The 13 best planners for staying organized in 2021, including tips and tricks from experts

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Person writing in planner using a ballpoint pen. Photo cropped to only show hand and planner.
  • A planner is an all-in-one productivity tool for writing down events, to-do lists, and goals.
  • Planners come in all varieties, from dated and undated to daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.
  • The best planner is a personal choice, whether it’s small and undetailed or big and densely packed.

Paper planners are calendars that help you keep track of tasks, appointments, ideas, and so on. They let you see the week or month all at once, in a clear and legible way. But no planner is one-size-fits-all: The best planner for you might be unsuitable for someone else’s needs.

Picking a planner comes down to personal preference, whether you like to schedule things down to the minute or just jot a few weekly notes. Many have space for notes, to-do lists, and other tasks. Some people want a balance of enough space for their jottings but in a book that can easily fit in their backpack.

Planner styles get even more detailed, and we break down the ways to choose what’s right for you at the end of this guide. We talked to two stationery store owners and a productivity expert to get their advice on how to pick a planner.

“There’s lots of different, great planners, and it just kind of depends on thinking about how you want to plan your week and how you want to visualize your week,” said Jeremy Crown, who co-owns Little Otsu, a paper store in Portland, Oregon.

Whatever style of planner you prefer, you’ll be able to find something in the list below. Keep in mind that manufacturers often make their planners in several styles and sizes, and we try to reflect that in the list.

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Here are the best planners

Apica CD Free Monthly Planner

Apica Schedule Book Planner open page to schedule.

The Apica CD Free Monthly Planner is very affordable, with minimal frills.

Basic but very functional, Apica’s monthly planner has 32 pages, a cardstock cover, and thread binding. It’s undated, so you can pick it up and start scheduling any part of the year. There are 16 sheets of monthly calendars (one month stretches over two pages), plus another 15 pages of grid paper. There are also a couple of pages for a yearly overview. If you don’t need a super-detailed calendar but still want something with nice paper and an affordable price, the Apica is a great option. 

BestSelf Co. the Self Journal

BestSelf Journal open on desk with a pen on it, with various desk items like sunglasses, a wallet, and plant to the side.

The Self Journal from BestSelf is geared toward quarterly planning, with daily, intensive options for tracking your goals.

If you’re looking for a lot of structure and prompts, the Self Journal might be right for you. It has pages of tasks and templates to guide your goal-setting. While undated, it’s only meant to last 13 weeks, so you won’t have a full year at your fingertips. The idea, though, is to break the year down into chunks and do the same for daunting projects. There are spaces to fill out what you’re grateful for, goals, and targets. 

With 240 pages, the size is fairly portable, and it has a hardcover. The paper is also fountain-pen friendly.

Bloom Daily Planner

Bloom Daily Planners

The Bloom Daily Planner comes in many versions to suit many styles, all with plenty of supplemental sheets for tracking progress.

Bloom’s planners are full of lists and charts for you to fill out and help you figure out how to schedule the year ahead. There are vision boards and habit-tracking options included. You can also sign up for additional, downloadable sheets for bill tracking, meal planning, and so on. 

The nice thing about Bloom is that it has almost countless options for getting exactly what you want. The planners come in both softcover and hardcover options, and there are several planner layouts to choose from. For teachers, there are undated versions, as well as ones that start in July. If you have a wedding or new baby on the horizon, there are planners for that, too.

Clever Fox Non-Dated Daily Planner

Clever Fox Planner opened with two hands and one is holding a pen to write in it.

With a full page for each day, the Clever Fox Non-Dated Daily Planner gives you space for your packed schedule or brainstorming sessions.

Clever Fox‘s daily planner has scads of room for those with busy days — or anyone who likes to doodle and brainstorm in their calendars. Each day of the week has its own page, with space to schedule from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. There are also prompts for weekly goals (both work and personal priorities) and productivity tracking. The planner also comes with stickers to help you personalize your pages. With a sturdy cover in colors from black to rose gold to royal blue, it should be easy enough to find one that matches your style. 

In addition to the daily version — which is only for six months — there are weekly options that have space for a full year. If you want a larger planner, the pro version measures 8.5 by 11 inches. 

Cultivate What Matters Powersheets Goal Planner

Cultivate What Matters Powersheets open on a table with a blue pen to the side.

From Cultivate What Matters, the PowerSheets Goal Planner has lots of prompts to keep you on track and inspired.

Getting started with PowerSheets is a bit of a commitment; it can take a couple of hours to fully fill out your goal sheets. There are also video explainers to help you check all the boxes. The planner is hefty and sturdy and should have no problem lasting the year. There are 160 pages, with the months spread over two pages. There are also two pages per month for monthly, weekly, and daily ideas and action items. PowerSheets aren’t made for day-to-day notes but are more for bigger-picture projects and goals. 

There are lots of stickers and a pastel palette, which won’t appeal to everyone. 

Day Designer Daily Planner for Blue Sky

Day Designer Planner for Blue Sky open to a page to write in.

A thorough planner with lots of room for notes, the Day Designer Daily Planner for Blue Sky is great for people with busy days or lengthy to-do lists.

Usually, Day Designer planners are $59, but the Blue Sky collaboration version is $28. The Blue Sky planner does have lower-quality paper and a flexible cover that may not stand up to wear and tear as well as a hardcover. The day has a 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. schedule, along with room for to-do lists. At the top and bottom are boxes for gratitude, your “top three” important items, and notes for the night. 

If you have a larger budget and prefer a daily calendar, Day Designer’s flagship planner has a page dedicated to each weekday, with a single page for weekends. 

2021-2022 Academic Year Daily & Monthly Planner (small)
Field Notes 56-Week Planner

Field Notes 56 Week Planner flipped open to write on a blank planning sheet.

Robust yet portable, the Field Notes 56-Week Planner is a great low-priced choice that still lasts a full year.

Compact yet rugged enough to toss in a backpack, Field Notes‘ 56-week planner is no-frills but fully functional. Each week gets two pages, with Saturday and Sunday sharing space. They’re undated, so you can start anytime, miss a couple weeks, and pick back up without wasting pages. As the name suggests, you get space for over a year, with 112 pages total. 

At less than $20, it’s one of the more affordable planners on the list, though we wish there were a few options for the cover. 

Happy Planner

Happy Planner faced open on a desk with two pens on the right page.

Happy Planner has lots of customization options, including layout and length.

Happy Planner is all about making its products work for you, so there are quite a few ways to customize your planner. It offers horizontal, vertical, and dashboard layouts, as well as a few different sizes and undated options. You can also buy plenty of stickers to add more flair. The covers tend to be pastel, boldly colored, or Disney-themed, so it might be hard to find something more understated. We also like the planner’s discbound binding, which is like a three-ring binder you don’t have to open and close.

Happy Planners are popular with teachers, and they offer 18-month versions that start in July. 

Classic Planner (12-Month) (small)
Panda Planner

Person looking at their Panda Planner with pen in hand and coffee to the left.

The Panda Planner is meant to be hyper-focused on a three-month period, with daily tracking.

The classic version of the Panda Planner is undated, with room for three months of daily tracking. There are also weekly and monthly sections. The planner is designed for those who need lots of on-page support, with boxes for morning and end-of-day reviews, habit tracking, and priorities. Each day gets a two-page spread, and they’re undated, so you can skip weekends if you want something more work-focused. The cover and interior designs are less flowery than many other planners on the list, which may be a positive or negative, depending on what you like. 

Panda Planners also come in undated, six-month and dated, full-year versions.

Passion Planner

Passion Planner faced open on a desk.

Designed with motivation in mind, the Passion Planner has a few layouts to help you follow through with your goals.

The Passion Planner is focused on motivation and helping you achieve your yearly goals. The weekly version has places for you to note what you’re focusing on and good things that happened. The layout is vertical, so keep that in mind if you prefer a horizontal setup. There are a few styles to choose from, including undated daily and weekly layouts. On the website, you can choose whether you want your planner’s week to begin on Sunday or Monday. Small, medium, and large sizes are available, with the biggest being a bit larger than a standard sheet of paper. 

If buying a Passion Planner doesn’t fit into your budget, the site has downloadable content that you can print and fit into a regular, three-ring binder. There are also digital versions available. 

Rhodia Webplanner

Rhodia Webplanner

With nice paper and a stylish design, the Rhodia Webplanner may appeal to those looking for a mix of structure and freeform planning.

Rhodia is a French notebook company with a trademark orange and black scheme, so there aren’t a ton of color options. Unfussy, with a faux leather cover and nice paper, the Webplanner gives room for a weekly schedule on one page and a grid for notes on the right. It’s a nice compromise for those who like bullet journaling but want a little more structure. 

Quo Vadis Weekly Business Planner

Qua Vadis Business Planner open to pages.

Good quality yet affordable, the Quo Vadis Weekly Business Planner is a no-nonsense way to keep tabs on your weekly to-dos.

A well-designed, pocket-sized planner from Quo Vadis, it has a textured, faux leather cover. It’s helpful to go on the Quo Vadis website because it lays out all the options available for its planners: academic or calendar year; daily, weekly, or monthly format; and small, medium, or large size. The planner’s weekly layout is vertical, with scheduling space from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. There are large squares on the right page for extra notes. The cover comes in several colors, and you can also find the planner in faux suede or smooth faux leather options. 

Though there isn’t a lot of extra space for habit tracking, the back of the planner does have some space for personal notes and a map of the world’s time zones. 

Wit & Delight Stay on Track Desktop Notepad

Wit and Delight Desktop Planner faced open with hands and a pen in one hand.

Portable planners aren’t for everyone, so the Wit & Delight Stay on Track Desktop Notepad is a great (big) way to jot down notes, appointments, and the like.

If you want a planner that you can’t ignore, this desk version from Wit & Delight is a good option. It’s undated, with 180 sheets. Each page has vertical space for Monday through Friday. There aren’t Saturday and Sunday spots, but there’s a “home life” box that could work for weekend activities. There are also places for notes, projects, and big picture items. 

How to choose a planner

There are an overwhelming number of planner types. “I used to try to just stock as many as possible because it’s such a personal thing,” said Chandra Greer, who owns Greer, a stationery store in Chicago, Illinois.

She eventually realized it was impossible to cover every base and now just selects functional, quality options, knowing they might not be the right fit for everyone. “I’m more interested in the function of it,” she said. “Is the layout useful? Is the layout well-designed? Is the paper great? Is it something that is going to withstand being your daily friend for 365 days?” 

To find out what will work for you, you can start by considering what qualities are most important to you. “I think if you sort of start with, ‘What is it that I want to use this for?’ that gives you a good starting point,” said Alexandra Cavoulacos, founder of The Muse and author of “The New Rules of Work“.  You can start with format — daily, weekly, or monthly — and overall length. Do you want to keep it to a few months for a specific project, or would you prefer something that gets you through a month or even longer? 

Daily, weekly, monthly

For some people, a planner is merely a portable calendar, Cavoulacos said. “They want to know where they need to be, when they have a doctor’s appointment, those sort of things,” she said. Other people want to track projects and create to-do lists. The amount of detail per day will start to dictate how much space you need. “There’s a hundred ways somebody might schedule their day,” said Greer. Some people need an hour-by-hour breakdown. If you’re mostly making to-do lists, a weekly calendar might work. If it’s more about keeping tabs on a few appointments, monthly might work. 

“It’s all about what works for you,” said Cavoulacos. 

