The Best Chromebooks of 2017
Confused about Chromebooks? We researched 40 models, bought 8 of the best and put them through more than 120 hours of meticulous, side-by-side testing. Despite the simple premise of these web based computers Chromebooks are changing and becoming more complex all the time, making it difficult to know which model will best fit your needs. Our testing results cut through the complexity by revealing the relative pros and cons of each machine. So whether you're looking for something that can handle your multi-tab web browsing style, great performance with web apps like Google Docs, or just want something portable and inexpensive so you can keep in touch when you're on the go, we can guide you to the right model.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated April 2017
We recently tested the new ASUS Flip C302CA. Its combination of fast browsing, a large, crisp screen, and tablet like functionality made it our new Editors' Choice Award winner. However, it is quite pricey at $500. If you want something that will let you be productive at a lower price we still feel our old Editors' Choice Award winner, the Acer 14, is a great machine.
Best Overall Chromebook
ASUS Flip C302CA
If the words, sleek, versatile, and powerful give you goosebumps, then the ASUS Flip C302CA is for you. This machine packs a full sized keyboard and a 12.5 inch, full high definition screen into a thin metal body that weighs just over 2.5 pounds. Its 4GB of RAM and fast processor was able to handle even demanding, multi-tabbed web browsing session with ease, and its 64GB of internal storage is double that of most Chromebooks. To top it all off the screen can be flipped all the way around to enter tablet mode, during which the sensitive touchscreen lets you pinch, scroll, and zoom to your heart's content. The only downside of this jack of all trades: the price. At $500 the Flip C302CA is the most expensive model we tested.
Fast web browsing
Great keyboard and trackpad
Read full review: ASUS Flip C302CA
Best Bang for Your Buck
Our testing revealed that the one spec you really need to care about in a Chromebook is the amount of RAM, and that the difference between 2 and 4 gigabytes can mean the difference between wanting to throw your chrome machine on the floor and calmly sipping your latte while casually surfing the web. Somehow ASUS figured out how to cram 4GB into the C201 while keeping its cost in the same ballpark as most far inferior 2GB models. And the C201 lives up to that spec, providing irritation free internet imbibing. The 11.6 inch may feel a bit small at first if you're used to full sized laptops, but we quickly got used to it, and the well designed keyboard negates most of the annoyances of typing on a small machine. If you want an inexpensive secondary computer that will still allow you to get work done in the go, the ASUS C201 is the perfect choice.
Fast web browsing
Nice keyboard and trackpad
Screen isn't as nice as some other models
Read full review: ASUS C201
Top Pick for Productivity
The Acer 14's sleek aluminum body instantly lets you know that this machine means business. Whenever any of our testers needed to get actual work done, this was the model they reached for. Measuring in at 14 inches the full sized screen fends off eye strain, even during marathon spreadsheet sessions. Likewise, the ergonomic keyboard provides a natural typing experience, without the cramped feeling of some of the smaller machines. Its browsing speed was unmatched in our tests, able to easily handle music streaming on top of multiple email and Google Docs windows without so much as a hiccup. The full 1080p high definition screen, somewhat of a rarity amongst Chromebooks, also made it our favorite machine for post work Netflix sessions. All of this functionality does come at the cost of some portability. The Acer 14 is the same size as an average laptop, so it lacks the ultra portable sleekness of smaller models. However, if you want an interface that doesn't stunt productivity, and enough horsepower to open all the tabs your heart desires, look no further than the Acer 14.
Fast web browsing
Great keyboard and trackpad
Nice metal body
Larger size somewhat less portable than other models
Read full review: Acer 14
Top Pick for Portability
ASUS Flip C100PA
In many ways, The ASUS Flip is the crossover machine we've all been pining for since the release of the iPad. It provides a nice touchscreen interface for super intuitive web browsing (and maybe even shamelessly flinging some frustrated fowl). Then, If the responsibility monster unexpectedly rears its ugly head and shoots some urgent emails your way, you can flip the attached keyboard around and respond efficiently using all ten of your fingers, rather than furiously stabbing at the screen with just your thumbs. Sure, the keyboard is a bit small for marathon typing sessions, but the added functionality takes this device from feeling like a luxury item to being a legitimate productivity tool. And it does all this in a package that weighs only 2 pounds and takes up about as much space as a couple of copies of National Geographic. To boot, ASUS recently doubled the amount of RAM in this puppy, providing quick load times and lag free browsing. If you're looking for an ultra portable tablet that allows for a usable typing experience when need be, the Flip is for you.
