After testing most of the Chromebooks released in the past three years, we’ve found that the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA is the best Chromebook for most people. It’s fast enough for tab-heavy browser work, it provides a full workday of battery life, and it has a small, light body, as well as a comfortable backlit keyboard and a bright screen. At around $500, it’s more expensive than we’d like, but unfortunately all good Chromebooks are expensive right now—and the Flip feels more like a $1,000 Windows ultrabook than a $500 laptop, so it’s worth that price.
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We recommend the DHM4 version of the Chromebook Flip C302CA with a 12.5-inch 1920×1080 IPS touchscreen, an Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 64 GB solid-state drive. It has a touchscreen and a 360-degree hinge. In addition, it will be getting Android-app support (hopefully within the next few months), but we don’t know how well it will run Android apps when that time comes, so we don’t recommend buying this model solely for that reason. The Flip has very few ports—two USB-C ports, a microSD slot, and a headphone jack—so if you need to connect things to this Chromebook, you’ll need some adapters.
If the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA is unavailable, you should get the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook. It too can handle heavy workloads and has a 1080p screen, a good keyboard and trackpad, and enough battery life to last all day. But unlike the Flip, this ThinkPad doesn’t have keyboard backlighting, a touchscreen, or a 360-degree hinge. It also weighs more than the Flip, and its battery life is an hour shorter. None of those missing features are essential, though, and this solid, reliable Lenovo is one of the best Chromebooks out there.
We recommend using Lenovo’s website to configure the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook with a 13.3-inch, 1920×1080 IPS display, as well as an Intel Celeron 3855U processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 16 GB solid-state drive. The default 1366×768 TN screen is dim, low-res, and not as color-accurate; it’s worth spending an extra $50 to get a much better screen.
If you’re looking for the least expensive Chromebook you can get away with, check out the Dell Chromebook 13 3380 Education. It offers solid performance and excellent battery life, and at just $300, it’s the cheapest Chromebook you can still effectively work on. The trade-off: You end up with a shallow (but spill-resistant!) keyboard; a dim, low-resolution screen; and a creaky, hollow-feeling body. We recommend the base configuration with a 13-inch 1366×768 TN display, an Intel Celeron 3855U processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 16 GB solid-state drive.
A Chromebook is an inexpensive laptop that runs Chrome OS, an operating system that uses a Web browser (Chrome) as its primary interface and focuses on Web apps and online storage. A Chromebook is ideal for someone who spends all their computing time in a browser: checking email and social networks, working in Google’s app suite or in other Web apps, and juggling lots of tabs. A Chromebook also makes a good bare-bones secondary laptop if you already have a laptop or a desktop computer.
Chromebooks are easy to set up and maintain. You have no antivirus definitions to update, no drivers to stay on top of, and no update settings to configure. Like Windows and macOS, Chrome OS automatically checks for and downloads system updates. But unlike with those platforms, you don’t have to tell a Chromebook to install the updates, or even approve them: Whenever you restart, available updates get installed. (If you go long enough without restarting the Chromebook, you’ll see a little arrow in the system tray prompting you to restart the machine to install updates.)
If you can’t live without a certain desktop app, such as Microsoft Office, a desktop email client, or Photoshop,1 a Chromebook is not for you. Many email and office suites have browser-based alternatives like Office 365, but if you’re unwilling or unable to switch to browser versions (for work or other reasons), stick to a Mac or Windows computer.
Chromebooks must be connected to the Internet for most tasks, though they do support some offline options for Gmail, Google Drive, Calendar, and Keep, as well as offline playback of movies, music, and some games. And a variety of offline apps are available through the Chrome Web Store.
Most Chromebooks have between 16 GB and 64 GB of local storage, but Google encourages Chromebook owners to live in the cloud by providing 100 GB of free Google Drive storage for two years. (Once your two years are up, you’ll need to pay to keep that Drive space. Right now, 100 GB costs $2 per month.) Most Chromebooks also include USB ports and an SD or microSD card slot that you can use to expand storage.
A Chromebook doesn’t need to be exceptionally powerful or look fancy, but if any part of it—a slow processor, bad Wi-Fi, poor battery life, a horrendous screen, or a bad keyboard or trackpad—gets in the way of your using the Internet like a normal person, it has failed at its only job.
