Whether you're a wide-eyed college freshman or a worldly senior, you're going to need a decent laptop to get you through school. But given the ludicrous cost of tuition these days, most students are left with little expendable income. Luckily, there are more options than ever before. Chromebooks, known for their low prices and long battery life, are really taking the budget laptop scene by storm.
Chromebooks stand as an affordable option for college students, costing anywhere from $200 to $1,000, but are they worth the money? If you spend most of your time browsing the web, scrolling through Facebook and the like, then yes. These cheap machines like these are ideal for light usage, which is why they've made such a dent in the education market. They're also at lower risk for security issues because they exclusively run web-based applications. Regardless of your needs, there's a Chromebook you can buy that'll keep you smitten for years to come.
If you just want to know which one's the cream of the crop, it's the Google Pixelbook Go(available at Amazon for $409.99). It has a sophisticated all-aluminum body, a gorgeous touchscreen, and speedy performance—it's kind of like the Macbook of Chromebooks. However, there's so many more options out there for everyone. We went hands-on with a slew of Chromebooks: from traditional 'books to versatile 2-in-1's, we checked performance, build quality, and everything else. If you want the Pixelbook Go's speedy performance and premium look without the hefty price tag, the affordable 2-in-1 Lenovo Ideapad Flex 5(available at Amazon for $409.99) ended up nabbing our praise as the best overall Chromebook. Not your cup of tea? Don't worry. Everything on this list has something to offer buyers.
These are the best Chromebooks we tested, ranked in order:
Lenovo Ideapad Flex 5
Google Pixelbook Go
Acer Chromebook CB715
Acer Chromebook Flip C434
HP Chromebook x360
Lenovo Ideapad Flex 3
Lenovo Chromebook Duet
Acer Chromebook Spin 713
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I never thought I could love a Chromebook as much as I love the Flex 5. It’s snappy, it feels luxurious, it looks classy, it has a nice screen, it’s affordable, and it has a flawless keyboard and trackpad. What doesn’t it have? This is an excellent midrange chromebook that succeeds as both a clamshell laptop and as a 2-in-1. It stands sturdy when I use it as a laptop, and the hinges snap nicely to make a seamless tablet configuration. If you want a machine for your everyday load, where you just want something that will be a pleasure to write, watch, read, and play on, the Flex 5 shines. It has a large, smooth trackpad with excellent tracking, a keyboard that I could easily type on for hours, and a touch screen that’s always sensitive to my fingertips. I also had no problems with the screen, as it provided a picture that was great for Youtube and Netflix binging. It doesn’t have enough brightness to, say, read in a park on a sunny day, but it’s more than enough for use in a well-lit room. Because the Flex 5 runs ChromeOS, its 4GB of RAM and Intel Core i3 processor run snappy and flexibly no matter what I throw at it. However, while the Flex 5 outperformed quite a few higher-end processors in single core benchmarks, it did not manage to match Intel’s Core i5 or AMD’s Ryzen 5 processors in multi-core benchmarks. That means it’s underpowered for the most intensive of tasks, such as video editing and 3D modelling, but it can handle 3D gaming and bloated web browsers just fine. If you want to take your Chromebook with you wherever you go, it will serve you for an afternoon or shorter plane ride, but you’ll want to have a USB-C charger on hand once you deplete its middling battery life of six hours. This is by far this Chromebook’s biggest flaw, as it falls well below the supple battery times seen in its similarly priced rivals. Despite its mediocre battery life, it’s still a great buy. Its construction feels solid and looks better than many other Chromebooks in this price range, and it packs enough power that I wouldn’t miss Windows and MacOS. I’d absolutely recommend this to the average home user.
I’m Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo, the former laptop reviewer here at Reviewed and an editor of our Best Right Now buying guides. Not only am I a huge fan of Chromebooks, but I also use one as my everyday laptop. They’re great because they’re largely virus-free and have fantastic battery life.
Hey there, I’m Emily Ramirez, tech staff writer and current laptop reviewer here at Reviewed. I’ve been working professionally with tech and PCs for six years, from game development to reviewing and everything in between. Before I came to Reviewed, I had worked with Lifewire and the MIT Game Lab. I’m passionate about all things tech, although I especially enjoy working with PCs. It takes a lot to make a great PC, and it takes a lot to know what a great PC looks like—it’s not just power. It’s also build quality, touchpad sensitivity, keyboard ergonomics, display accuracy, aesthetics, and more. We all want our laptops and desktops to last as long as possible, while giving us all the performance and comfort we asked for. When I’m not testing and evaluating laptops, I’m planning new keyboard and small form factor desktop builds.
Our tests for these devices aren’t based purely on processing power. Instead, we look at the overall usability of the laptop, which also depends on the quality of the screen, the keyboard, what interfaces it offers and many other factors. We test all of these factors and assign a score for each. Then, we rate the overall usability of the laptop as a combination of all of these factors by creating an overall weighted score.