Fast web browsing
Portable and versatile
Touchscreen adds versatility
Smaller keyboard and screen
Read full review: ASUS Flip C100PA
Analysis and Test results
Chromebooks employ a minimalistic design paradigm, both in aesthetics and functionality. They are essentially specialized, stripped down laptops optimized for a single purpose: web browsing. They run the Chrome operating system, which allows easy access to Google's bevy of online applications and cloud services, but doesn't jive with most traditional desktop applications. This zen like simplicity makes them ideal secondary machines for those with a large desktop computer, or a fancy laptop they don't trust in the hands of a clumsy TSA agent. If you happen to do all of your computing within a Google environment, they can also serve as primary computers. For a much more in depth discussion on the pros and cons of a Chrome based machine and whether or not one would be right for you see our buying advice article.
To rate performance we developed a series of real-world benchmarking tests that allowed us to measure and compare side-by-side how each product performed in the most common Chromebook use-scenarios. Our Web Surfing Benchmark assessed how each model dealt with typical light browsing with some music streaming in the background. Our Web App Benchmark examined how adding popular web based apps to the mix, like Google Docs and Google Sheets, affected performance. Our Battery Life Benchmark put each model into the hands of multiple testers for a full day to see if they could last through a work day's worth of continuous use (spoiler alert: they all did).
Web Surfing Benchmark
General web surfing scenarios, like listening to Pandora while browsing social media and opening a few links to articles (or cat videos), were no problem for the 4GB models we tested. Light browsing with this amount of RAM felt seamless. This was in direct contrast to the 2GB models, all of which scored a 3 out of 10 in this metric. These models, which include the Acer 11, the Lenovo Ideapad, and the HP 14, were generally able to handle browsing simple web pages with just a few tabs open. However, we began to experience lag if we stacked music streaming on top of this or let the tab count get beyond a handful. Pages began to load noticeably slower, and scrolling often became choppy. Our testers found this lack of speed very frustrating, especially when the funny gif that just got passed around the office wouldn't load.
Web App Benchmark
Adding web apps into the fray further distanced the 4GB models from their 2GB brethren. The Acer 14 and the ASUS Flip C302CA, bpoth of which which received the top score of 9 out of 10 in this metric, could easily handle multiple web apps open at a time. In fact, both these mahcines could almost trick us into thinking we were using a traditional laptop as they could handle our most common heavy use scenario: editing a Google Doc and Google Sheet with a few other tabs open and streaming music on Youtube in the background. Pushing much beyond this, however, would induce some imput lag in the web apps, and illustrates the gap between Chromebooks and traditional laptops (which usually pack in 8 or 16GB of RAM). A 2GB model like the Acer 11 or HP 14 would screech to a halt in the same situation. These models could generally handle editing a single Google document, but adding any sort of multitasking on top of that would quickly induce input lag in Google Docs and wait times when switching between pages or copying formulas in Google Sheets.
The remaining 4GB models, the ASUS C201, the ASUS FLIP, and the the Samsung 3, all scored an 8 out of 10 in this metric. They performed similarly to the top scoring Acer 14 and were able to handle a Google Doc and a Google Sheet while streaming Pandora in the background. We did notice some small lags in Google Docs and Google Sheets when we had both web apps open, a few other tabs, and tried to stream a high definition Youtube video in the background. So while not quite as good as the Acer, this still felt like enough horsepower to be productive without feeling limited.
Battery Life Benchmark
Our battery life benchmarking test put each model in the hands of multiple testers for a full work day to see if a single charge could last through a continuous 8 hours of use. All of the models we tested were able to last through this test, meaning all of these batteries can get you through even a long surfing session. Based on what the 'battery remaining' icons indicated at the end of these tests, we feel that the manufacturers' claimed battery lives accurately reflect the battery life you will experience in normal, real world use. The ASUS C201 and the Acer 14 have the longest manufacturer-reported battery lives, 13 and 12 hours respectively. The Samsung 3 is up next with a reported 11 hour battery life, closely followed by the ASUS Flip C302CA's 10 hours, with the rest of the models falling in the 8-9 hour range.
RAM is What Counts
In our testing we found day to day performance to be directly correlated with random access memory (RAM), with there being a noticeable drop off in performance between 4GB and 2GB models. Bottom line: 4GB models provided reasonable speed, while we ran into laginess and increased load times so often with 2GB models that they felt borderline unusable.