Good-enough performance means 4 GB of RAM; an Intel Broadwell, Skylake, or Kaby Lake processor; and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. In the past three years of testing Chromebooks, we’ve found that Chromebooks that have less than 4 GB of memory or run on ARM-based processors from Samsung, Nvidia, or Rockchip are painful to use due to slow-loading tabs and frustrating typing delays.
In years past, we could find all our required features shoved into a cheap, plastic body for around $330. Those days are gone. Now, something close to our perfect Chromebook costs at least $450, because manufacturers seem to be focusing on nicer Chromebooks made of better materials for most people, while aiming the cheaper models at schools. (I eagerly await the second coming of $300 greatness, but until that day arrives, we’re stuck with more-expensive Chromebooks.)
Google is rolling out Android support for some Chromebooks, but at a glacial pace. It’s tricky, since Chrome runs best on x86 processors like the ones Intel makes, while Android apps are optimized for ARM processors. Our early testing of two Samsung Chromebooks that run Android apps bore that out: The Samsung Chromebook Plus, with an ARM processor, ran Android apps well but was slow on regular Web browsing, while a preproduction Chromebook Pro, with an Intel processor, had the opposite problem. We expect that ARM processors will continue to get better at running Chrome, because Google, like Apple and Microsoft, is working hard on making ARM processors more powerful.
But because it’s unclear when many current Chromebooks will get Android-app support—or how well they’ll run those apps when they do—we don’t recommend buying a Chromebook with the expectation of using Android apps right now. That means touchscreens and 360-degree hinges aren’t yet must-have features.
We’ve tested 28 Chromebooks since early 2014, not counting different configurations of a single model. That’s a huge chunk of all the Chromebooks made so far. For the past three years, we’ve evaluated those Chromebooks with a series of benchmarks and real-world tests.
We live with each of our Chromebook contenders for at least one full day of work to get a feel for the keyboard, trackpad, screen, and speakers, as well as for each laptop’s real-world performance. We also stream music, work in large Google Drive spreadsheets and text documents, and test the number of tabs each Chromebook can handle, paying special attention to frustrating and error-inducing input lag while typing in Google Docs. We also test Netflix and YouTube videos in both full-screen and windowed mode, because early Chromebooks had big problems with streaming video.
To test the battery life of each Chromebook, we use a customized version of the Chromium battery test designed to emulate normal browsing behavior. The Chromium battery test loads a new website every minute, scrolling down and back up the page, for the first 60 percent of the test. The next 20 percent of the test loads a Gmail tab with audio streaming in a background tab. For the next 10 percent, the Chromium test loads various Google Docs items; the final 10 percent of the test plays a full-screen YouTube video at 720p. We run the test until each Chromebook dies, recording our findings.
The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA meets all our requirements for a great Chromebook, offering solid performance, a battery that lasts a full workday, a light and compact body, a comfortable backlit keyboard and responsive trackpad, and a bright screen. We recommend the DHM4 model with a 12.5-inch 1920×1080 IPS touchscreen, an Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 64 GB solid-state drive.
The Flip is pricey for a Chromebook and doesn’t yet have Android-app support to take advantage of its touchscreen and 360-degree hinge; both of its USB ports are Type-C, as well, so you will need a dongle for your Type-A devices. But despite those flaws, the Flip is an excellent Chromebook.
At around $500, it’s more expensive than we’d like—all good Chromebooks are, right now—but the Flip’s exceptional build quality makes it worth the price. The Flip feels closer to a $1,000 ultrabook than to a cheap Chromebook, and everyone I handed it to commented on how nice it looked and felt. Windows laptops in the $500 price range tend to be huge, hollow, creaky monstrosities with mediocre battery life, horrendous screens, and a spinning hard drive instead of a solid-state drive.
The Asus Chromebook Flip weighs just 2.65 pounds and measures 12 by 8.3 by 0.6 inches. It’s much smaller and lighter than the 3.2-pound Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook and 3.5-pound Dell Chromebook 13 3380 Education, and it’s even a bit smaller and lighter than our favorite Windows ultrabook.
In our battery-life test with the screen at 40 percent brightness and the keyboard backlight off, the Flip lasted 8 hours, 7 minutes. That means it’ll last a full day at work or school, or over a cross-country flight. Our runner-up, the Lenovo, had roughly an hour less battery life in the same test, while our budget pick, the Dell, lasted 13 hours, 19 minutes because of its lower-resolution screen.
