Your buying guide to the best Chromebooks in 2018
What is a Chromebook?
Chrome OS 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. There are a few exceptions to this, with Google’s own Document and Spreadsheet apps capable of working offline and then seamlessly synching any work you’ve done to the cloud once you’re back on Wi-Fi.
This simplicity allows Chromebooks to use less powerful hardware than many Windows laptops, without it affecting the overall performance.
Do Chromebooks run Android apps?
Some do, and some don't. Obviously you should buy a Chromebook that does run Android apps since this hugely broadens the number of available apps you can run. But as you'll read in our Google Pixelbook review, there's still some work to be done both by Google and app developers before Android apps feel integrated on a Chromebook.
Some apps aren't optimised for bigger screens as they're designed for phones, but this is a problem Android tablet users have had to put up with for years, so it's nothing new on Chromebooks.
There are plenty of decent apps to get, though, such as Netflix which allows you to download videos and watch them offline. That's something you couldn't do on a Chromebook before Android apps were supported.
All of the models below will run Android apps, but be very careful when you're buying to ensure you are getting the right model. To help, these are the model numbers you need to look for:
- Asus Chromebook Flip C100PA
- HP Chromebook 11 G5 EE
- Acer Chromebook 14
- Asus Chromebook C300SA / C301SA
- Acer Chromebook R 11
What about specifications?
You won’t find capacious hard drives, high-end processors or large 15.6in screens on most 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 12 or 13 inches.
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. But some newer models are more expensive as they have touchscreens, more storage and other features.
There are many similarities across the majority of Chromebooks 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.
Chromebooks have come a long way since they launched. The range of screen sizes now spans 10-16in 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.
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.
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, email and - now - running Android apps.
The Chromebooks in our chart are now starting to look rather old, but we assure you it is up to date: you can still buy every single model listed here.
Rumours are starting to surface about a new device from Google, a Chromebook with a 4K screen.
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 some of the Windows software you might be used to. So, no iTunes (and therefore no iPhone compatibility).
For the alternatives to popular software, see Google's 'Make the switch' page.
Full versions of Microsoft Office won't run on a Chromebook, although you can use the web-based suite and Android apps. Google’s own Docs suite is a very good alternative: its online collaboration is better than Microsoft’s offering for a start.
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.
- Reviewed on: 29 December 2017
Asus has a habit of getting things right with Chromebooks, and in the C302CA it has another success. The elegant design, light weight, powerful components, and long battery life make it an easy device to recommend.
Yes, it might seem a bit expensive for a device of this type, but we don’t feel you’re being short changed in any way. If you’re happy to spend £500, then this is the best Chromebook you can buy.
Read our Asus C302CA Flip Chromebook review.
- Reviewed on: 3 January 2018
The rugged construction of the C213 will definitely appeal to those who intend to either give this to a child or want to use it themselves in harsher conditions. Having an easy to repair modular design is a welcome feature in these days of soldered laptop components.
It’s a tough machine that also offers decent performance at a price that, while higher than some Chromebooks (and regular laptops), is still acceptable. The only real drawback is the average display, which does seem a slight misstep in the now HD world.
Read our Asus Chromebook Flip C213NA review.
- Reviewed on: 7 March 2016
If you’re looking for an inexpensive 2-in-1 Chromebook 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. Asus C300SA
- Reviewed on: 10 October 2014
The C300SA 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.
Read our Asus C300SA review.
- Reviewed on: 11 January 2017
There's a lot to like about the Acer, including it's smart design, larger screen size, and impressively long battery life. These are offset by a few less than desirable components. The display is adequate at best, the keyboard is also average, and performance feels hampered by the low memory allocation. It's a solid machine, but the compromises may be too much for some.
Read our Acer Chromebook 14 review.
- Reviewed on: 2 March 2016
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 - just make sure you get the version with 4GB of RAM.
Read our Acer Chromebook R11 review.
- Reviewed on: 8 November 2017
It’s easy to fall in love with the Pixelbook’s sleek hardware, but the combination of a high price and faltering software means that the competition bests it on both laptop and tablet fronts.
If you’re after an entertainment device that’s also good for a bit of work, the iPad Pro 12.9 is better, while anyone needing a laptop first, tablet second will be better served by a Surface Pro, high-end Windows laptop or a Macbook.
Read our Google Pixelbook review.