Getting your first Chromebook? Here’s a buying guide of what to look for

If you’re in the market for your first Chromebook, it can be a little overwhelming on what to buy. Depending on what you plan to do on your Chromebook, the choices and prices can vary wildly.

And unlike the Apple approach where there are just a few Macbook models and some customization options, Chromebooks are more akin to Microsoft-powered Windows laptops: There are a bunch of brands that make them such as Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and others.

For starters, I highly recommend reading an article I wrote last month about Chromebook options from Amazon. I’m surfacing that article for a very good reason: Amazon lists many old Chromebooks as “new”, “newest” or “2020” models, when in fact, they aren’t.

Some of them are four years old and although based on the prices, they may look like good deals, they generally aren’t. For just a little more money you actually can get the newest or 2020 model of a Chromebook, depending on your budget.

And in case you don’t read that article, the key here is that Google provides automatic Chrome OS software updates for these devices, but only for a specified time frame. And you don’t want to spend money on a laptop that’s going to stop getting those software and security updates in the next year or so, given that new Chromebooks get up to 8 years of such updates.

All new Chromebooks run the Chrome browser, Android apps and Linux software out of the box these days, although the latter two are options you can choose to enable or ignore.

Multiple Chrome tabs, a PWA, Google Play Music Android app and Linux humming along.

Your budget will highly determine the power, performance and features of your Chromebook, so I’ll break this guide down into three budget brackets, highlighting what you should look for and expect from a device in each price range.

Entry level devices for around $300 or less

The lowest budget devices are still very capable for web browsing and web apps, although it will depend on how many browser tabs you plan to have open simultaneously. They will also handle Android apps; just don’t expect to run several at the same time. As far as using Linux apps? I’d have very low expectations here due to limited memory and processing power, although it can be done in a pinch.

Essentially, here’s what I’d look for and expect in this price range:

  • Intel Celeron processor, preferably the newer N5000 although an N4020 or N4010 should suffice
  • OR an ARM processor such as the MediaTek Helio P60T, MediaTek MT8173C
  • At least 4 GB of RAM, which is pretty typical in this price range. Occasionally you might see a rare sale price for an 8 GB Chromebook around or just over $300
  • Expect a mediocre screen in the 11.6- or 14-inch size. By mediocre, I mean the resolution will likely be 1366 x 768 and not full HD, or 1920 x 1080. Check to see if the screen is touch-capable as some aren’t in the entry-level segment. Not having a touchscreen may be OK but some people do prefer touch navigation for Android apps. If you can find a screen with 200 to 250 nits of brightness, that’s about the brightest you’ll find for this price range.
  • If possible, ensure you have 64 GB of local storage. Many low-cost Chromebooks come with 32 GB, so pay attention to this spec. Most also come with a memory card slot to add storage, so that can help, but having at least 64 GB will come in handy.
  • Expect a non-backlit keyboard. Finding a Chromebook for under $300 with backlit keys is often the exception, not the rule.
  • The Chromebook will probably be made of, or mostly of, plastic in this range. Some may have aluminum behind the display; even so, you’re not going to find an all-metal chassis in a new entry-level Chromebook.
  • You definitely want at least three USB ports, more if possible. A pair of USB Type-C ports can be handy, particularly if the Chromebook has one on each side. Having at least one USB Type-A port is useful for connecting older devices to your Chromebook.

Here are some of the devices that meet most of the above recommendations for basic browsing and occasional Android use in this price range; click the image to read either my reviews / coverage or to see the current online price. These are some suggestions to get you started:

Lenovo Chromebook Duet tablet
Get the Lenovo Chromebook Duet tablet
HP Chromebook 14a
Get the HP Chromebook 14c
Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14 front
Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14
Get the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook 14

Mid-range devices from $300-ish to $600

Once you step up to this price range, you’ll notice big differences, and not just with performance. You’ll see some metal chassis parts, better build quality, higher resolution displays and more. These are ideally suited to handle a good 12 to 20 Chome browser tabs at the same times, can run more intensive Android apps or games and could be used as a solid part-time Linux laptop as well.

Here’s what you can expect to find and should look for in this price range:

  • Intel Pentium, Core i3 and a some Core i5 processors. Look for Pentium Gold 4417U or 4425U chips, or 10th-generation Core i3 / i5 processors. You can save a little money if you find a nice device with an 8-generation of these Core chips as well, but I wouldn’t go older than that.
  • There are some Chromebooks with 4 GB of RAM in this segment, but many have 8 GB. Given a choice between more memory and some other feature, I’d almost always opt for the extra RAM.
  • Most screens in this price range are in the 13-, 14- or 15.6-inch sizes. And for the money you should definitely be getting at least 1920 x 1080 resolution and a touchscreen. There are a few 4K Chromebooks but those are typically above $600 unless there’s a great sale. If you want to hold out for that, watch for the Lenovo Chromebook Yoga C630 4K model to be discounted.
  • 64 GB of local storage is the minimum capacity you should find here; don’t spend more money only to get 32 GB of memory. It’s not uncommon to find 128 GB of storage as well for the higher end of this price range.
  • You should have a backlit keyboard included with most mid-range Chromebooks, save for a few in the lower end of the price bracket.
  • Look for four USB ports, preferably split up to be on each side, i.e.: one Type-A and one Type-C on both left and right. A few models here may have an HDMI out port for an external monitor as well.
  • Expect better speakers at this cost. They won’t likely blow you away but they should sound better than most entry-level Chromebooks.