Dated or undated

There are many reasons you might decide to buy an undated calendar. “People might decide on March 28th, they want a planner,” said Greer. “But if a planner is dated, they’re already three months through the year.” With an undated planner, they can get more bang for the buck by having it carry them through the next March. 

Another reason might be you know yourself to be a fickle planner user. If you keep it undated, you can always pick up where you left off without wasting days’ worth of paper. People working on a big project, planning a wedding, or focusing on a specific goal might also prefer an undated planner, for more flexibility or to keep everything contained in one book. 

Months or years

Some hyper-focused, daily planners will only last a few months. It helps keep them from being too bulky and cumbersome. Others are much bigger picture, with five-year plans. In between, there are standard yearly planners and academic versions, which tend to start in the summer or early fall. 

The only thing that might stop you from buying an academic planner in January is that most manufacturers don’t have the current year’s available, so you’re better off waiting a few months for that. 

Horizontal or vertical

You’ll often see weekly planners arranged with each week covering two pages and the days spread out horizontally or vertically. When someone comes into Little Otsu looking for a planner, co-owner Jeremy Crown first asks, “Are you more of a task-oriented planner?” He thinks people with detailed schedules or long to-do lists will prefer the column format of vertical layouts. Those who like making notes or doodling might like the horizontal layout better. 

Some planners use a “dashboard” view, with a week or day on one page and the other dedicated to habit trackers, gratitude prompts, and other fill-in-the-blanks. 

Size

Doctors, nurses, and chefs always want pocket-sized notebooks and planners, said Crown. You might want something big enough to hold your sprawling handwriting but small enough to carry around in your purse or messenger bag. Many planner makers will offer at least a couple of choices when it comes to size. 

Minimalist or full of prompts 

Planner aesthetic ranges from very barebones to packed with extras. What you like is completely personal. You’ll find plenty of basic books with a plain cover and just the calendars. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can get a planner with quotes, charts, and check-ins. You may want something in between, with a pretty cover but few internal embellishments. 

“You want your planner to inspire you, whatever that means for you,” Cavoulacos said. That could mean a simple planner with zero distractions, she said, or something with quotes and your horoscope that makes you look forward to opening the book every day. “I do think the sort of aesthetic piece, the inspiration piece, is also something that shouldn’t be forgotten,” she said.  

If you do want something more stripped down, Greer suggests looking to Japanese planner makers. “You’re not going to see little flower illustrations and little quotes and 85 pages of guided journal meditation,” she said. “They keep it very simple. They’re very serious about it.” 

Both Greer and Cavoulacos point out that you can add your own quotes and personalizations to even the most minimalist planner, as long as there’s space. “It could become more of a person’s little command center,” said Greer. 

Paper quality

For some, the quality of a planner’s paper isn’t really a factor. There are a few things to know, though. Two Halloween-ish-sounding words that are useful to know, stationery-wise, are bleeding and ghosting. Bleeding is when the ink leaks through. Ghosting is when you flip the paper over and can see what’s written, even though it hasn’t actually bled through. “Good paper, whether it’s thin or thick, doesn’t ghost,” Crown said. 

In many countries, fountain pen use is much more widespread than in the United States. The paper made there reflects that. “As a general rule, Japanese paper tends to be softer and smoother, and American paper is kind of the roughest — or we’d say the toothiest — and Europe’s kind of in the middle,” Crown said. 

“Fountain pen usage is a really big factor,” Greer said. “It’s probably the number one question we get about any of our notebooks and planners, ‘Is the paper fountain pen friendly?’ and not all papers are.” If paper quality is high on your list of importance, Greer suggests taking a close look at who makes a planner. 

“I definitely gravitate towards manufacturers who have a background in paper,” she said. “So they’re not so much about being a planner company. They’re about a notebook/paper company that has planners.” Some of the manufacturers that make planners with excellent paper include Midori, Paperways, High Tide, and Kokuyo Jibun Techo, she said.  

Cover

Even if you’re not into paper, you’ll want to pay attention to the cover’s material. Hardcovers will stand up to more wear and tear than softcovers. “Sometimes people will trade off that durability for something that doesn’t cost very much so, but definitely people are expecting, when they purchase a planner, that it’s going to get through the whole year and not look like it was run over by a truck,” Greer said. 

Binding 

It’s important that planners lie flat since you’re writing in them. Many are spiral bound, but others are stitch bound. Either will let you write on them, but you can flip one side of the book behind the other with a spiral binding. “A lot of people are kind of indifferent between spiral and stitch bound now, as long as it lies flat because that’s really what they’re looking for,” Greer said. 

Discbound is similar to spiral-bound, but it’s a bit different. The pages in a discbound book can be easily removed and put back in, but you don’t have to open the discs, as you would with a three-ring binder. Instead, there are little notches in the paper that fit around the disc. It makes planners more customizable because you can quickly and easily move pages from one section to another. 

Another concern with the binding is whether it will keep the planner together for the whole year. Some glued-in pages might not hold out as well. “If you have something that’s stitch bound or spiral, it’s very sturdy for the long haul,” Greer said.

Bullet journaling 

Bullet journaling is a system of tracking and tackling tasks, goals, and projects. It can be used with basically any notebook, but it’s not for everyone. “I think for some people you want the prompt and you want the structure to guide you because you’re not exactly sure how to organize everything,” Cavoulacos said. 

“There’s a lot of stationery enthusiasts in the United States, and so there’s all these different subcultures with people who are really into making their own space on paper,” Crown said. “And that’s what bullet journaling is perfect for.” 

If you’ve never tried it, you can either start with an ordinary notebook you have lying around. There are also plenty of hybrid options, with calendars and space for notes or bullet journaling. 

Extras

There might be some little perks with certain planners that might be deal-makers for you. Maybe you want a front pocket to keep extra papers. Perhaps you prefer a planner with an elastic band to help keep it closed. 

If the extra that’s most attractive to you is stickers, keep in mind that you can probably buy them separately.  

Why not just use your phone as a digital planner?

“I don’t necessarily think a planner is for everybody, just like any particular productivity hack or tool,” Cavoulacos said. There are plenty of people who prefer to keep their calendars and notes strictly digital, and getting a paper planner might not make sense for them. 

If you’re on the fence, she suggests asking yourself what’s attractive about a paper planner. “I think for a lot of people it’s slowing down, right?” Cavoulacos said. “It’s like the lack of distraction. It’s the moments to think, to cross things off — the satisfaction of crossing things off.” 

Greer said she went through a few years where not many people were buying planners. Now she’s seeing more customers who want something physical to carry around and write in. She even gets tech workers buying them. “They’re saying that their schedule’s more accessible to them in some ways, in terms of getting the big picture, if they’re using a physical book,” Greer said. 

For Crown, it’s more personal than a phone calendar. “It’s your life in a book,” he said. “That’s kind of what’s special about them. The end of the year, you have this book that was like, this is what I did. That’s something that the phone doesn’t do that well.” 

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The 5 best twin XL sheets for your college dorm in 2021

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  • For college students, the dorm room will be their home-away-from-home, and great sheets are a must.
  • Most twin XL dorm beds are 80 inches long, which is five inches longer than a standard twin.
  • Beyond buying the right size, look for sheets that are budget-friendly, durable, and comfortable.

No matter how late you stay up in college, eventually, you’re going to want to catch up on some much-needed shut-eye. With a set of cozy, comfortable, and colorful sheets, you can create a restful sleeping setup that’s also reflective of your style and personality.

Though the decorating of your dorm room might not be as crucial as choosing a major or registering for classes, that small space will be your home for at least a year, if not more, so you want to create a welcoming atmosphere.

This may also be the first time you get to pick out bedding for yourself, rather than living with what your parents chose or what was handed down from someone else’s bed. It’s a great opportunity to define and execute your own personal style, and learn what kind of bedding materials, patterns, and colors you like.

Make sure to read your dorm information and note the measurements of the bed. Almost all dorm rooms have an 80-inch extra-long twin mattress – 5 inches longer than a standard twin. Extra-long and standard twin mattresses are both 39 inches wide.

Here are the best twin XL sheets in 2021

The best twin XL sheets overall

two coral color pillows on top of target threshold sheets the best twin xl sheets overall 2021

Also our top pick for the best budget sheets, the Threshold Performance sheets are silky smooth, with deep pockets that fit well on a twin XL bed and durable construction to last many washes. 

Pros: Great fit, OEKO-Tex certified, good thread count

Cons: May show body oils more easily, smells bad out of the package 

Target’s Threshold sheets are smooth, soft, and silky, made from materials that usually match the specs of sheets four times the price. You might be disappointed to find they’re not actually wrinkle-resistant, as advertised, but they’re great otherwise — both comfortable and durable. 

One of their most notable features is the deep fitted sheet. There’s extra stretch built into the corners of the sheet, helping it cling to any twin XL mattress and reduce fabric bunching. There’s also a top and bottom label to further speed up the process of making your bed. 

Compared to other sheets we’ve tested, the Threshold set traps body oils readily and can develop a greasy feel if you don’t wash it often. This drawback provides a lesson in a good bedkeeping habit you should keep for life: wash your sheets every one to two weeks. 

Luckily, after many washes, you shouldn’t have any pilling or durability issues. Just make sure to wash them before your first use, since they smell bad initially. 

The best flannel twin XL sheets

red pinzon flannel sheets the best flannel twin xl sheets 2021

Pinzon’s thick flannel sheets will keep you warm and cozy on a cold winter night or in a chilly dorm room without making you overheat. 

Pros: Plush and heavyweight, breathable

Cons: Produces a lot of dryer lint, limited color selection, pillowcases run small 

Our favorite flannel sheets are the velvety soft and thick Pinzon sheets. From the first use, they’re soft and immensely cozy, giving you the feeling that you’re snuggling in a mountainside cabin, even if your reality is a rickety bunk bed in a tiny triple dorm room.

Once your winter quarter or semester starts, it’s a good idea to switch over to these heavy and comforting flannel sheets. They’re very warm, but never itchy, uncomfortable, unbreathable, or stifling. I personally felt like I slept better and deeper because of how warm and comfortable they were. The Pinzon sheets are exactly the kind of bedding you want when you’re away from home and acclimating to a new environment.

The pillowcases can be a tight fit if you use high-loft pillows, so we’d recommend getting smaller pillows if you want to buy these flannel sheets. 

Like the Threshold sheets above, you’ll want to wash them before first use since they have a slight chemical smell. And, be prepared for a lot of dryer lint. The amount of lint will eventually go down over time after more washes. 

The best jersey twin XL sheets

amazonbasics sheets

If you love the comfy feel of your favorite t-shirt, then soft jersey sheets like the ones from AmazonBasics are for you. 

Pros: Cozy, soft fabric, good color selection

Cons: Might be a little thin, may not fit deep mattresses 

Jersey-knit sheets are sometimes called t-shirt sheets, as they are made from the same type of soft, slightly stretchy, just-a-little-bit-fuzzy fabric as your favorite garments.

AmazonBasics’ Heather Jersey Sheet Set is made of modestly woven jersey knit and 100% cotton, which, for all that dorm life may put them through, should serve you or your beloved offspring perfectly well for the duration of college.

The sheets are also a good option due to their ability to keep from pilling. Many reviewers say they’ve had the sheets for more than a year and seen little or no wear in the fabric at all, which is pretty good for jersey sheets at any price.

The best colorful twin XL sheets

twin bed with blue nestl microfiber sheets the best color options for twin xl sheets 2021

Available in more than 40 eye-catching colors, the Nestl sheets are the best way to showcase your style and add some life to your dorm room. 

