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Help Me, Laptop: What's the Best Cheap Chromebook for Students?

If you intend to purchase a laptop to browse the web, there's no need to spend thousands of dollars — especially if you're a student on a budget. And if you're open to abandoning Microsoft, Google's Chrome OS is a great place to start. With a vast selection of low-end laptops, you can find a capable machine for well under $500.

Laptop Mag reader Gregg_ is committed to buying a Chromebook for online courses, but isn't sure whether to purchase the Acer R 11 or the Acer Chromebook 11 N7 — two capable machines with bargain price tags. Our advice to Gregg_ is to identify what exactly they're looking for in a laptop, and to also consider other, newer models.

The Acer R 11 and Acer Chromebook 11 N7 are similar in a lot of ways and polar opposites in others. Both Chromebook laptops are very inexpensive. At the time of writing, the Acer Chromebook 11 N7 starts at $200, while the Acer R 11 goes for $240. They both have very good battery life, with the Chromebook 11 N7 lasting 10 hours and 35 minute in our lab tests and the R 11 enduring for 9 hours and 38 minutes. They also come with 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 resolution touch-screen displays and are equipped with equally powerful internals.

The 2.8-pound Acer Chromebook 11 N7 is meant to withstand the stresses of everyday life, whereas the sleek, elegant white Chromebook R 11 is all about looks. The military-tested Chromebook 11 N7 is the more durable machine, but the R 11 has the brighter and more accurate display. The Acer R 11 also has an advantage regarding flexibility, given its 2-in-1 convertible design.

MORE: Best Chromebook of 2018

It's difficult to declare a definitive victor between these two laptops (coincidently, we gave both a 3.5 star rating). Picking one over the other should depend on your needs. If you want a rugged chassis, buy the Chromebook 11 N7. It has MIL-SPEC-810 durability and can therefore withstand extreme conditions. If not, go with the R 11 because of its superior display and sexier design.

Given that both of these laptops are more than a year old, we'd be remiss not to recommend newer Chromebooks in the same price range.

Our current pick for best value is the Samsung Chromebook 3. The slightly lighter laptop (2.5 pounds) has similar overall performance and battery life compared with the two Acer options, but its bright, accurate display and solid webcam give it an edge. If you're not locked into Chrome OS and can stretch your budget a bit, we recommend the Acer Aspire E 15. This 15.6-inch Windows 10 laptop is a steal for $350 and comes with a brilliant 1080p display, long battery life (8:16) and a good selection of ports.

Credit: Laptop Mag