Should I Buy a Chromebook?

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chromebook buyers lead

A Chromebook is a laptop of a different breed. Instead of Windows or Mac OS, Chromebooks run Google's Chrome OS. These machines are designed to be used primarily while connected to the Internet, with most applications and documents living in the cloud. As a result, these clamshells don't have a ton of onboard memory, but they don't have very large price tags, either.

Low prices and Windows 8 confusion have many people considering a Chromebook. In fact, according to ABI Research, Chromebook shipments doubled in 2014. But is a Chromebook right for you? And how do you pick the best model for your needs and budget?

Our Chromebook buying guide has the answers to these and other questions.

What Chromebooks Can and Can't Do

Because Chromebooks run Chrome OS, Google's operating system, they rely heavily on Google's suite of applications. Although you can log in to Chrome OS as a guest, in order to have the best experience, users should log in to the system with Google credentials.

MORE: Best Chromebooks Now

Chromebooks are optimized for Google's apps, such as Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Drive. This deep integration can be either positive or negative, depending on how you use a PC. Getting set up on a Chromebook will be easy if you already use Google's services for your email, calendar and documents. However, if you use other popular services — such as Microsoft Outlook, AIM or Yahoo Mail — it might take some time to get adjusted to Google's OS.

Unfortunately, the Microsoft Office suite isn't available on Chromebooks, but that doesn't mean that you won't be able to work on your files. Microsoft Web Apps, the free cloud version of Office, is compatible with Chromebooks, and you can always use the native Google Drive to open and edit documents and spreadsheets. With Drive, users can create everything from text documents to spreadsheets and presentations. Plus, all of your old Microsoft Word documents and PowerPoint presentations can be imported directly into Drive, allowing you to work on your files.

But it may be best to stick with Microsoft Web Apps if you already have a lot of Office files that you're bringing over to your Chromebook. There are often formatting issues when importing third-party documents into Drive, so the first few minutes of work may involve fixing anything that's broken. Fortunately, Google Drive allows you to save documents to Microsoft formats, so you'll still be able to share files with non-Chromebook users.

Another issue that could influence your Chromebook buying decision is the availability of Internet connectivity. Chromebooks are designed to rely heavily on the Internet, which means that many apps simply won't work if you're out of Wi-Fi range. There are a growing number of "offline" Chrome apps that can work without Internet connectivity, including Gmail and Google Drive.

You'll still be able to play games on the Chromebook, but you'll be limited to the games available in the Chrome Web store. Classics such as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope are there, but you won't have the same title selection as you would on a Windows machine or a MacBook. Chromebooks generally have limited graphics processing power, so even if a game such as "BioShock Infinite" were available, it would not play smoothly on these notebooks.

Choose the Right Size

samsung chromebook 2 g01

The 11.6-inch Chromebooks, such as the Acer C720 and Samsung Chromebook 2, are on the smaller side. These models are generally less than 3 pounds, making them the most portable — and great options for kids. However, to some people, the screen size and keyboards will seem cramped.

Those looking for more real estate for Web surfing, getting work done, watching movies and playing games can pick up a 13.3-inch Chromebook like the Acer Chromebook 13 or the Toshiba Chromebook 2. The biggest Chromebook so far is the 14-inch HP Chromebook 14, but you won't find a 15- or 17-inch model yet. The biggest Chromebook so far is the 15-inch Acer Chromebook 15, but you won’'t find a 17-inch model yet.  

Know Your Specs

Because Chromebooks are meant primarily for online use, the specs aren't as important as they are for Windows laptops, but you'll still want to know how much power and storage you're getting for your money. Here's a quick guide.


The processor and amount of RAM will determine how smoothly your Chromebook performs, especially when you have multiple tabs open and you're streaming video or playing games.

Intel Celeron chips provide a decent amount of pep, but if you want even more speed, you can find models with a Core i3 CPU. Such machines offer long battery life and responsive behavior.