Pros: Large range of colors and sizes, soft brushed feel

Cons: Not suitable for those sensitive to synthetic fabrics 

Quality and comfort are important, but it’s not too much to ask for some sheets that also look great. From mellow yellows and creams to vibrant jewel tones, Nestl offers colors for all kinds of dorm room aesthetics. 

The microfiber sheets are double brushed for extra softness, and they’re cozy yet breathable. Plus, they’ll retain their color and durability after many washes. 

The other great aspect of the Nestl sheets is they come in many sizes, so if you loved them during college, you can continue buying them even once you’ve upgraded bed sizes. For the twin XL size, there’s also an extra deep option. The regular twin XL should fit mattresses up to 16 inches deep. 

The best premium twin XL sheets

person laying under brooklinen luxe sateen sheets the best premium twin xl sheets 2021

The Brooklinen Luxe Core Sheets are buttery-soft, luxurious, and fairly priced, even though they’re the most expensive of our picks for twin XL sheets.

Pros: Super soft, lots of color and pattern options

Cons: Shorter mattress depth, pricey

If you want to have luxurious sheets during your time in college, look no further than Brooklinen’s Luxe Core Sheets. One of the best sheets we’ve ever tried, they’re buttery soft right out of the package and only get softer over time. 

The sheets are an ongoing favorite at the team because they’re made from high-quality materials but cost a fraction of luxury brands. Even though they’re likely a splurge for college students, they’re worth the investment because of the thoughtful design and long-lasting construction. There are labels for the long and short sides of the fitted sheet, and it’s made from long-staple cotton, which is softer and stronger than cheap, short-staple cotton. 

We also love that its colors and patterns are sophisticated yet fun, unlike some twin XL sheet sets that look cheap and childish. 

See more bedding guides for your dorm room

patterned bed in a loft best twin xl sheets 2021
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The best futons for under $500

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  • Futons are space-saving pieces of furniture that you can use as a couch or bed.
  • If your home has limited space, buying a futon is an easy way to add a seating and sleeping area.
  • The Jerry Sales Excelsior Futon is our top pick; it works well as a pull-out bed and couch.

Futons were made for small living spaces and are perfect for putting up overnight guests. The trick with picking out a futon is finding one that works as well as a couch as it does a bed. That’s especially the case when you’re trying to find a futon online, without testing it out first.

Despite their reputation as starter furniture, you can find some quality futons without spending more than you would on a couch. When picking a futon, think about how it will be used. Different futons are better suited for different tasks.

  • Sitting: If the futon will primarily be used as a couch and only occasionally as a guest bed, look for a model that has legs, armrests, and a backrest that’s part of the frame for the most comfort. Also look for one with fewer ridges, which sometimes offer more support in the bed position but can be uncomfortable as a seat.
  • Sleeping: Some futons take up a lot of floor space when they’re unfolded. If you plan to regularly use the futon as a bed, you’ll need to have clear space around it. You don’t want to put it in a spot where you constantly have to move other furniture to unfold it. You’ll also want to look for a thick and comfortable mattress, along with a supportive frame.
  • Mixture: If the futon will be used for both sitting and sleeping equally, look for one that’s easy to convert from couch to bed and back again. Loveseat-style futons, which feature leg extensions that fold into the frame, tend to provide the most versatility considering how little floor space they take up, according to Futonland.

We’ve spent a dozen hours reading professional reviews, and below are our picks for futons in the under-$500 range.

Here are the best futons you can buy:

The best futon overall

best futon overall under $500 2021 jerry sales excelsior espresso

You’ll pay a bit extra for the Jerry Sales Excelsior Futon, but it’s an extremely sturdy and comfortable piece of furniture for both sitting and sleeping.

Pros: High-quality frame and comfortable mattress, several mattress colors available, full-size mattress, excellent back and neck support, large couch

Cons: Assembly is a complicated process, may be too large for some dorm rooms, comparatively pricey

If your budget can accommodate it, one of the most comfortable futons for less than $500 is the Jerry Sales Excelsior Futon

This model uses an eight-inch thick innerspring mattress that offers plenty of support for sleeping. It’s a full-size mattress, which your overnight guests will appreciate. The couch is 80 inches long. As such, it may be better suited to an apartment than a dorm.

The wood frame includes armrests and good back support, making the Excelsior excellent for sitting, too. Several mattress colors are available to match the look of your apartment or dorm room. There are a few different wood stains available for each frame as well.

You can expect to spend some time on assembly with this futon, but for a futon with this kind of build quality, the extra effort is well worth it. 

The best small futon

best small stylish futon under $500 2021 Kodiak Futon Lounger

If you need a small futon for a dorm room that’s also stylish, the Kodiak Futon Lounger is a great pick.

Pros: Numerous color choices, should fit in many dorm rooms, can be set up as a lounger in addition to a bed or couch

Cons: Not much back or neck support as a couch, sleeper mattress is only 32 inches wide, thinner than some futon mattresses

If you want a splash of style in your dorm room or small apartment, the Kodiak Futon Lounger is the perfect answer.

This futon works better as a small sofa than as a bed because when the mattress folds out, it only measures 32 inches in width and 79 inches in length. If you mostly need it for seating, or your guests are comfortable with the limited amount of sleeping space, it’s a great pick.

The back cushions remain in place when you turn this futon into a bed, while the sides fold down, so you could choose to leave one side upright to create a lounger. 

The mattress is almost six inches thick, so you may not want to sleep on it night after night. You also might want to place the futon against a wall for support when using it as a couch, as the back cushions don’t provide significant support. 

The futon is small, too, measuring only 66 inches in width, so it’ll fit well in most dorm rooms. It’s not really made for more than two people to use at once, which makes it less than ideal for dorm life.

The best Japanese futon

best Japanese futon under $500 2021 fuli's futons

Fuli’s futons come in sizes from twin to king and roll up to fit in your closet.

Pros: Affordable, storable

Cons: Not a ton of support, not a couch

Despite its association with a slatted, fold-out sofa stateside, a futon, which is a Japanese word, is by definition a quilted mattress that rolls out on the floor and is used as a bed. Japanese futons are portable, storable, and often much more practical than their American counterparts, especially in smaller spaces.

The Fuli Shiki futon is a three-layer piece made of 100% cotton fabric and 100% polyester stuffing. The queen size weighs only 10 pounds and can fold to 27 by 37 by 3.5 inches, which means it should fit in most closets and beneath most beds and couches.

It’s a pretty simple, quilted pad, which you’ll either put directly on the floor or atop a tatami mat. We recommend the tatami mat, both to add a little support and to keep your futon clean.

Keep in mind, though, that this is not a US-style futon and doesn’t double as a couch. It does not have foam, it does not have coils, and it will not offer significant support. It will, however, save you space and put up a friend or two in a pinch.

How to choose a futon

Once you’ve figured out how you plan to use the futon, you can home in on the specific features you want. Do you want to deal with a frame? Do you want a sofa? The options are endless, but here a few key considerations to keep in mind when shopping.

  • Bifold mattress: Most futon mattresses are bifold cushions, meaning they fold once when used in the couch setup. However, a few cushions are trifold, which can be a little trickier to set up and use.
  • Easy to clean: Pick a futon mattress that has an easy-to-clean surface material. Using a removable futon cover is a good solution because it’s easy to throw in a washing machine.
  • Frame construction: For a futon that’s easier to move around, it’s helpful if the frame can be taken apart for transport and reassembled later. This can be especially handy if you’re moving a lot.
  • Frame materials: Futons are available with wood or metal frames. Overstock says metal frames offer more durability than wood frames and are typically less expensive, making them perfect for dorm rooms. Wood futons often fit better into the décor of a room and can be more comfortable. If you do spring for wood, you may want to spend more than $500; the cheap particle board that’s often used doesn’t hold up well over time.
  • Innerspring coils: For the most comfortable sleep, a futon mattress with innerspring coils inside — similar to a traditional bed mattress — is the right choice. Some futon mattresses are filled with foam or cotton batting, which isn’t as supportive. 
  • Size: You can buy futons in a variety of mattress sizes, based on your sleeping needs. Futon Life offers a great list of futon mattress measurements to help you decide what works best for you.
  • Weight: If you want to move the futon and mattress regularly from room to room, you don’t want a heavy frame. Innerspring coil mattresses are heavier than their foam counterparts. 

What else we considered

best futons for under $500 2021 target room essentials futon sofa

Room Essentials Futon Sofa: While this futon sofa looks like it could tie any room together, it just doesn’t seem to be built well enough for our recommendation. It’s made with inexpensive wood and assembled rather simply. It also may not be as sturdy as some futon mattresses since it lacks springs.

If you do go for this option, just make sure you assemble it well and tighten the fittings regularly. The particle-board frame will otherwise be prone to giving way. We recommend this if it’s something you’re planning on tossing in a year or two, but you can find better, especially if you’re willing to shop for used furniture.

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We spent weeks researching mini fridges – these are the 4 best ones in 2021

  • Mini fridges are great for the office, wet bar, or dorm, and you can use them as extra kitchen storage.
  • We like Midea’s 1.6 Cubic Foot model for its compact design, reversible door, and freezer compartment.
  • We spoke with mechanical engineers and refrigerator repair professionals, and took several fridges apart to determine our picks.

A mini fridge can be a convenient addition to the office, home office, garage, or anywhere else you care to have a chilled six-pack or assortment of snacks and soft drinks at the ready.

We spoke with several refrigeration experts, including the folks at Liberty Home Guard, to find out what makes a good mini fridge, what to avoid, and how to take care of one in order to ensure it lasts for years to come. (Pro tips: Keep it clean inside and out, don’t block vents, and position it at least three inches out from the wall). You can read more about our research and methodology here.

When shopping for mini fridges, the most important features to consider are shelf configurations (and adjustability), design aesthetics, and whether or not you want a freezer. If you only plan to store beverages in your mini fridge, you may prefer one specifically designed for holding cans, or one with a glass door so you don’t have to open it every time you want to peruse your inventory.

Mini fridges, it turns out, aren’t generally built to last the way that full-sized ones are, so keep in mind that a good one will need to be replaced around the five year mark, depending on how much you use it.

Here are the best mini fridges of 2021

Our methodology

Selection of mini fridges at a store

While writing this guide, we spoke to David Moreno, a New York City-based refrigerator technician with Liberty Home Guard, and also chatted with a mechanical engineer, and a sales associate at The Home Depot. We even disassembled a few mini fridges ourselves to compare their parts, because, as Moreno said, “what I see with mini fridges is a lot of these manufacturers find a factory that produces them, and license out the name. They’re produced in bulk using really cheap components, but they do come at a great price point.” To that point, we found that the four fridges we disassembled used parts from two manufacturers, both from the same province in China. 

Based on what we learned from the experts, and our own experience as consumers (we’ve owned over a dozen models), we decided on our recommendations based on the following criteria:

Design: Because most mini fridges essentially have the same components, design is an important consideration. Simplicity is key; as with any fridge, the more complex, the more that can go wrong, according to Moreno.

Our overall pick is the most versatile mini fridge we could find, with room for everything from cans and condiments to takeout boxes, as well as a pint of ice cream or a couple of ice trays in the freezer section. 

Size: Within the realm of mini fridges, there are many sizes. Consider what you’re going to store, and how much of it. Our recommendations run the gamut from 1.1 to 4.4 cubic feet, which is about as large as they get before being too bulky to fit under a counter or desk.

