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Laptop or Chromebook: Which is better for college?

Alvina Wang/BestReviews

If you favor either low maintenance or power, it’s a tough choice

Going back to school is challenging in its own right, but you shouldn’t have to face technological frustration on top of it. Having everything you need to complete your college tasks is crucial to your success, and there is no better device than a trusted laptop. But between the low maintenance of a Chromebook and the power of a traditional laptop, it’s easily overwhelming when you must decide which is better.

Shop this article: Dell Chromebook 11 3100HP Chromebook 14 HDApple 2022 MacBook Air M2 Chip

A Chromebook is always ready to work

A Chromebook, regardless of the manufacturer, like Asus or Dell, looks similar to a traditional laptop but with a few tweaks. Besides the “Chrome” decal on some models, it’s virtually impossible to tell whether a laptop is a Chromebook or not — until you power it up. Instead of using Microsoft’s Windows as an operating system, these gadgets run on Google’s Chrome operating system.

This means that it comes pre-installed with all the Google products and services you’ll need, such as Sheets, Docs and Google Drive. But there is a caveat: they require a persistent internet connection since the Google apps are cloud-based. However, this means the software is always up-to-date, as it happens automatically in the background.

But the cloud-based operating system and apps do have an advantage over traditional laptops, too. Since you can only install and access a handful of apps, the need for powerful internal components is almost eliminated. This makes a Chromebook much lighter and cheaper than a regular laptop.

A traditional laptop delivers unmatched power

However, if you want to tackle more than just Google products, then a traditional laptop will be your best choice. There are plenty of models to choose from with varying internal configurations, so you can ensure you have the necessary processor, RAM and hard drive space for other tasks.

But while a Windows-based laptop is often more powerful than a Chromebook, you also have the risk of inadvertently installing malware and sporadic, disruptive software updates. And, of course, playing video games when you should be studying.

For many, the potential power and high level of customizability is a major drawcard toward a laptop. Many Chromebooks, for example, don’t have an HDMI port to connect an external monitor and have a limited amount of USB ports for external mice or keyboards. It’s a delicate balance, as everybody wants a high-performance machine but is not exactly thrilled with the idea of carrying around an 8-pound laptop.

Regardless of the differences, when deciding between a Chromebook and a laptop with Windows or macOS as the operating system, ask yourself: Are Google’s services your go-to for studying, or do you want to install whatever apps you want? Before answering, consider which option will be the most beneficial to your education.

Best Chromebooks and laptops

Dell Education Chromebook 11 3000

This lightweight Dell Chromebook is ideal for college, as the 11.6-inch touch display is powered by an Intel Celeron N4020 dual-core processor, 4GB of RAM and a 32GB internal hard drive. The display has a maximum resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, has a built-in webcam, two USB 2.0 ports, two USB-C ports and a jack for headphones. The rechargeable battery lasts about 14 hours, which is more than enough during a college day.

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HP Chromebook 14 HD

Powered by an Intel Pentium Quad-Core N4120 processor and 4 gigabytes of random access memory, this HP Chromebook is lightweight and excellent for any college student. It comes with 64GB eMMC internal storage, connects to wireless networks through a Wi-Fi 5 adapter and has a built-in webcam for virtual meetings or classes.

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Asus CX1500CNA Chromebook 15.6 Inch

One of the larger Chromebooks available, this 15.6-inch Asus model has an Intel Celeron N3350 processor, 4GB of RAM and a more-than-enough internal hard drive of 64GB. This makes it an excellent choice, as it’s fast and user-friendly. It also has a built-in webcam for virtual sessions, a centered trackpad and low keyboard keys.

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Lenovo IdeaPad 1

Powered by Microsoft’s Windows 11 Home S, this 14-inch laptop is seemingly purpose-built for college. It comes with a one-year subscription to Office 365 for all your notes and presentations and has a super-fast 128GB solid-state hard drive. It runs on an Intel Pentium Silver N5030 processor (an AMD Ryzen version is also available) and has 4GB of RAM.

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Apple 2022 MacBook Air M2 Chip

For something that has a bit more power over a Chromebook, you can’t go wrong with Apple’s latest 13-inch MacBook Air. It uses the lightning-fast M2 chip, has 8GB of RAM and a massive 256GB solid-state hard drive. The beautiful Midnight Blue color will fit in with any style, but there are three other colors to choose from.

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Charlie Fripp writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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