Why a Chromebook might be right for you

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Updated Thu August 29, 2019

Story highlights

  • Our top Chromebooks include Samsung, Lenovo, Acer and HP.
  • Chromebooks are great for those who need a computer to surf the web.

What makes a Chromebook a Chromebook? Well, for starters, it's running a very simple ChromeOS, has minimal storage, stores almost everything in the cloud, and almost always requires an internet connection. And yes, ChromeOS is based on Google's Chrome web browser, so if you use that, you're one step ahead with a Chromebook.

These do rely super heavily on the internet, so they are generally more affordable and lightweight, with a focus on connectivity and battery life. You likely won't find a Chromebook with a high-performance processor or graphics card inside. Likewise, these devices don't have a full stream of apps for download on them.

They generally have a minimal amount of internal storage, as almost all of your data will be stored in the cloud (a large Google server farm somewhere). So you can't really edit a 4K movie, play the next massively multiplayer game or do serious photo editing. Chromebooks are great for productivity tasks like writing, web browsing, emails, binge-watching, music streaming and other lighter tasks.

These are perfect for students who likely need to search PDFs, take notes and write papers, along with lighter users who mostly focus on accessing sites and services through a web browser. While that might seem like a small population, there are millions of Chromebooks out there.

A big reason for their popularity is the ease of use. If you know how to use Chrome, you know the operating system. Secondly, these are super safe and secure devices, and updates will auto-install. Google is continuously releasing productivity-boosting and security-enhancing updates. Lastly, Chromebooks don't break the bank: You can find them for as low as $150.

Plus, many apps from Android's Play Store are available on Chromebook. This can be a gamble though, since it falls on app developers to update them. Google's high-end Pixel Book supports many and is an excellent showcase of what Android apps on a Chromebook unlock.

Now that you have all this knowledge, let's outline some of our favorite Chromebooks, from the super affordable to the mid-range and even the top of the line.

Samsung Chromebook 3 ($229.99; samsung.com)

Kicking off our list is Samsung's trusted and true Chromebook 3, a simple 11.6-inch clamshell with a mostly plastic build that weighs 2.54 pounds. It is, of course, running ChromeOS and is powered by a basic 1.6GHz Intel Celeron processor, so don't expect this model to really crush performance tasks. It has 4GB of RAM for processing and you'll get 32GB of internal storage. But don't worry about this small amount of internal storage, as most of your data will be in the cloud. A 4,400mAh battery inside should give you around 11 hours of use, and the included power adapter should let you refuel the battery in a decent amount of time. Even better, it has Energy Star certification, an accreditation by the government for devices that are energy-efficient, and a Silver EPEAT Rating, which honors electronics that meet sustainability standards.

All of Google's ChromeOS safety features are in full force here, and it will get updates pretty regularly, since Chromebooks don't really ever go out of style.

Lenovo Yoga Chromebook Laptop ($599.99; lenovo.com)

If you want a Chromebook that's a two-in-one, look no further than Lenovo's Yoga Chromebook. Thanks to a 360-degree hinge, you get several modes right out of the box -- like traditional clamshell, tent mode and tablet. You can explore each mode through a vibrant 15.6-inch 4K touch screen display with slim bezels. Since it's touch screen, you can use your fingers to move around a map or webpage, or pair it with a stylus for notetaking in tablet mode.

ChromeOS paired with an Intel Core i3 processor and 8GB of RAM is a recipe for a speedy experience. You should be able to handle many many tabs open in a web browser, along with stand-alone Google apps like Mail, Drive and Calendar, in a breeze. Even better, Lenovo opted for a four-cell 56-watt battery inside, which should give you over 12 hours of battery life.

Acer Chromebook 11 ($198, originally $219.99; amazon.com)

Acer is not a newcomer to the Chromebook space and was one of the first partners with Google. And its Chromebook 11 is just shy of $200 right now from Amazon.com. If that price, and nearly 300 4-star reviews, don't sell you on this affordable entry-level Chromebook, we'll do our best. Acer's Chromebook 11 is the perfect starting point into the ChromeOS experience. It's powered by a basic Intel Celeron processor and 4GB of RAM, and you can expect around 10 hours of battery life. This value experience is rounded out with 2 USB-A ports, an HDMI port, 16GB of internal storage, an 11.6-inch LED display and two speakers.

HP Chromebook 14 ($229.99, originally $269.99; amazon.com)

Some users will likely want an 11-inch Chromebook and others will want a 15-inch model, but what about an in-the-middle size? HP has a solution with its Chromebook 14. It's priced at $269 regularly, but is on sale for just $229.99. You'll get a 14-inch WLED display with a 1366 x 768 resolution. HP powers the Chromebook 14 with an AMD dual-core processor and 4GB of RAM. The AMD processor inside is clearly different from an Intel and should help to stretch out battery life while keeping performance high. You can expect nine hours of battery life from the Chromebook 14. And since it has a touch display, you can take advantage of Android apps from Google Play.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed prices at the time of publication.