Updated: The first ever 15-inch Chrome OS laptop, the Acer Chromebook 15 is a stunner inside and out.
Chromebooks are budget laptops that are both odd and brilliant, low-impact and potent. They focus on what computing has been all about since the late ’90s, the web browser, through Google’s Chrome operating system. The search giant’s OS and mobile computer spec are just a few years old, and already companies like HP, Samsung and Acer have released several models.
What should you look out for in a Chromebook? The majority of these Google laptops use either the same or similar low-power components. This is largely what is behind the unquestionable affordability of these mobile rigs – most of which start under $300 (about £178, AU$319).
With low-impact processors and barely HD screens starting at 1366 x 768 resolution, most of these machines are also designed to last. Almost every Chromebook claims between 7 and 9 hours of battery life and comes within a few hours of that range, based on our testing.
Google-powered laptops rely on tiny amounts of onboard solid-state storage to keep costs down, starting with 16GB SSDs. To offset the loss, every version of the browser-bound notebook comes with at least 100GB of Google Drive space for two years.
As the market matures, look for displays to improve (see the Toshiba below), battery life to be extended, and already-light weights to decrease. Newer Chromebooks will feature touchscreen functionality, like the Lenovo N20p Chromebook, and Google will constantly update Chrome to provide the most up-to-date browsing features.
Prices will start to climb above the budget range, as is the case with the new Chromebook Pixel ($999, £670, AU$1,320), a laptop whose specs put it in direct competition with the new MacBook. Despite the expanding Chromebook market, there should always be something within your spending limit. There are even ruggedized versions of Chromebooks designed to withstand the abuse of children.
At that point, it all comes down to size (and price), with Chromebooks available as small as 11.6 inches and as large as 14 inches. Always updated, here are our top-ranking Chromebook reviews:
Acer Chromebook 15
The Acer Chromebook 15 is a breath of fresh air in the Chromebook space. It takes this series of laptops to two new places, as the first with a 15.6-inch screen and the first packing a Broadwell processor.
First and foremost, it neither looks nor feels the least bit "budget." The laptop also comes well equipped and is fully capable machine for multi-tasking. What’s more, it has a positively radiant screen that’s perfect for long Netflix binges.
We would easily pick this machine over any budget 15.6-inch Windows laptop. It’s simply better built and comes at a better price to boot. Heck even 15-inch display on this laptop itself would even be worth the $349 or £249 (about AU$458) price of admission. No matter what though, the Acer Chromebook 15 is on the cutting edge and first sign of where Chrome OS devices will end up this year.
- Read our Acer Chromebook 15 review
Dell Chromebook 11
The Dell Chromebook 11 (starting at $299, £179, about AU$317) is an affordable machine that does not feel or look like it was made on a budget. Compared to its competitors, this Dell falls in line with the specs already set by other Chrome laptops on the market.
At the same time, it also has two USB 3.0 ports. What sets it apart, though, is its impressive longevity, which makes it perfect for anyone who wants to get away from the outlet with a mobile hotspot in tow.
We even recommend checking out what Dell has on offer before the Acer or HP offerings. For school and/or leisure, the Dell Chromebook 11 is a no brainer. For now, Dell leads the Chromebook class with the best-looking and longest-lasting Chrome laptop yet.
- Read our Dell Chromebook 11 review
Lenovo N20p Chromebook
This is one of the "sexier" Chromebooks available, showcasing Lenovo’s eye for style. However, the best feature is the N20p’s 300-degree hinge, which lets you flip the N20p’s display backward all the way into stand mode (or ‘tent’ mode, whatever you prefer), which lends itself nicely to viewing movies or showing presentations.
The touchscreen controls also work in a pinch for recreational activities such as watching shows on HBOGo viewing or Pinteresting. Still there’s some difficulty when using it as a tablet, as Chrome isn’t entirely tailored to touch as a largely browser-based operating system.
It’s not very tuned for business use, but the Lenovo N20p offers great versatility for a leisure device. Plus with two USB ports (one 3.0), and HDMI port and an SD card reader, this Chromebook delivers a great bang for its buck.
- Read our Lenovo N20p Chromebook review
Toshiba Chromebook 2
For $329 (about £205, AU$382), the Toshiba Chromebook 2 is a gorgeous and affordable laptop that doesn’t have many weaknesses. It comes with more RAM and a full HD 1080p screen, making it a step up from other models in this class, like the Samsung Chromebook 2 and Acer C720.
But potential buyers should note that the Toshiba Chromebook 2 moves the Chromebook category closer towards the territory of an affordable Windows 8.1 laptop. So you might be overpaying if you’re not purchasing this laptop specifically for the Google ecosystem.
That being said, the 1080p screen is a huge bonus and the laptop speakers made by Skullcandy are booming. Add it all up and the Toshiba Chromebook 2 might be an ideal streaming system for everything from YouTube and Google Play to Hulu Plus and Netflix.
- Read our Toshiba Chromebook 2 review
Best Chromebooks continued
Acer Chromebook 13
Powered by Nvidia’s ARM Cortex A15-based Tegra K1, this Chromebook packs a lot of punch in a tiny frame. Users will love its 13.3-inch 1080p resolution screen, as well as its portability. At 3.31 pounds, the Acer Chromebook 13 is a relatively light laptop.
This Chromebook does have some minor issues: it doesn’t multitask very well and the laptop itself only comes in one color. But for the price ($279 about £165, AU$300), you’re likely to enjoy the simplicity and productivity, as you learn to overcome the design limitations.
- Read our Acer Chrome 13 review
HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11 (starting at $279, £179, AU$399) is smooth and usable. While Chrome OS is limited by definition, between us growing more comfortable in web apps and those apps growing in power – and Chrome OS maturing – we’re bumping into those limitations far less often.
This laptop is punchy enough to make the experience slick, cheap enough for anyone on a budget (or an impulse buy for the well-off), but something that still feels solid. It is a delight to own and use.
Apple and the other premium manufacturers should look at this little gem of a computer and applaud what has been achieved. The Chromebook 11 shows that it’s possible to create a product with a little bit of the magic and joy you get from an Apple laptop without charging four figures for it.
- Read our HP Chromebook 11 review
Acer C720 Chromebook
In terms of power and endurance, you can’t argue with the Acer C720 Chromebook (starting at $199, £199, AU$399). When you just want to get on the web quickly to answer emails or look something up, the C720 is ideal. For parents, it’s also a perfect "homework machine," as long as you can get a printer hooked up.
This is a true web appliance, a fine system for families. The Google account log-in gives each user a personalized interface, and just a few keystrokes completely wipe the system. That limits the risk substantially in sharing the system with others.
One key criterion we use in evaluating a device is whether we’d actually want to use it every day. Even taking this laptop’s flaws into account, it’s something we definitely would want to use, for the price.
- Read our Acer C720 Chromebook review
Asus Chromebook C300M
The Asus C300M ($249, £219) is a perfectly balanced device for coffee shop warriors, commuting accountants and peripatetic teachers. With more than nine hours of battery life, this 13.3-inch device will keep you going all day long.
It also performed admirably on all of our benchmarks, and it even features a solid set of ports for those of you needing multiple connections. Like most other Chromebooks, this laptop isn’t winning any innovation awards, but it is a good-looking, steady performer at an incredible price.
- Read our Asus Chromebook C300M review