The best Chromebooks for students and home working are the perfect way to get the ergonomics and usability of a laptop with the affordability of a tablet – especially if you're soon going back to school.
Laptops have become an essential piece of tech for many people, whether you're working from home or you're a student, photographer or creative. However, some of the best laptops are pricey, bulky and heavy.
Of course, there are plenty of budget laptops out there, while the best Ultrabooks will offer you a thin and lightweight package, but the best Chromebooks offer true value for money if you're not planning to use software that's heavy on processing power.
What do the best Chromebooks offer?
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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 2023
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.
If you're going to get a student 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 (for those lectures and lessons that go on forever) and a barely believable weight of just over 1kg for carrying it across campus seals the deal.
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.
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 color 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.
The screen specs are ideal if you're a student working on graphics-heavy programs (think photo and video editing, or design work), or if you just want to watch Netflix and chill with a decent screen.
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. This could be particularly useful if you're traveling into college or university, and don't want to carry a heavy load around.
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 large spreadsheets, or editing video timelines. However, the flip design and the touchscreen are a joy to use – so this definitely a strong option for students who want to travel light.