The Acer Chromebook 15 has an 1.6-GHz, dual-core Intel Celeron 3205U CPU with 4GB of RAM under the hood, as well as a 32GB SSD hard drive. All that power made it a killer on our benchmark tests, and it even clocked in more than 9 hours of battery life.

Nvidia also has its own chip — the Tegra K1 — which currently only powers the Acer Chromebook 13. This processor offers excellent graphics performance. The newest Dell Chromebook 11 is one of the few Chrome OS devices to come with an Intel Core i3-4005U processor, which makes it a fast, capable work computer.

When it comes to RAM, 2GB is fairly standard for a Chromebook, but you'll find some models with 4GB on board. Opt for 4GB if you're a heavy multitasker, but expect to pay $250 or more.

Storage Size

All Chromebooks come with at least 16GB of onboard storage, and that's likely all you'll need, because these systems aren't designed to download large applications or store tons of media. . Some Chromebooks, like the Asus Chromebook Flip, come with an SD card reader, meaning you can expand the storage up to 64GB. Plus, with every Chromebook purchase, Google gives you 100GB of free Google Drive storage for two years. Spring for 32GB only if you plan to download and use many offline apps.


acer chromebook c720p g01

The size of the screen isn't the only thing that matters. Lower-end Chromebooks sport 1366 x 768-pixel displays, which is fine for most tasks. But if you want sharper images, video and graphics, spring for a full-HD display (1920 x 1080 pixels). You'll pay anywhere from $50 to $100 more, although you can find some full-HD models for less.

Windows 8 laptops have popularized touch screens in laptops, but that doesn't mean you can't get the same functionality in a Chromebook. You just have to know which one to get — and expect to pay about a $100 premium. The $249 Asus Chromebook Flip can bend into a tablet and other use modes, making use of its IPS touch-screen display. The $299 Acer Chromebook C720p also features a touch screen. However, there aren't many apps that take full advantage of the touch capabilities.

Latest Chrome OS

With the Asus Chromebook Flip came the newest version of Chrome OS. One of the new features is voice control, which allows you to say "OK Google" with the Launcher open, or a Chrome tab open, and the voice assistant pops up ready to serve you. The Launcher is now also integrated with Google Now, giving you info cards at the bottom of the window showing things like the current weather and local news stories.

Google has redesigned the on-screen keyboard as well, making it easier to hand-write text quickly. With a minimalist design, the on-screen keyboard recognizes your scribbles and gives you choices of text to input — when we tested it with the Chromebook Flip, it was almost always accurate in recognizing our writing. Also, soon Android smartphone users will be able to get text and call-pop-up notifications on their desktop.

While they are not specific to the new version of Chrome OS, Android apps are now available on the operating system as well. This makes touch screens like the one on the Chromebook Flip much more handy, and handwriting becomes more useful as well. The world of Android apps for Chrome OS isn't expansive, but there are some useful ones, including Evernote, Wunderlist, Dropbox and Cut the Rope.

Battery Life

One trait almost all Chromebooks have in common is exceptional battery life. Some last longer than others, but of the 13 Chromebooks we've reviewed in the last couple of years, we've seen an average of 8 hours and 26 minutes of endurance on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. On the top end, you'll notice standouts like the Asus Chromebook C200M's run time of 12:25. We recommend shooting for at least 7 hours of juice; check out our full reviews for battery test results.

Price: How Much Should You Spend?

There's a pretty narrow price range for Chromebooks. At the low end, you can pick up the $199 Acer Chromebook C720P, which has an 11-inch HD display and 2GB of RAM. On the other end of the spectrum is the $329 Samsung Chromebook 2, which sports a larger 13-inch full-HD display with 4GB of RAM.

The bottom line is that Chromebooks are incredibly affordable and capable, and there's more variety now in screen sizes and specs. Microsoft is fighting back with low-cost Windows laptops like the HP Stream 11 and Stream 13, but if you're looking for a simple way to get online and prefer Google's services, you'll be happy with a Chromebook.    