The Flip can charge via USB-C. In a perfect world, this would mean that you could use any USB-C charger to power the Flip—how convenient! But because of the confusing state of USB-C charging right now, we don’t recommend using any charger other than the one Asus provides with the Chromebook, because there’s a chance the wrong charger could fry your laptop (I may have done this to a different Chromebook accidentally). Once things calm down with USB-C standards, and chargers are properly labeled or universally compatible, USB-C charging will be more useful.
Comfortable and responsive, the keyboard is not too cramped to type on. (Previous iterations of the Flip shrank the keyboard to make the convertible more comfortable to hold in tablet mode, but at the expense of making the machine difficult to use as a laptop.) The bright, adjustable backlight is also a nice touch that many recent Chromebooks have done away with to cut costs.
The Flip’s trackpad feels smooth, and is accurate and responsive the vast majority of the time. Occasionally the trackpad took a few seconds to register that I was touching it, but my ice-cube fingers might have been to blame.
The screen is vivid and bright. In Laptop Mag’s tests, the Flip’s screen had a larger color gamut than the Lenovo’s, but it was less color-accurate. The Flip’s glossy touchscreen display also has a bit more glare than the matte screen of the Lenovo. (Both Chromebooks were better than average in Laptop Mag’s tests.) The 12.5-inch screen is a bit smaller than we’d like—13.3-inch screens offer more space to work, while the extra vertical space on the Samsung Chromebook Plus and Pro is more useful for Web browsing—but the smaller screen is worth the trade-off for a more compact, lighter laptop.
The display is also a touchscreen, and the Flip has a 360-degree hinge that allows you to flip the screen around to use the laptop as a tablet, or in any intermediate position. Chrome OS isn’t the most touch-friendly operating system, but these features will become more useful when the Flip gets Android-app support. (More on this topic in a moment.)
The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty and the standard Google goodies.
The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA is expensive, especially for a Chromebook. Just two years ago, you could get a great Chromebook for $330. Last year that mark crept up to $430. Now you have to pay at least $450 for a good Chromebook—that’s how much the recommended configuration of our runner-up, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook, costs. After careful consideration, we decided that the Flip’s backlit keyboard, longer battery life, and potential for Android apps make it worth paying $50 extra for.
Offering only two USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 ports, a microSD slot, and a headset jack, the Flip has no USB-A ports for your existing accessories and none of the faster, more-versatile Thunderbolt 3 ports found on recent ultrabooks. We recommend grabbing a couple of USB-C–to–USB-A adapters or a hub for more devices if you need more ports.
Despite having a touchscreen and being small and light enough to work decently in tablet mode, the Flip doesn’t support Android apps yet. Asus told us that Google expects to release a Chrome OS update that adds such support in May or June, but that timeline has already been pushed back a few times.2 We also don’t know how well Android apps will run on the Flip’s Intel Core m3 processor. As a result, we don’t recommend buying the Flip for Android apps, but that functionality could be a nice bonus in the future.
Our review unit had some annoying coil whine that I could hear even when listening to music. Quite a few laptops have this issue nowadays, though, and if you’re sensitive to the sound, we recommend donning headphones or using the laptop away from the charger whenever possible.
Laptop Mag gave the Flip C302CA an Editors’ Choice award, praising “its elegant aluminum design, sharp screen, solid battery life, strong performance and bend-back design.” The reviewer goes on to say, “When the Google Play Store finally rolls out to Chrome OS in earnest, the Flip will be even more compelling than it is today.” But the publication dings the Flip for its high price and lack of USB-A ports.
PCMag also gave the Flip an Editors’ Choice award, concluding, “The Asus Chromebook Flip (C302CA-DHM4) might be more expensive than the average chromebook, but its rich selection of features makes it well worth the extra money.” PCMag praises its strong specs, convertible hinge, metal body, USB-C ports, bright 1080p screen, and backlit keyboard. The only issues mentioned are the lack of USB-A ports and the higher price compared with other Chromebooks.
The Verge’s review says, “It looks good, it works well, and I don’t have to worry about it. It’s a great baseline for future Chromebooks to either match or try to beat. It’s not necessarily the best one, but it’s a solid starting point for what you should expect. It’s standard-issue.”
CNET writes, “The Asus is pricier than other Chromebooks, but for good reason. Its quality construction, rich feature set and capable performance make it worth an extra investment over the lowest-end $200-$300 Chromebook models.”
