The Best Chromebook for Students – October 2018
For millions of users all around the world, Google’s Chromebook lineup of computers are an ideal product. The natural evolution of the netbook, a product that went through a short phase of popularity from the late 2000s to the early 2010s, Chromebooks today compete directly with tablets for low-cost computing devices, and so far, the market has responded with passion. Unlike tablets, Chromebooks come in a standard laptop layout, offering users the ability to take notes with a real keyboard, and often feature all-day battery life. Traditional laptops, though supplied with a wider market share of applications, also typically cost more than twice the amount for a Chromebook with similar qualities, thanks to the need for higher processing power when running an operating system like Windows. Many of these advantages come from using Chrome OS, an operating system built by Google based on their Chrome browser.
Everything inside Chrome OS is done within a browser window, from checking your email to editing a photo, and that helps maintain both a low standard for quality performance, and excellent battery life, making them affordable and excellent for taking notes, writing essays, and watching Netflix. When it comes to college students, whose lives are made up of roughly 70 percent of a combination of those three things, Chromebooks are a perfect computer for lugging around campus all day. They’re cheap, small, easy to use, and do nearly everything a standard college decision would want to do in everyday college settings. If you’re looking for something that can manage design work or other similar intensive projects—not to mention any sort of gaming—you might want to look elsewhere, but for nearly every college student, Chromebooks are perfect for both your daily schedule and for hanging out in the dorm.
Of course, as with every gadget, not every Chromebook on the market today is perfect for lugging around school. Students need portable laptops with high-resolution displays, long-lasting batteries, and devices that don’t weigh a ton so they can be thrown in a backpack for a day-long excursion along school grounds and to the library for all-night study sessions. It can be tough to pick out the right laptop for a student when they’re just starting class; luckily, you don’t have to do the work on your own. The writers at TechJunkie know all about the complicated balance students must manage between keeping laptops affordable, sturdy, light, and powerful. It’s a tough line to walk, but thankfully, we’ve gathered all the best in Chromebooks in our guide below to the best Chromebooks students can pick up today. Don’t fret about making a purchase—with our guide, you’ll have a brand new laptop right in the midst of the fall semester. Let’s take a look at our favorite Chromebooks for students.
When it comes to shopping for the best all-around Chromebook, the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 doesn’t just enter the competition—it destroys it. Not only, in our opinion, is the Chromebook Flip the best Chromebook for college and high school students, but it also happens to be the best Chromebook on the market today period, with great performance, all-day battery life, a premium build, and a price tag that undercuts much of the premium market. First launched earlier this year as the successor to Asus’s original Chromebook Flip, a solid $250 device that was capable of basic browsing but not much else. That product was one of the first to receive the Google Play Store on its build of Chrome OS, and with this C302 model, that device has finally been retired for a product that, while raising the price from the original $249, has simultaneously become a must-have device in our eyes. Let’s take a look at what makes the C302 so special.
The first thing you’ll notice with this product is the build. This is a premium feeling device with an all-aluminum build, and it makes a major difference in day-to-day usage. The design and feel of the machine is similar to something you’d find on a MacBook Pro or a Surface Laptop, albeit not as thin as the latter product. The anodized finish is also similar to the MacBook line of products, avoiding the textured feel of some other metal Chromebooks on the market today. The entire device is fairly thin and light, too, weighing in at only 2.65 pounds, lighter than a 2013 MacBook Air, though not as light as the 2016 and 2017 12″ MacBook models.
At only half an inch thick, the laptop is incredibly to hold in your hand or carry around in your backpack. When it comes to displays, Asus included a 1080p eDP panel, which looks good, crisp, and colorful, though we’d be lying if we said that the display was better than the screen on the Samsung Chromebook Plus, reviewed below. Still, this laptop screams premium, and considering it’s priced under $500, that’s a good thing.
Let’s talk specs and port selection, because for a Chromebook released in 2017, this thing is actually pretty well off when it comes to what you need a laptop to do. Along the sides of the laptop, you have two USB-C 3.1 ports that are used for data transfers, charging, and even video out, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSD card slot for expandable storage on your device. Though that may feel like limited port selections overall, having USB-C truly future-proofs this device, and even allows it to charge using the same charger as most modern Android phones. As far as specs go, the Flip is powered by an Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor, which uses low-power consumption to ensure the C302 has solid battery life and doesn’t require the use of a fan.