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Author Bio
Anna Attkisson
Anna Attkisson, Laptop Mag & Tom's Guide Managing Editor
A lover of lists and deadlines, Anna Attkisson covers apps, social networking, tablets, chromebooks and accessories. She loves each of her devices equally, including the phablet, three tablets, three laptops and desktop. She joined the Laptop Mag staff in 2007, after working at Time Inc. Content Solutions where she created custom publications for companies from American Express to National Parks Foundation.
Anna Attkisson, Laptop Mag & Tom's Guide Managing Editor on
Add a comment
  • Allen Says:

    I purchased an HP Chromebook because I only use my laptop and iPad for writing on Googledocs. Surprisingly google docs works perfectly on my iPad and mac pro but google docs is always a problem on the Chromebook: Whole chapters disappeared. Does not keep docs updated like my old Mac Pro at home, and pages are often unresponsive. Yes the Chromebook is cheaper and lighter than my old mac pro but now, after
    all the hours of writing I lost, I wish I had never purchased one.

  • curious Says:

    can i create a pdf file on an acer chromebook?

  • Ashley Says:

    The Google Chromebook was the worst purchase I have ever made. It sounded appealing initially...built in browser, high speed internet. But this thing is not functional. I was told I would not be able to download, save, etc. because of limited hardware but I would be able to save to a hard drive. No. The apps are quick to download but they are a joke. All that I have come across thus far have been the least bit of helpful. Actually, trying to become accustomed to the app is more of a waste of time than it is when actually using it. You literally can not do anything functional on this "computer" besides access the internet. If you are looking to invest in a laptop DO NOT do so with this thing. It is not user friendly and has given me nothing but a headache while using it. I will be purchasing a Macbook tomorrow.

  • Jacinta Says:

    Can you play Hidden pictures on this chrome book?
    Does it support Adobe flash?

  • Somya Sharma Says:

    It is such a nice buying guide on the Chromebooks. I really like Chormebooks, because they are light weighted and available at a low price as compare to Laptops. Thanks to share this impressive post with us. You shared such a great tips.

  • STAYlow Says:

    A lot of mixed reviews about Chrome OS and the user's experience with it and the hardware. It appears that the students using school purchased Chromebooks hate the hardware, and hate that you can't put games on the device.
    Let's be honest, one of the beautiful things about Chrome OS is that you can't download any sort of third party program on it. This means no viruses and the system won't bog down overtime from a hard drive that has to sift through gigs of files before finding the one that you need. Basically your kid or even elder will have a difficult time messing up a Chrome OS device up.
    I think the other problem we're seeing is bad experiences with the ridiculously cheap hardware that Chrome OS tends to end up on. I highly recommend doing your research and spending the extra $100-150 of your hard earned money to get; a better screen, better build, better trackpad and keyboard, and so on. Doing this will likely ensure that your experience is a pleasant one.
    I'm a full-time college student and was looking for something in the 13 inch form factor that could replace my tablet hybrid I was using last semester. I thought for sure I'd settled on a Core M powered Windows device but came across a review about the Toshiba Chromebook 2. Everyone raved about the screen and most reviewers said you couldn't buy better for less. This would be my first Chromebook, cause sure enough the first time I say that screen in person I was instantly sold at the $300 is was selling for at the time of purchase.
    I'm a bit of a gadget junky so I figured the price was right for an interesting experiment. I wanted to see if Chrome OS could serve all my college needs. Most of what I'll be using it for is research, document creation, and presentations. So far this device and Chrome OS does all that, and it does it well.
    Like other reviewers on here have asked, you should ask yourself, "how often am I using my laptop offline?" The reality for most is, "never or rarely". Chromebooks will do most of the work you need to do offline anyways, like document editing and creation.
    So far my experience after a month of use has been quite positive. I thoroughly enjoy the screen and the keyboard is solid. The trackpad might feel a bit abrasive to some, but it's accurate and never misses any of my gestures. I really like the two finger tap that acts like a right click on a Windows machine.
    The ecosystem has been fluid and responsive with few if any hiccups. Consuming multimedia has been pretty awesome with this HD IPS display, not to mention the speakers are shockingly good.
    I'm convinced the moral of the story here is that you should do your research and spend a few extra bucks for the better hardware. The popularity of cloud based and browser based computing will only continue to grow and consequently improve with time. This type of computing allows manufacturers to create truly ultra portable devices that have excellent battery life and great productivity all in one.
    At this point I'd definitely be willing top pay more for the same experience but on high end hardware. Something thin and light with an HD screen like the Asus Zenbook UX305 or the new MacBook ultra portable. The Chromebook Pixel 2 is looking more and more tempting everyday but I still find the price to swallow considering the maturity of the OS running on it.

