If you’re looking for a simple device that can browse the web and run basic programs, a Chromebook is the perfect option! Lightweight and affordable, 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 similar to searching for the best laptop. Some options are perfect for gamers, while others are obviously better for students or working professionals. Bringing its vast list of capabilities down to just a 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.
What will you use your Chromebook for?
The most important thing to consider before you even look at a Chromebook is how you intend to use it. Will you be using it for work or school and need to download certain apps? Or will you be using it for personal use at home and when traveling?
Thinking about how you will use your Chromebook is very helpful in planning what to buy. For example, if you’re going to use your device for school, you’ll need to make sure it has plenty of battery life, is cheap, and has enough RAM to power your school-specific apps. If you need it 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. While some Chromebooks are laptops, not all laptops are Chromebooks. Fortunately, what you should look for in a laptop is very similar to what you should look for in a Chromebook. You’ll just be choosing between bigger and better specs, with a much wider price range.
Do you use Google services?
Most people are aware of this, but Chromebooks are powered by ChromeOS, which comes from Google. If you use the Google Chrome browser often, you may already know that Chrome is a thing created by Google, but if not, now you know!
This is why you must have a Google Account and use Google-specific services when you own a Chromebook. For example, instead of using Microsoft Word to write your papers or create formal documents, you will need to use Google Docs. To sync information from Google Docs or any other program within the Google Docs Editors suite—Slides, Sheets, Forms, Keep, and more—you must have Internet access. Since these programs are web-based, everything is stored in the Google Cloud service, which means that you can access the same document on many different devices.
But what if you don’t always have access to the Internet? Well, even if you occasionally need to work offline, you can enable the ability to use Google’s offline suite; you have to be online first to enable it, but after that, you’re set to use any Google-specific program offline and it will sync to the cloud when you’re back online.
Because these programs are cloud-native and web-based, Chromebooks can be so affordable and don’t require much in terms of specs. While a laptop can have an SSD with 512GB or 1TB of local storage, a Chromebook doesn’t need one because everything goes directly to cloud storage.
If you don’t want to use Google programs or don’t want to create a Google account, Chromebooks 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 your Chromebook. Double check with support before you buy to make sure the program you need will work on your Chromebook.
What is your budget?
No matter your budget, there’s a Chromebook 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 more than $1,000 on one that’s on the line between a light laptop and a Chromebook.
Typically, the more expensive you go, the more decorations you’ll get. If all you need from your Chromebook is something you can use to browse the web, play simple games from Google Play, and use the programs in the Google Docs Editor suite, you’ll be fine with a budget-friendly option. But if you want a nicer (or bigger) screen, local storage or better specs, you’ll have to spend a little more.
However, once you get into that higher price range, Windows or macOS laptops are also worth considering. While a Chromebook provides additional security with ChromeOS, a laptop is more powerful and can download certain software that a Chromebook just can’t.
How long do you need the battery?
Most decent Chromebooks will have at least 8 to 10 hours of battery life because they aren’t super demanding and power hungry like many traditional laptops. If you see a Chromebook advertising a lower battery life estimate, skip it. You can do better.
If you want longer battery life, there are some Chromebooks that are known to last up to 13 hours or more on a single charge. The best way to determine the battery life of a particular Chromebook is to research reviews, both professional and amateur, to see real-life data. A company may advertise a specific time, but that time may be based on inactive usage and the lowest display brightness.
Most Chromebooks also charge via a USB-C port, which means charging when the battery runs low will be pretty quick.
What is your ideal screen size and resolution?
While internal specs are important, they’re not what you’ll be looking at every time you use your Chromebook. Choosing the right screen size and screen resolution is such an important step because there are so many different options. While Chromebooks are quite limited when it comes to choosing internal specs, that’s certainly not the case when it comes to display options.
The most popular screen size choices include 11.6 inches, 13.3 inches, and 15.6 inches. Since Chromebooks are an option for anyone who travels a lot, like students, you’ll see quite a few 11.6-inch options from multiple brands. The light and compact form factor is one of the biggest selling points for Chromebooks, so if you’re looking for a bigger screen, it’s definitely possible, but not that common.
In terms of screen resolution, you’ll likely be choosing between 1366 x 768 and 1920 x 1080. It’s possible to find 4K Chromebooks, especially Samsung, but they’re often considered lightweight laptops and cost over $1,000. But again, think about how you’ll use the Chromebook. If you use it for web browsing, media streaming and other simple uses, a resolution of 1920 x 1080 is sufficient.
How much RAM and storage do you need?
The standard options for the amount of RAM in a Chromebook are 4 GB or 8 GB, usually LPDDR4X, which means that the memory is soldered to the motherboard and cannot be upgraded. For most basic uses, 4 GB of RAM is sufficient. But if you want to be able to play games or have multiple programs open at once, you might be better off spending 8GB.
Then, as mentioned earlier, many Chromebooks run solely off of cloud storage and have very little local storage, typically around 32GB or 64GB. However, some options come with more internal storage, but this can often come in the form of a microSD card. If you’re using your Chromebook as intended, you won’t need more storage than this.
Do you have a reliable internet connection?
By this point, we know that Chromebooks use cloud-based, web-based programs. This means that a reliable internet connection is necessary to properly use Google Docs, Sheets or, of course, a web browser. You can always work offline as long as it’s enabled, but you have to reconnect to the internet for everything to be saved and synced.
If you’re going to use your Chromebook somewhere you know there’s always reliable internet, like a college campus, a coffee shop, or your home, you’re good to go! But if there are long periods of time when you’re not connected to the Internet, and you need to be able to save while you’re on the go, you might want to consider a Windows or macOS laptop instead.
What ports do you need?
Ports are often the last thing people think about when buying a Chromebook or other laptop, but you definitely shouldn’t overlook them. Just as Chromebooks are limited in everything else, they are also limited in terms of ports.
There are options that have more ports available, 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; consider what devices you want to use with your Chromebook and make sure it has ports that support it.
If you know you’ll want to charge your phone; you will need an additional USB-C port. Or, if you want to connect 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 looking for.
The best Chromebooks
Now that you know what to look for in a Chromebook, you’re well equipped to find the perfect one. But if you don’t have time to research or just want to get started, we’ve got you covered.