The best Chromebooks of 2018

Tired of choosing between Windows and Mac? Check out these Chromebooks instead

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Why buy a Chromebook? Well, they’re lighter, more portable, and generally have better battery life than their Windows or Mac counterparts. They’re also more secure, easier to manage, and receive a constant stream of updates. But the low price tags are the most attractive draw, as Chromebooks often sell for hundreds less than Windows counterparts.

Nearly every major manufacturer offers their own spin on the Chromebook, which means there’s a lot of options available that look similar at a glance — although that’s starting to change as a new wave of premium Chromebooks is just now arriving. We’ve narrowed things down for you by sorting through them all to pick four of the best Chromebooks, according to important, distinguishing categories.

At a glance

Product Category Rating
HP Chromebook x2 Best Chromebook overall 4 out of 5
Acer Chromebook Spin 15 Best 15-inch Chromebook 4 out of 5
Asus Chromebook C202 Best budget Chromebook Not yet rated
Google Pixelbook Best premium Chromebook 3.5 out of 5

HP Chromebook x2

The best Chromebook

best chromebooks hp chromebook x2 1

Why should you buy this: You want a Chromebook prepared for the future of Chrome OS

Who’s it for: Students, professionals, and anyone in between.

How much will it cost: $600

Why we picked the HP Chromebook x2:

Chrome OS users should be happy right about now. Google’s lightweight OS is finally getting some real innovation, with a full slate of new and much more attractive Chromebooks making their way to the market over the next several months. The HP Chromebook x2 is a perfect example — it’s a 12.3-inch tablet that pops magnetically into a keyboard base to act as either a stable clamshell notebook or a standalone slate. It’s very Microsoft Surface Book 2-like in this respect, and we like it a lot.

Inside, it sports a powerful, efficient 7th-generation Intel Core M3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of eMMC storage (expandable via microSD card), which is more than enough to run Chrome OS efficiently. The lovely 2,400 x 1600 (235 PPI) display in the productivity-friendly 3:2 aspect ratio is pen-enabled, giving the Chromebook x2 a ton of uses.

The Chromebook x2 sits on the higher-end of the Chromebook price range, although it’s still considerably cheaper than its biggest competitor: The Google Pixelbook or the new Google Pixel Slate. If you’re looking for a new notebook in the $600 range, though, and don’t need all features of Windows 10, then you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option.

Read our full HP Chromebook x2 review

Acer Chromebook Spin 15

The best 15-inch Chromebook

Acer Chromebook 15 Spin Review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: If you need an affordable Chromebook with a large display — including one that flips around.

Who’s it for: Anyone who needs a full 15 inches of screen real estate on a budget.

How much will it cost: $450

Why we picked the Acer Chromebook Spin 15:

The Acer Chromebook Spin 15 is one of the only Chromebooks with a 15-inch display, and it’s the only 2-in-1 in this form factor — making it a bit of a rarity. With a size and form factor closer to a 15-inch premium laptop than a budget-oriented netbook, the Acer Chromebook Spin 15 delivers the same screen real estate as much higher-priced competitors. That display also flips around, and while you won’t want to use it as a tablet in the crook of your arm — it’s too massive for that — you’ll enjoy media mode for binging Netflix in bed.

Rather than feeling cramped when you have two windows side-by-side on one of the more svelte Chromebook offerings, the Acer Chromebook Spin 15 is just big enough to allow you all the room you need to multitask. On top of that, the 2-in-1 features a dual-core Intel Pentium N4200 and 4GB of RAM, which features increased multi-core performance and plenty of memory to power multitasking without feeling any serious system lag.

The size of this laptop also gives you room to stretch out. Smaller Chromebooks are more portable, but they also can feel cramped, particularly if you’re a large person with similarly large hands. It even has a decent keyboard and touchpad, and it can run for an age thanks to the sizable battery. That makes some of the problems — such as the slight audio distortion, the lack of dedicated video outputs, and the outdated design — a little bit easier to overlook. If size and power are what you are looking for in your budget Chromebook, Acer’s Chromebook Spin 15 is your best bet.

Read our full Acer Chromebook Spin 15 review

Asus Chromebook C202

The best budget Chromebook

Why should you buy this: You need a rugged laptop for a young student

Who’s it for: Grade school, middle school, or high school students

How much will it cost: $200+

Why we picked the Asus Chromebook C202:

The Asus Chromebook C202 is one of the most inexpensive and durable notebooks on the market today. Designed from the ground up to withstand the rigors of educational use, the C202 isn’t going to be winning any awards for speed or design, but it can handle bumps that would kill other computers.

