Truly abysmal computers are pretty rare these days, but laptops you should steer well clear of are still out there. Avoid a lemon with our advice on what to look for when shopping around for a laptop.
The market for laptops has been pretty good of late. We’ve tested more than 150 laptops since January 2019, and just one performed so poorly (scoring less than 45%) that we made it a Don’t Buy. We label laptops as Don’t Buys when we want to ensure nobody makes the mistake of putting down money on a dreadful device.
However, in June and July this year, we reviewed two Don’t Buys, showing just how important our tests are in sorting the good from the (very) bad.
Reading our reviews is the best way to find a great laptop, but we haven’t tested every model you might come across.
To help you steer clear of terrible devices that our tests haven’t exposed, below we’ve rounded up three traits of a lacklustre laptop to watch out for – which our dreaded Don’t Buys all have in common.
Very poor laptops tend to be at the cheaper end of the market, but cheap doesn’t always equal bad. Take a look at our guide to the best cheap laptops for our pick of great laptops for less than £500.
1. Avoid slow laptops
Our tests make allowances for laptops that aren’t very fast but are acceptable for someone who just wants to send a few emails and browse some basic websites.
We do this by running software ‘benchmark’ tests, which simulate the use of various pieces of software and calculate how fast each task is completed. We would say a laptop that scores three stars in these tests is acceptable.
Don’t Buy laptops usually don’t meet even these low expectations.
Three of the four most recent Don’t Buys we’ve tested score one or two stars for web browsing and document editing, meaning they stutter and are frustratingly slow when doing these tasks.
What to look out for
The main thing affecting a laptop’s speed is the processor. Our slowest Don’t Buy laptops are equipped with Intel Atom, older Intel Celeron, and low-power AMD A6 and A9 processors. When you’re researching a laptop and you can’t find a trusted source for reviews, it’s worth doing a basic check of the processor that’s on board.
Search the web for the model name, and visit the manufacturer website to see what year the processor launched. Our advice is to opt for processors that have launched since mid-2017, although there are some newer chips – such as the AMD A6-9225 that launched in 2018 – that still scored poorly in our tests.
See all of our Don’t Buy laptop reviews in one place.
2. Beware of questionable product claims
We have often found that the cheaper the product, the more grandiose its claims. This is particularly true of no-name brands found on online marketplaces.
The old adage ‘if it looks too good to be true, it probably is’ really does apply here. If you’re buying a new laptop that costs less than £300, any claims about its ‘powerful performance’ can be simply dismissed as marketing nonsense.
It might be perfectly adequate for basic tasks, but our years of lab testing have found it simply isn’t possible to buy what most would consider to be a ‘powerful’ laptop without spending at least £500.
What to look out for
Be wary of things that sound special, but aren’t.
For example, a product might make a claim simply about it having wi-fi. This is indeed useful, but every laptop available for sale in 2020 has wi-fi connectivity.
That said, two of our four most recent four Don’t Buy laptops use a wi-fi standard that is old and out of date, while another uses a more modern standard and still scored one star for wi-fi speeds.
Some cheap laptops will also claim to have ‘vivid colours’. Again, our tests have found this marketing promise is almost impossible to achieve on a very cheap laptop. All four of our most recent Don’t Buy laptops scored just two stars out of five for their screens’ colours and brightness, and most had poor viewing angles.
3. Take battery life with a pinch of salt
Battery life is an important factor in our testing, and Don’t Buys almost always fall down on this. Three of our four most recent Don’t Buys scored two stars for battery life, and the fourth scored just one star. These models won’t make it through even half of a working day on a single charge.
What to watch out for
Our tests have found that battery life claims on laptops are almost always overstated. When we last investigated this in 2018, we found that some brands were overstating battery life by more than a third. Keep this in mind when shopping around.
Latest laptops on test
Our latest round of testing hasn’t only identified Don’t Buy laptops. Take a look at three of our reviews of recent releases at different price points to see if they’re worth your money.
Microsoft Surface Book 3 13.5-inch, £1,599
This is one of the priciest laptops we’ve tested all year. When you get hold of one, some of the reasons for this become clear.
The screen portion of this laptop can completely detach from the keyboard base, making it a powerful laptop-cum-tablet for those need the ultimate in flexibility.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Book 3 13.5 review to see if it’s worth the cash.
Lenovo S540 15-IML, £649
On paper, this mid-range 15-inch laptop has all the specifications you need to get your daily tasks done without any hold-ups. This is thanks to its Core i5 processor and 8GB of Ram.
Read our full Lenovo IdeaPad S540 15-IML review to see whether the rest of this laptop fits the bill.
Lenovo Chromebook S345-14AST, £249
With this Lenovo Chromebook, you get a swish-looking device for a remarkably low price. However, the low price also puts it right in the middle of the Don’t Buy risk zone.
Find out if it’s a poor performer, a rare gem, or somewhere in between in our Lenovo Chromebook S345-14AST review.
Which? reviews get to the facts
At the time of writing, we have more than 190 laptop reviews on our website, which covers a huge portion of the models available at high street retailers and some online marketplaces.
The following guides will help you narrow down your choices. Or, if you’re in a hurry, answer three simple questions to find the best laptop for your needs.