HP, Apple, or Dell: who makes the best affordable laptop? We review the best cheap laptops in the UK 2021

Whether you’re a student looking for a laptop for Uni work, or simply seeking as much functionality as you can for less, we’ve rounded-up the best sub-£1000 laptops in the UK

HP, Apple, or Dell? We review the best nine cheap laptops for 2021

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You don’t need to spend over a grand to get a great laptop. Each of the top manufacturers make an excellent option for between £500 and £1000. 

This arguably represents the sweet spot for a new laptop: You can have real power, long battery life, high-quality build and a great screen without spending mega-bucks. Yes, there are sub-£500 models, but they tend to represent a serious drop-off in functionality.

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Things to consider when purchasing a laptop

Price, performance, portability, build and battery life are the main factors to consider when buying a laptop.

The first is already sorted: we’re looking at laptops that cost between £500 and £1000. Buy towards the lower end and you don’t have to miss out on power, but cheaper laptops will generally use more plastic rather than metal.

There’s nothing wrong with plastic, but metal lids and keyboard surrounds look and feel better, and are often more resilient.

Need a laptop you can easily take around with you every day? Aim for a weight of 1.3kg or below. Slim designs are nice, but your shoulders will notice a drop in weight more than a millimetre or two of thickness.

For outdoors use, it’s worth assessing the brightness of a screen, which is measured in “nits” or “cd/m”. Reach 350nits or above and a laptop becomes easier to use outdoors, as any screen has to compete with sunlight. None of the laptops below will have any issues indoors.

Our go-to recommendation in 2021 is to hunt down any Intel Core or AMD Ryzen chipset with 8GB RAM. This gives you enough power to run apps like Adobe Photoshop, and 8GB RAM lets you open a bunch of apps and browser tabs without obvious slow-down.

Avoid 4GB RAM laptops. There’s no need to make do with one if you have £500 or more to spend. We recommend at least 256GB storage too. A few of the models below start with as little as 64GB storage, which doesn’t give you enough wiggle room for a big photo or apps library.

We’re not particularly interested in gaming PCs here. But a few slim and light laptops are much better at playing games than others. Seek out one with an Nvidia “MX” graphics card if you like to unwind playing games. We also have one recommendation below with even more gaming power, and it’s not a laptop that wants to stay rooted to your desk like most gaming computers.

Lenovo Yoga Slim

The Lenovo Yoga Slim is one of our favourite laptops of the year. It gets so much right, has all the power most of us need and looks great too.

The Lenovo Yoga Slim is seriously smart: motion sensors will automatically log you out when it senses you’ve left, then logs you back in on return. It’s Intelligent Cooling mood is effective if you’re looking to prolong battery life. It’s display is crystal clear to look at, and we loved the Dolby Atmos surround system.

We found the battery lasted around 10 hours  (they promise 13), while the 10th Gen Intel Core i7 makes for rapid, powerful processing (this is an efficient computer). With 16GB memory, and and a swift charge time, we were impressed with how it ran.

If you opt for the 15 inch option, you’ll find it easy to work and watch things on, but a smart screen-to-body ratio still ensures the Yoga is portable and lightweight. Great value for money.

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HP ENVY 13.3” Laptop - Intel® Core

The HP Envy 13 has been our favourite sub-£1000 recommendation for years. It offers the all-aluminium casing you’d normally associate with a top-tier computer at a more reasonable price.

HP is also generous with storage. The standard Envy 13 has 512GB storage, double the amount you usually see at this price.

Its footprint is small too. Notice there’s almost no black border around the screen, no blank space to each side of the keyboard? This keeps the HP Envy 13 trim.

We’re also fans of its connections. You get two full-size USBs and a microSD slot as well as an ultra-fast Thunderbolt 3.0 USB-C, so you won’t need to carry an adapter around with you.

The HP Envy 13 is pretty close to sub-£1000 laptop perfection. Just one little niggle: it has a plastic touch-pad rather than a smoother glass one, should such things bug you.

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AVITA Liber V 14” Laptop - AMD Ryzen 5

Practicality is the watchword for the Avita Liber V, an inexpensive laptop that is ideal for web browsing, emailing and general day to day use.

Costing just £560 (when bought with the Ryzen 5CPU), Avita have sought to replicate the look and feel of a much more expensive laptop.

Aluminium bodywork panels, a slender, light casing, ultra-slim borders: if you’re after a laptop that looks the part, the Avita will provide - it’s a good-looking piece of kit. Of course, you get the performance compromises that come with an entry-level, light laptop.

First up: battery life, which isn’t much cop (we found it lasted around five hours). Not a problem if your laptop is likely to lead a stationary existence, but if you want to be out and about with it, worth considering.

A plastic undercasing means the laptop doesn’t over-heat or create hotspots.

