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The Best Chromebooks of 2018

Tuesday October 23, 2018
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With the addition of touchscreens and Android apps, Chromebooks have become fully fledged computing machines instead of the niche products of yore. We tested 7 of the best new models on the market to find the ideal machine for every person, situation, and budget. Chromebooks have made big leaps recently, 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 traveling or are looking to make the move to the Chrome OS full time, we can steer you towards the perfect laptop.


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Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award    
Price $1,100 List$600 List
$500.98 at Amazon
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Pros Fast and powerful, Touchscreen and optional stylus, thin and light, lots of onboard storageFast and powerful, touchscreen and stylus, reasonably pricedFast web browsing, sensitive touchscreen, great keyboard and trackpadGood performance, super portableLarge screen, nice typing experience, large trackpad
Cons ExpensiveLess onboard storage than the PixelbookNo stylusCramped keyboard, small screenHeavy, no tablet mode
Bottom Line High end performance with a correspondingly high price tagVersatile, high-performance machine that is the best choice for most usersGreat, but not the best in its price rangeGood if you want a tablet that offers a somewhat natural typing experience, but certainly not a full-time computerGreat for productivity and movie watching, but not for travelling
Rating Categories Google Pixelbook Samsung Pro ASUS Flip C302CA ASUS Flip C101PA Acer 15
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Specs Google Pixelbook Samsung Pro ASUS Flip C302CA ASUS Flip C101PA Acer 15
Weight 2.4 lb 2.38 lb 2.65 lb 2 lb 4.3 lb
Dimensions 11.4" x 8.7" x 0.4" 11.06" x 8.72" x 0.55" 11.97" x 8.28" x 0.54" 10.4" x 7.2" x 0.6" 14.88" x 10.08" x 0.75"
Touchscreen Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Screen Size 12.3" 12.3" 12.5" 10.1" 15.6"
RAM 8 GB 4 GB 4 GB 4 GB 4 GB
Storage 128 GB 32 GB 64 GB 16 GB 32 GB
Processor Intel Core i5 Intel Core m3 Intel Core m3 OP1 Intel Pentium N4200
Screen Resolution 2400 x 1600 2400 x 1600 1920 x 1080 1280 x 800 1920 x 1080
Ports 2 x USB C, 3.5 mm Aux Micro SD, 2 x USB C, 3.5 mm Aux Micro HDMI, Micro SD, 2 x USB 2.0, 3.5 mm Aux 1 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB C, 3.5 mm Aux 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB C, 3.5 mm Aux
Reported Battery Life (hours) 10 9 10 9 14
Measured Battery Life (hours) 4.5 4.8 5.5 7 7.5
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Updated October 2018
The biggest recent news in the world of Chromebooks is the release of the new Samsung Chromebook Plus LTE. This is essentially a slightly pared down version of our Editors' Choice winner with the addition of LTE capability, allowing you to access the internet anywhere you can get a cell signal.

Top Overall Performance


Google Pixelbook


Editors' Choice Award

$1,100
List Price
See It

Fast and powerful
Touchscreen and optional stylus
Thin and light
Lots of onboard storage
Expensive

If you're looking for a Chromebook that can serve as your primary computing device without feeling limited, the Google Pixelbook is currently the best option available. Looking at this machine's spec sheet, it looks more like a standard laptop than a Chrome device, sporting 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage in the most basic model. This made it by far the fastest and highest performing model we tested. It refused to slow down, even when we streamed video, used web apps, and opened an inhuman number of tabs, all at the same time. We also like that the extra internal storage lets you download lots of documents and media to the hard drive, allowing you to indulge in a movie marathon or get some work done, even if you don't want to spring for the in-flight WiFi. To top it off this machine is almost impossibly thin and light with a very responsive touchscreen.

The clear downside to this machine is the cost. With the base model asking a whopping $1000, you could easily get a traditional laptop with a more versatile operating system for the same or less. Also, while we like the optional stylus you can get for another $100, it stores with an external lanyard. We wish there was an internal slot to store the stylus like on the Samsung Pro, which feels much more streamlined. Bottom line: if you really want to use a Chrome OS machine as your primary computer, or you have a big budget for your secondary computer, the Pixelbook is worth every penny. But if you're looking for a funtional laptop to augment your computing needs when out and about or on the raod, there are much better values available.

Read review: Google Pixelbook

Ideal for Most Users


Samsung Pro


Editors' Choice Award

$500.98
(17% off)
at Amazon
See It

Fast and powerful
Touchscreen and stylus (included)
Reasonably priced
Less onboard storage than the Pixelbook

With a multi-faceted, intuitive interface, enough juice to keep multiple web apps running smoothly, and a list price that isn't too ridiculous, we think the Samsung Pro is the best Chromebook for most people. Its integrated stylus and responsive touchscreen make it a great platform for artistic or recreational endeavors when you're in the mood, and the comfortable trackpad and keyboard let you sort through emails and spreadsheets efficiently when you need to. And it packs all of this into a light, 2.38-pound frame, making it a great way to take all of your computing needs on the go.

