What do you need from a laptop? For many a modern user, the answer is simple: a keyboard. See, a smartphone or tablet can sub in for a lot of everyday tasks -- Web, Facebook, Twitter and so on -- but if you need to tap out more than just a few words, it's hard to beat a full-size keyboard.
But do you really need to spend $400, $500 or even more just for those times when you need to bang out a report or compose a lengthy email?
Nope. This week only, and while supplies last, Staples has the Asus X205TA-HATM0103 11.6-inch Windows 8.1 laptop for $179.99. Shipping is free, though you'll probably be on the hook for sales tax.
Needless to say, this is not a Core i5 system with tons of storage and a super-hi-def display. Instead, it has decidedly tablet-like specs: an Intel Atom Z3735F processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of flash storage (expandable!), and a 1,366x768-pixel display (which Asus hilariously describes as a "glare panel" on the X205TA's product page).
But is all that enough to run Windows 8.1 ("with Bing") at a decent and comfortable clip? Mais oui! Look no further than the 80-plus user reviews, which average out to 4.5 stars (out of 5).
And here's where it gets even better: like a lot of Windows tablets (but unlike most Windows laptops), the X205TA comes with a free year of Office 365 Personal.
If you can find one of these in your local Staples store, I definitely recommend swinging by so you can get your hands on the keyboard and touchpad, and your eyes on the screen -- crucially important features that are hard to judge by specs alone. (Speaking of which, there's one spec I don't like: the two USB ports are USB 2.0. Seriously, Asus? How much more could it possibly cost for 3.0 ports?)
Even so, a full-blown Windows 8.1 laptop at this price point? It's hard to complain too loudly unless there are major usability issues, and that doesn't seem to be the case here. If you need a laptop for occasional keyboard-powered computing, this is awfully tough to pass up.
Bonus deal: Curveball time! What if that very same $179.99 could buy you a larger laptop from the same company? It can: today only, and while supplies last, Groupon has the Asus C300MA-EDU 13.3-inch Chromebook for $179.99 shipped when you apply coupon code MEGA3 at checkout. Iiiiiinteresting, no? Instead of Windows, Chrome OS. Instead of an 11.6-inch screen, 13.3 inches. Instead of 2GB of RAM, 4GB. And you get a USB 3.0 port! This should make for an interesting discussion; head to the comments and tell me which budget lappie is the better deal.