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The world of technology is ever evolving, and one of the newest types of laptop out there is the Chromebook. They’re designed to be lightweight; they boot up quickly, and rely on connectivity to the internet for apps, rather than holding most software directly on the device.
If you're in the market for an affordable laptop, a Chromebook could be a great option. But how do you know if a Chromebook will fit your needs, and which model you should buy?
At BestReviews, we're here to help! We test products in our labs, consult experts, check feedback from existing customers, and analyze a range of data – all so we can produce fair and thorough reviews to guide you through your purchasing decisions.
What's more, to avoid bias, we never accept free samples from manufacturers.
The following guide will help you decide whether a Chromebook is right for you and, if so, what features you should look for.
For specific product recommendations, head to the top of the page to see our five favorite Chromebooks.
First things first: what is a Chromebook and how is it different from other laptops? Most laptops run on Windows, and those made by Apple run on Mac OS, but Chromebooks run on Chrome OS.
Chrome OS is just another operating system, but if you're used to Windows or Mac OS, the look and feel will be very different. Rather than programs, Chrome OS has apps, and it runs mostly online, with most of your documents stored in the cloud.
Let's take a look at the good and the bad things about Chromebooks.
Chromebooks are extremely affordable, with most models under $300, and many between $100 and $200.
Since Chromebooks rely on cloud storage, you can access your files from other computers and devices, as long as you have an internet connection.
Many users report Chrome OS is fast, stable, clean, and easy to use.
Chromebooks are thin and lightweight compared to similar laptops.
Due to their lightweight operating system and SSD hard drives, Chromebooks take as little as eight seconds from being switched on to being ready to use.
You won't find comparable Windows laptops in the same price range as a lower end Chromebook, and you won't find a Mac laptop in that price range at all.
Although some apps can be used offline, you need to be connected to the internet to get the most from your Chromebook. It's not ideal if you like to use your laptop on the go in places with no Wi-Fi.
You can't use your existing software – such as Photoshop or Microsoft Office – on a Chromebook, although you will find alternatives.
You'll probably end up paying for cloud storage. Google gives all Chromebook owners a free 100GB of Google Drive storage, but only for two years. After that you're downgraded to the usual 15GB free storage, unless you're willing to pay for an upgrade.
You can't use the full Microsoft Office suite on a Chromebook, but you can access an online version of Office. However, Google has its own Office-like suite, which many users find just as good – and it's free.
You’ll find a few important features to weigh when choosing the best Chromebook screen for your needs.
Screen Size: Chromebooks are generally designed to be small and portable for maximum convenience. As such, it's rare to find a Chromebook with a screen size of over 13 inches, and you certainly won't find any 17-inch behemoths just yet.
Resolution: Lower-end Chromebooks tend to have 1366 x 768 pixel displays, but if you're willing to spend a little more, you'll find plenty of models with a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.
Touchscreen: If laptop mousepads get you down, look for a Chromebook with touchscreen capability. You'll likely pay about $100 more than you would for an equivalent model without a touchscreen, but many people are more than happy to pay that premium for speed and convenience.
When considering screen size, remember that screens are measured along the length of the diagonal (e.g. from top left corner to bottom right corner), rather than along the horizontal width.
The CPU, or processor, is the "brain" of a computer, and helps determine how quickly and smoothly your Chromebook runs.
Chromebooks either have Intel processors or Advanced RISC Machine (ARM) processors. ARM processors are energy efficient and powerful, but Intel processors generally perform slightly better.
Plus, it's possible to install Linux distribution on Chromebooks with Intel CPUs, although that's irrelevant for most users.
If your Chromebook runs on an Intel processor, the Intel Core CPU is superior to the Intel Celeron, but it does come with a higher price tag.
Random access memory (RAM) is another factor that influences in how quickly your computer runs.
Most Chromebooks come with 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB of RAM.
If you're going to multitask frequently, we definitely recommend opting for a faster 4GB or 8GB model.
