Chromebooks are inexpensive laptops with a difference: they run Google’s Chrome OS instead of Windows. Here we review and rate the best Chromebooks you can buy in the UK in 2016. Visit Chrome Advisor for more about Chrome OS and Chromebooks.
Some of the models we recommend below are not new. However, we have kept them in the list because they are still available to buy at reduced prices, sometimes refurbished.
What is a Chromebook?
A Chromebook is a laptop that runs Google’s Chrome operating system (ChromeOS). It offers pretty much the same experience as using the popular Chrome web browser, which you might well already use on a Windows PC or laptop, but with a few extra features added to the mix.
An internet connection is central to how a Chromebook functions. Nearly all its apps and services are online and don’t run locally. There are a few exceptions to this, with Google’s own Document and Spreadsheet apps capable of working offline and then seamlessly syncing any work you’ve done to the cloud once you’re back on Wi-Fi.
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This simplicity allows Chromebooks to use less powerful hardware than many Windows laptops, without it affecting the overall performance. You won’t find capacious hard drives, high-end processors or large 15.6in screens on Chromebooks. Instead, Google offers 100GB of online storage with every machine, mobile processors are the order of the day (negating the need for noisy fans), and the usual screen size is around the 11.6in. One of the most notable benefits of such modest accoutrements is that prices for Chromebooks tend to be below £300, with many selling for nearer £200.
There are many similarities across the available models, with a generally standard keyboard layout and screen resolution, and fast bootup times, but those with specific needs should still be able find a machine to suit them.
Best Chromebooks: what you can get
Compared to a couple of years ago, there’s a much wider choice in 2016. The range of screen sizes spans 10-14in and not only are there certain models with touchscreens, but some have hinges that allow the screen to fold right back flat against the underside so you can use it like a tablet.
There’s also a rugged option now: Dell’s Chromebook 11 is designed for use in schools, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t also be great for home use, especially if you’re buying one for the kids to share.
Another recent development is the Chromebook-on-a-stick. Asus’ Chromebit, for example, take the crucial hardware, shrinks it down to dongle size and lets you turn any HDMI-equipped display or even TV into a Chromebook – you just need to provide a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to control it.
For most people who just want a laptop-style computer for browsing the internet, creating documents and spreadsheets, streaming videos or giving to the kids as an inexpensive, virus-free homework device, an inexpensive Chromebook is an excellent choice.
There are, of course, still very good reasons to buy a Windows machine – they offer a far bigger choice of software they can run and don’t rely so heavily on the internet, for starters – but Windows laptops at the low end of the market, especially in the price range that Chromebooks occupy, tend to be underpowered or cumbersome. (See: Best budget laptops)
Really, though, Chromebooks are intended as a second device: you’ll still have a laptop or PC in the house, but the Chromebook is a portable, lightweight alternative which is great for web browsing and email. You might think you’d prefer a tablet for these and other tasks, but ChromeOS means you’re getting a very compatible web browser, so you shouldn’t hit the kinds of limitations that you often find with an iPad or Android tablet and have to resort to using a Windows laptop. Generally, that doesn’t happen with a Chromebook.
Should I buy a Chromebook?
We’re not saying that Chromebooks are a perfect solution, as there are still limitations you need to consider. The most significant is that, unlike Windows machines, Chromebooks can’t run most of the software you might be used to. So, no Photoshop, no iTunes (and therefore no iPhone compatibility) and next to no gaming.
Full versions of Microsoft Office are also missing, although you can use the web-based suite with reduced functionality. Google’s own Docs suite is also a very good alternative if you don’t need Office’s advanced features, while its online collaboration is better than Microsoft’s offering.
The other main consideration is how far you’re willing to embrace the cloud. Chromebooks generally come with no more than 16GB of internal storage, as the premise of Chrome OS is that you use the internet rather than your machine to run programs and store data. So if you live in an area with patchy broadband, or don’t want to store your information on Google, Microsoft or Dropbox servers, then a Windows machine might be a better solution.
Peripheral support is also hit and miss, so if you need printers or other external devices to get your work done, then it’s worth investigating whether your printer and other gadgets will work with a Chromebook before you buy one.
To find out more about the practical implications of Chromebooks, read our feature: Living with a Chromebook: can you use a Chromebook as your only laptop?
Living with a Chromebook: can you use a Chromebook as your only laptop? – See more at: http://staging.pcadvisor.co.uk/search/run/#sthash.Z4Hhj8ba.dpufLiving with a Chromebook: can you use a Chromebook as your only laptop? – See more at: http://staging.pcadvisor.co.uk/search/run/#sthash.Z4Hhj8ba.dpuf
Best Chromebooks reviews
1. Dell Chromebook 11 (3120)
Dell Chromebook 11 (3120)
Reviewed on: 9 March 16
RRP: £202 inc VAT
Dell knows what it’s doing when it comes to Chromebooks. This new, rugged model has plenty to offer in terms of speed and durability, but you don’t feel like you’re sacrificing much in return. With the long battery life and unique waterproofing feature it does seem like a device that’s built to last, which is good as you’ll want to keep using it for a long time to come.
