Clark Howard: Good laptops start at just $199

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If you’re looking for a cheap laptop, now is the time thanks to a three-way horse race between Apple, Google and Microsoft.
Laptops are back in after having gone unloved the last few years as people fawned over tablets. Today it’s the tablets that are old news.
For proof positive of that statement, just look at MicroCenter, which is selling the Asus Memo 7-inch tablet for $59 and the iPad Mini for $199.
The expectations of what you get with a laptop have changed over time. Laptops are all about productivity. Tablets are used primarily for content delivery, meaning they’re basically just play machines.
That’s really stratified the market. At the top end, you have the Mac Book Air for a street price of anywhere from $800 to $1,000. It’s a superior device with decent battery life that offers quick entry to the Internet.
The big gap at the lower end is being filled in by Google’s Chromebook and a new entry from Microsoft.
Chromebooks initially were lame, but now they’re fantastic. They’re simple, fast and cheap. $199 buys you a very good Chromebook. They have decent battery life, you can get on the Internet quickly and they’re easy to travel with.
Microsoft has been forgotten through all of this. At a time when they needed a big hit, Windows 8 was an unmitigated disaster. So now they’re trying again with the HP Stream laptop for $199.
The HP Stream is built to do the kind of things an Air or Chromebook does, but it gives you a Microsoft Office subscription for a year. This gives you the ability to use programs even when not connected to the Internet.
The price gap between Apple and both of these competitors is gigantic. We’re talking $800 vs. $200!

Clark Howard — Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs — for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

Consumer expert Clark Howard’s column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Find more answers to your consumer questions at Clark’s website

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