Outside of that processor, you’ll find 4GB of RAM, which is enough for most multitasking on a Chromebook, and 64GB of internal storage, a solid amount compared to most budget Chromebooks. Considering Chrome OS syncs closely with Google Drive and doesn’t rely on external storage outside of app installations, it’s not ridiculous to say that this is more than enough for most everyday usage—especially when we’re considering a standard college student using this machine.
The specs don’t matter if the day to day usage isn’t good, and we’re happy to say that putting this device through everyday use is a great experience. Asus is no stranger to the Chromebook game; they’ve long manufactured quality Chromebooks for quite some time, and we’re happy to report that this is their best yet. Performance is solid, with the processor and RAM combination able to keep a good amount of tabs open at once without any noticeable slowdown. The touchpad is solid for navigating around the display, with a large size and decent responsiveness. The keyboard is similarly comfortable and well-spaced out, and the inclusion of backlighting means that it’s a great device for lugging to class and taking notes with. Battery life isn’t quite as long-lasting as the original Chromebook Flip from 2015, but you should expect about 8 hours of mixed usage on the device—more than enough to make it through the day, and with the use of a standard USB-C port, it’s easy to top off throughout the day.
Speaking of taking notes, it’s important to talk about the “Flip” part of the Chromebook Flip. The Flip is capable of turning around 360 degrees to become a makeshift tablet, complete with the ability to use the 12.5″ display’s touchscreen to its full potential. This means you can use the Flip as a way to take notes with a third-party stylus, and you can use the device in all sorts of different configurations, including as a pop-up using the keyboard as a base, or in tent mode for watching media.
The Flip, unfortunately, doesn’t feature Android apps out of the box, though it’s easy to switch to the Chrome Beta channel to use the Google Play Store until it makes its way to the stable channel. Chrome OS mostly plays well with Android apps, and support is improving, but despite this program being more than a year old, Play Store apps in Chrome are still occasionally buggy and unpredictable. It’s clear that Google didn’t think porting apps to the platform would be this difficult, but here we are. Regardless, being able to use Play Store apps on a Chromebook with a touchscreen is still better than being stuck with only web apps at your disposal, and we call this a positive overall.
We really only have two major complaints with the Flip. First, though 2.65 pounds is fairly light for a laptop, it’s far too heavy to use as a tablet for long periods of time. The iPad Pro 12.9″ is a similar size in body to this device, but weighs more than a pound less than the Chromebook Flip. Part of this can be chalked up to the fact that the device has a keyboard built into the chassis of the Chromebook, but regardless, it’s still a major complaint. Even worse, however, are the side-mounted speakers on this device. Both the left and right speakers are tinny and, at loud volumes, rattle and distort in a way that’s uncomfortable to listen to for a long time. It’s unfortunate that the speakers are as bad as they are, and truthfully, few outside of Apple get speakers right on laptops, but these are bad even by Chromebook standards. You’ll want external speakers or headphones for this device.
Despite a few shortcomings, Asus got nearly everything right with the Chromebook Flip C302. The screen is good, the build and design are excellent (even if the machine isn’t so much inspired by Apple’s line of MacBooks as it is directly aping off of them), battery life is solid, and the ability to use Android apps on the device is great. This is the perfect machine for taking to college or keeping around the house to study or catch up on some light reading, and if it weren’t for the speakers, it would be perfect for media consumption too (it still is if you’re okay with using headphones). Any student in the market for a premium device while remaining budget friendly, this is the best model to buy today—and frankly, the best Chromebook under $500 we’ve seen so far. If performance is important to you, you could also jump at the Core m5 model of the Chromebook Flip, though at $649 for that version, you’re better off saving your money and spending the extra $200 on all those textbooks you’ll need for class.
- Great build quality and design
- Good screen
- Solid battery life
- Terrible speakers
- Weight makes tablet mode difficult
Despite our fandom for the Chromebook Flip, we also understand that not every student is alike in their needs from a laptop. And for the same $449—occasionally less, depending on sales through Amazon and Best Buy—the Samsung Chromebook Plus is a great premium Chromebook that manages to go head to head with the Flip in competition for our top pick. Both devices offer premium Chrome OS experiences at less than $500, and which you prefer truly depends on what you’re looking for in a laptop for school. With a truly incredibly display, built-in included stylus support, and solid battery life to top it all off, the Chromebook Plus is a good alternative for those looking for something a little more note-focused in their Chromebook.
