it's largely proven not necessary for my uses.
posted by piedmont at 5:26 PM on April 1, 2018

Dell XPS 13, used?
posted by erattacorrige at 5:32 PM on April 1, 2018

I'm typing this on an ASUS C302a chromebook. Chrome can now run Android apps without any issues, so this feels like an Android tablet in most ways that matter. It's got a great keyboard and quite a decent processor. I use it often for work, with the google suite importing MS Office documents. I use it for Skype and messaging. It plays videos (youtube, plex, nexflix, the usual suspects), has enough local storage for a movie or two for a plane trip, etc...

In short, it does pretty much everything I need for a second device and doesn't feel limiting in any important way. There are a bunch of types of these; Samsung makes something very similar too.

Cost new is under your budget.
posted by bonehead at 6:19 AM on April 2, 2018

Here's the Wirecutter recommendation for the model---my apologies, it's the C302ca.

It really hits the mark on the lightness aspect too, without compromising on the keyboard or the battery. That's what sold me on this thing. The screen is fine, but it's not an iPad.

The one wierdness that's a showstopper for some is that they keyboard folds around 180 degrees when in tablet mode and shows on the "back" of the tablet. Some people hate that; I've found I don't mind it at all. But if that's not for you, you probably won't want this device.
posted by bonehead at 10:56 AM on April 2, 2018

I have the Samsung Chromebook Plus that runs both ChromeOS and Android. There's a Pro version two. I stick the thing in my purse and it's been great for traveling.
posted by DarthDuckie at 5:45 PM on April 2, 2018

I run Linux just fine on my Surface Pro 2. It's definitely handy, but I wouldn't describe it as light. An X series laptop definitely wins on that count.
posted by wierdo at 6:02 PM on April 2, 2018

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