Chromebooks are budget laptops that are both odd and brilliant, low-impact and potent. They focus on what computing has been all about since the late ’90s, the web browser, through Google’s Chrome operating system. The search giant’s OS and mobile computer spec are just a few years old, and already companies like HP, Samsung and Acer have released several models.
What should you look out for in a Chromebook? The majority of these Google laptops use either the same or similar low-power components. This is largely what is behind the unquestionable affordability of these mobile rigs – most of which start under $300.
With low-impact processors and barely HD screens starting at 1366 x 768 resolution, most of these machines are also designed to last. Almost every Chromebook claims between 7 and 9 hours of battery life and comes within a few hours of that range, based on our testing.
However, Google-powered laptops rely on tiny amounts of onboard solid-state storage to keep costs down, starting with 16GB SSDs. To offset the loss, every version of the browser-bound notebook comes with at least 100GB of Google Drive space for two years.
At that point, it all comes down to size (and price), with Chromebooks available as small as 11.6 inches and as large (so far) as 14 inches. Always updated, here are our top-ranking Chromebook reviews:
Toshiba Chromebook – $279
This laptop isn’t super stylish, nor is it the portable powerhouse you’re looking for. But what Toshiba managed to accomplish in style and build for under $300 is undoubtedly impressive.
Even for such a low-power system, 6 to 7 hours of endurance is longer than most Windows laptops can claim. Another plus is how quickly the Toshiba Chromebook charges, meaning less time tethered to an outlet overall.
This is the perfect Baby Boomer laptop, not to mention the mileage students would get out of this machine. Looking for an incredibly affordable mobile computer that does, well, what you do most on the computer? This Chromebook is a wise choice.
- Read our Toshiba Chromebook review
Acer C720P Chromebook – $299
Even at $299, the Acer C720P Chromebook costs way less than most budget laptops, and looks as good as a notebook twice its price. As an affordable laptop, the C720P has a lot to offer: A thin and light design, a snappy keyboard and touchpad, and impressive lasting power.
The notebook’s dual-core processor provides more than enough oomph for heavy browsing. Plus, you can browse, write and stream to your heart’s content, thanks to a seven-hour battery life. If you want a laptop with a touchscreen and don’t use your computer for more than streaming movies, composing documents and browsing the web, the C720P is a fine choice.
- Read our Acer C720P Chromebook review
HP Chromebook 11 – $279
The HP Chromebook 11 is smooth and usable. While Chrome OS is limited by definition, between us growing more comfortable in web apps and those apps growing in power – and Chrome OS maturing – we’re bumping into those limitations far less often.
This laptop is punchy enough to make the experience slick, cheap enough for anyone on a budget (or an impulse buy for the well-off), but something that still feels solid. It is a delight to own and use.
Apple and the other premium manufacturers should look at this little gem of a computer and applaud what has been achieved. The Chromebook 11 shows that it’s possible to create a product with a little bit of the magic and joy you get from an Apple laptop without charging four figures for it.
- Read our HP Chromebook 11 review
Acer C720 Chromebook – $199
In terms of power and endurance, you can’t argue with the Acer C720 Chromebook. When you just want to get on the web quickly to answer emails or look something up, the C720 is ideal. For parents, it’s also a perfect "homework machine," as long as you can get a printer hooked up.
This is a true web appliance, a fine system for families. The Google account log-in gives each user a personalized interface, and just a few keystrokes completely wipe the system. That limits the risk substantially in sharing the system with others.
One key criterion we use in evaluating a device is whether we’d actually want to use it every day. Even taking this laptop’s flaws into account, it’s something we definitely would want to use, for the price.
- Read our Acer C720 Chromebook review
Samsung Chromebook – $249
It takes a few days for you to really "get" the Chromebook experience. Though, likely sooner if you’re a Google nut who uses Gmail, Drive, Calendar et al all the time anyway. But once you get it, it’s under your skin. The simplicity and security of it – a nice cross between the iPad and, say, the complexity of a traditional computer – is refreshing.
The Samsung Chromebook is also affordable, light, simple, silent, reasonably well-constructed, innovative and, generally, a pleasure to use. For lots of people, this model would be perfectly sufficient as a primary computer.
Samsung’s first Google-powered laptop is an accessible machine for students (so long as your campus has Wi-Fi), and not in a patronizing way. If your primary computer is a bulging desktop, all-in-one or even just a bulky, hefty laptop, this is a great go-to-Starbucks-and-get-work-done machine.
- Read our Samsung Chromebook review