Like the metal build on the Flip C302, the Chromebook Plus features a metal body that feels both premium and light in your hand. The silver finish and sandwich-design of the two halves is minimal and attractive, and the device measures in at just half an inch thick, meaning it’ll fit comfortably in your bag without taking up too much room, just as we saw with the Flip. The rounded corners of the design mean it doesn’t feel quite as premium as the Chromebook Flip, but it does feel a bit more friendly in the hand. Opening the laptop reveals the main reason to purchase the Chromebook Plus over its Asus-made competitor: the display. The Chromebook Plus’s screen boasts a gorgeous LED-lit 2400×1600 display at a 3:2 ratio. It’s one of the best displays you can get on a laptop—any laptop—today, and it’ll make everything from text to videos look crisp and sharp.
It’s worth noting the odd aspect ratio will make 16:9 videos display with black bars on the top and bottom of the display, but that’s the trade-off for a better experiencing when browsing websites or reading eBooks. Overall, whether you prefer the traditional display on the Asus Chromebook Flip or the more squared-off display on the Chromebook Plus comes down to personal preference, but in tablet mode, you’ll definitely appreciate the 3:2 ratio of the Chromebook Plus.
On the inside of the device, you’re looking at another Chromebook with 4GB of RAM, and just like with the Flip, we’re happy to see more and more Chromebooks receiving 4GB of RAM as a standard these days. Cheaper Chromebooks typically ship with a measly 2GB, and it just isn’t enough to power ChromeOS above a few open tabs. Unlike the Flip, Samsung chose to ship the Plus with only 32GB of storage, and while that should be enough to tide you over for most tasks on Chrome OS, having double the storage on the Chromebook Flip is certainly a premium. If you need additional room, there’s a microSD card slot available on the device.
The Chromebook Plus runs on an ARM processor, similar to the Qualcomm processors found in smartphones and tablets. Despite the mobile-class card, performance is solid on the Chromebook Plus, comparable with most low-end Intel machines. You shouldn’t have any problems keeping tabs open and running in the background—and the ARM processor might even help when it comes to running Android apps.
The keyboard is solid for typing, but unlike what we saw on the Chromebook Flip, the Chromebook Plus doesn’t feature a backlit keyboard. While we understand the cost-cutting measures used on cheaper chromebooks under $300, when you’re paying $449 for something running Chrome OS, you should expect a device that pulls out all the stops. The Flip’s backlit keyboard is a wonderful luxury, and the lack of a backlit keyboard at this price was definitely in consideration when giving the Plus a runner-up spot to Asus’s device—for as great as this laptop is, it become seriously flawed as soon as you try typing in a dark room, something you come to expect in the large, dim lecture halls at school.
The trackpad is solid, if nothing spectacular. As far as ports go, you might need to invest with some dongles for the Chromebook Plus. Like the Chromebook Flip, they’re both the newer USB-C 3.1 standard. This is great for your devices moving forward, but most of your current hard drives and cables probably have the older USB-A connectors. You’ll need an adapter to use your current cables with the device. There’s also a headphone jack and a charging port on the device, and a webcam above the display.
Let’s talk about the real reason to buy this laptop: the 2-in-1 design of the Chromebook Plus. Just like we saw with the Chromebook Flip, the Chromebook Plus has a 360 degree hinge that allows the device to be set and displayed any way you’d like, making it another great laptop for reading or watching videos. The screen is touch-enabled, of course, so you can tap and draw as you’d like. And yes, Android apps and the Play Store are supported here out of the box, which means you won’t have to switch to the Chrome OS beta to get the Store up and running on your device. The ARM chip on the Chromebook Plus is beneficial here: Android apps actually run smoother and feature more support on this model than of any Intel-based chip. It’s definitely a great laptop to consider if you’re looking for something to play games or use mobile apps on, while also using the keyboard for notes and documents.
The Chromebook Plus actually brings an additional feature here: a stylus. Just like with Samsung’s Note series of phones and tablets, the Chromebook Plus has a pop-out stylus built into the body of the device, accessible at any time, and the screen itself supports a number of the same Note-like features and abilities that make the Note series so popular. You can use the stylus for drawing, note-taking, highlighting—you name it. It’s just one great feature the Chromebook Plus offers over something like the Flip.
Overall, we still think the Chromebook Flip just edges out the Chromebook Plus from Samsung as a premium device, thanks to its more-powerful Intel processor, it’s cleaner design, and its backlit keyboard. When it comes to productivity—one of the most important aspects when you’re talking about purchasing a laptop for studying and taking notes—, having a keyboard you can use in low-light situations is a must, and it’s crazy that Samsung missed out on including that in this design. Still, Android apps overall work better on this device than on the Flip, thanks to support from Google, and considering the devices both start at $449, you can make the choice of which device works better for you without having to make too many sacrifices. If stylus support and a 3:2 aspect ratio seem like the way to go, you won’t feel like you missed out on much with the Flip going with this option. But if you value a traditional laptop design and a backlit keyboard, the Samsung Chromebook Plus might be something of a disappointment.
