If you’re after a simple device that can browse the internet and run basic programs, a Chromebook is the perfect option! Lightweight and budget-friendly, Chromebooks are fantastic for students and frequent travelers. But how do you narrow it down from the plethora of choices?
Searching for the best Chromebook is a lot like searching for the best laptop. Some options are perfect for gamers, while others are clearly better for students or working professionals. Bringing your massive list of possibilities to a mere few to choose from may seem like a monumental task, but it all comes down to what you want out of your Chromebook, starting with how you intend to use it.
The most important thing to consider before even looking at a Chromebook is how you intend to use it. Will you use it for work or school and need specific apps downloaded? Or will you be using it for personal use at home and while traveling?
Thinking about how you’ll use your Chromebook is immensely helpful in planning what to buy. For example, if you’ll be using your device for school, you’ll need to make sure it has plenty of battery life, is budget-friendly, and has enough RAM to power your school-specific apps. If you need one for work, you might be more open to premium Chromebooks that offer better specs.
Or, you might find that a simple Chromebook can’t give you what you’re looking for and decide you need a more powerful Windows or macOS laptop instead. Although some Chromebooks are laptops, not all laptops are Chromebooks. Luckily, what you should look for in a laptop is super similar to what you’d need to look for in a Chromebook. You’ll just choose between bigger and better specs, with a much broader price range.
Most people are aware of this, but Chromebook devices are powered by ChromeOS, which comes from Google. If you frequently use the Google Chrome browser, you might already know that Chrome was a Google-created thing, but if not, now you do!
Because of this, you must have a Google account and use Google-specific services when you own a Chromebook. As an example, instead of using Microsoft Word to write your papers or create formal documents, you’ll need to use Google Docs. To sync info from Google Docs or any other program within the Google Docs Editors suite—Slides, Sheets, Forms, Keep, and more—you need to have access to the internet. Because these programs are web-based, everything is stored within Google’s Cloud service, which means you can access the same document across multiple different devices.
But what if you don’t always have access to the internet? Well, even if you need to work offline at times, you can enable the ability to use Google’s suite of programs offline; you need to be online to enable it first , but after that, you’re set to use any Google-specific program offline and it’ll sync up with the cloud once you’re online again.
Because these programs are cloud-native and web-based, Chromebooks can be so affordable and not require much in the way of specs. Whereas a laptop might have an SSD with 512GB or 1TB of local storage, a Chromebook doesn’t need any because everything goes straight to cloud storage.
If you don’t want to use Google’s programs or don’t want to create a Google account, a Chromebook won’t be your cup of tea. Furthermore, if you need to download a program without an app in the Google Play store, you probably won’t be able to use that program on a Chromebook. Double-check support before purchasing to make sure the program you need will work on a Chromebook.
No matter what your budget is, there’s a Chromebook out there for you. You can find a simple option for less than $200, sometimes even closer to $100 if it’s on sale. Or, you can easily spend over $1000 on one that teeters the line between a light laptop and a Chromebook.
Typically, the more expensive you go, the more frills you’ll get. If all you need out of your Chromebook is something to browse the internet with, play simple games from Google Play, and use programs in Google Docs Editor suite, you’ll be perfectly fine with a budget-friendly option. But if you want a nicer (or bigger) display, local storage, or better specs, you’ll need to spend a bit more.
Once you get into that higher price range, though, it’s worth considering Windows or macOS laptops as well. While a Chromebook provides extra security with ChromeOS, a laptop is more powerful and able to download certain software that Chromebooks just can’t.
Most decent Chromebooks will have a battery life of at least 8 to 10 hours because they’re not super demanding and power-hungry like a lot of traditional laptops. If you see a Chromebook advertise a lower battery life estimate, skip it. You can do better.
If you want more battery life, there are some Chromebooks out there that have been known to last up to 13 or more hours on a single charge. The best way to determine a specific Chromebook’s battery life is by researching reviews, both professional and amateur, to see real-life data. A company can advertise a certain time, but that time could be based on inactive use and the lowest light setting on the display.
Most Chromebooks also charge via a USB-C port, which means that fueling up when the battery gets low will be pretty quick.
While internal specs are important, those aren’t what you’ll be looking at every time you use your Chromebook. Choosing the right screen size and display resolution is such a vital step because there are so many different options. Whereas Chromebooks are quite limited when it comes to internal spec choices, that’s certainly not the case with display options.
The most popular choices for screen size include 11.6 inches, 13.3 inches, and 15.6 inches. Because Chromebooks are the go-to option for anyone who travels a lot, like students, you’ll see quite a few 11.6-inch choices from multiple brands. The lightweight and compact form factor is one of the biggest selling points for Chromebooks, so if you’re after a larger screen, it’s definitely possible but not as common.
As far as display resolution goes, you’ll probably be choosing between 1366 x 768 and 1920 x 1080. It’s possible to find 4K Chromebooks, particularly from Samsung, but these are often considered light laptops and are over $1000. But again, consider how you’ll be using the Chromebook. If you’re using it for internet browsing, media streaming, and other simple uses, a 1920 x 1080 resolution is plenty.
The standard options for RAM amounts in Chromebooks is either 4GB or 8GB, usually of LPDDR4X, which means the memory is soldered onto the motherboard and not upgradeable. For most basic uses, 4GB of RAM is plenty. But if you want to be able to play games or have multiple programs open at once, you might be better off splurging for 8GB.
Then, as mentioned earlier, many Chromebooks operate solely off cloud storage and have very little local storage, usually around 32GB or 64GB. However, some options come with more internal storage, but that can often come in the form of a microSD card. If you’re using a Chromebook as intended, you won’t need more storage than this.
By this point, we know that Chromebooks use cloud-native, web-based programs. This means a reliable internet connection is necessary to properly use Google Docs, Sheets, or of course, the web browser. You can always work offline, as long as it’s enabled, but you need to reconnect to the internet in order for everything to save and sync.
If you’ll be using your Chromebook somewhere you know there’s always reliable internet, like a college campus, a coffee shop, or your home, you’re set! But if there are long stretches of time where you’re not connected to the internet, and you need to be able to save as you go, you might consider a Windows or macOS laptop instead.
Ports are often the last thing people think about when making a Chromebook or other laptop purchase, but you definitely shouldn’t overlook them. Just like Chromebooks are limited in everything else, they’re also limited in the way of ports.
There are options that have more available ports, but many Chromebooks come with a super basic port setup that includes a USB-C power port, a USB-A port, a headphone jack, and sometimes a microSD card reader. While most Chromebooks have these ports, not all do; think about which devices you want to use with your Chromebook and make sure it has the ports to support that.
If you know you’ll want to charge your phone; you’ll need an extra USB-C port. Or, if you want to hook up a wireless mouse and keyboard via USB-RF, you’ll need an additional USB-A port. You can even find Chromebooks with an HDMI port if that’s something you’re after.
Now that you know what to look for in a Chromebook, you’re well-equipped to search for the perfect one. But if you don’t have time to do the research or you simply want a headstart, we’ve got you covered.