The Samsung Pro's only shortcomings are in relation to the much more expensive Pixelbook. The Pro has 4GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, compared to the Pixelbook's 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. This means we were able to get the Pro to glitch a bit when we got the tab count into the double digits whilst using web apps and streaming video, whereas the Pixelbook didn't blink an eye in that same situation. That being said, for the vast majority of people the Pro offers all the performance you'll need and then some, for half the price of the Pixelbook.

Read review: Samsung Pro

Excellent Bang for the Buck


Samsung 3


Best Buy Award

$163.00
(29% off)
at Amazon
See It

Fast web browsing
Inexpensive
Water resistant keyboard
Keyboard feels clunky
Loud trackpad

For many, the attraction of Chromebooks lies in having an inexpensive, secondary computer that you can take traveling without having to worry about damaging your fancy laptop. If that's what you're looking for, the Samsung 3 is our top recommendation. For just over $200 you get 4GB of RAM, more than enough to handle email, spreadsheets, word processing, and some streaming music, all at once. Plus, it has a spill-resistant keyboard, so you don't have to worry about turbulence knocking over your in-flight beverage.

The main sacrifice you make with this budget model is in the interface. You lose the touchscreen/stylus capabilities of the top models, and both the trackpad and keyboard feel a bit clunky in comparison. The screen is also 720p resolution, slightly short of the full 1080p HD of the more expensive models. However, we didn't find any of these things to be significant hurdles in being productive with the Samsung 3. It is still our favorite budget machine for getting things done on the go.

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.

Value


In Chromebooks, like in many other personal computing devices, you tend to get what you pay for. However, that pattern is not linear. For example, the $1000 Pixelbook is clearly the best performing machine we tested, but the Samsung Pro gets you about 85% of the performance for half the price. We think the Samsung Pro is the best combo of performance and price for most people looking for a fully featured Chrome machine. If you don't mind ditching the touchscreen and just want an inexpensive device for staying connected and productive while on the road, we think the Samsung 3 is the best deal around.

The ASUS C302CA was impressive in our performance testing.
The ASUS C302CA was impressive in our performance testing.

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. 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.

The Google Pixelbook was far and away the top performer in our tests.
The Google Pixelbook was far and away the top performer in our tests.

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.

The Samsung Pro was the runner-up in our performance testing  and has enough horsepower for the vast majority of people.
The Samsung Pro was the runner-up in our performance testing, and has enough horsepower for the vast majority of people.

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.

Modern machines that run the Chrome OS often can't be accurately assessed by benchmarking tests like Octane.
Modern machines that run the Chrome OS often can't be accurately assessed by benchmarking tests like Octane.

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 represents 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.

We were very impressed with the touchscreen and optional stylus of the Google Pixelbook.
We were very impressed with the touchscreen and optional stylus of the Google Pixelbook.

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.

The ASUS Flip C302CA provides a good typing experience and a nice trackpad.
The ASUS Flip C302CA provides a good typing experience and a nice trackpad.

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.

We loved using the Samsung Pro in tablet mode.
We loved using the Samsung Pro in tablet mode.

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.

Large  HD displays  like the one on the ASUS Flip C302CA pictured here  make movie watching a great experience.
Large, HD displays, like the one on the ASUS Flip C302CA pictured here, make movie watching a great experience.

Display Quality


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 15.3" HD screen of the Acer 15 was far and away the most immersive of the bunch.
The 15.3" HD screen of the Acer 15 was far and away the most immersive of the bunch.

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.

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.

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.

Battery Life


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).

The Flip (top) is the smallest and most portable model we tested.
The Flip (top) is the smallest and most portable model we tested.

Portability


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 Google Pixelbook is incredibly thin  and quite light.
the Google Pixelbook is incredibly thin, and quite light.

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.

The rubberized edges of the ASUS C202SA make it more durable than most.
The rubberized edges of the ASUS C202SA make it more durable than most.

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 just a bit bulkier at 2.65 pounds, but is also quite think and doesn't take up too much space in a laptop bag.

Coming in a distant last in our portability testing was the Acer 15. Unfortunately, you have to pay a pretty hefty price for a large screen. This machine weighs a comparatively beastly 4.3 pounds, which is as much or more than many traditional laptops. The large footprint also makes it much less packable than most of the other models. However, if you don't mind carrying extra weight to get a bigger screen for your Netflix binges, it's a worthwhile sacrifice.

Touchscreens and styluses are great if you want to use Android apps.
Touchscreens and styluses are great if you want to use Android apps.

Conclusion


With the addition of Android apps, touchscreens, and a wider array of Chrome-friendly software, Chromebooks are fast becoming legitimate computing machines that can handle all of your daily tasks, instead of the low-powered classroom laptops many people still associate them with. However, adding all of this functionality has made the Chromebook landscape more complicated and difficult to navigate. We hope our testing results have helped you find the perfect machine for your needs. If not, we hope our buying advice article, which includes a step-by-step guide for determining what things you do and don't need, can clear up some of the confusion.


Max Mutter and Steven Tata