First, we look at how well each laptop performs. Because the laptops in this guide are mostly designed for running web applications like Google Docs, we use two web benchmarks: Basemark and Speedometer. These test the processing power of the laptop in a web browser: for all of them, we used Google Chrome.
Most laptop displays do well in a dark room, but what about outdoors? Is a glossy screen better than a matte one? To figure out this information, we test the brightness on the display. We do this with a CS-200: it’s a handheld device that measures luminance. We measure the white levels and black levels at max brightness and then again at 50% brightness.
Next, we tested the battery life of each laptop to see how long you can use them for between charges. With their displays adjusted to a brightness of 200 nits, we set them to continuously cycle through popular websites, simulating the way you would use the laptop when idly browsing the web. We also look at how comfortable the screen is to look at, how easy the keyboard is to type on, and other factors.
What is a Chromebook?
Running Chrome OS (aka Google's default browser), Chromebooks are inexpensive and largely virus-free, a great option for college students. Equipped with low-power processors, Chromebooks typically have good battery life and are fanless. That said, they’re not the most powerful laptops in the world. They can only handle everyday tasks like browsing the web, checking e-mail, and watching Netflix.
13-inch laptops: These smaller laptops are great for carrying around, and more than suitable for light work like writing papers and browsing the web.
15-inch laptops: Mid-sized laptops are a bit less portable, and won’t necessarily work in space-constrained spaces like airplane seats. But the larger display is useful for photo editing and watching videos.
17-inch laptops: This is very large, and only recommended if you are doing video editing or other intensive work that requires a lot of screen real estate—and you don’t mind lugging it around.
There can still be varying sizes within those categories—for example, the XPS 13’s smaller bezels make it much smaller than most 13-inch laptops—and sizes in between, like the 14-inch Lenovo Yoga C930. But in general, picking a size range you’re comfortable with can help narrow down the field.
You’ll also want to consider how many USB ports the laptop has, whether you need HDMI and Ethernet, and how comfortable the keyboard and trackpad are to use—this can vary quite a bit from model to model, and it’s important to get something responsive and durable. Touch displays are generally reserved for more premium products.
Windows is still the dominant OS these days, and if you’re going to play games, edit photos and videos, or need certain software for work, you’ll probably stick with Microsoft’s offering. If you spend all your time on the web, though, a Chromebook may serve you better than you’d think—between Netflix, Gmail, Google Docs, and even online photo editors like Pixlr, you can do almost anything in a browser, and many of those web apps even work offline for those rare occasions you don’t have Wi-Fi. Chromebooks have the advantage of being cheaper (since they don’t need as much processing power) and virtually virus-free (since they run Linux under the hood).
Under the Hood
Finally, you’ll need to consider the guts—the processor, graphics chip, RAM, and storage that determine your laptop’s capabilities. For browsing the web and using office software, lower-power chips like Intel’s i3 and i5 are more than adequate. 4GB of RAM is usable in a Chromebook, though even web browsing can eat up RAM these days, so 8GB is recommended if you tend to open lots of tabs, use lots of browser extensions, and want a laptop that’ll last you well into the future—I wouldn’t generally advise 4GB for most Windows laptops these days.
Other Chromebooks We Tested
Google Pixelbook Go (GA00521-US)
If you want a Chromebook that feels like a Macbook, this is it. Google’s Pixelbook Go is a sleek sheet of matte black aluminum that oozes with premium build quality. While you can get more powerful Chromebooks for the same exorbitant price, you’ll have a tougher time finding something that feels this durable. There’s quite a bit to like about the user experience. The display is a gorgeous glossy touch screen that is incredibly bright, vivid, and full of contrast. Screens that look this good are rarely seen in this price range on ChromeOS or on Windows. Its large trackpad feels just as good, with a smooth glass finish and flawless gesture recognition. I have mixed feelings about its ultra-quiet keyboard. It does manage to make virtually no noise, but it sacrifices feedback and subsequently makes it difficult for my fingertips to feel when the keys register. With 8GB of RAM and an Intel Core M5-8500Y, the Pixelbook Go packs more power than most people would ever need of their Chromebooks. If you’re looking to play fast, intense games on it, then you’ll have no trouble running anything at high frame rates from the Google Play Store. Where this Chromebook lags a bit behind its competitors is in its battery life. In our web based battery test, the Pixelbook Go cycled through pages for 7 hours and 45 minutes before saying good night. Many cheaper Chromebooks could go for anywhere between eight and ten hours, but they could not provide the power of a Pixelbook Go in return. Additionally, we found better battery life in some Ryzen-based Windows laptops in the same price range (the Asus Zenbook 14 and the HP Envy x360 13t both made it past the 8 hour 15 minutes mark). For $850, the Core M5 Pixelbook Go is a tough sell for anyone that isn’t looking for a top-line Chromebook and would settle for slightly less build quality or a different OS for a fraction of the cost.
