How We Chose the Best Chromebook

How We Chose the Best Chromebook

When it comes to finding the top Chromebook of 2018, there are quite a few different factors which go into how we vet these devices and the requirements they have to hit to even be considered for the list in the first place. Chromebooks are a lot of things in consumers minds; whether it’s how easy they are to use and keep free of viruses, or the ratio of cheapness to durability you can only get in a laptop like a Chromebook. These are the laptops for the people who really only use their mobile machines to browse the web or stream media content, and that’s about it.

Best budget chromebook
We’ve tested our fair share of Chromebooks here at Quinox.

This means that all the same qualities you might be on the hunt for in a standard laptop (fast processor, huge amount of storage space, etc), don’t really apply down here in Chromebook land. That said, there are still a few key things you should keep an eye out for while you’re scrolling through the spec sheet of your chosen model.

First there’s the screen. How you choose the best screen for you can depend less on the raw specs of the resolution, and more on the intended use case and who in your family is going to be using the Chromebook the most. If you know you’re going to be keeping the Chromebook in a protective case or up on a shelf away from sticky kids hands, the beautiful (but delicate) Acer Chromebook R13’s 2-in-1 hinge combined with its full-HD screen might be the choice for you.

On the other hand, if you know your kids are going to be the first ones to take their new Chromebook for a spin at school, you want something with a screen that may not be the best from a purely visual standpoint, but can still put up with some punishment and more than a few fingerprint smudges from all their friends. In our opinion options like ASUS C302 or Flip C100P are better suited for the job, with smaller touch-ready screens that are as interactive as they are durable.

Design is another important feature to think about when shopping for your next Chromebook. It seems the 2-in-1 trend that first went viral in the ultrabook space is finally catching on with Chromebook makers, and I for one couldn’t be happier about it. Although Chrome OS suffered for awhile under the weight of all the extra tech that a touchscreen demands, it seems that most of the major manufacturers have found a sweet spot that allows the operating system to better detect taps and swipes and make the investment into a 2-in-1 style worth the slightly bumped-up cost.

While some sleeker options like the Samsung Chromebook Plus decide to go the posh route with their look and feel, others like the ASUS C100P Flip are almost strictly made with the pint-sized members of your family in mind. Ultimately you should always go with a design style that you think will fit your needs best; whether that means impressing your boss at your next meeting or getting a Chromebook encased in your kid’s favorite color.

Several of our favorite Chromebooks from last year, including the Toshiba Chromebook 2 and the Dell Chromebook 13, were cut from this list because manufacturers had discontinued their production. While both solid choices in their own right (solid enough to earn the #1 and #2 spot on our 2016 roundup, respectively), unfortunately the product cycle time for Chromebooks is so low that you can only get them in the original form for so long before they’re replaced by something better, faster, and sleeker than before.

Who Should Buy a New Chromebook
Pitted head-to-head with any of their PC or even Mac counterparts, Chromebooks look hilariously underpowered and unsuited for the task at hand. Their minimal specs and suspiciously low cost scream equally low-caliber performance from the outset, but then you remember that when you’re buying a Chromebook you’re not just getting a device; you’re buying an entire ecosystem that can run almost any web application safely with even less fuss than you’d find on an iPhone.

Different Chromebooks are made for a different type of customers, and unlike most PCs and all Macbooks, Chromebooks actually come in a few models that are made almost directly with the child user in mind. Chromebooks make great first laptops for your little ones, or cheaper web-browsing machines for any seniors in your family who might be guilty of downloading one too many viruses or annoying internet browser hotbars on the desktop in the living room.

But even though the child/senior market has become the core focus of the Chromebook customer experience up until now, this year manufacturers have really begun to push these devices into the premium side of the market too. Thanks to options like the Acer Chromebook R 13, the Samsung Chromebook Plus, and the ASUS Chromebook Flip C302, devices that were once considered the “cheap and clunky” cousins of laptops are now leading the field in solid, sturdy cases that are paired in kind with an absolutely stunning design.

Chromebooks are also a foolproof way to help anyone in your family quickly and easily get on the internet, quite often at a much cheaper price than what you’d normally pay for a PC (more on that later). They’re also significantly safer from a network security standpoint than PCs and even Macs. Since the market share for Chromebooks is so small, they’re enjoying the same sort of byproduct of hacking economics that kept Apple machines safe for their whole “I’m a PC/I’m a Mac” campaigns. Because such a small number of people actually access the internet from Chromebooks, for the most part it’s not profitable for hackers to create any kind of exploits for Chrome OS since attacks like spam email campaigns only pay off in big numbers. This means your chances of getting a nasty virus or network infection using a Chromebook is quite a bit lower than any other platform, and while the OS may not be completely 100% locked down, it’s still your best bet if security concerns are at the top of your list of necessary features.

That said, if you’re someone who needs to run a lot of different non-web based applications for work, you only really have one option to choose from (and even then it’s not all that great). While the Acer Chromebook R 13 can technically run any Android application it needs to (including the full suite of some apps like Microsoft Office 365), it’s still not as reliable as the Chromium team would like it to be to offer the kind of stability that professionals need out of their laptops. That said, there are still a wide range of ultrabooks that are perfectly tailored to the needs of working professionals that can keep up with your productivity levels without breaking a sweat.

Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Chromebook
Don’t Buy for Specs Alone: When buying a Chromebook, the first mistake that many customers make right off the starting line is assuming that all Chromebooks are “basically the same”. The three indicators you’ll want to pay the most attention to when making your selection is the processor the laptop is using (Celerons are decent, but an i5 is always better), the quality of the screen (several older models don’t even support 1366 x 768 resolution), and the keyboard. Given that most of your time on a Chromebook will either be spent streaming or working (there’s not a Chromebook out there except maybe the Pixel that’s made for hardcore gaming), you should be sure that both the screen are up to your standards for both applications.

Don’t Be Fooled by the Price: As we mentioned earlier, although the low price of a Chromebook may seem like an accounting error at first, there’s actually something slightly more unsettling behind why Google is so keen to subsidize the cost of their machines to bring the eventual price to more manageable levels.

Like everything you do for free with Google (use their search function, email client, Drive, etc), every move you make and little bit of data you send their way is being scraped for metadata. Data which is collected while you use the Chromebook and then sold off to marketers for a slim profit. This is why Chromebooks can pack in seemingly better hardware at a reduced price, because Google directly works with manufacturers to make sure their devices are accessible to every income level possible.

Most Important Features
Processor/RAM

First up, there’s the most obvious indicator of what you should be looking for when shopping for your next laptop: the power.
Both the CPU and the amount of RAM you get with your laptop will be the lynchpin of how much it can get done, although it’s important to remember that at the end of the day this is a Chromebook, and these metrics will only determine how fast the laptop handles a glorified web browser in disguise.
When shopping for your Chromebook, you’ll want to pay attention to the “i” rating for the processor (if it even has one). Most Chromebooks will either come with a Pentium Celeron processor or something in the “i” family from Intel.
4GB is plenty of RAM for Chrome OS’ small footprint, and anything above this is usually considered overkill.
Screen

Because Chromebooks are generally considered to be “cheaper” options when it comes to laptop comparisons, it’s important to pay attention to what you’re getting with the model you choose when it comes to screen size and resolution.
You want to be sure that you’re not going too big on your screen that’s paired with a low resolution, because at a certain point the lower res pixels turns out blurry and can cause a lot more eye strain than it’s worth if you’re looking at it for extended periods of time.
For example, the 15″ 1366 x 768 version of the Toshiba Chromebook 2 wouldn’t even make this list since the graphics are so grainy at that size, but the version with the 1920 x 1080 screen makes all the difference when watching Netflix or editing photos.
Design

As we mentioned earlier, you always want to be sure that you’re buying the best-designed Chromebook that will suit your lifestyle the best.
As many higher-end Chromebooks that are out there like the 2-in-1 Acer R 13, there are also mid-to-low tier options that are less built for sturdy durability and more just to get beat up by your kids.
If you expect that you’ll be watching a lot of movies the 2-in-1 design can be great, and with so many solid 2-in-1 entries into the Chromebook repitiore in the past year, this finally feels like the time that the brand comes into its own from a design and durability standpoint.
Keyboard/Trackpad

Having tested dozens of trackpad/keyboard combos across many different Chromebook models, I can safely say that all the selections we’ve listed here offer the best combinations of a responsive keyboard with a comfortable trackpad.
Most people use their Chromebooks for writing, typing, and reporting from the road, which means that how long a keyboard lasts is often more important than how it feels straight out of the box.
The majority of Chromebooks also favor the more spread out flat key design for their keyboards opposed to the standard layout you might find on a Windows machine, so any typers with smaller hands will want to take note before making their final purchase.
Cooling/Fan Noise

Most of the Chromebooks on this list are actually fanless, relying on a series of ingenious heatsinks that utilize the body of the laptop itself to keep its internal components cool.
As such, although it’s smart to keep an eye out for how much of a racket your Chromebook might be making, generally this will turn out to be a non-issue.
Build Quality

Chromebook build quality is all over the place, ranging from the extremely cheap/flimsy/plasticky to solid metal all the way around.
Depending on who you’re buying for, the durability of your Chromebook can be the lynchpin for your eventual decision. If you’re planning on gifting it to a younger member of the household, the AC300 offers a great compromise of decent specs in favor of a much tougher outer shell.
There has been a big push in the last year to also class up the Chromebook brand, which means a whole new mess of sturdy aluminum-cased options that
Conversely, options like the C910 are a little bit more delicate, but pack in enough power to make up for anything it lacks in overall case strength and reliability.
Hard Drive

Last up, there’s the hard drive. All Chromebooks on this list (and most that didn’t even make the cut), opt to feature smaller SSD flash drives in favor of larger capacity mechanical HDDs.
Taking this into account, there are two methods of making up for the limited space. First, every Chromebook you buy will automatically include 100GB of space on Google’s cloud service Drive.
If this doesn’t sound like enough however, you can also opt to add on an external hard drive, all of which are compatible with Chrome OS as long as it runs on either an NTFS or FAT32 filesystem.

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