- Thin, metal chassis
- Beautiful, high-res display
- Built-in stylus for notes
- No back-lit keyboard at $449
- Android app support isn't perfect
- Screen aspect ratio poor for videos
Once our runner-up for the best Chromebook for students, the R 11 has become more difficult to recommend with age. While we once praised the device for its affordability, its low weight, and its general performance, it’s become tough to continue to recommend such a low-resolution display in 2017, even if the display only measures at 11.6″. The laptop is still solid for the money, but with Chromebooks in the $300 to $400 range getting really, really good lately, there’s no reason to spend nearly $300 on a laptop of this quality when for just an extra $150 or so, you can get something with much better performance, better build quality, and bonuses like more storage and backlit keyboards.
That said, if you’re stuck in a budget under $300, the R 11 is still a pretty good device to pick up on the cheap. It’s made of plastic, but feels solid in the hand thanks to its metal coating, it has two full-size USB ports and a full-sized SD card slot, and you can do a lot worse than the Intel Celeron processor and 4GB of RAM powering this device. Battery life is also pretty solid, rated at around nine and a half hours total, and even in real-world usage, you should be able to maintain eight hours or so before needing an outlet. Overall, the R 11 is still a solid budget buy, but it’s worth saving a little extra to pick up the Chromebook Flip or Chromebook Plus. They’re smarter buys on your wallet in the long run.
- Bright IPS display
- Small and light
- Android app support built-in
- Low-res display
- Buggy Android apps
- No backlit keyboard
Samsung’s Chromebook 3 was first released in 2016, which means it’s starting to feel its age on the market today. That said, for students who need as cheap a device as possible while still gaining access to a solid device, the Chromebook 3 offers some of the best value on the market today. At just $169, the Chromebook 3 is one of the cheapest devices to still manage to carry 4GB of RAM today, an important aspect when shopping for a Chromebook. The more RAM your device has, the better it will be at managing additional tabs for multitasking, and as we enter 2018, it’s more important than ever to set your baseline RAM allowance at 4GB of memory.
The processor is a budget Intel Celeron model that is good enough for basic browsing and watching Netflix or Hulu, and the display, though low-resolution, is bright and colorful. With an 11-hour battery life, you’ll be able to get through the entire day without any difficulty. Overall, the laptop is nothing special. The keyboard is fine, the trackpad a bit cramped, and the build is made of cheap-feeling plastic. But the specs you’re getting for just $170 is solid, and it’s by far the cheapest device on this list. While it doesn’t excel in any specific areas beyond price, the good news is that almost any high school or college student should be able to pick one of these up.
- Super cheap
- 4GB of RAM for the price
- Just "okay" performance
- No touchscreen
Although the Asus Chromebook C202 is far thicker and bulkier than most modern laptops and Chromebooks on the market today, for the right consumer looking for something rugged and suitable for outdoor use, this might be the perfect device. With a frame wrapped and coated in rubber, combined with a plastic body, this is a device built to be protected from drops onto a classroom floor, and also allows for an easy grip on the laptop. With a hinge that can be bent back 180 degrees, it also allows for the laptop to lay flat on a table, and to prevent breaking if something happens to the display in the case of an accident.
A spill-resistant keyboard promises to keep the laptop safe from someone spilling a drink on it while the laptop is being used to DJ house parties with Spotify. The specs are comparable to other sub-$200 Chromebooks, with an Intel Celeron N3060 process, 4GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and a standard 1366×768 resolution display. Ten hours of battery life will get you through the day, but considering how bulky this laptop is, we do with a bigger battery was supplied. The good news: this thing was updated in 2017 to run Android apps, so you won’t have to be without your favorite apps and games on your laptop.
- Rugged, drop-proof design
- Decent processor for the price
- Android app support
- Bulky and heavy
- "Meh" display
We already recommended the R 11 above, but what if you need a bigger display than the 11″ offered on Acer’s $299 Chromebook? Enter the Acer R 13, the older, bigger brother to our top pick. For an extra $100, you get basically the same laptop—4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, 2 USB ports, a microSD card slot, and an HDMI port all powered by a MediaTek processor that’s roughly equivalent to the Intel Celeron found in the R 11. The difference here is the size: a 13.3″ 1080p IPS display promises to bring the same touch-enabled functionality to a bigger, higher-resolution screen. The body is now made of aluminium, giving the R 13 a more premium feel over its smaller sibling, while adding only minimal weight to the product and measuring thinner than the R 11.
