Chromebooks occupy a unique section of the laptop market. They’re not quite as full-featured as typical notebooks running Windows 10 or MacOS, and instead they run the featherweight Chrome OS from Google. They’re lighter, more portable, and generally have better battery life than their larger counterparts. These are notebooks for students, professionals, and anyone else who needs a laptop designed to spend more time on the go than on a desk.
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 three of the best Chromebooks. Once you’ve picked the right ‘book for you, get set up with our collection of the best Chromebook apps — or go crazy and run programs like Microsoft Office by installing Windows (but be forewarned, it ain’t easy!).
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, this little thing 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 their latest offering, rolling in support for Google Play apps alongside a versatile touch-screen display. 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.
The best 15-inch Chromebook
Acer Chromebook 15
Why should you buy this: If you need an affordable notebook with a 1080p display
Who’s it for: Anyone who needs 15 inches of screen real estate on a budget.
How much will it cost: $230+
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 multi-task. On top of that, the Chromebook 15 features a dual-core Intel Celeron CPU clocked at 1.5GHz, giving you just enough power to multi-task 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. Anyone can get comfortable with this system. It even has a decent keyboard and touchpad.
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.
For under $200, the C202 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. But this notebook provides the essentials in a durable, shock-tested chassis that will likely outlast every other laptop in your household.
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 — web browsing, word processing, 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 will support the Google Play store and will be able to run Android apps. You’re no longer be 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 would 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 Mac OS.
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 smart phone with a keyboard. If you can’t do it in a web browser, 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.