One pleasant surprise from the past couple of months has been the number of good-to-great laptops we've reviewed that can be had for $1,000 or less. That price range is usually Compromise City, with cheap-looking systems that may have decent CPUs, but skimp on a lot of other stuff. And, of course, no one wants to be seen in the coffee shop with a hunk of molded plastic while every other table sports a metal MacBook.
Whether you're gearing up for the fall semester or you're just ready for a pre-Windows 8 upgrade, the systems below all strike a good balance between price, design, and features.
Asus Zenbook UX32A ($779)
If you just love the Zenbook look and feel, then this version, the UX32A, is a way to get it for under $800, albeit with outdated components and some performance compromises. Read the full review of the Asus Zenbook UX32A.
Vizio Thin+Light CT14-A0 ($899)
The Vizio Thin+Light CT14 has an excellent consumer-electronics-inspired design, and is enviably thin and light. Its clutter-free desktop and minimalist looks showcase the fact that this is not just another rote laptop. Read the full review of the Vizio Thin+Light CT14-A0.
Lenovo IdeaPad U310 ($799)
The IdeaPad U310 offers up an attractive design and all the basic bells and whistles of a 13-inch ultrabook for $799, making it an all-around decent choice that's perfectly priced for back-to-school shoppers. Read the full review of the Lenovo IdeaPad U310.
Dell Inspiron 14z ($899)
With a new slim design, the Dell Inspiron 14z impresses by including an Intel Core i5 CPU and discrete AMD graphics, all for a very reasonable price. It's almost enough to make you forget about Dell's higher-end XPS laptops. Read the full review of the Dell Inspiron 14z.
HP Envy Sleekbook 6 ($599)
The ultrabook-like Sleekbook 6 is the sharpest-looking $599 laptop you're likely to find, although you'll pay a slight performance premium. Just don't let the awkward name put you off. Read the full review of the HP Envy Sleekbook 6.
Sony Vaio E Series 11-inch ($449)
With only a handful of 11-inch laptops still available, serious travelers are flocking to ultrathin 13-inch models instead. But the low price and good battery life of the Sony Vaio E keep it from being counted out. Read the full review of the Sony Vaio E Series 11-inch.
Apple MacBook Air, 11-inch ($999)
This year's model is faster, packing a third-gen Intel Core i5 processor that's nearly indistinguishable from the one in the larger 13-inch MacBook Air. USB 3.0 ports have been added, and battery life is better, finally clearing 5 hours and then some on our tests. Read the full review of the 11-inch Apple MacBook Air.
Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these laptops head-to-head.