The Best Chromebooks of 2017By Ashley Barry
Whether you're a wide-eyed college freshman or a worldly senior, you're going to need a decent laptop to get you through school. But given the ludicrous cost of tuition these days, most students are left with little expendible income. Luckily, there are more options than ever before. Google Chromebooks, known for their low prices and long battery life, are really taking the budget laptop scene by storm.
Chromebooks stand as an affordable option for college students, costing anywhere from $200 to $400, but are they worth the money? If you spend most of your time browsing the web, scrolling through Facebook and the like, then yes. These cheap machines are ideal for light-usage, which is why they've made such a dent in the education market. They're also at lower risk for security snafus because they exclusively run web-based applications.
If you just want to know which one's the best, it's the Asus Chromebook Flip. It boasts nine hours of battery life, a lightweight form factor, a very classy design, and speedy performance—basically, it checks all the right boxes. However, we went hands-on with a slew of Chromebooks: from traditional 'books to versatile 2-in-1's, we checked out performance, build quality, and everything else. Everything on this list has something to offer buyers. These are the best right now.
Updated August 01, 2017
Asus Chromebook Flip C302CABest Overall
This Asus is one of the swankiest Chromebooks I've ever seen. Between the thin profile and silver shell, it looks suspiciously like the MacBook. Is it a coincidence, I wonder? The posh design is cool and all, but let's discuss the guts.
The Chromebook Flip earned a score of 367.79 in Basemark, which is a web-based application that evaluates performance. That's serious power. We weren't too surprised by that result, though. Our review unit had an Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor and 4GB RAM, a step-up from the usual Chromebook fare. We also discovered that the machine can handle up to fifteen open tabs at once. Multitaskers, get in line.
The superb 1080p display deserves its own call-out, too. It provides really crisp images. When I watched gameplay footage for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the rolling hills of Hyrule were so vividly green. The colors are rich and lovely, and I wasn't disappointed.
The only downside is the cost. Most Chromebooks fall in the range of $199-$250, with $300 being the sweet spot. If you're able to shell out the money, I'd spring for it. Chromebooks are evolving faster than ever, especially this new wave of 2-in-1's.
Acer Chromebook 11 N7 C731T-C42N
If you're a bonafide klutz (like me), this durable Acer might be the laptop for you. I can't tell you how many times I've doused my keyboard in tea or water over the years, and if I'd had this one, it wouldn't have been an issue. This Acer delivers a military-grade chassis and unique "gutter" system, so it's pretty tough. Between the durable shell and water resistance, it's basically klutz-proof.
Acer's gutter system drains spilled fluids out of the bottom of the Chromebook, so naturally I had to try it out. I'm not sure what I expected, but this Acer continued to function after I purposefully dumped water into the keyboard.
But what surprised us most was the fantastic battery life. When we put this Acer through our browsing test—which continuously cycles through popular websites like Twitch and Facebook—it lasted a total of eight hours. That's more than a full school day.
The Acer had a couple of drawbacks, though. It doesn't run Android apps, meaning you're at the mercy of the Google gods. In other words, you're missing out on a whole lot of games and utilities.
The other drawback was the poor performance. It's snappy enough when viewing videos or chatting in Slack, but it struggles with more than seven open tabs. So, if you're the type of person who likes to multitask, you might want to keep tabs on your tabs. Still, it's a good laptop for the low price, especially for an accident-prone middle school student.
Samsung Chromebook Plus
Like the Asus Chromebook Flip, this 2-in-1 has an eye-catching design. Unlike most Chromebooks, which are pretty nondescript, this one has a bit of flair to it. Made of magnesium alloy, it looks and feels like a premium machine, and the monochrome Google Chrome logo really pops against the silver lid. The body is also sleek and lightweight, but has a little give.
The 1600p display is top-notch, too. When I watched the Ready Player One trailer, the deep purples of the fantastical worlds inside OASIS, a video game, were sharp and vivid. There's a glossy finish, though, so you're going to be dealing with some reflection in brighter environments. The reflection is especially noticeable when the Samsung is in tablet mode.
The battery life was disappointing, but not surprising, as the high resolution touchscreen display is a big power suck. The Samsung fizzled out in about five hours, which is below-average for a Chromebook. You're going to want to keep the power adapter nearby.
For a Chromebook, the Samsung is expensive. You're getting an excellent display, but the price is a little steep. If you're working with a flexible budget and plan on using the machine for casual use, I'd say go for it.
Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook
There's no point in beating around the bush here. The Lenovo Flex is one ugly machine. It has the modern 2-in-1 design, which is nice, but it looks like one of those bulky business laptops from the early 2000's. Between the ultra-thick bezels and dark grey exterior, it's super plain. But Chromebooks aren't known for their beautiful designs, and at least it's plenty rugged.
Like the Acer, this Lenovo has a spill-resistant keyboard/trackpad; overall, it's very durable. There's a 5 mm rubber ring surrounding the machine, protecting it from unexpected bumps and shocks. So, ideally, this laptop should survive all but the most severe tantrums. There's a trade-off for all that protection, though: For an 11-inch Chromebook, this Lenovo is seriously bulky. I didn't mind lugging it about, but hauling a three-pound Chromebook every day isn't really ideal, either.
Where To Buy$346.20 Amazon Buy
Dell Chromebook 3189 2-in-1 (4GB RAM, 32GB Storage)
The Dell is another unassuming-looking 2-in-1 that bends back into tablet and tent modes. While it's not the lightest or most attractive Chromebook we've seen, it's sturdy enough for K-12 education environments. The plastic lid is scratch-resistant, the keyboard is sealed against fluids, and the rounded edges are rubberized. The design is a bit utilitarian, but that seems to be the norm for Chromebooks.
The full-sized keyboard offers a great typing experience. Most Chromebook keyboards feel tiny and cramped, but not the Dell. The keys feel firm under my fingertips and there's plenty of space between them. I didn't notice any creaking of the chassis either, so it appears to be well-built. I clicked my way to 76 words per minute, too, which is close to my average of 80 (wpm).
It's not the kind of machine that screams luxury. It's the kind of machine that favors practicality over luxury. This Dell might be a good laptop for a college student on a budget.