  • Greta S Says:

    If you are getting this for school or communication, I wouldn't recommend it. Everything is either an extension that doesn't work all that great or a google app that isn't compatible with Microsoft computers.

  • cooldudegood Says:

    a chromebook is useless I hate the 1 I am using and I wish that chrome os had never been invented because we can't get minecraft and there are other games I want but can't get and even at schools there are chromebooks so if the chromebooks are ment to be for a school then buy them

  • diego Says:

    I am normally a Mac user, but I have been using chromebooks for two years. Althouh my chromebook cannot replace my Mac because of specific statistical software I have to use for work, everything else I do on my chromebook. As a matter of fact, my chromebook is my workhorse. I have the hp 14 inch, and i loooove it. It has a huge screen, it is super fast, and tough. I totally love it.

  • Arobindo Dutt Says:

    I like your evaluation of a system, not messed up with technical terms oreign to a abeginer like I am.

  • Arobindo Dutt Says:

    I like the review. I am going tobuy ACER Chrombook 13CB5-311-T7NN(13.3" HD) NVDIA TEGRA K1, 2GB OR T1UU(13.3', Full HD, NVDIA TEGRA K1, 4GB, 1920x1080 resolution.

    I am a first time user, learning, any suggestion will be welcome.

  • Arobindo Dutt Says:

    Good review, but I need more, to educate my self. I am visiting India, need to be in in touch with my investestment advisors. So I am looking for a simple hardware like Crome bOook. Any suggestion?

  • po chung Says:

    can chrombook convert analog videos to digital? can an AV transfer card be connected to a chrome book?

  • George Says:

    Don't buy a Chromebook. This has been the worst piece of technology I have ever owned. It doesn't save unless you upload it to Russia and even then it might be erased.

  • David H Says:

    Errm... I'm just saying that you can dual-boot a chromebook so that it will run linux on it (and thus getting all of the desired apps like libreoffice).

  • charlie Says:

    ithink it is good help but i didnt read all so i might be roung maby you did but you should of put the regulure prise in it

  • AmyInNH Says:

    Less than forthright about Chromebook.
    - only free online storage for 2 years, after which you'll pay (??/anything) to get your hostage docs.
    - maybe in little Silicone Valley internet is 100% present and reliable, but not elsewhere.

  • Darrell Says:

    Chromebook is so fast so nice so ebay buy and sell. What? True. Sent it back the next day as I have an ebay business. Nice for surfing.

  • Anna Attkisson, Laptop Mag & Tom's Guide Managing Editor Says:

    If you play the web-based version that's on Facebook, yes. It should.

  • Brenda Jones Says:

    Anna, I read your article on Chromebooks vs notebooks. I just bought a Asus 13" Chromebook for my backup. I only intend to play "farmville" on it. My laptop is in the shop so I got this to use when it might go to the shop again. Do you think it will let me play my game? Thank you.

  • bill sliger Says:

    how do I get out of being a guest

  • part fight Says:

    I do not know if it's just me or if perhaps everyone else encountering problems with your blog.