This thing is built like a tank. With rubberized bumpers built into the chassis itself, it can withstand short drops and a nearly endless amount of jostling. This is the notebook for active students, or for teachers who might not want to risk a more expensive laptop in a perilous environment like a classroom.

The newest version is the C202SA, which you can get for as low as $200, packs an Intel Celeron N3060 processor, only two to four gigabytes of onboard memory, and 16GB of storage space. So, it’s definitely not the fastest machine. In addition, the recently announced budget Chromebooks from Lenovo, as well as Acer’s new Chromebook Tab 10, will bring some much-needed competition in this realm. For now, this notebook provides the essentials in a durable, shock-tested chassis that will likely outlast every other laptop in your household.

Read more here

Google Pixelbook

The best premium Chromebook

Google Pixelbook running Adobe Lightroom CC
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: You want comparable hardware to Windows laptops.

Who’s it for: Professionals and those who want serious power in their Chromebook.

How much will it cost:  $793+

Why we picked the Google Pixelbook:

A “premium” Chromebook used to be an oxymoron, but thanks to the Pixelbook that’s no longer true. We’re seeing all sorts of manufacturers follow suit with higher-end machines built more for luxury and performance. The Pixelbook is the best of the bunch so far. It does have a few flaws — like the pricey and chunky pen — but overall it’s an impressive piece of kit, especially if price isn’t the most important factor for you.

As much as its starting price of $1,000 (regularly on sale for $800 or slightly less) makes it far from a typical Chromebook, the Pixelbook does offer the most powerful hardware of all the recommendations in this guide. Its base version comes with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD). You can upgrade that to a Core i7 and 16GB too if you like, so if you envision performing some heavy duty tasks on your Chromebook, the Pixelbook is a worthy recommendation.

It might not always feel it’s the best bang for your buck, for someone who wants to go all-in on Google, the Pixelbook is your dream machine. Google was rumored to introduce a new high-end Chromebook this October with smaller bezels and a 4K screen, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we have slightly less expensive detachable tablet 2-in-1, the Pixel Slate.

Read our full Google Pixelbook review

How we test

When laptops enter our labs, they undergo a torturous battery of tests intended to give us a look at how each one will perform in a variety of situations. We want to define their limits, find out what they can do in everyday use and how they perform when they’re pushed.

We test individual components like the display, the CPU, GPU, and hard disk, using specific benchmarks to see how they stack up against competitors. We test for speed, reliability, and most importantly, we just spend a lot of time with each laptop.

You can find out how individual components work on their own by checking out manufacturer specs, but we test notebooks as a whole as well. We don’t just want to find out how fast each component is, we want to see how they complement each other, how they perform as a package. That way, we can give you a fully-rounded recommendation.

Before buying a Chromebook, think about Android apps

Chrome OS isn’t the most robust operating system around, but it gets the job done for Chromebooks by providing the essentials such as web browsing, word processing, and browsing basic file types. But sometimes, you need more than a Chromebook provides. Does that mean you should jump ship or skip over Chromebooks entirely? Not anymore.

Starting in 2017, every new model of Chromebook supports the Google Play store and will be able to run Android apps. You’re no longer limited to the Chrome ecosystem, and you can get just as much functionality out of your Chromebook as you could out of an Android phone or tablet.

Some earlier models also feature Android integration. For a full and continually updated list you can check here. To find out how to install Android apps on your (compatible) Chromebook, check out the official instructions from Google here.

Is a Chromebook for you?

Chromebooks aren’t for everyone, and some users will be frustrated by their lack of functionality. Others might not even notice that Chrome OS is a bit more limited than traditional operating systems like Windows 10 and MacOS.

It all depends on how you use your current laptop or desktop. If you need to run a lot of specialized applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, or even if you absolutely need the Microsoft Office Suite and can’t settle for Google Docs, a Chromebook probably isn’t for you. On the other hand, it’s great for people who mostly surf the web or stick to other online tasks.

Chromebooks are devices that excel at general-purpose use — think of a Chromebook as a slightly more robust tablet, or a big smartphone with a keyboard. If you can’t do it in a web browser or Android app, you probably won’t be able to do it on a Chromebook. That said, if you just need an affordable mobile device to bridge the gap between a desktop and your smart phone, a Chromebook might be for you.

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