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Cost-effective computing

HP 250 G6

In this issue’s comparative review, we put entry-level laptops through their paces.

When directly compared to more expensive, mid-range and premium models, they generally offer less storage space and RAM, a lower quality storage device and battery, a slower CPu/GPu as well as a relatively low-quality screen.

Owning the latest state-of-the-art laptops is neither nancially feasible nor necessary for many South Africans.

Over the years, the cost price of hardware components, such as the CPU, RAM, HDD and screen panels have gradually dropped. In tandem with that, the minimum system requirements of Microsoft’s Windows operating systems haven’t skyrocketed dramatically either, meaning decent laptops are widely available. For those needing portable productivity devices on a budget, entry-level models are capable of delivering the functionality required.

Of course, the compromise for lower cost when compared to more expensive, mid-range and premium models is apparent. The entry- level models generally offer less storage space and RAM, a lower quality battery, a slower CPU/GPU, as well as a relatively low-quality screen. Beyond the hardware components, functional elements such as the keyboard
and touchpad aren’t quite as comfortable or durable, and the overall build quality of low-cost laptops often leaves quite a lot of room for improvement.

That said, the lower price point doesn’t automatically imply entry-level notebooks are less portable, which is one of the key factors when buying a mobile device. Although more expensive models are often thinner and lighter, due to the use of more ef cient material, today’s entry-level devices remain relatively lightweight, easy to transport and anything but bulky.

Test information

For this test, five major laptop brands were invited to participate with a 13 – 15-inch device that retails at no more than R5 000. Per brand, one specific configuration was put to the test, but models with slightly better specifications and consequently higher prices are also available. Areas of variance include more storage space and RAM, an SSD drive instead of the more traditional HDD, a marginally better CPU/GPU and higher resolution screen.


Prior to putting the five laptops through their paces, each one was given a complete, once-off update opportunity of the operating system, pre-installed applications and drivers. After that, all settings were left to their original values as defined by the manufacturer.
 For each laptop, the overall score was calculated by carefully weighing and evaluating a set of relevant aspects with the help of industry-standard benchmarks, dedicated measuring equipment and straightforward practical, hands-on experience.

Battery life was measured by simulating various real-life tasks and activities, such as browsing and watching a YouTube video, until the device was completely drained.

Build quality of each individual laptop was determined by the level of sturdiness of the casing, keyboard and screen.

Connectivity reflects the number and usefulness of the on-board slots, ports and (wireless) connection options.

Ergonomics was determined by how comfortable each laptop proved in practice.

Hardware was quantified through the technical specifications for
 all processing and storage components combined.

Screen quality was ascertained by testing key aspects like resolution, brightness, contrast and viewing angles.

Performance reflects how fast certain tasks could be dealt with.

Portability was determined by combining both dimensions and weight

Acer Extensa EX2519-C3WB Acer Extensa EX2519-C3WB
Acer Extensa EX2519-C3WB

The Acer Extensa EX2519-C3WB budget laptop is the only device in our review equipped with a lowly 2 GB of RAM, which has a huge negative impact on its performance. The laptop also lacks Bluetooth connectivity, but features a Gigabit RJ-45 LAN connector and three on-board USB ports. Screen and build quality are unimpressive and the keyboard and touchpad are far from comfortable, especially when being used for longer periods of time. It’s also the least portable laptop of all five. On the upside, this Acer is capable of running on a fully charged battery, when deployed for low to medium intensity tasks and activities, for five to six hours. This is quite good for a laptop in the lower-end of the price spectrum.

Pros: Decent battery life | Gigabit LAN

Cons: Only 2 GB RAM
No Bluetooth Screen/build quality Keyboard and touchpad | Portability

RRP: R4 299

Distributors: Mustek, Rectron

Product page

Size: 15.6-inch

Dimensions: 38.1 x 25.8 x 2.6cm

Weight: 2.4kg

Resolution: 1366 x 768 (100 ppi)


CPU: Intel Celeron N3060 dual-core (1.6 GHz)
GPU: Integrated Intel HD graphics 400
RAM 2 GB (up to 8 GB max)


Storage: 500GB HDD

Connectivity: WiFi, 3 x USB, audio, HDMI, network, SD card

Best features: Battery life 7/10 | Connectivity 6.5/10     

Worst features: Ergonomics 5/10 | Hardware: 5/10 | Performance 5/10     

Overall score: 5.8


Asus Vivobook E402NA

Asus Vivobook E2402NA Asus Vivobook E2402NA

The Asus Vivobook E402NA is the only 14-inch model in this comparative review, making it the smallest. As a result, it scores high on portability but relatively low on pure ergonomics. The keyboard, touchpad and screen feel more cramped when directly compared to the others. That aside, its screen and build quality are both decent and it’s the only model that features a generous 1 TB HDD. The Vivobook E402NA also houses a relatively new generation CPU and GPU as well as 4 GB of RAM, which is a bare minimum to comfortably work with Windows 10. It’s a shame there’s no Bluetooth or Gigabit LAN connector. It will last for about four to five hours when disconnected from a power source if used for anything but processing-intensive tasks. Straining it more significantly decreases battery life. 