Chromebooks with 4GB of RAM run noticeably faster than 2GB models – particularly when you're trying to perform multiple tasks at once – but they are pricier. Models with 8GB are the most expensive but may be overkill for most users.
Chromebooks have very little internal storage compared to other computers.
This is because your documents, photos, media, and other files are stored in the cloud rather than on your computer (although you can opt to store a limited amount of data on your hard drive).
Most have between 16 and 32GB of internal storage, which should be sufficient for the majority of users, but can be expanded by using a microSD card as additional storage.
A file “stored in the cloud" is actually saved in a datacenter, rather than on your computer. You can access it anytime, as long as you're connected to the internet.
As explained above, to get the most from your Chromebook, it needs to be connected to the internet. Most Chromebooks can only go online where you have Wi-Fi, which is fine if you mostly use yours at home or in the office, but what about when you need to use it on the go? With some models, you can surf the web using 3G or 4G, but you will need to set up and pay for a cellular data plan.
If your cell phone offers a mobile hotspot feature, you can provide internet access to the Chromebook through the cell phone. Remember, though, doing this may incur data charges on your cell phone bill.
Thanks to a combination of solid-state hard drives and power-efficient processors that produce little heat, some Chromebooks don't need an internal fan to cool themselves down. Not only is there no chance of the fan breaking or getting clogged, fanless Chromebooks have a longer battery life and are completely silent.
Laptop fans can get clogged with so much dust that they stop turning, causing your computer to shut itself down until it's fixed. Some Chromebooks are completely fanless, avoiding this issue altogether.
Here are a few tips to help you get the most from your Chromebook:
All Chromebooks made from 2017 onward – as well as some earlier models – will be able to run Android apps.
Chromebooks sync your bookmarks, passwords, and apps. So, if you're using Chrome and your Google account on another device, you'll have all your bookmarks and other preferences replicated to your Chromebook.
Parents can create supervised accounts for their kids to use, which track and limit online activity, and block certain sites.
Not all printers are compatible with Chromebooks, so it's worth checking if yours is before you buy.
You'll need to install drivers or add-ons in order to use some apps offline, and you will normally need to do so when you're connected to the internet, so plan ahead.
One of the great things about Chromebooks is their reasonable price. While you can find pricier models out there, an average user can find a great Chromebook at a bargain price, compared to other laptops.
A very basic Chromebook with a smaller screen size, usually 11 inches, and 2GB of RAM should cost just $100 to $150.
Spend a little more, about $150 to $250, and you can find Chromebooks with larger screens, better resolution, 4GB of RAM, and faster CPUs.
While you can find some very basic models for slightly less, most touchscreen Chromebooks start around $250 and can cost over $500 for high-end models with lots of extra features.
Mid-range Chromebooks cost roughly $250 to $400. They should have good HD screens, decent CPUs, and at least 4GB or RAM. You can also find fanless and touchscreen models in this price range, if desired.
High-end Chromebooks cost between $400 and $600. You can find the odd Chromebook for over $600, but we wouldn't recommend spending this much. For this price you should get 8GB of RAM, at least 32GB internal storage, the best CPU available, a 13- to 15-inch screen, HD resolution, and all the bells and whistles you could hope for.
Q. Can I use my Chromebook when I'm offline?
A. You can use your Chromebook while you're offline, but you won't be able to enjoy its full functionality. In addition to accessing locally stored files (for instance, play movies or edit photos you have stored on your hard drive), you can use Google Drive to create documents or spreadsheets, read saved articles in Pocket, and play various games.
Q. Are Chromebooks suitable for gaming?
A. Unfortunately, Chromebooks aren't a good choice for gaming. While you can download game apps, these are generally basic games of the sort you could play on a smartphone, rather than sophisticated video games. Because you can't run and install programs on a Chromebook, you can't install your favorite video games.
Q. Can Chromebooks get viruses?
A. The unique selling point of Chromebooks is that they almost exclusively run online and you can't download or run any executable programs (only apps), which means they can't get viruses. You can, however, download a bad Chrome extension, but once you remove the extension, everything will go back to normal.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.