The Best Chromebooks of 2017

Looking for a simple, inexpensive laptop? We spent 140 hours testing 11 of the best Chromebooks available side-by-side. With more and more of our daily computing tasks and applications moving to cloud-based systems, Chromebooks have never been more powerful or more useful. Despite having innately simple designs, however, there are vast differences between these browser-based Chromebooks in terms of performance and computing power. Our testing results clearly reveal which models can handle intense, tab heavy browsing sessions and which ones will screech to a halt the minute you start to multitask.

Read the full review below ≫

Test Results and Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 8 ≪ Previous | View All | Next ≫
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Product
ASUS Flip C302CA
Acer 14
ASUS C201
Acer 11
Samsung 3
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award     
Price $500 List
$449.00 at Amazon
$300 List
$287.30 at Amazon
$200 List
$169.99 at Amazon
$180 List
$187 at Amazon
$230 List
$159.99 at Amazon
Overall Score
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86
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84
100
0
76
100
0
49
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0
72
Star Rating
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Pros Fast web browsing, sensitive touchscreen,great keyboard and trackpadFast web browsing, large screen, great keyboard and trackpad, nice metal bodyFast web browsing, inexpensive, nice keyboard and trackpadInexpensive, good keyboardFast web browsing
Cons ExpensiveLarger size somewhat less portable than other modelsScreen isn’t as nice as some other modelsSlow web browsing, feels cheap and flimsy, trackpad is clunkyKeyboard feels flimsy, loud trackpad
Ratings by Category ASUS Flip C302CA Acer 14 ASUS C201 Acer 11 Samsung 3
Performance - 50%
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
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3
10
0
8
Interface Features - 20%  
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
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8
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7
10
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6
Screen Quality - 15%
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6
Portability - 15%
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7
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7
Specs ASUS Flip C302CA Acer 14 ASUS C201 Acer 11 Samsung 3
Screen size 12.5" 14" 11.6" 11.6" 11.6"
Screen Resolution 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080 1366 x 768 1366 x 768 1366 x 768
RAM 4 GB 4 GB 4 GB 2 GB 4 GB

Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Max Mutter and Steven Tata

Last Updated:
Tuesday
October 31, 2017

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Updated October 2017
The past month has brought about the release of the Google Pixelbook. This behemoth starts at $1000 for the base model that features 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and you can go all the way up to $1650 for 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. Plus, you can add a stylus with the Pixelbook Pen for another $100. There is no doubt this is the best Chromebook you can buy, but it begs the question why? Seeing as most advanced tasks one would complete with a Chrome-based laptop would be outsourced to cloud-based servers, all of that computing power seems like overkill. Also, in that price range you can get a high end laptop with similar specs and much more internal capabilities.

Are Android Apps finally here?
The short answer is: ehh, sort of. With the latest update to the Google Play Store more Android apps are available on Chromebooks than ever, but their quality is mixed. Some apps, like Netflix and Hulu, work quite well, but they feel no different than just using Chrome to go to their respective websites. Other apps, like Instagram, are literally just a smartphone sized window that opens on the computer screen. Yes, it's nice that you can use Instagram on your laptop, but it's no different than using it on the phone that is likely sitting right next to your laptop. So yes Android apps have arrived, but for now they have not revolutionized the Chromebook.

Best Overall Chromebook


ASUS Flip C302CA


Editors' Choice Award

$449.00
at Amazon
See It

Fast web browsing
Sensitive touchscreen
Great keyboard and trackpad
Expensive
The ASUS Flip C302CA handily won our Editors' Choice award as the best overall Chromebook. It outperformed the other Chromebooks in almost every test that we conducted and impressed us with its superior browsing capabilities. The C302CA's 2.2GHz processor was significantly faster than that of any other we used. It could handle heavy-duty browsing sessions and simultaneously run Google Docs, YouTube, and a multitude of web pages. In addition to leading the pack in performance, the C302CA had one of our favorite touchscreen user interfaces. Its HD 12.5" screen never felt cramped and was comfortable for long periods of use. The keyboard can be flipped around to make the Chromebook function as a tablet, which adds to its versatility. Whether you're watching movies on the couch or punching data into spreadsheets at the office, the ASUS Flip C302CA delivers high performance and maximum functionality. These features come at a price, as the C302CA was the most expensive Chromebook in our review, listing for $500. If you're on a budget we recommend checking out the ASUS C201, which also has 4GB of RAM, but a slower processor and no touchscreen.