Distributors: Mustek, Pinnacle, Rectron, Tarsus

Product page

Size: 14.0-inch

Dimensions: 33.9 x 23.5 x 2.2cm

Weight: 1.65 kg

Resolution: 1366 x 768 (112 ppi)

CPU: Intel Celeron N3350 dual-core (1.1 GHz)
GPU: integrated Intel HD graphics 500

RAM: 4 GB (up to 8 GB max)
 Storage: 1 TB HDD

Connectivity:  WiFi, 3 x USB, audio, HDMI, network, SD card

Pros: Decent build quality | New generation CPU/GPU | 1 TB storage | High-quality keyboard and mouse | Slim and lightweight

Cons: No Bluetooth
 | No Gigabit LAN | Keyboard and touchpad

Best feautures: Portability: 8.5/10 | Hardware: 8/10     

Worst features:
Ergonomics: 5/10     

Overall score: 6.



Dell Inspiron 3552 Dell Inspiron 3552
Dell's Inspiron 3552

When running on battery, Dell’s Inspiron 3552 laptop will last for a comfortable average of between five to six hours when deployed for light to medium tasks and activities. This is quite good for an entry-level laptop. Both build quality and performance are also adequate and it even features Bluetooth. Surprisingly, there’s no integrated RJ-45 LAN connector to hook it up to a wired network. Although this Dell isn’t the lightest of the bunch, it’s the thinnest 15-inch laptop in this test.

RRP: R4 500

Distributors: Axiz, Drive Control, Pinnacle, Tarsus

Product page

Size: 15.6-inch

Dimensions: 38 x 26 x 2.2cm

Weight: 2.14kg

Resolution: 1366 x 768 (100 ppi)

CPU: Intel Celeron N3060 dual-core (1.6 GHz)

GPU: Integrated Intel HD graphics 400

RAM: 4GB

Storage: 500 GB HDD

Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, 3 x USB, audio, HDMI, SD card

Best features: Battery life: 7/10 | 
Build quality: 7/10 | Hardware: 7/10 | Performance: 7/10 | Portability: 7/10

Overall score: 6.5


 

HP 250 G6 HP 250 G6
HP 250 G6

As a result of extensive connectivity options, including Bluetooth, Gigabit LAN and even a legacy VGA connector; decent build quality; reasonable performance levels and good screen quality, this HP 250 G6 is a winner for anybody that doesn’t want to break the bank. The 
G6 looks and feels great, it’s lightweight and comes pre-installed with functional noise-cancelling software to suppress background sounds, like keyboard clicks, during Skype calls. The HP 250 G6 can manage without a power source for about four to five hours when used for surfing the web, handling documents and other relatively light tasks. Confronting it with more processing intensive jobs or increased multitasking will significantly reduce its work time on a fully charged battery.

RRP: R4 800

Distributors: Axiz, Drive Control, Pinnacle, Tarsus

Product page

Size: 15.6-inch

Dimensions: 38 x 25.4 x 2.4cm

Weight: 1.86 kg

Resolution: 1366 x 768 (100 ppi)


CPU: Intel Celeron N3060 dual-core (1.6 GHz)

GPU: Integrated Intel HD graphics 400
RAM: 4 GB (up to 8 GB max)

Storage: 500 GB HDD

Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, 3 x USB, audio, HDMI, VGA, network, SD card

Pros: Decent build quality | Adequate performer | Gigabit LAN | Bluetooth | VGA connector | Lightweight

Cons: Battery capacity

Best features: Connectivity: 8/10

Worst features: Battery life: 6/10 | Ergonomics: 6/10

Overall score: 6.9

Lenovo IdeaPad 110 Lenovo IdeaPad 110
Lenovo IdeaPad 110

Lenovo’s IdeaPad 110 can only manage without an external power source for a disappointing three to four hours while browsing the web. This makes perfect sense, though, since it’s equipped with the lowest capacity battery of all ve tested models. The IdeaPad 110 has only two on-board USB ports, doesn’t support Bluetooth, lacks Gigabit LAN support and has a general low build and screen quality. In addition, it doesn’t excel in portability, yet offers a remarkably comfortable keyboard and touchpad, as well as decent performance. 

RRP: R4 300

Distributors: Tarsus, Mustek, Pinnacle, Axiz

Product page

Size: 15.6-inch

Dimensions: 37.8 x 26.5 x 2.3cm

Weight: 2.2 kg

Resolution: 1366 x 768 (100 ppi)

CPU: Intel Celeron N3060 dual-core (1.6 GHz)

GPU: Integrated Intel HD graphics 400

RAM: 4 GB (up to 8 GB max)

Storage: 500 GB HDD

Connectivity: WiFi, 2 x USB, audio, HDMI, network, SD card

Best features: Ergonomics 7/10 | Hardware 7/10 | Performance 7/10     

Worst features: Connectivity 5/10 | Battery life 5/10 | Screen quality 5.5/10     

Overall score: 6.1


In conclusion

When it comes to pure portability, the Asus Vivobook E402NA is the obvious choice as a direct result of its compact size and low weight. In addition, the device features relatively modern hardware specifications, decent build quality and a screen that’s likely to please most users. Its 14-inch size, however, does negatively impact the device’s ergonomics. Anybody that won’t mind a slightly larger notebook
will find the HP 250 G6 to be a sure shot. It offers tons of connectivity options, and offers good build and screen quality, as well as solid performance.

The tested Acer and Lenovo models ultimately come with too many downsides and subsequently aren’t capable of delivering the best value for money. Dell’s Inspiron 3552 features adequate battery life, build quality and performance yet falls short in terms of connectivity, ergonomics and screen quality.

1. HP 250 G6 - 6.9/10

2. Asus Vivobook E402NA - 6.7/10

3. Dell's Inspiron 3552 - 6.5/10

4. Lenovo IdeaPad 110 - 6.1/10

5. Acer Extensa EX2519-C3WB - 5.8/10

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