Google’s Pixelbook might be the very best Chromebook you can buy. The $1,000 machine is a shining example of what a good combination of hardware and software can do when in perfect sync. But it isn’t the best Chromebook you should buy. Chromebooks aren’t supposed to cost a grand. They’re supposed to be cheap. So we’ve spent the last few weeks trying to find the best Chromebook to buy that doesn’t actually wreck a wallet.
First, we had to whittle down the field a bit. There are a lot of Chromebooks out there. They come in a wide range of display sizes, have a wide variety of processors available, and range in price from $150 to over $1,000.
Going too cheap on a Chromebook kind of defeats the purpose, though. A Chromebook should look and feel like a “real” laptop but cost a fraction of the price. If the display is junky, the finish is really crummy, or its just not powerful enough, a too-cheap Chromebook is going to feel like a waste of money. But there’s a sweet spot in the Chromebook market in $500 to $600 price range. These machines have improved finishes, nicer displays, and in general, they just don’t feel so budget.
So we reached out to every major Chromebook maker and asked them to send us their best machine in that $500 to $600 range. This led us to test the following competitors:
- Asus Chromebook Flip C434 ($570)
- Lenovo Yoga Chromebook ($530)
- Dell Chromebook 3100 2-in-1 ($450)
- Acer Chromebook 315 ($500)
- HP Chromebook X2 ($600)
- Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 ($600)
These were the devices each Chromebook maker felt was the very best they produced at that price point, and there were a lot of inconsistencies across the field. The Lenovo has a huge 15.6-inch display, while the Dell has a tiny 11.6-inch display. (The others have displays that range in size from 12.2 inches to 14 inches.) Processors featured were as slow as a Celeron or Pentium, or as fast as an i3.
Ultimately it was the Asus Chromebook Flip C434, priced at $570, that seemed to stand above the rest. But how did it come out on top? With such a disparate group of devices, we naturally had to pit them against one another in three battles. We wanted to know which had the best user experience, which was fastest, and which had the best battery life.
A good user experience is absolutely vital when it comes to more affordable Chromebooks. Cheaper devices cut more corners, have more design flaws, and tend to be uglier and heavier than premium devices.
The HP Chromebook X2 is a nice-looking Chromebook from afar. But up close you realize it’s actually a thick tablet with a keyboard case. It’s heavy, and poorly balanced, with the keyboard flopping as you type.
The Lenovo Yoga Chromebook faces a different set of issues. Its 15.6-inch display is huge, so using it as a tablet makes you feel extremely silly. It’s also the largest and heaviest Chromebook tested, and nowadays, we prefer something a little smaller and lighter to squeeze into a backpack.
The Acer Chromebook 315 looks and feels like a more proper laptop, but the finishes feel cheap. It’s the only Chromebook of the group that can’t double as a tablet.
The Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 (our previous favorite Chromebook) and the Dell Chromebook 3100 both nimbly switch between laptop and tablet. Yet the Dell has the smallest display of all the Chromebooks tested, the biggest bezels, and a chunky design that makes it feel bulkier than most general Chromebook users would want. The Samsung has a much nicer 12.2-inch display and far better finishes, but it still lags behind our top choice.
The Asus Chromebook Flip C434 feels like a much more expensive device with its all-aluminum body and super big display with super-narrow bezels. Its 14-inch display is packed into a laptop with the footprint of a 13-inch device. The keyboard is a little mushy, but the touchpad is responsive. I never felt ridiculous using the Asus in tablet mode, which was a welcome respite from nearly every other Chromebook tested. The Flip C434 was the only Chromebook that didn’t feel like a major compromise, which makes it our winner.
Winner: Asus Chromebook Flip C434
Speed on a Chromebook is important—not as important as on a Windows, Linux, or macOS device—but crucial if you don’t want to feel like you’re crawling across the web.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty difficult to actually test the speed of Chromebooks. Most of their most processor-intensive tasks are happening in the cloud, and the stuff they do day to day on the local hardware just isn’t as demanding. We settled for running a small group of benchmarks to give us a general idea of performance. We chiefly relied on WebXPRT 2015, a browser-based benchmark designed to test how speedily a computer handles web-based tasks like spreadsheet sorting, image editing, and word processing. We also used Geekbench 4, a synthetic benchmark that runs a series of tests designed to task the CPU and GPU and provide a score.
There wasn’t a lot of surprises here. The Lenovo has the most powerful CPU, an 8th Gen i3 processor, and handily performed best on the benchmarks. The Asus and HP had the second most powerful CPUs and, naturally, did second best. The Samsung, Acer, and Dell all lagged behind with their wimpiest processors.
Winner: Lenovo Yoga Chromebook
Speed is important to consider, but in a Chromebook, battery life is even more crucial. You won’t always notice a slow processor in a Chromebook, but you will notice one that dies halfway through your binge of the final season of Orange Is the New Black.
We tested each Chromebook’s battery the way we test all laptops, phones, and tablets at Gizmodo. First, we adjust the brightness of the display to 200 nits. These devices all have different-sized displays with different max brightnesses, and we want them on as equal a playing field as possible, as the more light the display puts out the faster its battery drains. Next, we turned off notifications, Bluetooth, backlit keyboards, and any other funky little settings that could unnecessarily drain the battery life. Finally, we reenacted my Sunday morning and streamed YouTube in full-screen mode until each device died.
As with the speed battle, the results weren’t super surprising. The Dell has the smallest display, and Dell is notorious for making laptops with excellent battery life. So, of course, it would have the best battery life—lasting 13 hours and 13 minutes. The Acer Chromebook 315, which is perhaps the most barebones of the Chromebooks came in second with 9 hours and 10 minutes, and the Asus Chromebook Flip C434 took third with 8 hours and 24 minutes. The others all lastest less than 8 hours.
Winner: Dell Chromebook 3100
So it seems like a three-way tie right? The Lenovo was fastest, the Dell had the best battery life, and the Asus had the best user experience.
Naturally, we needed some way to break the tie, because our goal was to find the absolute best value in a Chromebook. So we looked at where all the competitors placed in the respective battles, and on average, the Asus consistently placed higher than the Lenovo or the Dell. It had the third-best battery life, and took either second or third place in the speed battle, depending on the benchmark.
Plus, again, it’s the best to use! The Asus Chromebook Flip C434 won the first battle by a wide margin, and considering how well it performed in general, it’s a no brainer that we’d point you towards the Asus Chromebook Flip C434 as the best Chromebook to buy. At $570 it’s not outrageously expensive, and it neatly balances performance and battery life in a Chromebook body that looks and feels a lot more expensive than it is.
Winner: Asus Chromebook Flip C434