If the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA is unavailable—or if you don’t want to pay extra for the Flip’s amenities—you should get the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook. The Lenovo provides solid performance, enough battery life to last all day, a 1080p screen, and a good keyboard and trackpad. It lacks keyboard backlighting, a touchscreen, and a 360-degree hinge, and it’s a bit heavier than we’d like, but it’s the next-best Chromebook right now.
We recommend using Lenovo’s website to customize a model with a 13.3-inch 1920×1080 IPS display, an Intel Celeron 3855U processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 16 GB solid-state drive. The default 1366×768 TN screen has too low a resolution and isn’t as bright or color-accurate, so spending the extra $50 to get a much better screen is a worthwhile investment.
Like most ThinkPad keyboards, the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook’s is quite good, with slightly cupped, springy keys. But the keys lack backlighting, which the Asus Chromebook Flip has. The Lenovo model’s trackpad is responsive and accurate.
In our early 2017 tests, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook lasted for roughly 7 hours on a charge.3 That’s about an hour less than the Asus Chromebook Flip lasted, but still almost long enough to get through a day at work or school. Like the Flip, the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook can charge via USB-C, but the same caveat about third-party chargers applies—we don’t recommend using chargers other than the included one.
The 1920×1080 IPS screen in our recommended configuration is merely decent, not great. According to Laptop Mag’s tests, the screen is more color-accurate than the Asus Chromebook Flip’s, but is dimmer than the Flip’s and has a limited color gamut. The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is also available with a touchscreen for around $30 more than our config, but it still lacks a 360-degree hinge; at that price, paying for the Flip instead is the better choice.
The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is a bit heavier than we’d like, but it’s still reasonably portable with a weight of 3.2 pounds and dimensions of 12.7 by 8.8 by 0.8 inches (width by depth by height). It isn’t beautiful—it looks like a businessy black slab—but it feels solid and durable. It has 802.11ac Wi-Fi with Bluetooth 4.0, as well as two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, two USB-C ports, a headphone/microphone combo jack, and an SD card slot. The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook comes with a one-year warranty and all the standard Google goodies.
People often ask me about the cheapest usable Chromebook—even more frequently now, since the price for a decent Chromebook has crept up to around $450. Currently the cheapest viable option is the Dell Chromebook 13 3380 Education. As the name indicates, Dell didn’t build it for most people; the company designed it specifically for students. It has a shallow (but spill-resistant) keyboard; a dim, low-resolution screen; and a creaky, hollow-feeling body. But the Chromebook 13 3380 has excellent battery life and solid performance for $300, which makes it the cheapest Chromebook you can still effectively get work done on.
We recommend the base configuration with a 13-inch 1366×768 TN display, an Intel Celeron 3855U processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 16 GB solid-state drive. (You can pay extra for a 32 GB or 64 GB drive or a touchscreen, but most people don’t need to.) Most Chromebooks at this price or below use underpowered processors or skimp on memory, which makes them feel sluggish or even freeze up entirely. In contrast, the Dell Chromebook 13 3380’s Celeron processor and 4 GB of RAM are fast enough to handle everything you can do on a Chromebook right now.
The Dell Chromebook 13 3380 has spectacular battery life, thanks in part to its dim, low-resolution screen. In our battery test, with the screen set to 40 percent brightness, the battery lasted 13 hours, 19 minutes. The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA, our top pick, lasted around 8 hours in the same test.
The keyboard doesn’t feel great to type on—the slightly cupped keys don’t make up for the shallow travel and sticky feeling when you depress each one. It isn’t backlit, either. But overall, the keyboard is responsive, and we didn’t experience any dropped keystrokes. It’s spill resistant, too, which is great for kids or anyone prone to spilling things on their laptop.
The trackpad is also accurate and responsive. Tapping the trackpad evokes a hollow rattling sound, but this is more the fault of the cheap, hollow chassis than the trackpad itself.
The Chromebook 13 3380’s biggest fault is its horrendous screen. The 1366×768 resolution is too low for a 13-inch screen, which means you have less room to work. The TN panel also offers poor viewing angles, doesn’t get very bright, and washes out colors, making them difficult to tell apart. In practical use, I didn’t have enough screen real estate to view a spreadsheet of laptop models, and my color-coding system broke down because I couldn’t tell the difference between pale yellow, pale orange, and pale red. The Dell Chromebook 13 3380 may be the cheapest viable option, but those savings come with some significant trade-offs.
