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The best Chromebooks for students and home working in 2021

The best Chromebooks
(Image credit: Acer)

The best Chromebooks for students and homeworking are the perfect way to get the ergonomics and usability of a laptop with the affordability of a tablet. Laptops have quickly become an essential piece of tech for many people, whether you're working from home or you're a student. However, some of the best laptops can not only be pretty pricey, but they can also be bulky and heavy too.

Also read: the best budget laptops

While a Windows laptop or the best MacBook can provide plenty of power, you might actually find that you'd be better off with something smaller, slimmer and much more affordable. 

The best Chromebooks are a hybrid between laptops and tablets, with well known laptop manufacturers such as Acer and HP building the hardware. However, rather than running an operating system from Windows or Apple, the best Chromebooks use Google ChromeOS. Not only is this designed to be really easy to use, but it also runs apps from Google's Play Store – just as an Android tablet or phone would. 

One of the key downsides to the best Chromebooks is that you are limited in the applications you can run. For example, don't expect to be able to use Adobe Photoshop CC or Microsoft Office. However, it's worth noting that there are alternative programs (such as Lightroom Mobile and Google Docs) that you will be able to find on the Google Play Store. 

However, if you don't need access to these professional-level pieces of software, then there's very little compromise with a Chromebook over a conventional laptop. From a technical standpoint, Chromebooks can feature great processors that will range from ultra-efficient chips to the powerful Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs. Plus, you can also expect to find FullHD and 4K screens that are perfect for viewing photos and streaming your favorite movies. 

One of the more favorable aspects of the best Chromebooks is that they're known for their fantastic battery life. Up to 12 hours on a single charge is often possible – and some models are capable of even longer.

The best Chromebooks in 2021

(Image credit: HP)

1. HP Chromebook 14 FHD

Best budget Chromebook for students

Weight: from 1.46kg
Dimensions: 326 x 219 x 18mm
Screen size: 14-inch
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
CPU: from Intel Celeron
RAM: from 4GB
Storage: from 32GB
Battery life: Up to 11 hours
Reasons to buy
+Bargain price+Good selection of ports+Great screen for the money
Reasons to avoid
-Slow base CPU and limited RAM

When the first Chromebooks launched back in 2011, their low pricing was a major draw. HP's latest Chromebook 14 continues this philosophy, and is actually considerably cheaper than those trailblazing 'books. But as is the way with tech, you get a lot more for your money now.

By far the best feature of the Chromebook 14 for photographers is its 14-inch Full HD 1080p screen, which is even an IPS panel, so you needn't worry about restricted viewing angles or weak contrast. Be sure you go for this Full HD (FHD) version of the Chromebook 14 though, as other models are available with lower-res screens, and we don't reckon their marginally lower price is worth the viewing compromise.

Of course, a Chromebook this cheap can't be an image-editing powerhouse: the Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM and 32GB on-board storage in the entry-level versions of the HP Chromebook 14 make it the minimum you can get away with for web browsing, image viewing and HD YouTube viewing. But the payoff for having such power-efficient hardware is up to 11 hours battery life from a device that's exceptionally light and portable.

(Image credit: Google)

2. Google Pixelbook Go

The best Chromebook ever, and the best Chromebook for photo editing

Weight: 1.061kg
Dimensions: 311 x 206.3 x 13.4mm
Screen size: 13.3-inch
Resolution: Full HD / 4K
CPU: Intel Core m3-i7
RAM: 8/16GB
Storage: 64GB-256GB
Battery life: Up to 12 hours
Reasons to buy
+All models offer decent performance+Great screen on all models+Advanced keyboard
Reasons to avoid
-Most models are quite pricey

If you're going to get a Chromebook, then you'd hope one produced by Google itself would be pretty good, and you'd be right. The Pixelbook Go brings the best features of the original Pixelbook to a more affordable price point (though the top-spec Intel Core i7 model with a 4K screen still commands a distinctly premium four-figure price tag).

Thankfully even the entry-level model still sports a gorgeous 13.3-inch Full HD IPS screen, and its 8GB of RAM should suffice for viewing high res photos and doing some light image editing. Web browsing and productivity can be a joy with the Pixelbook's tactile Hush Keys keyboard, and you'll look the part on a conference call thanks to the built-in 1080p webcam.

12-hour battery life and a barely believable weight of just over 1kg seals the deal.

(Image credit: Acer)

3. Acer Chromebook Spin 13

The best Chromebook for screen quality

Weight: 1.5kg
Dimensions: 309.5 x 245.8 x 17mm
Screen size: 13.5-inch
Resolution: 2256 x 1504
CPU: Intel Pentium 4417U
RAM: 4-8GB
Storage: 64-256GB
Battery life : Up to 10 hours
Reasons to buy
+Long battery life+Respectable performance+Large, high quality touchscreen display
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively big and heavy-Trackpad could be better

Most Chromebooks prioritize portability and low cost over processing power and multitasking versatility, but Acer's Chromebook Spin 13 is a genuine alternative to a full-blown Windows laptop or MacBook. It's still capable of a mighty impressive 10-hour max run time, but you get a practical 8GB of RAM (4GB on the base model - not recommended), and a reasonably nippy quad-core processor.