    It seems like some of the written text within your
    posts are running off the screen. Can somebody
    else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them too?
    This could be a problem with my internet browser because I've had this happen before.
    Thank you

  • Daavidn Says:

    I'm hook after getting my first Chromebook, an Acer 13 full HD, very lightweight, great battery life for $250. I've been compiling a list of things I CAN'T do on my chromebook and, so far, I only have 2 items: can't run the Logitech Harmony remote setup since their app won't run in this version of browser and can't run their desktop app, and the other is (most ridiculous yet) Google Earth. All the other "Office Apps" can be overcome with plugins and browser-based options. So far, the benefits far outweigh the limitations.

  • Fellow Chromebook buyer Says:

    Dont buy you no play no games at all

  • Fellow Chromebook buyer Says:

    Don't buy a Chromebook because they fucking suck. Sorry but it's true. You literally can't download any games like World of Warcraft or Wizard101 or Pirate 101 or Minecraft or anything else. It fucking sucks. I only wanted a computer to play those types of games so basically my Chromebook was a wasted computer.Thanks Chromebook.

  • Ivy Smith Says:

    Don't buy a Chromebook because they fucking suck. Sorry but it's true. You literally can't download any games like World of Warcraft or Wizard101 or Pirate 101 or Minecraft or anything else. It fucking sucks. I only wanted a computer to play those types of games so basically my Chromebook was a wasted computer.

  • Dee Says:

    I'm considering buying a chromeBook for my mom that is not a computer user. 2 questions. The purchase comes with 2 free years of Google storage, how much will the storage cost after that?

    The screen is a little small, can they be connected to a digital tv and is that easier to see than using the monitor?

  • Wzrd1 Says:

    Let's call it for what it really is, a smart, thin client.
    It *requires* internet connection to have significant function, though offline functions are growing.
    Currently, as of the end of 2014, 32 gig models are being sold.

    For those griping about Facebook crash-o-matic, that is due to Chrome and its version of Adobe Flash, the patch-o-matic example for the universe to observe as a standard of frequent patches.
    Also known as crapware. Don't have to like it, it is what it is. As an information security professional, Adobe Flash has been the bane of my existence, save or other Adobe products... With Adobe, it feels like the old Windows 95 days in quality of software, though Adobe updates as frequently as Microsoft does now.
    So, Google feature freezes Chrome at a specific version of Adobe Flash, to judge by complaints. If it's buggy enough to be crash-o-matic, you're SOL until the next Chrome is released.
    Rather like Apple with their version of Java.
    I'll not even go into Microsoft's stolen version of Java, where Microsoft tried to tell Sun that Microsoft did it right and the people who *wrote* Java disagreed...

    Well, I'm out of here. Just got off from a shift and a half at our security operations center, caught up with e-mail and was researching a new, minor annoyance and stumbled up this article and gripes.

  • Jake Says:

    Do not get one. They hold no value at all. Save yourself

  • Lisbeth Bradley Says:

    I bought this idiotic "help" book, no way to get HELP, HELP!!!!! LB

  • i bevel i can fly Says:

    if i can fly

  • i hate th samsung croombook Says:


  • i hate th samsung croombook Says:

    i hate the Samsung Chromebook

    hint GO BUY A APPLE MAC BOOK PRO OR AIR :):):):):):):):):(:(:(:(:):):):):):):):):):):):)

  • Craig Says:

    If you want to take chrome os out for a test drive, you can download the os onto a flash drive for free, and boot from the flash drive. For macs, there is an extra step to get the flash drive made, but still easy.

    So if you have an existing computer, you can try it out to see how you like it before you buy it.


    my laptop is chromebook so called acer that look good but disappointed over camera is not much some not good why i have been trouble with this over i feel bit not buy a chromebook laptop again because of bit different control so i feel difficult for deaf ?
    hope next will be more future success

  • Steve Jobs Says:

    I bought one and installed Kali Linux... 6 hours of pure hacking in a cheap and small footprint. 16GB is more than enough and still leaves 2.5GB free for anything else.