If you want a big, beautiful Chromebook then the Acer Chromebook CB715 isn’t a bad choice. The machine has a large, 15.6-inch screen housed in a sleek, aluminum body. It feels like a premium machine, even though it starts at just $500. The CB715 did well in our tests, powering through benchmarks despite the older 8th-gen Intel Core i3 processor. The display was also pleasant to use, with a matte coating cutting down on reflections—even if it was a little dim overall. I also really liked typing on the keyboard, though the lack of a backlight was a constant struggle. The CB715 has all the makings of a really compelling laptop, but only if you can get the model we tested (4GB RAM, Intel Core i3, 128GB Storage) for under $500. The more expensive configs aren’t worth it, and the cheaper options with Intel Pentium processors won’t be fast enough.
If you’re a young professional, you should definitely check out the Asus Chromebook Flip. Its performance is good enough for everyday tasks like surfing the web and checking email, and its bezels are practically nonexistent (this means you’re getting a ton of screen). But what I like best is the sophisticated design. With its aluminum finish and chrome trim, the C434T looks and feels like a premium product (minus the premium price tag). It’s one of the most elegant-looking Chromebooks we’ve seen in a while.
The only thing that tripped me up was the trackpad. It’s not as responsive as a MacBook touchpad, and it took me some time to adjust to it. I wouldn’t say it’s a deal-breaker, per se, it’s just something to be aware of.
It may not be mighty, but it sure is lovely. The HP Chromebook x360 is a 2-in-1 convertible Chromebook that feels sturdy and looks pretty in white. It comes with an optional stylus that really elevates the experience to something more organic, the pen gliding on the 4,096 levels of pressure like a pencil glides on photo paper. This is a great tablet for students, as it allows them to take notes by writing them out or by typing them as they please. The Chromebook x360’s keyboard is surprisingly springy and stable for the price, and its touchpad is just as satisfactory. When you open your favorite video apps and sites, you’ll be treated to a bright, colorful display that looks much better than the price would suggest. If you need a Chromebook that can handle a lot of tabs and programs simultaneously, this one may be a bit underpowered for you. However, if you’re looking for something a little more casual, maybe to check your email and read some ebooks, this little 2-in-1 has the perfect mix of features and functionality.
This humble Chromebook is just barely enough for the demands of modern life, but not for the demands of tomorrow. With a Celeron N4020 processor, the Flex 3 can juggle light web browsing and film watching. If you need something simple that just works, you won’t be disappointed—you just won’t be wowed, either. While the 11-inch screen is only 1366 x 768 pixels, it gets pleasingly bright, is easy to read, and delivers flawless touch recognition. The Flex 3’s 10-hour battery life and fanless design make it a reasonably functional 2-in-1 for those that value price, silence, and portability. While its build quality is indicative of its sub-$400 price tag, it’s by no means the worst in its class. The all-plastic silver chassis is rigid and sturdy, as are the hinges, the keyboard and the trackpad. There’s nothing remarkable about the build, just as there’s nothing remarkable about its performance.
The Lenovo Chromebook Duet is a detachable Chromebook; in other words, is it a Chromebook or is it an Android tablet? At just under $300, it’s priced like a Chromebook, but it unfortunately runs like a slow budget tablet. Whether you’re streaming Netflix or writing an email, the Duet just constantly chugs along. Its MediaTek brain feels no pressure to outcompete other, more powerful Chromebooks (and tablets!) in the same price range. That said, when videos and ebooks finally load, the Duet treats you to a bright, vivid, 1920x1200P screen that’s crisper than what you get on most midrange laptops. You’ll also be hard pressed to find a lighter Chromebook than this one-pound wonder. When you add the beautiful denim-ish keyboard case that’s included with the Duet, it still only weighs a little under 2 pounds, and this 10-inch detachable hits 10 hours of battery life on our browser-based test (one of the best scores we’ve seen for Chromebooks). It doesn’t get much more portable than this. But, is the detachable form factor worth the portability? It depends on what you value. Because of limited onboard space, the Duet has a single USB-C port for both charging and accessories. Its cover, while elegant, is not all that practical, as its cardboard fold-back rear is prone to flopping over and causing repeated frustration when in “laptop” mode. When you manage to stabilize it, you will at least not be let down by its decent trackpad and keyboard. I would skip this Chromebook for now, but I am excited to see what the next iteration of the Duet will look like. If it has more oomph and a sturdier case, it will make an awesome Chromebook and a worthy iPad rival.
The Acer Chromebook Spin 13 is a great option for the college student, as it’s budget-friendly and has a wide selection of ports (which eliminates the need for an adapter). We also like that the stylus is included and that you can store it inside a little compartment in the laptop’s shell. What surprised us most about this laptop was its tall display, as I expected it to be awkward to handle. Fortunately, the hinges are tight and strong so the screen didn’t wobble at all.
Though we adore this laptop, there are some trade-offs. When we put the Spin through our battery test, which cycles through websites like Twitch and Amazon, it died in about five hours. Additionally, the laptop itself feels pretty bulky. Weighing a little over three pounds. That said, it’s definitely durable. There’s hardly any flex to the display and the keyboard didn’t creak when I pushed down on it with both hands.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.