It doesn’t have a huge amount of welly under the hood - you wouldn’t use this for gaming, for example, but if you want a cheap, good-looking laptop that will take care of all your office requirements, this is a good buy. Ideal for Uni students if you want to ensure they don’t get distracted from their assignments!

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 is one best, purest Windows computers around - but it costs a pretty penny. Microsoft addresses this with the more affordable Laptop Go, which starts at £549.  

It still has an aluminium lid and keyboard plate, and an excellent screen. The underside is plastic, but this is the part you’ll touch the least. There are almost no visual “tells” this is an affordable model either. The Surface Laptop Go’s screen borders are as trim as those of plenty of £1000-plus laptops.

The Surface Laptop Go isn’t quite the best value laptop in this category, though. Microsoft’s entry-level £549 version only has 4GB RAM and 64GB storage, which is limiting. And upgrades don’t come cheap. You’ll pay £649 for the bump to 8GB RAM, £899 for the jump to 256GB storage.

We recommend buying a Surface Go Laptop with 8GB RAM as you’ll feel Windows start to slow down after you launch a few apps at the same time with 4GB.

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Asus ZenBook 14

There are a stack of different ZenBook 14 laptops, all with slightly different impenetrable product codes. The good news: the handful we’ve tried are all good.

We recommend the ZenBook 14 UM433IQ-A5037T as a top all-rounder. It has the AMD Ryzen 4500U processor, 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD and — for a real fun injection — an Nvidia MX350 graphics chipset.

This lets you play demanding games like The Witcher 3 comfortably even though this isn’t remotely a “gaming” laptop.

It’s reasonably slim at 16.9mm thick, very light at 1.15kg. Like other ZenBook 14 laptops, the UM433IQ has an unusual touchpad. It doubles as a number pad, with light-up keys that shine through the surface at the touch of a button.

This separates the ZenBook 14 from the Lenovo and HP rivals. But the real appeal is great specs and an aluminium shell at a sensible price.

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Acer Swift 3

Acer proves just how much can be squeezed into a slim and light laptop under £1000 with the Acer Swift 3.

The best Swift 3 spec is probably the £699 model, which gets you a powerful Ryzen 4500U processor, 8GB RAM and an almost ridiculously generous 1TB SSD. A bump up to that capacity in a MacBook Air costs you £400 on its own.

Acer uses magnesium-aluminium alloys for the casing and, at a mite under 1.2kg, the Swift 3 is ultra-light. Some of the panels have a little flex to them, the screen isn’t the brightest and Acer uses lower-end SSD storage to get you masses of space at the right price.

The screen also has a raised plastic lip, which looks less slick than a full flat glass pane. There are a few compromises here, but the amount of computer you get for under £700 here impresses.

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Dell XPS 13

The Dell XPS 13 is not the most natural fit for a sub-£1000 laptop round-up as it’s a true top-end design. However, its base spec slides in just below £1000 and the XPS range is much more exciting than Dell’s affordable Inspiron laptops.

Light, stylish, slim, and packed with brand cred, the Dell XPS 13 is the Windows alternative to a MacBook. It weighs under 1.3kg, and build quality is about as good as you’ll find in a laptop.

Dell’s XPS 13s use aluminium plates for the lid and underside, and a soft-touch carbon fibre reinforced keyboard plate that feels great. This laptop is from the class above most in this round-up.

And in this case that also means you get lesser specs for your cash, in one respect at least. The £949 Dell XPS 13 only has 128GB storage. 256GB bumps you up to £1099.

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Apple MacBook Air

There’s only one Apple laptop available for under £1000. It’s the MacBook Air, and it’s only £1 below a grand. But it is part of one of the most important developments in laptops in years.

The latest MacBook Air is part of the first range to use Apple’s own processors. Apple says it is faster than 98% of Windows laptops.

You get long battery life, superb build quality, a bright and bold screen, a class-leading touchpad and keyboard travel deeper than Apple’s 2019 models.

It may take a while for developers to get up to speed with the MacBook’s new M1 processor, but this is the most important sub-£1000 laptop in years.

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Asus ROG Zephyrus G14

We didn’t focus on gaming laptops in this group test because we’re out to recommend all-rounders. Almost all sub-£1000 gaming models are made for a singular purpose, but the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is a little different.

The entry-level Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 sails in at just under £1000 and offers incredible versatility.

At 1.6kg it’s just light enough to be used as an ultraportable, has a lovely magnesium-aluminium alloy outer and is a shade under 18mm thick.

This would not be at all impressive in a standard slim style laptop, but the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 also has an Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics card. It’s around twice as powerful as the Nvidia MX350 you’ll see in a few slim alternatives, making it a capable portable gaming PC.

The ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 is the all-new, stylish face of gaming laptops.

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