Being someone that lives on a computer every day, I often get asked what I'd recommend for a laptop purchase. My answer is a Macbook Air. Maybe.
If you plan on doing any work, and by work I mean real work, like photography, website development, graphic design, or if you absolutely HAVE to use Microsoft Office (instead of Google Docs or any other office software), then yes, a Macbook Air is highly recommended. I use one and it's powerful enough to run all of Adobe's software without a hiccup, yet it's very thin, lightweight and sturdy. It's also not extremely expensive, at around $1000 (as opposed to much more for a Macbook Pro).
But, if you don't need that kind of power, I highly, HIGHLY, recommend picking up a Chromebook.
UPDATE: Google just added an awesome new feature to Chrome OS that lets the main user set up supervised accounts that let you monitor browsing history and allow/disallow sites that can be visited. This is huge for parents concerned about what their young children might accidentally stumble upon. Read more about supervised user access here
I was chosen as a beta tester by Google a few years ago and even then, on version 1, running on lackluster hardware, I was very impressed. Now, with much refinement, Chromebooks are hitting their stride. They are inexpensive, lightweight, long battery life, instant on and everything is in the cloud. If you break it, you buy a new one and everything is like you left it!
So with that, here are my recommendations for laptops for the average consumer. Great for kids, grandparents and 35 year old geeks!
(Prices current as of June 19, 2014)
1. Acer C720 Chromebook (11.6-Inch, 2GB) - $199.00
Overall I'd say this would be my top pick for a laptop. It's got a beautiful design, lightweight and really low cost. It's one of the smaller 11 inch laptops, but for most people browsing the web, it's plenty of screen real estate.
It's packed with 2GB of ram, a 16GB solid state drive (add $30 to double that to 32GB) and has a battery life of 8.5 hours.
2. Toshiba CB35-A3120 13.3-Inch Chromebook - $232.03
This chromebook comes in at about the same price as the 32GB version of the Acer above, and while you lose storage space for that price, you get 9 hours of battery and a 13.3 inch screen. If the 11 inch screen would not be enough, this laptop would be the second pick for me.
3. ASUS Chromebook C200MA-DS01 11.6-Inch Laptop - $249.00
The ASUS is also an 11 inch chromebook, and while it's about $20 more expensive, you get a whopping 11 hours of battery life out of it and 802.11 a/c wireless for extra speed. You do only get 16GB of SSD storage, but local storage is really not that important on a Chromebook. Remember, you're trying to keep everything in the cloud with these anyway. It's not quite as easy on the eyes, in my opinion, but it's still a great little laptop.
4. HP Chromebook 14 (Snow White) - $289.99
HP went white for their Chromebook, a big change from the dark and metal look you see on Macbooks and other Chromebooks. This one jumps another $40, and still only has 16GB of storage, but you get a 14 inch screen, the largest Chromebook screen available. If that's important to you, this is the laptop you want.
5. Samsung Chromebook 2 (11.6-Inch, Jet Black) - $319.00
Samsung has made quite possibly the nicest looking Chromebook, and the most powerful, but that also means it's pricier. With this Chromebook you get 8 hours of battery life and a 16GB Solid State Drive, but you get 4GB of ram, so you'll notice that this laptop will not slow down.
BONUS: ASUS CHROMEBOX-M004U Desktop - $169.99!!
I originally meant to make this post only about laptops, but had to throw this in here. If you are in the market for a desktop computer, you might want to consider this. For only $169.99, you get a nice little desktop computer that you can hook up your existing keyboard and mouse and whatever monitor you have (HDMI or DisplayPort). This actually makes a great unit for hooking up to a TV. At such a low price it's almost a no brainer, as long as you don't need power.
For $379.99 you can upgrade it from 2GB of ram to 4GB, get an i3 processor and a wireless keyboard and mouse bundle.