Configuration: It’s important to determine what your mini fridge is going to hold — and how much space those things require — before making a purchase. Removable and adjustable shelves are preferred, and we paid attention to fridges that had both.

Usage: The fewer times you open and close a fridge, the less you engage the compressor, and the longer the fridge lasts. I personally have an EdgeStar fridge that’s in its sixteenth year, but I only open it every week or so, and often not for months at a time. I also have a Magic Chef model that gets about the same amount of use. It’s over five years old, and it’s doing just fine, save for some mild clicking once in a while. 

Price: While most mini fridges worth recommending fall within the $200 – $400 range, we did consider budget options, particularly for those who don’t plan on using their fridge too often. Since all mini fridges have a lifespan of about three to five years, spending a lot of money on one doesn’t make much sense, with the exception of built-in options, which require more of an investment. We’re researching built-ins for our next update, but for now, Moreno suggests a Whirlpool model.

The best mini fridge overall

Midea 1.6 cf mini fridge

The Midea 1.6-Cubic-Foot model has a chiller, a shelf, and stores just the right amount of food and beverages for most mini fridge needs.

A mini fridge is most often auxiliary, and in offices and dorms where space is a premium, the smaller the better. We also find that staying on the budget-friendly side makes more sense when it comes to mini fridges. According to the expert technicians we interviewed, alongside our own research pulling fridges apart, many brands license their name out to such a small number of manufacturers that there’s very little difference from one fridge to the next.

Midea’s 1.6-cubic-foot model is on the small (and affordable) side, but we find it’ll hold a couple of six-packs, a bottle or two of wine, and still leave room to spare for smaller items. If you’re solely relying on your mini fridge for all of your food and drink storage, you may want to upgrade to the 3.1-cubic-foot model (recommmended below), but choose what fits your space and your needs.

While it’s small, the 1.6 cubic foot model includes a chiller for making ice, and the simple wire-rack shelf is easy to pop in and out to clean. Another great feature is the reversible door, which isn’t as common as it should be.

Other than that, there are very few components to this fridge, and no flimsy plastic parts apart from the chiller door, which requires more delicate handling. 

The best mini fridge with a freezer

Midea 3.1 cubic feet mini fridge

A spiffier, larger version of Midea’s 1.6-Cubic-Foot model, the 3.1-Cubic-Foot mini fridge has a separate freezer and plenty of space designated for cans, food, and more.

A mini fridge with a separate freezer is great if you need to store ice cream, ice, or medication, and a well-thought-out freezer section makes this a great package for galley kitchens, dorms, and wet bars where you want to have all possible storage options.

Between the slick glass shelves (which we like because they don’t have any plastic pieces that could trap bacteria and grime), the can holder, a section on the door for two-liter bottles or wine bottles, and a space on top for butter or smaller items, this mini fridge is packed with features. Basically, you could easily live out of this fridge if you wanted.

There are a few reasons this fridge isn’t for everyone, though. If you don’t store 12-ounce cans, you might find that the can holder on the door becomes wasted space, and while most people agree that the freezer works well, some have found that temperature fluctuates above freezing. The back of the refrigerator compartment also tends to get colder, which you can use to your benefit by storing certain things toward the back and others toward the front, but it can also be a nuisance, depending on how you look at it.

All in all, this is a sufficient size and versatile configuration for studios and dorm rooms, and it’s especially handy for anyone who needs to store a decent amount of frozen goods. It’s also exceptionally easy to clean, which is always important.

The best convertible mini fridge

Avanti Dual Function Mini Fridge

Compact and versatile as a fridge or freezer, Avanti’s Dual Function mini fridge has a single shelf for easy storage and cleaning.

If you’re looking for a mini fridge that you can put to work in a pinch as either a fridge or a freezer, this is the easiest, most compact and stowable option around, and came recommended to us by the experts at Liberty Home Guard.

Note that if you do use this fridge as a freezer, you’ll want to be hypervigilant about condensation and be sure to get a good seal every time you open and close the door. This is basically destined to be a problem with most similar models, so it’s important to understand that you’re working with a very small, very inexpensively built appliance.

A lot of people build this fridge into their RVs because of its size, light weight (33 pounds compared to most others’ 40+ pounds), and versatility, as well as the fact that it can get well below zero degrees and store frozen foods. Some even end up purchasing two of these fridges to store side by side, using one as a fridge and one as a freezer.

The best mini fridge for drinks

NewAir 126-can mini fridge

A double-paned glass door and adjustable shelves for optimal drink organization make NewAir’s 126-can Mini Bar Beer Fridge a great pick for the home bar.

If you want a wet or mini bar fridge, look for a model with a (double-paned) glass door. This allows you to keep an eye on your inventory and not have to stand there with the door open while fishing around or deciding what you want. As we mentioned earlier, the longer and more often you open your mini fridge door, the more you overwork the poor little built-in compressor, and the faster you shorten the appliance’s life. 

NewAir refrigerators are built with the same compressors we found in Magic Chef mini fridges and others owned by Whirlpool. Again, because there are only a handful of big manufacturers, the parts are roughly the same, and so too is the quality. If you really want to step it up and are looking for a wine fridge, we have recommendations here.

Otherwise, NewAir offers multiple sizes (a 90-can as well as the 126-can model we recommend), a sleek stainless steel design, and five removable shelves so, yes, you can get that case of wine in there no problem, should you want to divide space differently.

FAQs

How do I care for a mini fridge?

According to David Moreno, a service technician with Liberty Home Guard, the most important thing is to keep the back of it (or any type of fridge) at least three inches away from the wall. In order for a compressor to do its job, it has to collect heat, and in order to run optimally, it has to have air to release that heat, otherwise it’s working double-time.

Also, make sure to keep your fridge clean inside and out. This includes dusting the back, and in particular dusting the coils. Keeping the fridge clean on the inside is important for your hygiene of course, but also the fridge’s. After some point, the wrong mix of spills and ensuing mold can start to damage the components.

And, to make sure you maintain a good seal with your gaskets, be sure to wipe the gaskets clean every month. The more a fridge leaks air, the more the compressor runs, and the more the compressor has to run, the shorter its lifespan will be.

Check out more kitchen guides

wine fridge 1
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The 5 best backpacks for students in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • A good school backpack serves as an all-in-one carrier for essentials, including a tablet and books.
  • Backpacks come in many styles, sizes, and materials and should be durable enough to last for years.
  • The best backpack for students of all ages is the long-lasting JanSport Big Student Backpack.

As a high school teacher, I’ve seen backpacks in all states of disrepair, so I know how important it is to find a bag that is durable enough to be used day in and day out.

For kids and teenagers, it’s much more about how the backpack looks than how functional it is, so the tough job as a parent is to find one that is durable and big enough for all your child’s school supplies and lunch box, but that also looks cool. In elementary school, I was jealous of my best friend who had her initials monogrammed on her backpack, and in high school, I was dying for a messenger bag. Functionality clearly wasn’t on the top of my priority list as a child.

If you find the right backpack, it can last your child quite a few years, but finding the right one is key. We’ve made the process a little bit easier for you with a few tips and some of our favorite backpacks.

To help you find the best backpacks for your kids, I combined my experience as a teacher and student with expert and buyer reviews. From backpacks for preschoolers to college kids, these bags will help your child start the school year on the right foot. Below, find tips for selecting a quality backpack in our “what to look” for explainer.

Here are the best backpacks for students in 2021

The best overall

jansport big backpack

The JanSport Big Student Backpack has many pockets, comes in an array of colors, and is durable for every student.

Pros: Spacious, durable, two main pockets, multiple side and front pockets, comes in many colors and prints

Cons: May be too big for very young kids, not machine washable

This backpack comes in fun colors and designs like galaxy or floral prints, as well as solid black, so whether your child wants to stand out with a fun print or just wants a plain backpack, this one will do the trick.

It includes a water bottle pocket on the side, two different main pockets, and three front pockets to hold smaller items. The ergonomic padded shoulder straps will help kids stay comfortable even while carrying their books, binders, and notebooks to and from class. It also includes a padded back and padded laptop compartment.

This backpack is great for younger kids and older adults alike, which is one of the reasons it’s our top overall pick. JanSport does not recommend machine washing their backpacks, but they do explain exactly how to clean them to maintain the shape and finish of the bag. It also offers a lifetime warranty on its backpacks, so you can send yours in for repairs. And if JanSport can’t repair your broken backpack, it will replace it, ensuring you get true value out of your purchase.

The best for preschool

L.L.Bean Junior Original Book Pack

L.L.Bean’s Junior Original Book Pack is just the perfect size for young kids for easy wear to prevent back injury.

Pros: Perfect size for young kids, reflective material for safety, machine washable

Cons: Only features one additional pocket and a water bottle compartment aside from the main zipper

The Junior Original Book Pack combines durability, affordability, and the cuteness factor for the perfect backpack for your young scholar. It’s available in a variety of prints or solid colors if you want to keep it simple. You don’t have to worry about these beautiful prints being ruined by messes and spills because this backpack is machine washable when inside a mesh laundry bag. 

This is a small backpack designed for kids ages 4 and up, so the shoulder straps and back panel are padded and comfortable. Your little little one won’t be overpowered by a massive backpack.

Although it’s small enough for little backs, it’s still big enough to fit standard-sized folders and notebooks — something that can’t be said for all preschool-size backpacks. It also has waterproof and reflective materials to help keep kids and their belongings safe at the bus stop. 

There’s also something so adorable about a little kid wearing a backpack, and this is the perfect choice whether your child is actually starting school or just wants a backpack to be like their big sibling. 

The best for middle school

jansport superbreak backpack

The JanSport Superbreak backpack holds just the right amount of supplies for elementary and middle schoolers, coming in diverse colors.

Pros: Tons of colors and patterns, good size, sturdy material

Cons: No laptop compartment, not machine washable

The JanSport Superbreak Backpack is sturdy, just the right size for elementary and middle school kids, and comes in tons of colors and patterns, so your child is guaranteed to find something your they like.

The backpack has a roomy main compartment that’s perfect for notebooks, folders, and lunch boxes, while the small front pocket is handy for pencils and other small items. It’s a lightweight bag, but it’s sturdy enough to handle anything your kid can throw at it — which they will.

While a great basic, this backpack does have its flaws. There’s no laptop compartment, and it only includes 2/3 padding on the back panel.

Since younger kids may not be carrying as many items to and from school, the Superbreak is a good option for this crowd. If your child is approaching their later middle school years though, it would be a good idea to take a look at our high school backpack pick instead. Like other JanSport bags, this one is not machine washable.

The best for high school

northface recon backpack

The iconic North Face Recon Backpack is comfortable, long-lasting, and comes with a lifetime warranty.

Pros: Highly durable, ergonomically designed for comfort, many pockets and other organizing features, lifetime warranty

Cons: Not machine washable

Today’s high school students are notoriously busy. When I was a teacher, some of my students got to school at 6 a.m. for sports practice, then went to class, volunteer activities, or even part-time jobs, and didn’t get home until after dark. They need a backpack that can keep up with them, and the legendary The North Race Recon comes highly recommended.

High school students also need backpacks that are extremely durable to support textbooks while also protecting expensive devices. This durable pack features a 15-inch laptop sleeve in the back, tablet sleeve in the front, cord container, mesh stash pocket for sports equipment like helmets, two mesh water bottle pockets, and a padded back with extra support along the spine. We love that this backpack comes with a hip and chest clip. Occupational therapist Karen Jacobs explained that this can help take weight off the shoulders, particularly for older kids.

