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Chromebooks have improved a lot since they debuted in 2011. In fact, they’re good enough that you may actually want to consider a Chromebook over a laptop for your next computer, especially if you’re looking for the ultimate travel device.
It’s unfortunate that Chromebooks still carry the stigma of numerous debunked myths, like the idea that Chromebooks don’t work offline. They do! In addition, Chromebooks have plenty of advantages that make them far more useful than many even realize.
But as is the case for most modern devices, you have so many options to choose from that you may feel overwhelmed when trying to decide which Chromebook to buy. Allow us to help you pick the right Chromebook for your needs.
Size and Weight
The first thing you should decide on is the actual, physical size of the Chromebook. Fortunately, you only have three standard choices to pick from — either 11.6″, 13.3″, or 15.6″ — so there isn’t much room to agonize over the “perfect” size.
Between the three, we do NOT recommend an 11.6″ screen. We feel that 11.6″ is too small for any kind of laptop device, and if you want something that portable, you might fair better with an 8″ or 10″ tablet instead.
Indeed, most 11.6″ Chromebooks have a maximum resolution of 1366×768, which doesn’t provide much screen space and can feel quite cramped. Some 13.3″ Chromebooks have the same maximum resolution, but at least newer ones can go up as high as 1920×1080.
If portability isn’t a big concern for you, consider the 15.6″ size. It’s the best all-around size for any kind of laptop because it provides for a comfortable amount of screen estate, but it also comes with a heftier price tag and more weight to lug around. Thinking of using your Chromebook as a primary machine? Definitely get a 15.6″.
On top of screen size, which is measured diagonally from corner to corner, you should think about device depth (or thickness). For example, the Dell Chromebook 11 is 0.97″ thick while the Samsung Chromebook 2 is 0.65″ thick — yet both are 11.6″ devices!
Hint: Although 0.32″ might not seem like a lot on paper, it’s significant enough that you’d notice it if you saw the two placed side-by-side or held them both in your hands.
One last thing to worry about, at least as far as portability is concerned, is the weight of the device. Chromebooks are going to weigh anywhere from two to four pounds on average, and bigger devices are obviously going to weigh more. Body material can also make a big impact (plastic, aluminum, etc).
Bottom line? A 15.6″ Chromebook will be your best bet for an all-around device, but a 13.3″ screen is better for lots of traveling, in which case you should also look at slimness and weight. Even a single pound can make a big difference when you’re carrying it around for hours at a time.
Let’s be clear right off the bat: Chromebooks aren’t meant to be high-performance machines. That doesn’t mean they’re terrible, but it does mean that you need to have proper expectations going into your purchase.
Most Chromebooks utilize integrated graphics cards, which are notably worse than dedicated graphics cards, so don’t expect top-notch video performance. Integrated cards are perfectly fine for watching YouTube and streaming Skype video, but not so good for gaming.
Picture quality, on the other hand, is determined more by the build of the screen itself than the graphics card. Some Chromebooks can reach brighter whites, others can get darker blacks, and still others have sharper contrast.
Unfortunately, picture quality specifications aren’t standardized so it’s hard to know what’s “good” or “bad” without physically comparing with your own eyes.
The main consideration for performance with a Chromebook is the processor. These days, it can be a bit confusing to know which of two processors is “better”, but we have a great post on decoding laptop processor naming schemes that will clear it up for you in no time.
That being said, while Chromebooks do have a range of processors and some are better than others, Chromebooks in general are just not that powerful. They’re fine for anything that runs within a browser, basic image and photo editing, working with documents and spreadsheets, and playing music and even stream HD video. Want more than that? Then you may need something other than a Chromebook.
So for us, we’d focus more on the amount of RAM than the processor. A lot of Chromebooks come equipped with 2 GB of RAM, which is on the low side unless you’re only going to run a single browser tab at a time. For optimal performance, you should look for a model with 4 GB of RAM, like this Toshiba Chromebook 2.
Hint: No matter which model you end up with, there are always a few tips for a faster Chromebook that you can try to improve your end-user experience.
On top of everything we mentioned above, there are a few other considerations to make before finalizing your decision. None of these considerations are necessarily deal-breakers, but they can and will impact enjoyability and satisfaction.
Pick One with a Solid State Drive
Chromebooks with SSDs are pretty much the norm these days, which is great because SSDs are way faster than HDDs, but fall woefully short when it comes to the amount of available space.
For instance, the Acer C720 Chromebook has a 16 GB SSD while the Acer C710 Chromebook has a 320 GB HDD. While the C720 is objectively better in terms of overall specs, it does have 20x the storage. So if you absolutely need space, you can go for an HDD, but in all other cases, SSD reigns supreme. Plus, if you’re happy to store your files online, all Chromebooks include a complimentary 100GB of storage on Google Drive for two years.
Battery Life Is Important for Travelers
Chromebooks are meant to be used portably, so it makes sense to get one that can last a while between charges. One of the best performers in this area is the ASUS C200 Chromebook which can last over eleven hours out of the box.
Still, Chromebooks have excellent battery life in general so it’s not worth fussing over too much. Most of them are able to last anywhere from six to nine hours, which is more than enough juice for the average user.
Make Sure It Has the Ports You Need
I once made the mistake of getting a laptop that only had a single USB port. Once. Ever since then, I’ve been careful to check the availability of ports on every device I intend to buy.
Modern Chromebooks come equipped with 2 USB ports as standard. In the majority of cases, you’ll find 1 port for USB 2.0 and 1 port for USB 3.0, but newer models have started dedicating both ports for USB 3.0. Other ports that you might want: HDMI, headphones, microphone, and memory card slots.
Don’t Forget to Review the Keyboard
While most Chromebooks organize the keys in the same basic layout, subtle differences may make or break your typing experience. Catch these before you commit to a purchase.
For example, look at the small changes between the Acer C670 Chromebook, the Toshiba Chromebook 2, and the HP Chromebook 14. Notice the relative widths of the Search/Shift/Control keys, the placement of the arrow keys, the size of the top-row function keys, and the missing home row indicators on the Toshiba’s F and J keys.
Maybe stuff like this doesn’t bother you, but you might as well take a few minutes to check it out just in case.
At the end of the day, price is what most people care about. After all, the goal is to get the Chromebook with the most power and value while spending as little as you can, right? Finding that perfect balance is usually what takes up so much shopping time.
The good news is, Chromebooks are cheap! The most expensive Chromebooks are on par with low- and mid-tier notebooks, and the average Chromebook is a couple hundred dollars less, making them similar in cost to a last-generation tablet.
So, bottom line, you can expect to pay anywhere between $200 and $300 for a good Chromebook. If you want to go even cheaper, you can look for a model from a year or two ago and some of them will be available for as low as $100.
You can save even more money by going the used or refurbished route.
But ultimately, it’s hard to go wrong with a Chromebook purchase these days. Decide what’s most important to you (Price? Performance? Battery life?), then shop around while making note of reviews. Pick a model that users seem happy with, and that’s pretty much it.
Are you looking to buy a Chromebook? Tell us what you’re looking for in the comments below. If you already have a Chromebook, let us know how you like it and whether or not you’d recommend getting one!