Looking for the best Chromebook? In this guide we will tell you what to look out for, pick out our favorite Chromebooks available right now, and show you where to buy them at the best price.
For many, a laptop is an essential part of digital photography. However, the best laptops for photographers can cost big bucks, and may well be bulkier and heavier than you'd like if you're after the most convenient package. A conventional Windows laptop or the best Macbook also brings with it a full-fat operating system with potentially complicated settings and general usage. But what if there was another, simpler, slimmer and cost-effective way? Enter the Chromebook.
A Chromebook is still a laptop on the outside, and big-name laptop manufacturers like Acer and HP make the hardware. But rather than running Windows or Mac OS, Chromebooks run Google's ChromeOS operating system. It's designed to be super-simple to use (great for the less tech-savvy, or those just wanting to break from a traditional OS) and runs apps from Google's Play Store, just like an Android phone or tablet. If you're already used to working in Google productivity apps like Gmail, Docs or Sheets, then you'll be right at home using them on a Chromebook.
Likewise, Chromebooks rely heavily on cloud storage to supplement their own built-in SSD hardware, as well as for backup, hence their tight Google Drive integration.
There is a downside to having a laptop based around mobile apps rather than conventional laptop software, however. Don't expect to be able to install Windows apps on a Chromebook, and that means no Photoshop CC or Microsoft Office. There are of course alternatives in the Google Play store though, like Lightroom Mobile, and Google's own Snapseed.
But this is really the only major compromise with a Chromebook versus a conventional laptop. In terms of hardware, the best Chromebooks can be loaded with top-notch processors that range from ultra energy efficient chips through to powerful Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs. Quality FullHD and 4K screens can also be had, with IPS screen tech ensuring rich colors and wide viewing angles - great for viewing your photos at their best. What's more, expect all this tech to be packed into a super-slim and light laptop, with most Chromebooks also capable of amazingly long battery life - up to 12 hours is often possible, with some more energy efficient models capable of lasting longer still.
The best Chromebooks for students and home working
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 lesser screens, and we don't reckon the marginally lower price is worth the viewing compromise.
Of course, a Chromebook this cheap can't be an image-editing powerhouse, and the Intel Celeron N3350 processor, 4GB of RAM and 32GB onboard storage all represent the minimum of what 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 just 33.7 x 22.6 x 1.83 cm large and a mere 1.54kg light.
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). But 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 doling some light image editing. Web browsing and productivity are 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.
Most Chromebooks prioritize portability and low cost over processing power and multitasking versatility, but Acer's Chromebook Spin 15 gets the balance just right. It's still capable of a mighty impressive 13-hour max run time, but you get a practical 8GB of RAM, 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 large 15.6-inch Full HD IPS screen. That's easily expansive enough to also make photo editing genuinely enjoyable.
Downsides? This is far from the smallest or sleekest Chromebook on the market, and at 2.2kg, it's also on the heavy side. But that's the compromise you have to make for increased versatility and a big battery.
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 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.
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.
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.