The North Face Recon Backpack is available in several different colors and comes in men’s and women’s designs. The women’s bag is a little bit smaller than the men’s, and features custom injection-molded shoulder straps with flexible attachment points that are contoured for a smaller frame. The backpacks are covered by the North Face’s lifetime warranty, so returns are simple and always free.

The backpack also features reflective surfaces on the exterior and is made of breathable material. The North Face does not recommend machine washing their backpacks, so you’ll need to spot clean this one.

The best for college

the north face jester backpack

The North Face Jester Backpack features a heavy-duty padded laptop compartment aside from it holding other essential supplies.

Pros: Perfect for carrying laptops around campus, large main compartment, two mesh water bottle pockets, secure-zip pockets, reflective bike light loop for evening campus walking

Cons: Not machine washable

College students typically have a mountain of textbooks on their desks, so having a backpack to carry some of the pile, as well as a laptop, notebook, and other supplies make The North Face Jester Backpack the gold standard for strolls on campus.

In addition to its large main compartment, this sleek backpack has a durable, padded laptop compartment that can fit up to 15-inch laptops. Aside from ensuring this college essential is safely stored within the backpack, the Jester has two external mesh pockets to store your water bottle, as well as a front compartment to store pencils, a pack of tissues, and other on-the-go items.

And it even comes with safety features for evening walks on campus. Its reflective bike light loop, water bottle tabs, and shoulder webbing are designed for 360-degree reflectivity for nighttime visibility.

The Jester is made of breathable material, but the backpack is not machine washable. The bag also includes a sternum strap to shift some weight off the shoulders.

What we’re looking forward to

For an update to this guide, all backpacks will be put through a series of durability tests. In addition to our current recommendations, we are also testing the following backpacks:

What to look for in a backpack

What to look for in a backpack
  • Safety: While monogrammed backpacks are fun and unique, we strongly advise against putting your child’s initials or name on their backpack, a sentiment that Dr. Jacobs and teacher Whitney Rancourt shared. It provides a perfect avenue for child predators to appear friendly and familiar by knowing your child’s name. Jacobs also recommended backpacks that have reflective material to keep kids safe at the bus stop or while walking to and from school. 
  • Size: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that a backpack shouldn’t “weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the student’s total body weight.” The size of the backpack should correspond accordingly. Additionally, Jacobs recommends looking at your child’s back as if it is a rectangle and making sure the backpack fits nicely within that rectangle. For this reason, she also recommends buying a backpack your child can try on, whether that means buying in store or from a retailer that offers free returns.
  • Comfort and support: Look for a backpack with a padded back and wide padded shoulder straps. The AAP advises against narrow straps that tend to dig into shoulders, as they can restrict circulation and cause pain. Jacobs also advises buying a backpack made with breathable material and recommends that older kids make use of a chest or shoulder strap, which can help take weight off the shoulders. 
  • Features and organization: Besides the main compartment, a good backpack should have multiple interior and exterior pockets for organizing items. Popular features include water bottle holders, laptop pockets, charger pockets, key chains, and pencil pockets. With many students carrying devices in their backpacks, a water bottle pocket is very important to prevent water spilling on the device. Additionally, “organization systems (compartments that fit folders, pens, erasers, and every school supply in between) are important, especially for children that might have executive functioning issues,” learning specialist Jessica Prohias Gardiner explained.
  • Appearance: We all know that kids want backpacks that look cool, but it’s important to strike a balance between cool and practical. “Avoid backpacks with detailing like sequins or glitter that won’t hold up well to regular machine washing. The most eye-catching backpacks in the first week of school usually look the worst by the end of the year,” Rancourt said, adding that backpacks should be washable, as students tend to place them in less-than-clean places.

How to pack a backpack

Jacobs provided some excellent tips to help students pack a backpack that isn’t too heavy and that feels comfortable:

  • Put the heaviest item closest to the back.
  • Check backpacks daily to make sure your child isn’t lugging around unnecessary items.
  • Pack backpacks the night before.
  • Use compartments to help stabilize items.
  • Pack backpacks on a table or raised surface. This makes it easier to pack and easier to slip on your child’s back.
  • If your child complains about their backpack being too heavy, investigate why and see what can be taken out. Most schools can provide digital textbooks and/or an extra copy of books to keep at home.

Jacobs also emphasized the importance of connecting with your school’s occupational therapy practitioner if your child encounters an issue with backpacks.

Our sources

  • Karen Jacobs, EdD, OTR/L, CPE, FAOTA, is a clinical professor of occupational therapy and the program director of the distance education post-professional occupational therapy programs at Boston University. In addition to being an occupational therapist, Jacobs is also a certified professional ergonomist (CPE). Jacobs founded National School Backpack Safety Awareness Day a decade ago to raise awareness of the harm heavy loads worn incorrectly can cause children and even adults.
  • Jessica Prohias Gardiner is a learning specialist at LREI (Little Red Elisabeth Irwin) High School in New York City.
  • Whitney Rancourt teaches third- and fourth-grade reading and writing at a Title 1 school in Texas. She’s also the owner of Mama Manages, a blog dedicated to helping parents and teachers raise confident and happy kids. 

Check out our other school supply guides

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The 4 best budget laptops in 2021 for working, learning, and gaming

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • The Pixelbook Go is our top pick because of its smooth performance, quality keyboard, and sharp webcam.
  • The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 is a solid choice for those who want a reliable budget 2-in-1 laptop.
  • The laptops listed are ideal for basic productivity, though we’ve included a gaming option as well.
  • Check out the best laptop deals for more savings.

It used to be that if you wanted a laptop with power and features, you needed to spend $1,000 or more.

While top-of-the-line models still fall in that price bracket, budget laptops in the $300 to $700 range are more than capable of everyday tasks. That’s all thanks to improvements in processors, graphics, and other chipsets, as well as standardization in features like USB and HDMI.

There are a few important factors you need to consider before making a purchase, such as operating system preferences, size, and above all else: what you intend to use it for.

We consider a “budget” laptop to cost about $650 or less, but we aim to recommend models that are even cheaper when possible. Gaming laptops are an exception because they typically cost more than general-purpose laptops.

Here are the best cheap laptops of 2021:

The best budget laptop overall

Google Pixelbook Go

The Google Pixelbook Go‘s ease of use, excellent keyboard, and long battery life make it a top choice for those who prioritize simplicity in a laptop. 

Pros: Excellent keyboard, long battery life, 1080p webcam, decent screen

Cons: Upgrade options are expensive, no biometric login

Google’s Pixelbook Go is one of the priciest options on this list, but there’s a good reason why. It nearly matches premium laptops that are almost double its price in a few ways, particularly when it comes to keyboard quality, general ease-of-use, and battery life.  

Google’s “Hush” keyboard is part of what makes the Pixelbook Go stand out, offering a comfortable yet unobtrusive typing experience that even rivals that of Lenovo’s laptops, as our full review mentions. It even has a 1080p webcam, a rare find even on laptops that cost over $1,000. That’s especially important now that we’re spending more time video conferencing and socializing virtually.

The base model comes with an Intel Core m3 processor (CPU), 8GB of memory (RAM), and a Full HD (1080p) touch screen. You’ll also get two USB-C ports, and Google says it should last for 12 hours on a single charge.

Like other Google laptops that have come before it, the Pixelbook Go is a Chromebook — meaning it’s designed for those who primarily use their laptops for web browsing, note taking, and other light tasks like streaming YouTube or Netflix. It runs on Google’s Chrome OS, a lightweight interface optimized for security and speed that’s designed to work best with an Internet connection. You can, however, access Google Play Store apps and save documents, spreadsheets, emails, and other data for offline use. 

Sadly, the Pixelbook Go doesn’t have the same 2-in-1 design as its pricier Pixelbook predecessor, so it doesn’t double as a tablet. It also doesn’t have any biometric login options like a fingerprint scanner, which is now fairly common on most laptops. But it’s perfect for anyone in need of a fast, lightweight laptop for basic productivity and entertainment.

The best budget Chromebook

Samsung Chromebook 4+ showcase

The 15-inch Samsung Chromebook 4+ crams an insane amount of value into its below $300 list price, with hardware and features found in laptops twice its price and within a good-looking package.

Pros: Decent display, long battery life, lots of ports

Cons: Small local storage, low amount of RAM, no top-firing speakers

Anyone looking to get the absolute most value possible out of a Chromebook that might look a bit more premium in ways than even our top pick, we suggest the 15-inch Samsung Chromebook 4+. There’s no question that this Chromebook makes for a close second to our former top pick,  Acer Chromebook 15, as the best budget laptop period.

Samsung’s Chromebook 4+ is a sharp, slight 15-inch laptop that’s wrapped in a platinum-colored plastic frame featuring a 15.6-inch, 1080p screen, with power from an Intel Celeron CPU supported by 4GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD. That’s expanded upon by two USB-C ports, one USB 3.0 port, and a microSD card reader — as well as Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Bluetooth 4.0 — for wireless connections.

This all comes driven by a battery that can reportedly last up to 10 hours and 30 minutes per outing. Finally, we love the addition of Google Assistant for voice-based search queries and other assistive tasks. While lacking biometric security and more local storage, this laptop leaves nothing else off the table. 

The best budget gaming laptop

Dell G3 laptop

The Dell G3 15 is an affordable gaming laptop with the latest Nvidia GeForce discrete graphics.

Pros: Compact design, specs on par with more expensive models

Cons: Shallow keyboard and touchpad, dim screen

If you enjoy gaming, but don’t want to shell out $1,000 for a gaming PC, the Dell G3 15 might be a decent option for you. The laptop has multiple configurations, but the base model is around $700, and it comes with Nvidia discrete graphics. 

A few factors make the G3 15 a solid option for gamers. The base model comes with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650GPU, a 10th-generation  Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive. Those are solid specs that should be able to smoothly run most games you want to play, though you’ll want something more powerful if you’re trying to run more demanding tasks like VR. 

You can also upgrade to a version that has 16GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX  1660 GPU and 512GB of storage for about $970.

At 5.2 pounds, the G3 15 is lighter and more compact than most budget gaming laptops. 

In terms of ports, you have a power jack, an HDMI 2.0 port, an RJ-45 port, one USB 3.1 port, two  USB 2.0 port, an SD card reader, and a headphone jack. That will allow you to plug in a TV, as well as most peripherals you might want to use. 

However, for a computer of this price, you’ll be missing out on some features of higher-end gaming rigs. For example, reviewers found the display to be a bit dim, and the colors to be washed out. The keyboard and touchpad are also a bit shallow, something that might be important if you’ll be spending a lot of time gaming.

The best budget 2-in-1 laptop

Lenovo IdeaPad 5

The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 offers solid specifications and a flexible design that allows it to double as a laptop and a tablet at a price that’s hundreds of dollars below the $1,000 mark.

Pros: Great value, good performance, durable and attractive design

Cons: Fans can get noisy, dim and lackluster display

The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 is a solid choice for anyone in need of an affordable, general purpose laptop.

It has a 360-degree flexible hinge so that you can use it as a laptop or tablet, and it comes with extra features less common on laptops in this price range. These include a physical webcam shutter for privacy and a fingerprint reader for logging in. 

For $554.99, you’re getting specifications that are definitely sufficient for handling tasks such as web browsing, watching Netflix, checking email, and taking notes with ease. I’ve been testing a configuration that comes with an AMD Ryzen 5 processor, and I’m impressed with its comfortable keyboard, smooth trackpad, and long battery life. 