Why Traditional Benchmarking Software Does Not Work Well For Chromebooks
We strive to use the most objective, quantitative, and comparable measurements in our product testing. Therefore we had high hopes for the Octane 2.0 software, which has become one of the standard benchmarking programs used to test Chromebook performance. Benchmarking software such as Octane 2.0 runs a predetermined set of operations in order to assess performance and speed. However, once we ran this test, it was clear that the results did not match up with our experiences actually using the products. The marquee example of this is the Lenovo Ideapad. This model led our Octane 2.0 benchmark testing with a score of 9194, a full 25% better than the lowest scorer, the ASUS Flip. However, the Ideapad was amongst the worst performers in our real-world benchmarking tests, and the Flip was amongst the best. This represents a massive discrepancy in what the software told us and the performance we actually experienced.
When quantifying screen quality we focused on two things: resolution and color. We tested resolution simply by verifying that high definition video did in fact look more crisp on the high definition screens. We evaluated color by watching the same videos and displaying the same photos on multiple machines side by side. This is a process we perfected during our projector review, and allowed us to easily compare which models were able to display true color, and which had odd red or blue tints. Finally, we awarded extra points to models with larger screens, as a larger display is undeniably nicer to look at than a tiny one. However, these larger models did lose some points in our portability metric.
The Acer 14 has far and away the best screen that we tested. The 14 inch size is standard among most laptops, so it doesn't feel like you're lacking any real estate. It is also the only model we tested that has full 1080p high definition resolution. This allows you to take full advantage of your Netflix and Hulu sessions, and was certainly our favorite model to watch movies on. To top that off it has accurate, vivid colors that were unmatched in any of the other models we tested. The *ASUS Flip C302CA's full HD screen was comparable to the Acer 14's, but scored slightly lower solely because it is 1.5 inches smaller. We had no qualms watching movies on the Flip C302CA**, however.
Apart from the Acer 14 and Flip C302CA, all of the models we tested have resolutions that put them right around the 720p mark. While this is still technically high definition, it is at the low end of that designation, and is about half the definition of 1080p. Accordingly, all of these models scored significantly below the Acer 14 in our screen quality testing. Four different models earned a score of 6. The ASUS C201 has an 11.6 inch screen that certainly feels small compared to a standard laptop, but doesn't feel limiting unless you're editing a spreadsheet with lots of cells. It also had fairly accurate colors in our testing, though it did tend to make bright images look a bit pale and washed out. The Acer 11 also has an 11.6 inch screen and produces fairly accurate colors, but it tended to lose some vividness with dark images and scenes, making them look a bit muddled. The dark border around the Samsung 3's 11.6 inch screen gives it the pleasant illusion of being slightly larger than other screens of the same size. It lost some points for image quality as it seemed a bit oversaturated, making everything look unnaturally bright. The HP 14 gained points for its large, 14 inch screen, but its image quality was slightly lower than the other models in this group. The screen was overly bright in our testing, lending everything a very washed out haze.
At the bottom of the screen quality barrel were two models that both earned a score of 5. To be fair, these models were not far off from the big group that scored 6, but they did have some noticeable drawbacks. The ASUS Flip mostly lost points for its relatively small, 10.1 inch screen. This size felt somewhat limiting when used in laptop mode. However, flip it into tablet mode and it feels like plenty of space to take advantage of the touchscreen interface. Its image quality was average in our testing. Movies looked good with colors looking somewhat muddy in darker scenes. The Lenovo Ideapad has an 11.6 inch screen, and one of the poorest image qualities of the models we tested. It displayed the common ailment of an overly bright screen that washes out colors during our testing, but to a greater degree than most models.
Nothing can ruin a web surfing session quite like a laggy trackpad or a cramped keyboard. We used all the models we tested extensively, from typing in Google Docs to dragging around cells in Google Sheets, in order to identify any annoyance that would pop up both in the short and long term. We also evaluated any special features (like touchscreens) within this metric.
The Acer 14 and ASUS Flip C302CA took top honors in our interface testing,
both earning the top score of 9. The Acer's 14 inch size meant the key spacing felt natural rather than cramped, and the keys themselves felt responsive. One tester commented that typing on the Acer 14 felt like typing on a desktop keyboard. It also has the largest trackpad of all the models we tested, which we found to be quite responsive. The Flip C302CA keyboard and trackpad are both slightly smaller, but it gained extra points for the added functionality of its large touchscreen.
