Why buy a Chromebook? Well, they’re lighter, more portable, and generally have better battery life than their Windows or Mac counterparts. These are notebooks for students, professionals, and anyone else who needs a laptop designed to spend more time on the go than at a desk. The low price tags are the most attractive draw, however, as Chromebooks often sell for hundreds less than Windows counterparts.
Nearly every major manufacturer offers their own spin on the Chromebook, and the market has never been more crowded. There’s a lot of options available that look similar at a glance, so we’ve narrowed things down for you by sorting through them all to pick four of the best Chromebooks.
Samsung Chromebook Pro
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: $550
Why we picked the Samsung Chromebook Pro:
Between the powerful, efficient Intel Core M processor and the gorgeous 2,400 x 1600 display, the Samsung Chromebook Pro isn’t just an impressive Chromebook. It’s an impressive ultralight laptop.
Building on the legacy of the Chromebooks that came before, Samsung has elevated the design and capabilities of its latest offering, rolling in support for Google Play apps alongside a versatile touch-screen display and a stylus. Fold it back and it becomes an Android tablet, set it upright and it’s a mobile workstation.
The Samsung Chromebook Pro is like a Swiss Army knife, capable of filling a variety of roles throughout your day. It’s still a little expensive for a Chromebook, but it’s well under what you’d pay for a comparable Windows 10 notebook — and it’s certainly cheaper than its relatively comparable Google counterpart, the Pixelbook. Plus, Samsung now offers a version with a backlit keyboard, a feature missing from the initial launch of the laptop.
The best 15-inch Chromebook
Acer Chromebook 15
Why should you buy this: If you need an affordable Chromebook with a large display.
Who’s it for: Anyone who needs a full 15 inches of screen real estate on a budget.
How much will it cost: $200 to start, up to $400
Why we picked the Acer Chromebook 15:
The Acer Chromebook 15 is one of the only Chromebooks with a 15-inch display, 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 15 delivers the same screen real estate as much higher-priced competitors.
Rather than feeling cramped when you have two windows side-by-side on one of the more svelte Chromebook offerings, the Acer Chromebook 15 is just big enough to allow you all the room you need to multitask. On top of that, the late-2017 model features a dual-core Intel Pentium N4200, which features increased multi-core performance 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 Chromebook, Acer’s Chromebook 15 is your best bet.
The best budget Chromebook
Asus Chromebook C202
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, but we haven’t tested those out quite yet. For now, this notebook provides the essentials in a durable, shock-tested chassis that will likely outlast every other laptop in your household.
The best premium Chromebook
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: $900+
Why we picked the Google Pixelbook:
A “premium” Chromebooks may have been an oxymoron in the past, 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 did have a few flaws — like the pricey and chunky pen — but overall it’s an impressive piece of kit, especially if money isn’t an issue.
As much as its starting price of $1,000 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.
Even as powerful as it is though, when pitted against our favorite, the Samsung Chromebook Pro, the Pixelbook just doesn’t hold up for its price. Its competition might not be as fast, but it’s much more affordable and sports the same, high-end display, with a much leaner bezel too. But for someone who wants to go all-in on Google, this is your dream machine.
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.