The IdeaPad Flex 5 comes in several different configurations that vary in availability, but elements like the reliable keyboard and trackpad should be consistent no matter which model you choose. 

That’s especially notable because the keyboard and trackpad are two areas where the gap in price between premium and mid-tier laptops can be very obvious. Lower-end models can sometimes have keyboards and touchpads that feel cheap, shallow, or finicky, but this is no problem with Lenovo’s budget 2-in-1. 

However, don’t push the IdeaPad Flex 5 too hard: the fans can get a little noisy if you have too many web browser tabs open.

What is a Chromebook?


Budget laptops we look forward to testing

Dell Inspiron 14 and 15: Dell’s new Inspiron laptops, launching on May 4, are taking a page from the company’s well-received XPS 13 laptop line. The new Inspiron models have an updated design with a nearly border less screen, making them look more modern and providing additional screen space in a compact design. They also come with improved webcams with noise reduction for clearer conference calls. Both the 14-inch and 15-inch models start at $550 and come with an 11th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB in the base models

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2: Samsung’s original Galaxy Chromebook from last year’s CES had an attention-grabbing design that’s uncommon for a Chromebook, but its high price and short battery life limited its appeal. Now, Samsung has addressed those criticisms with the Galaxy Chromebook 2, a revamped version of its Google-powered laptop that comes at a cheaper starting price of $549.99 compared to the previous model’s $999.99 price tag. With a premium design, 13.3-inch QLED touch screen, and hopefully longer battery life, the Galaxy Chromebook 2 seems like it could be a promising option for those on a budget.

Acer Chromebook Spin 514: Powered by the latest AMD’s latest mobile processors and offering 10 hours of battery life according to Acer’s claims, the new Acer Chromebook Spin 14 has potential to become one of our top picks for a budget laptop in 2021. It features a 14-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touchscreen and aluminum build that could make it a compelling choice as a general-purpose laptop. It’s launching in March 2021 starting at $479.99.

Asus Chromebook Flip CX5: With a roomy 15.6-inch screen, Intel’s latest 11th generation processors, and Harmon Kardon speakers, the Asus Chromebook Flip CX5 seems like a promising option for those who want a laptop for light work and entertainment. It will be configurable up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, which is a lot for a Chromebook, and should last for 12 hours on a single charge. Asus announced the Chromebook Flip CX5 at CES 2021 in January and has not revealed pricing. But a product page on Google’s Chromebook Store suggests that the version with an Intel Core i3, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage could cost $549.

How to buy a budget laptop

There are a variety of factors you should consider when purchasing a laptop, particularly how much you want to spend and what types of tasks you intend to use it for. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you make your decision. 

Operating system: There are a few major computer operating systems out there. You’re probably most familiar with Windows, as it’s by far the most-used operating system, but there’s also Apple’s macOS, which is found on the company’s Mac computers (we didn’t include any Macs because they didn’t meet our price requirement for a budget laptop). And, the newest, there’s Google’s Chrome OS, which is targeted to those with basic computer needs revolves around Google’s web-based apps (Chrome OS relies heavily on cloud computing, meaning that a lot of the processes happen online).

Specs and features: Some computers are more powerful than others. Things like the processor and amount of memory (RAM) will dictate how quickly your computer runs, while the amount of storage indicates how many files you can keep on your computer at once. There are also other factors, like the graphics chipset being employed. The type of software you run could also dictate how well a laptop’s components perform; for example, Google’s Chrome browser is notorious for being a memory hog.

The features have also improved. Premium components like a touchscreen and high-speed ports, like USB 3.0 and USB-C, have trickled down from high-end laptops to budget models. As you research, look for these or if the laptop is still utilizing older tech.

Size: Laptops come in a range of different physical sizes, however, the smaller ones generally sit in the 10- to 11-inch range, while the larger ones can get as big as 17-inches. That’s handy for watching movies, but it comes at the cost of portability.

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The 5 best Bluetooth speakers of 2021 for listening to music outside and around the house

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Bluetooth speakers come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges.
  • The Sonos Move is our top pick thanks to great sound, reliable voice control, and solid battery life.
  • For more speaker recommendations, check out our roundup of the best speaker deals.

A great listening experience for all your favorite music services shouldn’t be limited by pesky wires. While the days of carrying around a boom box on your shoulder are by and large over, you can still get quality wireless music in the form of a Bluetooth speaker.

Thanks to Bluetooth support, these speakers are able to play music from other Bluetooth-enabled sources, like a smartphone or laptop, without any cables. Whether you’re getting a speaker for use around the house or a day at the park, there’s almost certainly a Bluetooth speaker for you. But there are a number of things to consider before you buy, including size, battery, durability and, of course, sound quality.

With all of those factors in mind, we’ve selected the best Bluetooth speakers you can buy for a variety of needs. Since most people purchase Bluetooth speakers for their portability, all of our picks feature built-in batteries for listening on the go.

Here are the best Bluetooth speakers:

The best Bluetooth speaker overall

Sonos Move

The Sonos Move looks good, sounds great, and offers multi-room audio as well as voice control with Alexa and the Google Assistant.

Pros: Attractive design, integrates with other Sonos speakers, excellent audio quality, Alexa and Google Assistant with Wi-Fi

Cons: A little expensive, a bit heavy

Sonos has long been a leader in the wireless speaker market, and the company now has a Bluetooth-enabled model called the Move. With an excellent design, awesome sound quality, and support for two digital assistants, the Move is one of the most fully featured Bluetooth speakers you can buy.

The speaker offers a ton of bass, coupled with crisp clarity and detail in the high end. That makes it excellent for listening to music. The Move can even be calibrated using Trueplay tuning technology to suit different environments and locations.

The speaker has a charging station where you can keep it most of the time, but it’s designed to be portable too, so you can take it outside or move it around the house. It’s a bit heavy compared to most portable speakers, but it’s nice to have the option. It’s rated for around 11 hours of battery life, so it should easily get you through a day of listening.

Like other Sonos speakers, the Sonos Move is also smart. You can choose to use either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, plus it integrates perfectly with Sonos’ other speakers, allowing for multi-room audio. 

But what about the downsides? The speaker is a little pricey, and you won’t get access to all of its smart features unless you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

The best Bluetooth speaker for portability

Bose

The Bose SoundLink Revolve+ II is easy-to-use, offers 17 hours of battery, features a convenient handle for travel, and it sounds good, too.

Pros: Good sound, versatile design for portable use outdoors and around the house, long battery life

Cons: A bit pricey, lacks Wi-Fi support

There are a number of things that make the Bose SoundLink Revolve+ II such an ideal portable option, from its great sound to its nice design.

The design is reminiscent of smart speakers, so it’ll look right at home in any tech-savvy person’s house. On top of that, it offers extremely easy-to-use controls, with six buttons located on the top for things like volume and Bluetooth control. Bose also added a handle to make it easy to bring the speaker with you outside or around the house.

We tested the previous-generation model and were impressed by its great sound quality and how easy it is to move from room to room. It delivers ample volume and deep bass without distorting. 

This newer version is nearly identical to the one we tested, but features an upgrade from IPX4 water resistance to an IP55 rating. It also supports an extra hour of battery life for up to 17 hours of play time — the longest of any speaker on our guide. 

The speaker even has some smart features, including Bluetooth pairing with voice prompts, the ability to take calls, and access to Siri or Google Assistant from your phone. That said, the speaker doesn’t have Wi-Fi so it doesn’t support a built-in digital assistant.

The best waterproof Bluetooth speaker

Ultimate Ears Boom 3

The UE Boom 3 is well designed and sounds pretty good, but it’s also water resistant, making it great for use by the pool or at the beach.

Pros: Good sound quality, nice design, waterproof, can float

Cons: High frequencies aren’t as detailed as other speakers

Looking for something that you can take to the beach or use by the pool without fear of it breaking due to water damage? The UE Boom 3 is the way to go. 

The speaker may not sound as robust as the Sonos Move, but it still sounds good, especially considering how small it is. The UE Boom 3 offers decent bass response, along with a well-tuned mid-range, and a solid amount of clarity in the high frequencies. One of the best things about it is that it can also get super loud, which is great for use outside.

It’s relatively small and portable, and it’s available in a range of different colors. On the side, you get buttons for controlling volume, while on the top there are controls for things like Bluetooth pairing and power. 

The UE Boom 3 is built for use near water. The speaker is not only waterproof, but it’s also designed to float, so you won’t have to worry about losing it at the bottom of the pool. The Boom 3 is capable of being submerged in up to 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes, so it shouldn’t break due to water damage.

The best cheap Bluetooth speaker

Anker bluetooth speaker

The Anker Soundcore Flare Mini may be super-affordable, but it still looks and sounds solid for the price.

Pros: Inexpensive, water-resistant, solid battery life

Cons: Sound quality is only decent

Looking for an inexpensive speaker that still looks and sounds pretty good? The Anker Soundcore Flare Mini may well be the way to go. This speaker may carry a budget price, but it still sounds decent and won’t break the bank.

The speaker is designed to look a lot better than other speakers in its price range. It’s a cylindrical design with a fabric covering around the side and controls on the top. Those controls include power, volume, and Bluetooth pairing. There are even LED lights on the bottom, and you can control those lights through five different lighting modes.

The design of the speaker plays into how it sounds too. The speaker can deliver 360-degree audio, so no matter where you are around it, it should sound pretty good. It definitely won’t sound as powerful as some of the more expensive speakers on our list, but it can still get pretty loud and offers a decent amount of bass.

You’ll get 12 hours of battery life out of the speaker, which isn’t bad at all, and it’s water-resistant with an IPX7 rating. 

Considering the price range, perhaps the only real downside to the speaker is that it can’t really match more expensive offerings in the audio department.

The best small Bluetooth speaker

bo beplay p2

The B&O Beoplay P2 doesn’t just sound good and feature a slick design, it’s ultra-compact, too.

Pros: Great sound, very portable, intuitive touch-controls, compact size

Cons: A little pricey for its size, could use more high-end clarity

The B&O Beoplay P2 is the perfect fit for buyers who want an ultra-compact speaker that can easily fit in a backpack or purse.

Now, generally speaking, smaller Bluetooth speakers can be a little hit and miss, but the BeoPlay P2 is a hit. That’s largely thanks to its sleek and stylish design, coupled with hidden and intuitive controls.

For example, you can double tap the speaker grill to play and pause your music, or you can program the speaker through the accompanying app to activate your digital assistant of choice, whether it be Google Assistant or Siri. That happens through your phone because the speaker doesn’t have those assistants built-in.

So how does the speaker sound? You can’t expect studio-quality sound, but it’s not bad. The speaker features mono audio and an impressive bass response for a device its size. The high-end isn’t as responsive, but it’s still not bad. 

What else we considered

JBL Flip 4

Here are other speakers we considered for our guide, and why they didn’t make our top picks.

Other Bluetooth speakers we recommend:

JBL Flip 4: The JBL Flip 4 speaker was recently one of our picks, and it’s still a fantastic Bluetooth speaker for the money. With that said, the less expensive Soundcore Flare Mini includes similar features for a more affordable price, making that model a better overall budget pick. If you’re willing to spend a little more, however, the JBL Flip 4 features a bit more power and better sound quality.

What you should look for in a Bluetooth speaker

bose portable home speaker lifestyle

When shopping for a Bluetooth speaker, there are some key factors you should keep in mind. For instance, a compact model might not be a good fit for someone who wants the best audio quality, while a heavy speaker won’t be ideal for someone who wants to take their audio on the go.