Closely following the leaders was the ASUS C201, which scored an 8. Despite its smaller 11.6 inch size, the keyboard did not feel crowded, and the keys had a pleasant, lively spring to them. Its wide trackpad made for easy scrolling and has a pleasant click, but is noticeably shorter than the Acer 14's. Rounding out the top scorers was the Acer 11, which picked up a score of 7. We found its keyboard to be wonderfully ergonomic, but it lost points for its trackpad. It is wide but relatively short, can only be clicked towards the bottom, and the click felt loud and sloppy to our testers. It was as if the trackpad was reluctant to be pressed, but begrudgingly acquiesced in the end.
The Lenovo Ideapad scored a 6 in our interface testing. Here again we found the keyboard to be perfectly pleasant, but the trackpad to be disagreeable and ornery. The trackpad is a decent size, but it had a texture that felt just slightly gritty when moving our fingers across it, and didn't seem as smooth as a trackpad should be. It also inconsistently responded to touch clicks, and physically clicking the pad gave so little tactile feedback we were never sure if we actually clicked it. The Samsung 3 also scored a 6, but here it was a case of both the keyboard and the trackpad being somewhat average. The keys felt naturally spaced, but their action was somewhat dulled and they just didn't feel solid, like typing too hard might knock them off. The trackpad has smooth tracking but clicking was louder and required more force than we would have liked. The ASUS Flip also scored a 6 in this metric. Though the keyboard and trackpad both felt cramped to our testers, they are certainly usable for short periods, and taking advantage of the well designed touch screen interface when in tablet mode makes those drawbacks almost feel worth it.
One of the main advantages of Chromebooks is their portability. Smaller machines can easily be thrown in a bag, lower price points make it less of a tragedy if they fall off a luggage cart, and the fact that most everything is stored in the cloud prevents information theft even if the device is lost or stolen. Throughout our testing we were constantly taking models home and bringing them along on coffee shop adventures, so we have a good idea of which are easily carried and which are more cumbersome.
The ASUS Flip was far and away our favorite model to tote around, and thus earned the top score of 10 in our portability testing. Its small stature means it is barely noticeable in a backpack, and at a measly 2 pounds it is only moderately more cumbersome to carry around than a magazine.
Following the Flip in our testing results were four models that all earned a score of 7. Most of these models have 11.6 inch screens, and thus are all of a similar size. The ASUS C201 weighs in at only 2.1 pounds and has tapered edges, allowing it to easily slide into a backpack. The Acer 11 is a bit heavier at 2.4 pounds and has sharper edges, but still slips into a bag with ease. The Lenovo Ideapad is bit heavier still at 2.6 pounds, but makes up for it with a sleek design that easily slips between all the other occupants of your backpack. The Samsung 3 is similar with a weight of 2.5 pounds and a nice packable body. The one exception was the ASUS Flip C302CA. Despite its relatively large 12.5 inch screen, its skinny body only weighs 2.65 pounds.
The worst scorers in our portability testing were the Acer 14 and the HP 14. Both of these models scored a 5 and weigh 3.4 and 3.7 pounds, respectively. With their 14 inch screens these products are comparable in size to a traditional laptop. While this extra screen real estate does improve the user experience, it also makes them bulkier and thus less portable. This isn't to say that they aren't portable, they just warrant a bag with a dedicated laptop sleeve to haul them around in.
What About the Pixel?
Aficionados may be aware of the Pixel, Google's own entry into the Chromebook world. It is, inarguably, the best Chrome based machine you can buy. It packs a 13 inch 4K ultra high definition touchscreen and a full sized keyboard into a goosebump inducing anodized aluminum body. So why didn't we include it our review? Simple, at upwards of $1000 (though prices have been fluctuating wildly online) it just doesn't fit into the inexpensive web machine niche that these machines have carved out for themselves. For that price you can easily get a very capable traditional laptop without the external software limitations inherent in running Chrome OS. However, the fact the Google has gone through the trouble to design such a machine may be a sign of things to come.
In a time when technology is getting exponentially more complicated, Chromebooks make a niche for themselves by shaving off any extraneous features and focusing on the basics. We hope our testing results were able to guide you to the streamlined internet machine of your dreams.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
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