Touchscreens, styluses, and Android apps, oh my! We tested 7 of the latest and greatest Chromebooks side-by-side to find the best one for every person. Chromebooks have made big leaps in the last year, some adding enough firepower and functionality to be used as a primary computer. However, all of those added abilities means an even more diverse range of products and thus more things to consider when buying a Chrome powered laptop. Our testing selection covers the full range of Chromebooks, from simple and inexpensive to overpowered behemoths, so whether you want a secondary computer for travelling or are looking to make the move to the Chrome OS full time, we can steer you towards the perfect laptop.
The Best Chromebooks of 2018
In our latest round of testing, we added a number of great, new Chromebooks, including the Samsung Pro and the Google Pixelbook. We also revamped our testing protocol to better examine the new touchscreen and Android app capabilities that are now becoming standard on most Chromebooks.
Top Overall Performance
For those looking to make a Chromebook their primary computing device without feeling any limitations, the Google Pixelbook is far and away your best bet. This computer is specced (and priced) more like a high-end laptop than a Chromebook, sporting 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage in the standard model. This made the Pixelbook far and away the fastest model we tested, able to handle seemingly countless open tabs and applications without missing a beat. Its storage also lets you download lots of documents and movies, so you can easily use things like Google Docs, Microsoft Office, and watch The Last Jedi, even when on a plane with no internet. Plus, it's almost impossibly thin and light offers a super responsive touchscreen, and an optional stylus ($100). The biggest obstacle you'll face in making this your primary computer is its lack of ports. It has only two USB-C ports, and you'll need one of those for charging periodically.
Read review: Google Pixelbook
Ideal for Most Users
With an integrated stylus, responsive touchscreen, 4GB of RAM, a comparable plethora of ports, and a fairly average price, the Samsung Pro is an ideal choice for most potential Chromebook buyers. Sure, it's not quite as fast as the field leading Pixelbook, but it got pretty close in our testing, only really bogging down when our open tab count got well into the double digits, making it more than adequate for most people. 32GB of onboard storage lets you keep your most important documents stored on the laptop itself, and the Micro SD slot lets you easily expand that storage if need be.
Read review: Samsung Pro
Excellent Bang for the Buck
When Chromebooks were first introduced, before the age of touchscreens and Android apps, they were mostly simple and inexpensive machines that excelled at general web browsing. The Samsung 3 stays true to that pedigree, providing a good web surfing experience in an inexpensive and portable package. For those that just need the ability to check email and do some general browsing, or those that want a cheap secondary computer for when they travel, the Samsung 3 is a great deal. Its 4GB of RAM guarantees you won't get bogged down in your daily internet rounds, and it even has a spill-resistant keyboard in case some in-flight turbulence knocks your drink over.
Read review: Samsung 3
Analysis and Test Results
With the recent addition of Android apps and companies like Microsoft offering Android versions of their most popular software, Chromebooks are becoming more and more functional. While these machines are still somewhat limited when compared to a traditional computer, they can satisfy the vast majority of computing needs for the vast majority of people. They can also serve as great secondary machines for those that use a desktop computer for most of their digital needs. For a 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 find the top Chromebook we conducted a number of tests divided amongst four testing metrics: performance, interface and features, display quality, and portability. Below we detail how each of the models we tested stacked up against the others in each of those testing metrics.
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. We also ascertained how Android apps 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
After testing many Chromebooks we've found that models with at least 4GB of RAM are generally able to handle standard web surfing (a few open tabs, maybe streaming a video on one of them) with no issue. 4GB has now become the standard. All of the machines in our current selection have at least 4GB of RAM, and all passed our web surfing benchmark with aplomb.
Web App Benchmark
Adding web apps into the fray really differentiates the performance of the models we tested. The Google Pixelbook, with its field-leading 8GB of RAM, was the clear frontrunner here. Using it felt like using a standard laptop, as it easily handled many open tabs and a high-definition streaming video on top of using things like Google Sheets and Android applications. This over the top performance makes it our top recommendation if you're looking to use a Chromebook as your primary computer.