Dell built the Chromebook 13 3380 Education to withstand abuse from students. In addition to the spill-resistant keyboard, this version of the Chromebook 13 has rubberized edges to protect the laptop if you drop it. The chassis feels firm and sturdy, but it also feels hollow and cheap, and the lid flexes under pressure. This machine is also much thicker and heavier than the Asus and a bit bulkier than the Lenovo, measuring 13.1 by 9.1 by 0.9 inches and weighing 3.54 pounds.
The machine has a good selection of ports: an HDMI port, two USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, a USB-C charging port, a microSD slot, a headphone-and-microphone combo jack, and a Noble lock slot. Like our other picks, it has dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 support.
The Dell Chromebook 13 3380 Education comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty and the standard Google goodies. Because it’s built for students, this model also supports the Chromebook G Suite for Education, and it has an activity light on the lid to notify teachers of progress in the classroom.
The Samsung Chromebook Pro is similar to the Plus (discussed below), but with a more-powerful Core m3 processor and a higher price tag of $550. We tested a preproduction model and came away impressed, but we’re reserving judgment until we test a final production model. The Pro is expected to launch in April 2017.
Android apps are slowly making their way to Chromebooks. Google first announced that it was bringing Android-app support to Chrome OS back in 2014, and later estimated that support would be available in late 2016 and early 2017. We’re not quite there yet—most Chromebook models still don’t support Android apps, and the ones that do don’t run them perfectly—but we expect to see more Chromebooks support them over the next year.
The Dell Chromebook 13 (not the Education model we recommend above) was our former pick because of its solid performance, unmatched battery life, and excellent keyboard, but Dell has discontinued it. The Toshiba Chromebook 2 was our pick before that; Toshiba left the consumer-PC business in the US, and that model has been discontinued as well. If you can find either model for less than $450, they’re great Chromebooks, but they’re scarce.
The massive Acer Chromebook 15 was our former budget pick, but it’s now difficult to find, and the smaller, lighter Dell Chromebook 13 3380 Education is a better option for most buyers. The Acer Chromebook 15 C910 is also too huge for most people’s needs.
We tested the Samsung Chromebook Plus but found that its OP1 ARM processor was a bit too slow for everyday work. With only a few tabs open—Gmail, Slack, Google Play Music, a Google Docs item, and a small spreadsheet—we experienced typing lag and a few seconds of delay when opening new tabs. It also lacks a keyboard backlight, and it had only 6 hours of battery life in our tests.
The HP Chromebook 13 is a sleek, light, and stylin’ Chromebook with a brushed-aluminum chassis and a great keyboard and trackpad. But it costs around $600 for an Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor and 4 GB of memory, and it lacks a touchscreen and a 360-degree hinge for future Android-app compatibility—for this price, it should have those features.
Although the Acer Chromebook 14 meets most of our spec requirements—including a 1080p IPS display and 4 GB of RAM—it has a slower processor (Intel Celeron N3150 Braswell) than our picks do. We experienced typing lag and slow-loading tabs under a moderate workload of Gmail, Slack, Google Music, a large document in Google Docs, and a few research tabs. Android Central’s reviewer encountered similar slowdowns. While it sports a well-made aluminum chassis, the Acer Chromebook 14 has a relatively dim screen and a shallow keyboard that lacks a backlight; it also weighs 3.4 pounds and lacks an SD card slot.
The Acer Chromebook 14 for Work has a different design than the Chromebook 14, but it’s too expensive and bulky to recommend. The cheapest model with a 1080p screen costs around $600.
The Acer Chromebook R 13 has a 13.3-inch touchscreen and a 360-degree hinge, but we found that the MediaTek processor was too slow to recommend. Android-app support was still in beta when we tested, but animations in Hearthstone were juddery even when it was the only app running.
The Acer Chromebook 11 C740 is an older, education-focused model with poor build quality.
The Acer Chromebook 11, Acer Chromebook R 11, Acer Chromebook 11 N7, Asus Chromebook C202SA, Asus Chromebook C300SA, Asus Chromebook C301SA, Dell Chromebook 3180 Education, Dell Chromebook 3189 Education 2-in-1, HP Chromebook 11 G5, HP Chromebook 14 G4, Lenovo ThinkPad 11e Chromebook, Lenovo Yoga 11e Chromebook, and Samsung Chromebook 3 all have slower Braswell processors.
We didn’t consider any Chromebooks with less than 4 GB of RAM, like this Acer Chromebook.