Obviously the bigger size makes using the R 13 as a tablet a bit more cumbersome than the 11″ model, but if you can put up with the added size and weight, the R 13 offers a good middle ground between the R 11 and the Samsung Chromebook Plus. For most people, it’ll be worth the additional $50 to gain the better display and stylus support of the Chromebook Plus, but if you need a 13″ laptop and you’re budget tops out at $400, give this one a look—you won’t regret it.
- 13" 1080p display
- Solid build quality
- Mediocre processor for the price
- Only $50 less than the Chromebook Plus
The majority of Chromebooks on the market today happen to measure in at 11 to 13 inches, but not every student wants that small of a device. If you’re looking for something with a larger display, but you’d rather not lug around a bulky 15″ Windows laptop, the Acer Chromebook 14 is a great choice that is perfect for those that put the display over all else. Despite the relatively low cost for the laptop, you’ll find a premium-feeling aluminum body that looks more expensive than it actually is. Unlike the Chromebook 3’s plastic build, the Chromebook 14 from Acer manages to have a sense of style. Powered by an Intel Celeron N3160, the Chromebook 14 is capable of basic browsing and media playback.
With 32GB of onboard storage, you’ll be able to store several movies for offline playback wherever life takes you, and with the 1080p IPS display, you’ll love watching movies and TV shows on this thing. The larger size of the body allows for Acer to provide users with up to 12 hours of battery life. The Chromebook 14’s keyboard and trackpad are solid, if uninteresting, and unfortunately, the device lacks upgradable or expandable storage. The biggest trade-off here, of course, comes in the additional weight, though at 3.42 pounds, you could certainly do worse. Overall, the Chromebook 14 isn’t the most exciting device on this list, but i you’re looking for a solid, basic laptop for under $300, this is the one for you.
- Great 14" 1080p display
- 12 hours of battery life
- "Okay" keyboard
- Heavier than some other Chromebooks
We’ll be honest—students shouldn’t purchase this Chromebook. As the latest evolution from Google’s premium line of in-house Chromebooks, the Pixelbook is the first laptop from Google to fall under the Pixel line of devices that began in 2016 with the first-gen Google Pixel phone (though the name was first used with the original 2013 Chromebook Pixel). Featuring a gorgeous premium build of glass and metal, this laptop represents the highest-end of the Chrome OS line of devices, and in many ways, is the best Chrome OS device you can purchase on the market today. It has support for both Chrome and Android apps, and unsurprisingly, Google has gone the extra mile in making sure Android apps work great on this device—hell, at the launch event for the Pixelbook in October of 2017, Google made a big deal about the Snapchat support on this device, making it clear that the app has been optimized for this particular Chromebook.
Nearly everything about this laptop represents the best in Chrome OS: a great, backlit keyboard and responsive touchpad; a near-perfect 12.3″ 2400×1600 3:2 display; stylus support; a Core i5 processor, 128GB of storage, and 8GB of RAM; and of course, that incredible Pixel-like glass and metal design. But this is a Chromebook, and paying $999—or more—for this device will be a tough sell for plenty of users, specifically those who need to use apps like Photoshop that just don’t work here. But if you’re looking to purchase a laptop for college, and money’s no object, you might be better off with something like the Surface Laptop from Microsoft, or Apple’s 12″ MacBook, both available at an identical price.
- Incredible design, display, and performance
- Keyboard and glass touchpad are a joy
- Better choices for students at this price point
- Stylus doesn't work well with unoptimized apps
One of the only convertible Chromebooks on the market today, the HP Chromebook x2 is a masterclass in design and performance. Though it’s pretty pricey, starting at $599 and often being sold for $699 or more, the device is a powerful competitor compared to the likes of the iPad Pro or the Surface Pro. With an Intel Core m3 chip, 32GB of storage (not enough, in our opinion), up to 12 hours of battery life, and some excellent dual B&O-branded speakers, there’s plenty to love with the Chromebook x2. The best part, however, comes with the screen. At 2400×1600, this is a gorgeous display, and since it’s a convertible design, the display comes apart from the keyboard and becomes an iPad Pro-esque 12″ tablet running Chrome OS. Chrome-based tablets are still in their early days, which makes this an early entry into the field, but if you want a new Chromebook and aren’t afraid to spend the money to get it, you should absolutely consider this.
- Convertible design
- Excellent performance and battery life
- Pricey for a Chromebook
- Only 32GB of storage