Both the Samsung Pro and the ASUS Flip C302CA followed closely behind the Pixelbook in terms of web app performance. These machines easily handled multitasking in our testing, but we did notice some lag in RAM heavy situations. For example, with 10+ tabs open and streaming a YouTube video we did start to notice a bit of lag in editing a Google Sheets spreadsheet. This performance is more than adequate for most people, but might be a bit limiting for those that like to keep gobs of tabs open.
Next in line were the ASUS Flip C101PA and the Acer 15. Both of these machines have slightly less powerful processors than the top performing models, and it showed in our testing. They adeptly handled using an Android or web-based app in our testing, but we did notice some lag when we started to multi-task. For basic tasks these machines are great. If you want to have multiple Google Docs open while streaming music in the background these machines can handle it, but you'll get noticeably faster performance out of the higher scoring models.
At the bottom of our app performance scoresheet were the ASUS C202SA and the Samsung 3. We certainly would not call these models poor performers, they handled every app we threw at them with aplomb, but they weren't big fans of multitasking. Once we tried to layer music streaming and general browsing on top of app usage, these machines all had a noticeable lag. They're great if you want a simple, secondary machine that can handle one or two tasks at a time, but they might get frustrating when used as a primary computer.
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.
Interface and Features
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. With touchscreens becoming almost standard on Chromebooks, we also considered touchscreen responsiveness under this metric.
The Google Pixelbook and the Samsung Pro provided the best user experiences of all the models we tested, sharing the top score of 9 out of 10 in our interface metric. Both these machines have full-sized keyboards with good feel, responsive trackpads and touchscreens, and styluses that greatly expand the usability of the touchscreen interface. We would give the Samsung's stylus just a slight edge over the Pixelbook's simply because the laptop itself has a slot to store the stylus in. The Pixelbook stylus must be carried separately and costs an extra $100. Overall both of these machines offer excellent interfaces and all the bells and whistles one could want.
Just behind the leaders in this metric were the Acer 15 and the ASUS Flip C302CA. Both these models performed just as well as the top scorers, but lack any way to flip the screen around into a 'tablet mode' making its touchscreen feel slightly less useful. Also, if you use the physical click on the trackpad it's a bit on the louder side. We weren't bothered by this, but we could see how it could be somewhat annoying.
Lagging just a bit behind was the ASUS Flip C101PA with a score of 7 out of 10. This machine again offers a touchscreen, tablet mode, and responsive keyboard and trackpad. However, its smaller size means the keyboard is a little too cramped for longer typing sessions.
At this point, we saw a big drop off in interface quality. The Samsung 3 and the ASUS C202SA, both of which scored 4 out of 10 in this metric, do not have bad interfaces by any means. However, they are a clear step below the other models. The keys of the Samsung 3's keyboard feel a bit loose, resulting in a slightly clunky typing experience. The trackpad also has a slight but noticeable lag to it, and the machine lacks a touchscreen or stylus. The ASUS C202SA also lacks a touchscreen and stylus. Its keyboard feels a bit better than that of the Samsung 3 and is water resistant to boot, but its trackpad is similarly sticky.
The portability of Chromebooks makes them excellent entertainment devices, and a high-quality screen can go a long way towards improving your next binge-watching session. When quantifying display quality we focused on two things: resolution and colors. We tested resolution simply by verifying that high definition video did, in fact, look crisper on the high definition screens. We evaluated color by watching the same videos and displaying the same photos on multiple machines side by side, in addition to comparing them with a MacBook Pro's Retina display. This process allowed us to easily compare which models were able to display true color, and which had odd tints or seemed to have washed out colors. 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.
Three models shared the top score of 9 out of 10 in our display quality testing. The Google Pixelbook, the Acer 15, and the Samsung Pro all sport resolutions that qualify as full high definition. The Acer's larger, 15.6" screen does lend a more cinematic feel than the 12.3" screens of its main competitors. The Pixelbook and Samsung Pro both use a 3:2 aspect ratio, which works a bit better for browsing and typing but leaves less real estate for movie watching. All three screens produced beautiful colors and great contrast.