Below, we’ve broken down some main features and design elements you should look into when selecting the best Bluetooth speaker for your needs.

  • Size matters: Generally speaking, larger speakers will be louder, so they tend to be a better fit for parties and gatherings. Larger speakers also tend to have more refined audio quality with better clarity and bass. Of course, size also affects portability. If you’re looking for something you can slip in your bag and carry around easily, then a smaller speaker will be a better choice.
  • Battery life: You’ll obviously want longer battery life if you’re looking for a speaker that can last all day, but sometimes a speaker with shorter battery life will do the job — especially if you plan on being able to charge it often or even while in use. Though all of our picks include batteries, some Bluetooth speakers don’t have charging at all. If you only plan to use your speaker in one room, this isn’t a problem, but if you want portability, a speaker with a battery is a must.
  • Durability and water resistance: Durability is another important factor if you plan on carrying the speaker around a lot. Not only will your speaker last longer if it’s more durable, but it might be a little more versatile, too. For example, you probably won’t want to take a non-waterproof speaker to the pool or the beach.
  • Sound quality: Some may not care too much about how a Bluetooth speaker sounds, but others will want to ensure that they’re getting the best audio performance they can for their money. A single Bluetooth speaker is never going to offer the same quality as a true stereo speaker pair, but high-end Bluetooth speakers from brands like Sonos and Bose offer impressive performance. Again, larger models tend to have better sound, so if audio quality is a priority, you’ll likely want to avoid ultra-compact speakers. 

Check out our other speaker buying guides

Sonos Beam

The best speakers


The best smart speakers


The best soundbars

 

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 4 best budget laptops in 2021

  • Budget laptops have come a long way and now offer better performance than ever before.
  • The Pixelbook Go is our favorite cheap laptop overall because of its great keyboard, smooth performance, and quality webcam. 
  • We’re in the process of testing more laptops throughout 2021, including new and existing budget models.
  • Read more: The best laptops of 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

It used to be that if you wanted a laptop with power and features, you needed  to spend $1,000 or more. While top-of-the-line models still fall in that price range, budget laptops are more than capable of everyday tasks. 

Those who just want a machine for basic web browsing and word processing can find a promising laptop in the $300-$700 range. That’s all thanks to improvements in processors, graphics, and other chipsets, as well as standardization in features like USB and HDMI.

Of course, this is not to say all budget laptops are great – some are definitely better than average, while others aren’t worth your hard-earned cash. There are a few important factors you need to consider before making a purchase, such as operating system preferences, size, and above all else: what you intend to use it for.

For this guide, we consider a “budget” laptop to be a laptop that costs about $650 or less – we aimed to recommend those that fall below $500. Gaming laptops are an exception because they typically cost more than general-purpose laptops. 

Here are the best cheap laptops:

The best budget laptop overall

Google Pixelbook Go

The Google Pixelbook Go‘s ease of use, excellent keyboard, and long battery life make it a top choice for those who prioritize simplicity in a laptop. 

Pros: Excellent keyboard, long battery life, 1080p webcam, decent screen

Cons: Upgrade options are expensive, no biometric login

Google’s Pixelbook Go is one of the priciest options on this list, but there’s a good reason why. It nearly matches premium laptops that are almost double its price in a few ways, particularly when it comes to keyboard quality, general ease-of-use, and battery life.  

Google’s “Hush” keyboard is part of what makes the Pixelbook Go stand out, offering a comfortable yet unobtrusive typing experience that even rivals that of Lenovo’s laptops, as our full review mentions. It even has a 1080p webcam, a rare find even on laptops that cost over $1,000. That’s especially important now that we’re spending more time video conferencing and socializing virtually.

The base model comes with an Intel Core m3 processor (CPU), 8GB of memory (RAM), and a Full HD (1080p) touch screen. You’ll also get two USB-C ports, and Google says it should last for 12 hours on a single charge.

Like other Google laptops that have come before it, the Pixelbook Go is a Chromebook — meaning it’s designed for those who primarily use their laptops for web browsing, note taking, and other light tasks like streaming YouTube or Netflix. It runs on Google’s Chrome OS, a lightweight interface optimized for security and speed that’s designed to work best with an Internet connection. You can, however, access Google Play Store apps and save documents, spreadsheets, emails, and other data for offline use. 

Sadly, the Pixelbook Go doesn’t have the same 2-in-1 design as its pricier Pixelbook predecessor, so it doesn’t double as a tablet. It also doesn’t have any biometric login options like a fingerprint scanner, which is now fairly common on most laptops. But it’s perfect for anyone in need of a fast, lightweight laptop for basic productivity and entertainment.

The best budget Chromebook

Samsung Chromebook 4+ showcase

The 15-inch Samsung Chromebook 4+ crams an insane amount of value into its below $300 list price, with hardware and features found in laptops twice its price and within a good-looking package.

Pros: Decent display, long battery life, lots of ports

Cons: Small local storage, low amount of RAM, no top-firing speakers

Anyone looking to get the absolute most value possible out of a Chromebook that might look a bit more premium in ways than even our top pick, we suggest the 15-inch Samsung Chromebook 4+. There’s no question that this Chromebook makes for a close second to our former top pick,  Acer Chromebook 15, as the best budget laptop period.

Samsung’s Chromebook 4+ is a sharp, slight 15-inch laptop that’s wrapped in a platinum-colored plastic frame featuring a 15.6-inch, 1080p screen, with power from an Intel Celeron CPU supported by 4GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD. That’s expanded upon by two USB-C ports, one USB 3.0 port, and a microSD card reader — as well as Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Bluetooth 4.0 — for wireless connections.

This all comes driven by a battery that can reportedly last up to 10 hours and 30 minutes per outing. Finally, we love the addition of Google Assistant for voice-based search queries and other assistive tasks. While lacking biometric security and more local storage, this laptop leaves nothing else off the table. 

The best budget gaming laptop

Dell G3 laptop

The Dell G3 15 is an affordable gaming laptop with the latest Nvidia GeForce discrete graphics.

Pros: Compact design, specs on par with more expensive models

Cons: Shallow keyboard and touchpad, dim screen

If you enjoy gaming, but don’t want to shell out $1,000 for a gaming PC, the Dell G3 15 might be a decent option for you. The laptop has multiple configurations, but the base model is around $700, and it comes with Nvidia discrete graphics. 

A few factors make the G3 15 a solid option for gamers. The base model comes with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650GPU, a 10th-generation  Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive. Those are solid specs that should be able to smoothly run most games you want to play, though you’ll want something more powerful if you’re trying to run more demanding tasks like VR. 

You can also upgrade to a version that has 16GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX  1660 GPU and 512GB of storage for about $970.

At 5.2 pounds, the G3 15 is lighter and more compact than most budget gaming laptops. 

In terms of ports, you have a power jack, an HDMI 2.0 port, an RJ-45 port, one USB 3.1 port, two  USB 2.0 port, an SD card reader, and a headphone jack. That will allow you to plug in a TV, as well as most peripherals you might want to use. 

However, for a computer of this price, you’ll be missing out on some features of higher-end gaming rigs. For example, reviewers found the display to be a bit dim, and the colors to be washed out. The keyboard and touchpad are also a bit shallow, something that might be important if you’ll be spending a lot of time gaming.

The best budget 2-in-1 laptop

Lenovo IdeaPad 5

The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 offers solid specifications and a flexible design that allows it to double as a laptop and a tablet at a price that’s hundreds of dollars below the $1,000 mark.

Pros: Great value, good performance, durable and attractive design

Cons: Dim and lackluster display

With a convertible design, 10th generation Intel processor, and a 14-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touch screen, the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 is a solid choice for anyone in need of a general purpose laptop.

It has a 360-degree flexible hinge so that you can use it as a laptop or tablet, and comes with extra features less common on laptops in this price range. These include Wi-Fi 6 support, a physical webcam shutter for privacy, and a fingerprint reader for logging in. The AMD configuration of this laptop received high marks in reviews from PCMag, LaptopMag, and Digital Trends for its solid performance, excellent value, and high build quality for a laptop of its price. 

For $429.99, you’re getting a fairly recent 10th generation Intel Core i3 processor, 128GB of storage, 4GB of RAM. While 4GB is a bit on the low end when it comes to memory, these specifications are more than enough for the tasks you’d expect to accomplish with a laptop that costs less than $500, such as web browsing, watching Netflix, checking email, and taking notes.

Budget laptops we look forward to testing

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2: Samsung’s original Galaxy Chromebook from last year’s CES had an attention-grabbing design that’s uncommon for a Chromebook, but its high price and short battery life limited its appeal. Now, Samsung has addressed those criticisms with the Galaxy Chromebook 2, a revamped version of its Google-powered laptop that comes at a cheaper starting price of $549.99 compared to the previous model’s $999.99 price tag. With a premium design, 13.3-inch QLED touch screen, and hopefully longer battery life, the Galaxy Chromebook 2 seems like it could be a promising option for those on a budget.

Acer Chromebook Spin 514: Powered by the latest AMD’s latest mobile processors and offering 10 hours of battery life according to Acer’s claims, the new Acer Chromebook Spin 14 has potential to become one of our top picks for a budget laptop in 2021. It features a 14-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touchscreen and aluminum build that could make it a compelling choice as a general-purpose laptop. It’s launching in March 2021 starting at $479.99.

Asus Chromebook Flip CX5: With a roomy 15.6-inch screen, Intel’s latest 11th generation processors, and Harmon Kardon speakers, the Asus Chromebook Flip CX5 seems like a promising option for those who want a laptop for light work and entertainment. It will be configurable up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, which is a lot for a Chromebook, and should last for 12 hours on a single charge. Asus announced the Chromebook Flip CX5 at CES 2021 in January and has not revealed pricing. But a product page on Google’s Chromebook Store suggests that the version with an Intel Core i3, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage could cost $549.

How to buy a budget laptop

There are a variety of factors you should consider when purchasing a laptop, particularly how much you want to spend and what types of tasks you intend to use it for. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you make your decision. 

Operating system: There are a few major computer operating systems out there. You’re probably most familiar with Windows, as it’s by far the most-used operating system, but there’s also Apple’s macOS, which is found on the company’s Mac computers (we didn’t include any Macs because they didn’t meet our price requirement for a budget laptop). And, the newest, there’s Google’s Chrome OS, which is targeted to those with basic computer needs revolves around Google’s web-based apps (Chrome OS relies heavily on cloud computing, meaning that a lot of the processes happen online).

Specs and features: Some computers are more powerful than others. Things like the processor and amount of memory (RAM) will dictate how quickly your computer runs, while the amount of storage indicates how many files you can keep on your computer at once. There are also other factors, like the graphics chipset being employed. The type of software you run could also dictate how well a laptop’s components perform; for example, Google’s Chrome browser is notorious for being a memory hog.

The features have also improved. Premium components like a touchscreen and high-speed ports, like USB 3.0 and USB-C, have trickled down from high-end laptops to budget models. As you research, look for these or if the laptop is still utilizing older tech.

Size: Laptops come in a range of different physical sizes, however, the smaller ones generally sit in the 10- to 11-inch range, while the larger ones can get as big as 17-inches. That’s handy for watching movies, but it comes at the cost of portability.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The best budget laptops

  • Today’s best budget laptops offer more value than ever, bringing solid performance and premium designs at an affordable price.
  • Our pick for the overall best cheap laptop is the Google Pixelbook Go, which offers smooth performance, a great typing experience, and a 1080p webcam for hundreds of dollars less than many flagship devices.
  • We’ll be testing more models throughout 2021, including new inexpensive Chromebooks that were announced at CES 2021.
  • Read more: The best laptops of 2021

The smartphone may be the hub of our digital lives, but the computer still plays a key role, especially now that many of us are continuing to work and socialize from home. 