Read review: ASUS Flip C302CA

Best Bang for Your Buck


ASUS C201


Best Buy Award

$169.99
at Amazon
See It

Fast web browsing
Inexpensive
Nice keyboard and trackpad
Screen isn't as nice as some other models
If you're on a budget and looking for a high-performance Chromebook, the ASUS C201 is about as good as it gets. With 4GB of RAM and a 1.8GHz processor, it performed better than any comparably-priced laptops that we tested. The C201 lists for $200, which typically gets you only 2GB of RAM. We found 4GB of RAM to be the minimum amount for frustration-free browsing. The C201's 11.6" screen felt comfortable, yet not cramped. If you're looking for a portable Chromebook that doesn't fold into a tablet the C201 is a good choice. If the 11.6" screen sounds too small then we recommend the Acer 14 as a slightly more expensive alternative.

Read review: ASUS C201

Top Pick for Productivity


Acer 14


Top Pick Award

$287.30
at Amazon
See It

Fast web browsing
Large screen
Great keyboard and trackpad
Nice metal body
Larger size somewhat less portable than other models
The Acer 14's sleek aluminum body let's you know that this machine means business. In fact, whenever we needed to get some actual work done, we found ourselves reaching for the Acer 14's full-sized keyboard and relatively palatial 14" screen. All of that real estate let us type and browse for hours on end without any hand cramps or eye strain. The screen is full 1080p HD, which made it our favorite model for post work Netflix binging as well. Backing all this up with 4GB of RAM that allows for lag-free browsing, the Acer 14 is the perfect option for those that don't want to leave behind all the comforts of their desktop computer when they're on the road.

Read review: Acer 14

Top Pick for Portability


ASUS Flip C101PA


Top Pick Award

$249.99
at Amazon
See It

Fast web browsing
Portable and versatile
Touchscreen adds versatility
Somewhat expensive
Smaller keyboard and screen
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.

Read review: ASUS Flip C101PA

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
86
$500
Editors' Choice Award
Lightning fast browsing and touchscreen functionality make this a great machine for almost any application
84
$300
Top Pick Award
Great performance and a high definition screen in a package that is the same size as a standard laptop
76
$300
Top Pick Award
Perfect if you're looking for a super portable tablet that has a keyboard for when you need to do some serious typing
76
$200
Best Buy Award
The cheapest way to get e 4GB machine that can handle multi-tab surfing sessions
72
$230
Good browsing speeds but a slightly cramped feeling keyboard
49
$180
You can really feel the lack of RAM as you try to surf the web
45
$180
The lack of speed and somewhat annoying trackpad will leave most people frustrated
42
$250
We found the slow browsing speeds to be extremely limiting

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.

We were fans of the Ideapad's keyboard  but not of its trackpad.
We were fans of the Ideapad's keyboard, but not of its trackpad.

Performance


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.


This discrepancy is actually not that surprising when you consider the strengths and weaknesses of benchmarking software and the internal workings of Chromebooks. In general, benchmarking software is good at determining how well a computer will deal with tasks that require a lot of computing power, things like Photoshop, video editing, and CAD applications. Tasks like these would not be performed natively on a Chromebook. Even Chrome apps that complete these tasks generally do the heavy computational lifting on a remote server, not the computer itself. These devices really only run the relatively simple javascript tasks required for web browsing. In essence benchmarking software like Octane 2.0 ends up assessing how quickly a Chromebook can complete computationally difficult javascript tasks. This is completely irrelevant to their real world performance, as such tasks are not run on these machines in normal day to day use. Benchmarking software tends not to be good at assessing multitasking performance, or the ability to complete many relatively simple tasks at once without any lag or reduction in speed. This scenario directly relates to the real-world usage of Chromebooks: having multiple tabs open that each represent a relatively simple computational task. Based on these findings and our own experience, it is our opinion that review sites that rely upon benchmarking software to determine performance are doing a disservice to their readers, as this kind of assessment does not reflect real-world performance.

Screen Quality


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.

The Acer 14 and its large  full high definition screen was by far our favorite model for movie watching.
The Acer 14 and its large, full high definition screen was by far our favorite model for movie watching.

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.

11.6 inch models  like the Samsung 3 above  generally have 720p resolutions. While this resolution looks good on a smaller screen  it doesn't feel cinematic.
11.6 inch models, like the Samsung 3 above, generally have 720p resolutions. While this resolution looks good on a smaller screen, it doesn't feel cinematic.

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.

Interface/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. 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.

If you want the portability of an 11.6 inch model the ASUS C201 has the most pleasant interface.
If you want the portability of an 11.6 inch model the ASUS C201 has the most pleasant interface.

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.

Portability


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.

The models we tested vary widely in size and  consequently  portability.
The models we tested vary widely in size and, consequently, portability.

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.

Conclusion


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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