We've tested many new Chromebooks since our tutorial came out earlier this year and updated our best selection for Fall 201
Chromebooks dominated the accessible laptop scene in 2018. it was only a few years ago when most did not know what to do with Google's browser operating system. But now that Chromebooks have successfully penetrated the education market, both young and adult users are familiar with Chrome OS.
Chrome OS works exclusively on Chromebooks, the name for laptops, two in one and now tablets that run the Google operating system. If you have used the Chrome browser before, you know how to use Chrome OS – the browser is the portal to almost everything you can do in Chrome OS. Google has created an operating system that is easy to use, efficient and low maintenance in the sense that it doesn't take a ton of energy to get a Chromebook up and running.
All these factors, plus the recent introduction of Android apps in the ecosystem, have made Chromebooks popular with younger users, teachers, and anyone who works and plays predominantly within the Chrome Web browser.
As people gravitate toward Chromebooks, OEMs are producing more and more of them. There are currently numerous Chromebooks out there, some of them for dirty cheap prices and some for original prices, which makes it hard to figure out which one to buy. Fortunately, Ars has tested some of the most popular Chromebooks, and we can give you a little glimpse of what your money is worth.
Note: Ars Technica may earn sales compensation from links to this publication through affiliate programs.
What Chrome OS can do for you and what it can't do
Chromebooks can be solid devices for people who spend most of their computing time in the browser. Chrome OS is ideal for doing things like email management, writing and sharing Google Drive documents, streaming video and music, and general web browsing. Chrome OS's suitability for these types of tasks also means that those who have never used a Chromebook will make it easy to use without a great learning curve.
Android apps add another layer to Chrome OS, allowing you to launch your favorite mobile apps, including Spotify, Snapchat, Instagram, Netflix, Candy Crush Clash of Clans and more. Deploying Chromebook Android apps is slow, and not all Android apps are optimized for the big screens and full Chromebook keyboards. However, Chrome OS is made more versatile thanks to the inclusion of Android apps.
Accessibility makes the Chromebook stand out from most of its competitors. You can get a Chromebook for as little as $ 199, while the cheapest Windows machines run at least a few hundred dollars more, and similar macOS machines don't even come close in price.
Accessibility has been a boon for Chromebook users, but it is somewhat of a curse for the Chromebook as a whole, since many people have the incorrect assumption that all Chromebooks are cheap. Time has proven that the assumption is incorrect, as there are more OEMs with Chromebooks that have first-class materials and better specifications.
These devices are more expensive than your average Chromebook and right. The most expensive Chromebook goes from $ 699 to more than $ 1000, though not all Chrome OS enthusiasts need a powerful Chromebook with the high-end specs and premium version available on these expensive devices. However, those who know that Chrome OS will fulfill their personal and professional needs may want to spend more money on a luxury device.
But aside from better build quality and more powerful interiors, these expensive Chromebooks still run Chrome OS and are not exempt from operating system restrictions. Unlike Windows and macOS machines, you cannot download and install programs such as Photoshop CC or Final Cut Pro. Chrome OS only supports web-based extensions and Android apps – this is one of the reasons that requires much less power to allow the machine to run Chrome OS well.
Additionally, most Chrome OS applications require an Internet connection and will not work when the device is not connected to Wi-Fi. Unless you take the necessary precautions before leaving a reliable Wi-Fi network – such as making the right Google Docs available offline – your Chromebook will essentially turn into a useless brick when you're not connected.
Things to Consider When Buying a Chromebook
The Chromebook comes mainly as laptops or dual-built devices, so you'll need to decide if you want the 360-degree hinge versatility. If you want to use many Android apps on your Chromebook, getting two in one with a touchscreen will be the best option since you can switch it to tablet mode and use it as an Android mobile device. The same advice applies to those who plan to use a Chromebook as a multimedia device – streaming videos on YouTube and Netflix may be more convenient when using a convertible in a tent or showing modes.
Chromebook OEMs tend to cut costs by using cheaper materials when making these devices. The most affordable Chromebooks are made of plastic, but it's not always a bad thing. Although they won't have the look or feel of an XPS 13 or MacBook, a Chromebook made of plastic or other materials may be exactly what one needs in an affordable and portable device.
Be sure to check the specifications of the Chromebook you want before you buy it to make sure it has basic features, such as a backlit keyboard, an HD or FHD screen, without touch or touchpad, and a stylus. Depending on the type of device and its price, not all features we consider to be "standard" will be standard on every Chromebook.
The same idea applies to ports – you should check if your preferred Chromebook has the ports you need. While most come with at least one USB-A port, several of the latest models opt-out of USB-A and instead opt for all USB Type-C ports. Some Chromebooks come with additional connectivity options such as HDMI ports and DisplayPorts, so consider using a Chromebook and decide which ports you will need.
RAM or the amount of memory on a Chromebook helps your device run fast when you have many tabs open. Most Chromebooks come with 4GB of RAM, and this will be enough for those using a Chromebook to browse the web casually, watch YouTube, and use a lightweight Android app.
Those who plan to push Chrome OS further – users with more than 20 browser tabs open at once, Android apps running in the background, all during YouTube streaming – need to get a machine with at least 8 GB RAM. This will ensure that the machine does not lag behind when you open multiple tabs and programs and use them simultaneously.
Some Chromebook models may be found to have 16GB of RAM, and these typically have optional processor upgrades (and the base model may have an Intel Celeron processor, but you can upgrade to a Core i3 or i5 CPU if you want). More RAM never hurts, but only developers or experimental users who want to run Ubuntu, Linux, or Windows on their Chromebook really really need that much memory.
Storage is not the most important specification on a Chromebook, but it should not be overlooked. Chrome OS works just as well because Google expects users to rely (at least in part) on cloud storage services – things like Google Drive, DropBox, and more. As long as you have an Internet connection, you can access all the necessary files through these various services. Google Drive even lets you save some offline access documents now, ensuring that you can work on this paper or proposal even in the dead zone.
But every Chromebook needs onboard storage – those who go the recommended Google route can handle only 16GB or 32GB of storage. Keep in mind that these levels are similar to low- and mid-range smartphones, so your Chromebook will have the same storage capacity as one of these portable devices.
If you prefer to be able to save some documents locally, or if you plan to download many applications and programs, you need to get a Chromebook with at least 64GB to 128GB storage. Although the Chromebook is not designed for serious photo or video editing, it is possible to do such things with these devices. If you can handle this at all, you will need more onboard storage than others if you are working with locally saved files.
Some people choose Chromebooks over other computers because they are so affordable. Most laptops and convertibles with Chrome OS cost anywhere between $ 199 and $ 499, which is several hundred dollars less than most affordable Windows devices (except for the new Surface Go tablet).
All of the above factors contribute to the cost of a Chromebook: design, materials, screen quality, processor, RAM, and storage. A Chromebook that works well enough for most customers can be found for $ 299- $ 499, but there will be those who want a device that comes either above or below this price range.
Only recently are OEMs experimenting with more expensive Chromebooks. Google owned (and mostly still owns) the luxury Chromebook market with its $ 1000 Pixelbook. Although it has the weakest design on nearly every Chromebook and specifications that beat most other Chrome OS devices, it is redundant for most customers. However, in this guide, we looked at Pixelbook and the latest expensive Chromebook.