The ASUS Flip C302CA was a close runner-up to the top scorers, earning an 8 out of 10. Its 12.5" full HD screen produces great images and is more than capable of handling a long Netflix session. Its color and contrast both pop, but were just slightly inferior to the top models, hence the slightly lower score.
Here again, we saw a stark drop off in performance. Outside of the top performers, the ASUS Flip C101PA had the best screen earning a score of 6 out of 10. It's small screen size of 10.1" feels small compared to a normal laptop, but if you're used to consuming media on a tablet it's plenty big enough. The resolution works out to just above 720p, which works well with that screen size. The biggest downside is that the colors aren't quite as vibrant as those of most of the larger models.
The Samsung 3's screen is very similar to the ASUS Flip C101PA's with 720p (1366 x 768) resolution and good but slightly muted colors. Its screen is slightly larger at 11.3 inches, and at that size the lack of full high definition is more noticeable. This earned it a score of 5 out of 10.
The 11.6" screen of the ASUS Flip C302CA was the worst of the models we tested, earning a score of 4 out of 10. The 720p (1366 x 768) resolution is adequate, but its colors and contrast are noticeably muted. The picture doesn't look bad, but the colors are significantly less vibrant and the lack of contrast makes movies look a bit flat. We wouldn't complain watching a sitcom on this computer, but it may not do a visually stunning Oscar contender full justice.
A laptop is really only useful if it can last through a day of work or a long flight. We tested battery life by opening 5 tabs on each machine and playing a 10-hour, high definition youtube video over a wifi connection with the screen set on full brightness. We then let it run until the battery died. Our test represents possibly the most power hungry use scenario, thus all of our models died well before their manufacturer claimed battery life. If you were to use these machines for typing and general web browsing, they would last a bit longer.
The Acer 15 Survived the longest in our test, running for an impressive 7.5 hours. The ASUS Flip C101PA was a close second, lasting 7 hours. Apart from these standouts the rest of the models we tested were all packed quite tightly together, all lasting between 4.5 and 5.5 hours.
What we take from these test results is that most Chromebooks perform quite similarly in terms of battery life. you can get better than average battery life if you're willing to get a larger, heavier model with a bigger battery (Aver 15), or if you don't mind getting a smaller, less power-hungry model (ASUS Flip C101PA).
One of the main advantages of Chromebooks is their portability. Smaller machines can easily be thrown in a bag 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 C101PA topped our portability scoring with a perfect 10 out of 10. 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.
The ASUS C202SA was the runner-up earning a score of 9 out of 10 in this metric. At 2.65 pounds it is relatively heavy, but it is the only model we tested that is ruggedized. This extra construction makes it both impact and water resistant and is certainly the first model we would reach for if we wanted to take a laptop outside.
The Google Pixelbook was the most portable of the more full-sized models we tested earning a score of 8 out of 10. It is almost impossibly thin and weighs just 2.4 pounds, an incredible feat for a laptop with a 12.3" screen.
Three different models earned scores of 7 out of 10 in our portability testing. The Samsung Pro is nearly as thin as the Pixel and weighs about the same at 2.38 pounds. The Samsung 3 is a bit thicker and weighs 2.54 pounds. The ASUS Flip C302CA is slightly heavier at 2.65 pounds.
In a distant last place in our portability testing was the Acer 15, which scored a measly 3 out of 10 (that's the price you pay for a big 15.3" screen). At 4.3 pounds it is as heavy as a traditional laptop, and close to double the weight of most Chrome machines.
Chromebooks have expanded their functionality in recent years, in many cases becoming hybrid laptop/tablets. This interface diversity, coupled with the streamlined Chrome OS, provides a versatile and simplified machine that can satisfy the vast majority of most people's computing needs. We hope our testing results have cleared up any questions you have about these machines. If you're looking for more information on whether Chrome OS is right for you, check out our buying advice article.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.