Computer Recommendation: $600-$700 Touchscreen Laptop (Q4 2020)

Answer first: I recommend the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 Laptop for $636.99 on Early Black Friday deal.

If you have a reputation of knowing about computers, sometimes people will ask you what they should get. This is tricky, because there are a raft of PC brands, and each has a baffling proliferation of product lines. When I get these requests, and have time to research a decent recommendation, I'll try to write them up so more than one person can make use of them.

In this case, a friend who is a teacher wanted a recommendation for a laptop that she could use for remote teaching. She is currently using a chromebook, but would like a touchscreen to make it easier to highlight things, and an external screen. It needs to be portable around the house, but won't be carried around all day every day, and of course it needs a webcam and mic.

I looked through some reviews and Dell, Lenovo and Asus's product line-ups, as those are brands I trust and have experience with. It's a little tricky at the moment because stock is thin. In a normal November I'd advising waiting for Black Friday, but it's not clear whether there will be availability, or how much savings will be possible.

My recommendation on specifications in order of importance:
Definitely a 14" or 15" 1080p screen. Dell have some models with lower resolution screens. Not a good place to compromise.
Strongly prefer 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD. Assuming decent build quality, I think these will determine the longevity of the machine.
Recommend a Intel i3 or i5 processor (not Celeron or Pentium), or a Ryzen 5 processor. The revision number is less important, but the Ryzen 5 4500U is significantly more powerful than the 3500U. Anything that starts with a 9, 10 or 11 on the Intel side should be fine.

Weight will be 3-4lbs, which is fine to carry around the house, but maybe a little higher than you'd want to carry on your shoulder all day.

On recommending specific models, ideally you could see them in person, but I don't think the precise models are in stock in Best Buy right now. As a result, it's probably best to stick to Dell or Lenovo, which are safer brands. I personally have an Asus, and like it fine, but that's because I got it last year so I saw it in person to make sure the screen, mouse pad, build quality were good - their model line-up is weird, so it's hard to recommend buying blind.

I think most of the built in cameras are 720p. For what it's worth, my webcam recommendations are Razer Kiyo, Logitech C920S or Avermedia 313, and my microphone recommendation is the Shure MV5 ($80) or AmazonBasics Desktop Mini ($45) if you can find it.

The Lenovos have the numeric keypads, but I think they are a little overpriced. Amazon will sell you an external numeric keypad starting from $10 if that helps. I'd spend the extra $7 on the Rottay one with the mechanical switches because I am a nerd.

To connect to an external display, ideally you want an HDMI port. I think only one of my options doesn't have it, but check. I think they should support 4k TVs, although maybe only at 30 frames/sec. I think that'll be fine if you're not playing twitch-reaction shooting games. I'll also mention that TVs aren't quite as good as computer monitors for displaying text, they say. I haven't noticed it myself, and I think 4k TVs are magical future technology. But just want to give you all the information I have. I don't think any of these laptops have mini-display port connectors, but if so, it's just a matter of buying a different connector (mini displayport to hdmi rather than hdmi to hdmi). One of the laptops doesn't have an HDMI port. You can get a USB dock to connect to a display, but it's an added cost (Hiearcool USB C Hub, for example, is $80).

Here are my recommendations:

  • Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 Laptop (i5-1135G7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 1920x1080 14" touchscreen - check resolution.. do not get 1366x768 version) - $636.99 on Early Black Friday deal
  • Lenovo Yoga C740 (i5-10210U, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 1920x1080 15.6" touchscreen, no HDMI port so would need a dock to connect to an external monitor?) - $699.99
  • Lenovo IdeaPad 5 (Ryzen 5 4500U, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, 1920x1080 15.6" touchscreen, BUT NO TABLET-STYLE CONFIGURATION) - $689.99
  • Asus Flip 14 TP412FA or Asus Flip 14 TM420IA - not in stock anywhere
  • Asus Q406DA (Ryzen 5 3500U (slower), 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 1920x1080 14" touchscreen, DO NOT RECOMMEND WITHOUT SEEING) - $549.99
  • Without the touch screen you might look at Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (Ryzen 5 4500U, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 1920x1080 15" monitor NO TOUCH SCREEN) - $519.39
  • Or you could look at this, which compromises screen resolution, memory and hard drive, but the price is pretty good Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 Laptop (i3-1115G4, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD, 1366x768 14" touchscreen) - $421.39
  • I don't rate Acer that highly, but some reviews had good things to say about the Acer Aspire 5. I don't think they do a 1080p touchscreen though.