Shopping for a laptop under $400 can be challenging. Most laptops in this price range are Chromebooks, which are great options for simple tasks like web browsing, text formatting, and video playback. However, they might not be powerful or versatile enough for professionals, especially those who need to run x86 applications. That said, you can find some Windows laptops as long as you don't mind compromising on some features, like a dimmer display or lack of biometric login.
We've just started reviewing laptops and have tested more than 45. Below you'll find our recommendations for the best laptops you can get for under $400. See our picks for the best laptops under $300, the best laptops under $500, and the best Chromebooks.
The Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (2020) is the best laptop under $400 with Chrome OS we've tested. It's a compact 2-in-1 convertible that's easy to carry around, with a battery that lasts over 12 hours of light productivity, so you don't have to worry about bringing the charger with you. The Core i3-10110U configuration with 4GB of memory is enough to handle most student workloads. If you tend to have multiple applications running simultaneously and don't mind spending just a bit more, it's best to opt for a model with 8GB because you can't upgrade the RAM later on.
Unlike most cheap Chromebooks, Acer stepped it up and equipped this laptop with a sharp, colorful display. Its 3:2 aspect ratio gives you a bit more vertical space so that you don't have to scroll as much when reading a document or website, but it does mean that you'll always see black bars at the top and bottom when watching videos. The keyboard is quiet, which is great for noise-sensitive environments like classrooms, and it's comfortable to type on for extended periods.
If you're new to Chrome OS, you need to make sure that you can do all of your school assignments through the Chrome browser or Android apps. If you're in a more technical field that requires x86 applications, you're better off with a Windows device, like the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 (2020) below. This laptop is becoming harder to find since there's a newer but more expensive Spin 713 with Intel 11th Gen CPUs, so it's a great time to snatch one up, and you might even find a higher-end configuration for around or below $400.
If you find a Chromebook limiting or prefer a Windows laptop, we recommend the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 (2020). It's a 2-in-1 convertible laptop with a 360-degree hinge and a thin and light design that makes it easy to carry around. Its 53Wh battery can easily get you through a typical eight-hour workday as it lasts a little over 11 hours of light productivity or nine hours of video playback. If you perform more demanding tasks and need to plug it in, its USB-C power adapter is also compact and lightweight.
As you might have guessed, it has a 14 inch screen. It looks sharp even though it's only 1080p, and it provides plenty of room for split-screen multitasking. The screen brightness is so-so; it's enough for most indoor settings but not well-lit environments or outdoors in broad daylight. The keyboard feels great to type on for an extended period, and the touchpad tracks decently well. It supports pen input if you want to take notes or draw, but you have to purchase the pen separately or find a bundle deal that includes one.
Performance-wise, the 6-core AMD Ryzen 3 4300U CPU is powerful enough to handle most light productivity tasks like text formatting, web browsing, and video playback. 4GB of memory is acceptable but not ideal, so you have to limit the number of apps or browser tabs you run simultaneously. If you can afford to spend a little more, it's best to go up to 8GB. So, if you're looking for a Windows laptop that's easy on the wallet, this one is worth considering.
If you need a media consumption device, take a look at the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5 (2021). It's a 13.3 inch Chrome OS tablet with a kickstand built into the back cover and a detachable keyboard. The tablet feels decently well-built, with a mix of metal and plastic, and it's very portable as it's thin and light. Battery life is great as it lasts nearly eight hours of video playback, enough to get through a couple of movies and TV show episodes.
This tablet's stand-out feature is its OLED display. It's sharp and produces deep, inky blacks, making it fantastic for dark room viewing. It also gets bright enough for use in well-lit settings, though not outdoors in broad daylight, as its glossy finish struggles with bright reflections. Unfortunately, it can't play any content in HDR even though it supports a wide color gamut. There's pen input support if you want to take notes or draw, but unlike the keyboard, you have to buy the stylus separately.
The speakers get reasonably loud; however, they lack bass and sound slightly unnatural. If you plan on using headphones, know that it doesn't have a 3.5mm headphone jack, and there isn't a USB-C audio adapter in the box either. Lastly, the keyboard feels cramped, so it isn't the best for typing out a long document or paper. Nonetheless, it's a budget-friendly media consumption device that should satisfy most people.
Need something compact that you can fit into a small bag? The Microsoft Surface Go 3 (2021) might fit the bill. It's a 10.5 inch Windows tablet with a built-in kickstand and a detachable keyboard. In other words, a miniaturized Surface Pro. It feels very well-built, and it has the same sturdy kickstand as the flagship Surface Pro, which you can open up to a wide angle to take notes or draw. Speaking of pen input, the stylus is a separate purchase, and the same goes for the type cover keyboard.
The display is amazing for a budget device. It's sharp and colorful, and it gets bright enough to combat glare in most settings. The thick bezels look pretty outdated; however, they give you a place to hold onto in tablet mode. They also house an outstanding webcam and a Windows Hello IR camera for quick logins through facial recognition. The keyboard feels good to type on, but again, this is a very compact device, so it's going to feel a little cramped, which isn't ideal for typing out long papers.
Performance-wise, you have to manage your expectations. The Intel Pentium Gold CPU can handle simple web browsing, text formatting, and video playback, but editing 4k videos or playing AAA games is out of the question. The battery lasts about seven hours of light productivity, so you might need to bring the charger with you. Despite some downsides, this is a good option if you're looking for a compact laptop for on-the-go use.
May 10, 2022: Verified accuracy of picks; no change in recommendations.
Apr 19, 2022: Minor structure and category changes. Added Microsoft Surface Go 3 (2021) as 'Best Mini Laptop'.
Mar 29, 2022: Verified accuracy of picks; no change in recommendations.
Mar 08, 2022: Replaced the Lenovo Chromebook C340 15 (2020) with the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (2020) because it has a higher-quality display and better CPU performance. Replaced the Lenovo Chromebook Duet (2020) with the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5 (2021) because it has an OLED display with better picture quality. Replaced Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 (2021) with Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 (2020) due to price increase. Added Lenovo Chromebook C340 15 and Lenovo Chromebook Duet to Notable Mentions.
Feb 15, 2022: Replaced the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (2020) with Lenovo Chromebook C340 15 (2020) due to a price increase on the Spin 713. Replaced Lenovo Chromebook C340 15 with Acer Chromebook 315 (2020) as a cheaper alternative. Replaced the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 (2020) with the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 (2021) because it has more memory and a much better webcam. Added Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 (2020) to Notable Mentions.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best laptops you can get for under $400. We factor in the price (a cheaper laptop wins over a pricier one if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors, and availability (no laptops that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).
If you prefer to make your own decision, here’s the list of all of our laptop reviews, sorted by price from low to high. Keep in mind that most laptops are available in various configurations, and the table only shows the results of the model we tested, so it’s best to see the full review for information about other variants.