I remember it as if it were yesterday. Perhaps anticipating the imminent fall of netbooks, Google envisioned a different type of inexpensive, compact laptops called Chromebooks in 2011. Highly reliant on the web, these would be initially berated and laughed out of the then competitive PC stage.
But it’s not like Big G to give up a fight so easily, and despite the continuous dip in popularity of traditional computers and the rise of the tablet, Chromebooks stuck around, to the utter dismay of the class’ many critics.
Acer and Samsung, which were the category’s curtain raisers, soon got reinforcements via Lenovo, HP and, most recently, Dell, Toshiba and Asus. Together, these PC veterans could have probably turned any flop into a smash hit.
But somewhere along the way, Chromebooks stopped being regarded as lemons, and the names of manufacturers played only a minor role in the shift. Yes, Chrome OS-running laptops are still limited in many ways, and greatly depend on a steady network connection. But how is that any different from Android tablets?
Besides, the stellar balance of portability, speed and outstanding battery life can make many flaws go away. Without further ado, let’s explore the best no-longer-dark-horse Chromebook options around:
Available in “jet black” and “classic white”, Samsung’s smaller Series 3 follow-up is quite the looker, dazzling with a faux leather back reminiscent of the Galaxy Note 3 phablet. Unfortunately, that, and the whopping on-board 4 GB RAM, are the 11 incher’s only strong suits, while extravagant pricing, a modest solid-state drive and especially humble Exynos 5 Octa chip tip the balance in favor of weaknesses.
Don’t get me wrong, the Chromebook 2 is no pushover. It’s just that it can’t keep up with Haswell-powered beasts. And at 300 bucks, it really should.
There’s nothing wrong in swimming against the tide and trying to be original in a class that seems to encourage uniformity. But different doesn’t always equal better. Like Samsung’s Chromebook 2, Lenovo’s IdeaPad N20P has one, two fortes tops and a bundle of weak spots.
The sole Chromebook that can bend over and be used as a tablet in addition to a mini-laptop, the N20P also comes with a one-of-a-kind ergonomic AccuType keyboard. But at the end of the day, the $342 price is too damn high. And the 2 GB RAM/16 GB SSD configuration too damn lackluster.
Larger than the Chromebook 2 11, slightly beefier and rocking a stunning 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution (read Full HD) display, the Chromebook 2 13 is ultimately crippled by the same things that keep the 11 incher at a considerable distance from the podium.
Look, we appreciate any effort that escapes the conventional and particularly those that try to revolutionize, Samsung. But you can’t just charge 400 clams for an Exynos 5 Chromebook. It’s laggier than cheaper models from the competition, the autonomy is not so impressive, and an outstanding screen doesn’t a solid mini-notebook make.
Alright, now we’re getting somewhere. Sure, HP’s little guy is even slower than Samsung Chromebooks, packing an aging, low-cost, low-end Exynos 5250 Dual processor. And the 6-hour battery life is horrendous by Chromebook standards.
But at least HP acknowledges this machine is deeply flawed, and aims it squarely at a stingy audience unwilling to cough up north of $250 for a Windows or Mac backup. Sorry, Google, you’re not quite there to replace Windows PCs or Macs, but you can back them up.
Anyhoo, the HP Chromebook 11 is the cheapest Chrome OS contraption around, and all things considered, it doesn’t look half bad, tipping the scales at 2.3 pounds and measuring 0.69 inches in thickness.
This affordable 13 incher is basically the definition of a standard Chromebook. Nothing really makes it stand out, yet nothing knocks it down either. Granted, Toshiba claims it’s capable of “epic” 9-hour battery life, but in reality, that’s closer to 8 hours, which is standard for Intel Celeron Haswell Chromebooks.
The 2 GB RAM is, in lack of a better word, also standard, and so is the 16 GB SSD. Sure, 32 GB of built-in storage space would have been much cooler, but it would have probably added $50 or so on top of the retail value, and the whole ensemble’s value would have dropped.
As things stand, the CB35 looks like a classic, safe choice. Probably the safest.
Another standard option hardware-wise, the HP Chromebook 14 sticks out courtesy of, well, a hefty 14-inch panel and bold chromatic palette, with snow white, ocean turquoise and peach coral replacing the bland grey and black paint jobs.
Let’s point out though that the whitey is $290, the peach coral model $305 and the turquoise, hold on to your hats, costs $350. For $290, HP offers more than enough, i.e. a classic Intel Celeron 2955U Haswell chip, 2 GB RAM and 16 GB SSD, plus three USB ports (one of which is 3.0), an HDMI connector and 720p webcam.
Clearly, the HP Chromebook 14 is one of the better Chromebooks productivity-wise, although the large display does come with one major downside, namely sub-par ppi. I’m too afraid to even crunch the numbers. 1,366 x 768 pixels on 14 inches of mediocre glass. Yuck.
And the winner is… Acer? Now that’s surprising. Or is it? Well, the Taiwanese have been on board the Chromebook ship from the very beginning, so in a way, it makes sense they figured out the formula for success the first.
Which is simple, really. Great battery + plenty of connectivity options and ports + a spacious SSD + decently punchy, uber-frugal CPU = hit. Oh, and let’s not forget affordability. And an unexpected wow factor, i.e. a touch-enabled screen. Make that two, as you also get really nice stereo speakers with the C720P. Check and mate, Samsung.