Read our Dell Chromebook 11 (3120) review.
2. Toshiba Chromebook 2
Toshiba Chromebook 2
Reviewed on: 13 February 15
RRP: £269 inc. VAT
If you’re happy to live in the cloud for the majority of your tasks, then Toshiba’s Chromebook 2 is currently the best way to do it. The device is light, fast, and that screen is worth the money alone. Chromebooks are quickly coming of age, and this Toshiba model is something that could easily convert a legion of fans to the ever improving ChromeOS universe.
Read our Toshiba Chromebook 2 review.
3. Asus Chromebook Flip C100PA
Asus Chromebook Flip C100PA
Reviewed on: 7 March 16
If you’re looking for an inexpensive convertible that doesn’t feel cheap, then the C100PA should go to the top of your list. In Chromebook terms it’s one of the best we’ve used, but only if you’re happy with a small screen. Road warriors will appreciate the long battery life and lightweight chassis, while everyone else could soon find themselves beguiled by its design aesthetics and no fuss performance.
Read our Asus Chromebook Flip C100PA review.
4. Dell Chromebook 13 (7310)
Dell Chromebook 13 (7310)
Reviewed on: 7 July 16
RRP: Starts from £484 (ex. VAT)
This is a confusing machine. On one hand it’s an impressive performer that’s sturdily built and conveys a certain amount of style and professionalism. But we can’t shake the feeling that where the Chromebook Pixel had a few wow factors – the display and industrial design – that almost tempted you to spend £1000, the Dell just seems expensive. That’s unfair in some ways, as you’re getting a fast and durable device that will be up for the rigours of the road, which in the case of most businesses is far more important than how it looks or makes you feel. If a Chromebook is what you want, rather than a premium PC or MacBook, then the figures and the bottom line says the Dell, but our hearts want the Pixel. Maybe that’s why we’re not businessmen.
Read our Dell Chromebook 13 (7310) review.
5. Chromebook Pixel (2015)
Chromebook Pixel (2015)
Reviewed on: 3 August 15
RRP: £799 inc VAT
As we’ve stated in pretty much every Chromebook review, they’re not for everyone. Being tied to the web, and Google’s version of the web in particular, isn’t going to be ideal for some users. The same goes for those that want to edit video, record music, or play AAA games. Those users would be better served by a decent PC, which you could certainly buy for the same money as the new Pixel. But, and it’s a very big but, if you embrace the ideals of Chromebooks, and have the money to spare, the 2015 Pixel is a truly beguiling device that is a genuine pleasure to use. Do we want one? Unquestionably. Will we be buying one? Hmmmm.
Read our Chromebook Pixel (2015) review.
6. Acer Chromebook R11
Acer Chromebook R11
Reviewed on: 2 March 16
The R11 is a decent, if unspectacular device. Having the option to position it in a variety of modes is fun, but the sometimes sluggish performance makes it hard to recommend to anyone who wants to do more than a couple of simultaneous tasks. If your needs are light and you value the flexible hinges though, it’s a nice machine all the same, but we’d still opt to wait for the 4GB alternative.
Read our Acer Chromebook R11 review.
7. Acer Chromebook 13
Acer Chromebook 13
Reviewed on: 19 March 15
RRP: £219 inc. VAT
Acer knows how to make good, solid, reliable Chromebooks, and this model is no exception. Performance was always decent, the screen size is a welcome addition, and the long battery life makes it a great option for travelling. It’s just a shame that the display panel doesn’t quite match up to that of the Toshiba Chromebook 2, which is similarly priced but does offer a richer experience. If you can accept the screen though, the Acer Chromebook 13 is a very nice machine that will get the job done.
Read our Acer Chromebook 13 review.
8. HP Chromebook 11
HP Chromebook 11
Reviewed on: 19 October 13
RRP: £229 inc VAT
The Chromebook 11 looks great, is small and light and has the best screen we’ve seen on a Chrome OS device. However, build quality isn’t quite up to scratch and – more importantly – neither is performance. With several other rival Chromebooks about to be launched, it’s definitely worth waiting to see if one can combine good performance with a good screen at the right price. HP’s aims well with its latest effort, but misses the mark by a good margin.
Read our HP Chromebook 11 review.
9. Asus C300M
Reviewed on: 10 October 14
RRP: £250 inc VAT
The C300 might not be as svelte or quick as many of its Chrome OS brethren, but the lightweight chassis makes it highly portable for those who prefer things a little larger on-screen. The colours won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for us it’s a selling point that captures the essence of a Chromebook.