It used to be that if you want a laptop with power and features, you would need to spend more than $1,000. While you still have to spend upwards of $1,000 for the best features and performance, budget laptops are more than capable of everyday tasks. Those who just want a machine for basic web browsing and word processing can find a promising laptop in the $300-$700 range. That’s all thanks to improvements in processors, graphics, and other chipsets, as well as standardization in features like USB and HDMI.

Of course, this is not to say all budget laptops are great – some are definitely better than average, while others aren’t worth your hard-earned cash. There are a few important factors you need to consider before making a purchase, such as operating system preferences, size, and above all else: what you intend to use it for.

For this guide, we consider a “budget” laptop to be a laptop that costs about $650 or less – we aimed to recommend those that fall below $500. However, if you can afford to spend more than that, you will be able to get something more powerful and arguably better than the computers on this list.

Here are the best cheap laptops:

The best budget laptop overall

Google Pixelbook Go

The Google Pixelbook Go‘s ease of use, excellent keyboard, and long battery life make it a top choice for those who prioritize simplicity in a laptop. 

Pros: Excellent keyboard, long battery life, 1080p webcam, decent screen

Cons: Upgrade options are expensive, no biometric login

Google’s Pixelbook Go is one of the priciest options on this list, but there’s a good reason why. It nearly matches premium laptops that are almost double its price in a few ways, particularly when it comes to keyboard quality, general ease-of-use, and battery life.  

Google’s “Hush” keyboard is part of what makes the Pixelbook Go stand out, offering a comfortable yet unobtrusive typing experience that even rivals that of Lenovo’s laptops, as our full review mentions. It even has a 1080p webcam, a rare find even on laptops that cost over $1,000. That’s especially important now that we’re spending more time video conferencing and socializing virtually.

The base model comes with an Intel Core m3 processor (CPU), 8GB of memory (RAM), and a Full HD (1080p) touch screen. You’ll also get two USB-C ports, and Google says it should last for 12 hours on a single charge.

Like other Google laptops that have come before it, the Pixelbook Go is a Chromebook — meaning it’s designed for those who primarily use their laptops for web browsing, note taking, and other light tasks like streaming YouTube or Netflix. It runs on Google’s Chrome OS, a lightweight interface optimized for security and speed that’s designed to work best with an Internet connection. You can, however, access Google Play Store apps and save documents, spreadsheets, emails, and other data for offline use. 

Sadly, the Pixelbook Go doesn’t have the same 2-in-1 design as its pricier Pixelbook predecessor, so it doesn’t double as a tablet. It also doesn’t have any biometric login options like a fingerprint scanner, which is now fairly common on most laptops. But it’s perfect for anyone in need of a fast, lightweight laptop for basic productivity and entertainment.

The best budget Chromebook

Samsung Chromebook 4+ showcase

The 15-inch Samsung Chromebook 4+ crams an insane amount of value into its below $300 list price, with hardware and features found in laptops twice its price and within a good-looking package.

Pros: Decent display, long battery life, lots of ports

Cons: Small local storage, low amount of RAM, no top-firing speakers

Anyone looking to get the absolute most value possible out of a Chromebook that might look a bit more premium in ways than even our top pick, we suggest the 15-inch Samsung Chromebook 4+. There’s no question that this Chromebook makes for a close second to our former top pick,  Acer Chromebook 15, as the best budget laptop period.

Samsung’s Chromebook 4+ is a sharp, slight 15-inch laptop that’s wrapped in a platinum-colored plastic frame featuring a 15.6-inch, 1080p screen, with power from an Intel Celeron CPU supported by 4GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD. That’s expanded upon by two USB-C ports, one USB 3.0 port, and a microSD card reader — as well as Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Bluetooth 4.0 — for wireless connections.

This all comes driven by a battery that can reportedly last up to 10 hours and 30 minutes per outing. Finally, we love the addition of Google Assistant for voice-based search queries and other assistive tasks. While lacking biometric security and more local storage, this laptop leaves nothing else off the table. — Joe Osborne

The best budget gaming laptop

Dell G3 laptop

The Dell G3 15 is an affordable gaming laptop with the latest Nvidia GeForce discrete graphics.

Pros: Compact design, specs on par with more expensive models

Cons: Shallow keyboard and touchpad, dim screen

If you enjoy gaming, but don’t want to shell out $1,000 for a gaming PC, the Dell G3 15 might be a decent option for you. The laptop has multiple configurations, but the base model is around $700, and it comes with Nvidia discrete graphics. 

A few factors make the G3 15 a solid option for gamers. The base model comes with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650GPU, a 10th-generation  Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive. Those are solid specs that should be able to smoothly run most games you want to play, though you’ll want something more powerful if you’re trying to run more demanding tasks like VR. 

You can also upgrade to a version that has 16GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX  1660 GPU and 512GB of storage for about $970.

At 5.2 pounds, the G3 15 is lighter and more compact than most budget gaming laptops. 

In terms of ports, you have a power jack, an HDMI 2.0 port, an RJ-45 port, one USB 3.1 port, two  USB 2.0 port, an SD card reader, and a headphone jack. That will allow you to plug in a TV, as well as most peripherals you might want to use. 

However, for a computer of this price, you’ll be missing out on some features of higher-end gaming rigs. For example, reviewers found the display to be a bit dim, and the colors to be washed out. The keyboard and touchpad are also a bit shallow, something that might be important if you’ll be spending a lot of time gaming.

The best budget 2-in-1 laptop

Lenovo IdeaPad 5

The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 offers solid specifications and a flexible design that allows it to double as a laptop and a tablet at a price that’s hundreds of dollars below the $1,000 mark.

Pros: Great value, good performance, durable and attractive design

Cons: Dim and lackluster display

With a convertible design, recent six-core processors from AMD, and a 14-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touch screen, the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 is a solid choice for anyone in need of a general purpose laptop.

It received high marks in reviews from PCMag, LaptopMag, and Digital Trends for its solid performance, excellent value, and high build quality for a laptop of its price. Lenovo’s IdeaPad Flex 5 also comes with a few extra features that are less common on notebooks in this price range, such as a fingerprint reader and webcam privacy shutter. 

For less than $600, you get an AMD Ryzen 5 4500U processor, which just launched about one year ago so it isn’t very old, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. While it’s a great value for the price, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The biggest common complaint among reviewers is that the display is too dim and lackluster.

Other budget laptops we considered

Lenovo Ideapad 320
  • Acer Predator Helios 300It’s impressive to see as sophisticated a gaming rig as the Acer Predator Helios 300 clock in under $1000. At 5.1 pounds, it’s more portable than a lot of gaming laptops and produces a very high refresh rate for many games, and an excellent keyboard and touchpad. It holds its own against much pricier gaming laptops in real-world gaming tests. However, while $955 is cheap among capable gaming PCs, we felt it was too close to the $1000 mark to name the Predator Helios 300 a top budget pick.
  • Asus VivoBook F510UAThe Asus VivoBook is far from the cheapest laptop on this list, but if you’re looking for something with the look and feel of an ultrabook, the VivoBook gives you good bang for your buck. It’s thin and light, at just 3.57 pounds, and with a Core i5 processor and 8GB RAM, it performs about on par with more expensive competitors in benchmark tests. However, it lacks some key features that our cheaper recommendations have, including a touchscreen and all-day battery life.
  • Acer Aspire E 15: The Acer Aspire E is a bit more expensive than some of our top picks, but it offers excellent value for its price tag. It has a ton of ports, almost 9 hours of battery life, and beats most of its competition in benchmark tests. But a bulky plastic design, lack of a touchscreen, and somewhat washed-out display keeps us from recommending the Aspire E as the best value for your money.
  • Lenovo Ideapad 320: For folks on a very tight budget, Lenovo’s Ideapad 320 is one of the cheapest Windows laptops you can buy. It comes with an Intel Core i3 CPU, 4GB RAM, and a 1TB hard drive — usable, but not great specs. And with an Ethernet port, HDMI, headphone jack, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 port, it should have enough ports for most people’s accessory needs. That said, if you can afford something better, we recommend going for that instead. The 1,366 x 768-pixel display is quite low-resolution, and the battery only lasted a measly 4 hours in battery tests.
  • Microsoft Surface Laptop Go: Microsoft has earned a reputation for making classy-looking laptops that rival the design of Apple’s devices, and that’s one of the reasons Microsoft’s budget-laptop stands out. The Surface Laptop Go is a less expensive version of Microsoft’s main laptop that comes with some compromises, like a low-resolution screen and no keyboard backlighting. But, for $549, you’re still getting an Intel Core i5 processor, which should offer plenty of power for general productivity and web browsing, particularly for those who prefer Windows over Chrome OS. However, unless you really only want a computer for light web browsing and don’t plan on saving much locally on the laptop itself, we’d recommend spending at least $649.99 for the mid-tier version with 8GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. While Microsoft’s laptop is worth pointing out, we felt the ones highlighted in this guide provided for value overall.

Budget laptops we look forward to testing

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2: Samsung’s original Galaxy Chromebook from last year’s CES had an attention-grabbing design that’s uncommon for a Chromebook, but its high price and short battery life limited its appeal. Now, Samsung has addressed those criticisms with the Galaxy Chromebook 2, a revamped version of its Google-powered laptop that comes at a cheaper starting price of $549.99 compared to the previous model’s $999.99 price tag. With a premium design, 13.3-inch QLED touch screen, and hopefully longer battery life, the Galaxy Chromebook 2 seems like it could be a promising option for those on a budget.

Acer Chromebook Spin 14: Powered by the latest AMD’s latest mobile processors and offering 10 hours of battery life according to Acer’s claims, the new Acer Chromebook Spin 14 has potential to become one of our top picks for a budget laptop in 2021. It features a 14-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touchscreen and aluminum build that could make it a compelling choice as a general-purpose laptop. It’s launching in March 2021 starting at $479.99.

How to buy a budget laptop

There are a variety of factors you should consider when purchasing a laptop, particularly how much you want to spend and what types of tasks you intend to use it for. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you make your decision. 

Operating system: There are a few major computer operating systems out there. You’re probably most familiar with Windows, as it’s by far the most-used operating system, but there’s also Apple’s macOS, which is found on the company’s Mac computers (we didn’t include any Macs because they didn’t meet our price requirement for a budget laptop). And, the newest, there’s Google’s Chrome OS, which is targeted to those with basic computer needs revolves around Google’s web-based apps (Chrome OS relies heavily on cloud computing, meaning that a lot of the processes happen online).

Specs and features: Some computers are more powerful than others. Things like the processor and amount of memory (RAM) will dictate how quickly your computer runs, while the amount of storage indicates how many files you can keep on your computer at once. There are also other factors, like the graphics chipset being employed. The type of software you run could also dictate how well a laptop’s components perform; for example, Google’s Chrome browser is notorious for being a memory hog.

The features have also improved. Premium components like a touchscreen and high-speed ports, like USB 3.0 and USB-C, have trickled down from high-end laptops to budget models. As you research, look for these or if the laptop is still utilizing older tech.

Size: Laptops come in a range of different physical sizes, however, the smaller ones generally sit in the 10- to 11-inch range, while the larger ones can get as big as 17-inches. That’s handy for watching movies, but it comes at the cost of portability.

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