There's no cut-price, low-res screen either - rather, your photos are displayed in all their glory on a 13.5-inch IPS screen with a resolution higher than Full HD, while its 3:2 aspect ratio means DSLR images perfectly fill the display area when previewed full-screen.

But the Chromebook Spin 13's real party-piece is its ability to transform into a tablet, with its low 1.5kg weight making this a genuinely useful feature.

Of course, all this versatility and performance doesn't come cheap, but that's inevitable.

(Image credit: Acer)

4. Acer Chromebook 315

Another bargain Chromebook with a photo-friendly screen

Weight: 1.8kg
Dimensions: 381 x 256 x 20mm
Screen size: 15.6-inch
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
CPU: AMD A6-9220C
Storage: 64GB
Battery life: Up to 10 hours
Reasons to buy
+Low price+Great screen+Versatile port selection
Reasons to avoid
-Only dual-core CPU and 4GB RAM-On the large side for a Chromebook-Battery life is good, but not the best

This Chromebook is one of the few available with AMD processing internals rather than the almost ubiquitous Intel hardware. The CPU is only a 1.8GHz dual-core offering though, so don't expect blazing-fast image editing, but it's good enough for productivity apps, web browsing and high-res image viewing. The real benefit here is cost. As AMD tech is almost always cheaper than equivalent Intel products, that helps keeps the price of this excellent Chromebook incredibly low.

You still get a superb 15.6-inch screen though, with a crisp Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution and typically gorgeous IPS colour and contrast. It's the sort of screen specs you'd normally expect to find on a Windows laptop costing three times the price of this Chromebook.

(Image credit: Asus)

5. Asus Chromebook Flip C434

This convertible Chromebook is like a laptop and tablet in one

Weight: 1.45kg
Dimensions: 321 x 202 x 20.2mm
Screen size: 14-inch
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
CPU: Intel® Core™ m3, i5, i7
RAM: 4-8GB
Storage: 32-128GB
Battery life: Up to 10 hours
Reasons to buy
+Handy convertible design+Lovely screen+Very high quality construction
Reasons to avoid
-Not the cheapest Chromebook-4GB RAM option can limit multitasking

Chromebooks with a hinge that can rotate through 360-degrees so the screen folds right back to form a tablet-like device aren't unusual, but we reckon the Chromebook Flip C434 is the best convertible option for photographers. It's the beautiful 14-inch Full HD display that does it, with its 100% sRGB colour gamut coverage and IPS viewing angles giving a truly premium viewing and editing experience. The super-slim screen bezels further enhance this, keeping the overall device size small while also helping to give a more convincing tablet mode.

Several speed and storage options are available, right up to an Intel Core i7 offering with 8GB of RAM. But unless you really need the best possible performance, we reckon the entry-level Intel Core™ m3-8100Y processor gives good enough versatility while maintaining a reasonable purchase price.

(Image credit: Acer)

6. Acer Chromebook Spin 311

Best Chromebook for travelling with 11-inch screen

Weight: 1.5kg
Dimensions: 296 x 206 x 23.5 mm
Screen size: 11.6-inch
Resolution: 1366 x 768
CPU: AMD A4-9120C processor Dual-core 1.60 GHz
Storage: 32GB
Battery life: Up to 10 hours
Reasons to buy
+Small footprint makes it ideal for traveling+Great design
Reasons to avoid
-11-inch screen is limiting for some uses

Thanks to its small 11-inch screen, this Chromebook is much more portable than most, and can fit in your bag with ease. The small size also means a small footprint - which can be handy when using on planes and trains. Of course, the downside is that you get less desktop space on the screen itself - which could prove a problem if looking at spreadsheets, or editing video timelines. However, the flip design and the touchscreen are a joy to use – so this definitely a strong option for those who want to travel light. 

Read more:

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The best photo-editing laptops
The best desktop computers for photo editing
Best laptop stands
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Ben Andrews

Ben is the Imaging Labs manager, responsible for all the testing on Digital Camera World and across the entire photography portfolio at Future. Whether he's in the lab testing the sharpness of new lenses, the resolution of the latest image sensors, the zoom range of monster bridge cameras or even the latest camera phones, Ben is our go-to guy for technical insight. He's also the team's man-at-arms when it comes to camera bags, filters, memory cards, and all manner of camera accessories – his lab is a bit like the Batcave of photography! With years of experience trialling and testing kit, he's a human encyclopedia of benchmarks when it comes to recommending the best buys.