  • Rose Says:

    i love chromebook computers!!!! I'm just concerned about the noise it is making. Every time I click on something it makes a weird noise. Is that suppose to happen??????????

  • Terry Says:

    I just got an Acer C720 chromebook, I like down loading photos from on line, and also posting them on Houzz and....., but I am unable to do so.
    This Chrome book is really hard to operate for someone who has had many laptops, and been happy with them. Otherwise,I like this little Chrome.

  • Bob McKinney Says:

    Lack of compatibility with your Router could be another reason to avoid Chromebook.

  • Bob McKinney Says:

    Compatibility with your Router could be another reason to avoid Chromebook.

  • Bob McKinney Says:

    Compatibility with your Router could be another reason to avoid Chromebook. We recently ran into this problem.

  • John Says:

    Being a owner of a Samsung Chromebook I can definitely say its got a lot of limitations. You basically buying the hardware with a browser installed. Don't let the Google fanboy's tell you different. You could install Chrome browser on a PC or Mac and get the same Chromebook experience. Probably better because you would have better hardware. The Chromebook is basically for places like schools who have a limited budget and the Chromebooks are cheap. They are also worthless on trade in because they have weak hardware to begin with and only really run Chrome OS. I think schools will have a big wake up call when their Chromebooks become outdated and weak very quickly and they won't have any value left for trade. I've seen very few places who will offer any money for them. I would highly recommend people looking for a inexpensive laptop buy a Windows PC running the Bing version of Windows 8 which many start at around $250 for basically Chromebook like hardware but have a full Windows OS. You will find it much more flexible and you can always install Chrome browser if you want Google services and apps.

  • Contessa Says:

    I bought a Chromebook in January 2014 the sound is out I wasted money buying a flash drive to do a recovery mode with Google then was sent to Samsung CS who states I have to mail this in with my money and they will have it for up to 14 days even though I am an online student. If I take it locally it will void my warranty. The sound was always very low and you need ear buds but it is gone now!

  • Chromebook Owner Says:

    The Chrome book is a Smart Phone as a laptop but im not sure you can do as much.

  • BBDS Says:

    You cannot video chat on ChromeBook except through G+. No Skype, No FB video chat. And if video chatting is important to you, then forger about the ChromeBook.

  • Grey Says:

    I really love the new world that is chromebook. The best way to describe it is that it's basically a controller for a computer owned by Google that is accessed online. I think people have to wrap their head around this concept so they can get why they don't need fancy hardware to have a great computing and web experience. No viruses, no money eating optimizers, no nonsense. So simple it is genius. Some people worry about their files being safe on Google servers, but I don't think they take into account that they are much more secure than your own local drive when your computer is connected to the internet. And let's face it, it almost always is online. Also, I don't know why people think it is safer to hide their money in their mattress. The cloud is like a safety deposit box for your data. Keep valuables off site people, that's not a new concept.

    PS, to the people who want better filtering control like I do for their email, get sanebox. It is a life changer. Yeah it costs money, but it's so worth it imo.

  • Andrew Grey Says:

    You can buy any laptop you want, but as an alternative to google docs you can definitely try collate box !

  • Diego Says:


    I just purchased my second chromebook, and I could not be happier. My first one was a small 11.6 samsung chromebook, and I fell in love with the concept. I just purchased an HP 14" screen chromebook and I am head over heels. This is wayyyyy faster than my samsung and the screen is 10 times better, i am just in love with this machine. I was about to purchase a MAC but I am glad I didn't, this machine for under 400 dollars, rocks.

  • Sanah Says:

    Can you use the Microsoft Software app offline?

  • Saintly Says:

    Repeat after me (or write on the blackboard):

    Mmmmmm, Cloud.
    I love the Cloud.
    I TRUST the Cloud.

    I love the Cloud.
    I TRUST the Cloud.

    One hundred times, or until you feel ready for a Chromebook.

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