Some suggested devices to consider, although there are many options in the $300 to $600 range:

Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook
Get the Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook
Google Pixel Slate (with optional keyboard, sometimes bundled in)
Get the Google Pixel Slate
Acer Chromebook 714
Get the Acer Chromebook 714

High-end Chromebooks over $600

It used to be that there were very few choices in this price bracket; over the past two years, however, that’s changed in a huge way. You can spend $600 or more on a Chromebook from just about all of Google’s hardware partners or from Google itself. These are premium devices with the highest possible performance in a Chromebook that can deal with just about any task you throw at them.

Some expectations and things to look for with premium models include:

  • Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors. Again, look for 10th-generation processors if possible.
  • In terms of memory 8 GB is essentially the standard, although a few Chromebooks can be had with 16 GB of memory for an additional cost
  • Again, Most screens in this price range are in the 13-, 14- or 15.6-inch sizes with 1920 x 1080 resolution and a touchscreen. The $999 Samsung Galaxy Chromebook is an exception as it comes with a fantastic 4K OLED display that looks amazing, even though it cuts down quite a bit on battery life.
  • Again 64 GB of local storage is the minimum capacity you should find here but there are just as many models with 128 GB and a few with 256 GB. If possible, get a Chromebook that uses faster NVMe storage instead of the slower eMMC type.
  • Again, look for four USB ports, preferably split up to be on each side, i.e.: one Type-A and one Type-C on both left and right. A few models here may have an HDMI out port for an external monitor as well.
  • Speaker sound and overall build quality should be noticeably better on these Chromebooks. They’re also likely to be thinner and lighter, so if that’s your thing, expect to bust out the wallet. Some include a fingerprint sensor for easier logins.

A few options to consider in the premium segment:

Google Pixelbook Go (available in 3 different models)
Get the Google Pixelbook Go
Acer Chromebook Spin 713 three devices
Acer Chromebook Spin 713
Get the Acer Chromebook Spin 713
Asus Chromebook Flip C436
Get the Asus Chromebook Flip C436

One more thing…

There are thousands of people who have commented on this site since I started it and many are Chromebook owners as you’d suspect. So take advantage of the community here if you’re buying your first Chromebook: Leave a comment with your budget and how you expect to use the device, or what features you’d like to have. I’m sure seasoned Chromebook owners will offer helpful suggestions and feedback!

Note: Originally posted on July 13, 2020 and updated with newer device recommendations on November 1, 2020

10 thoughts on “Getting your first Chromebook? Here’s a buying guide of what to look for

  • July 13, 2020 at 9:54 pm
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    I’m primarily interested in getting the best experience in watching movies on plane flights. So the new Samsung with its 4K display might fit the bill except for its battery life. A dark, murky, or muddy screen with middling sound definitely won’t cut it. I’d also like a 3.5mm headphone jack, a backlit keyboard, both USB Type-A and C. A HDMI connection would be a plus.

    Thanks for any suggestions.

    Reply
    • July 14, 2020 at 3:19 pm
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      If you didn’t need the Type-A USB port, I’d say the $649 Pixelbook Go model would do the trick. Good screen and sound (has a 3.5mm jack if needed). Can run an external monitor over USB-C either with the right cable or what I use, which is a USB-C hub that adds 3 USB Type A-ports, memory card reader, power pass through and full sized HDMI out. The new Acer Chromebook Spin 713 meets all of the requirements you listed natively although the downward firing speakers aren’t the best. Has a headphone jack, however.

      Reply
      • July 14, 2020 at 3:42 pm
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        As a person who owns:
        — an HP G1 13
        — an Acer Spin 713 (using it right now)
        — the $649 Pixelbook Go
        — the m5 Pixel Slate
        — the Lenovo Duet
        — an HP X2
        . . . I completely agree in every regard with what Mr. Tofel said in answer to your feature needs. I’ve heard mixed things about the Lenovo Flex 5 (re screen and sound), but that would seem to be an excellent contender as well.

        If it were ME, and I wanted a portable media player with a great screen and phenomenal battery life on a flight, I’d grab my Duet (even though it only has the one USB-C port and no headphone jack).

        I hope that helps.

        Reply
      • July 14, 2020 at 6:16 pm
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        I would like to buy a Chromebook for my second grader as they will be attending school off-site for who knows how long given current conditions. I was looking for the best options available for on-board memory and camera. I am not too concerned about battery life since it will be near outlets all day. I also think the bigger the screen the better to minimize eye strain. What recommendations would you make for a budget Chromebook meeting these criteria?

        Reply
      • July 15, 2020 at 4:02 pm
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        I bought the Asus c302 in 2018
        A premium device then and still good today, easily comparable to present day devices. Won’t replace it untill 2023 when it sadly won’t get software and security updates. What a bummer Google¡¡

        Reply
  • July 15, 2020 at 6:10 am
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    Great article, thank you for summarizing so clearly the various options.
    For my soon to be 3rd grader, I need a Chromebook that can handle Zoom meetings with many participants. The school’s Asus C202S worked well for 1 on 1 meetings but for meetings with 10+ people it was lagging horribly even with nothing else going on (Internet connection was fine as I was having myself Zoom meetings in HD with many more people from my PC).

    Budget would be around $400 so the new Flex 5 13″ seems interesting with a core i3. I’m curious to hear if others have tested big Zoom meetings with their Chromebook.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  • July 15, 2020 at 7:55 pm
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    Personally I agree with above. For portability I prefer my Duet. It has one USB-C port (that can be used with USB-C headphones but also comes with a dongle) but is less than 1 pound (just 2 with keyboard and cover attached). 1080p screen at 10.1″ and 400 nits is great for movie watching and media consumption. Does it hold a candle to my HP X2? Not even close. But it is good for daily tasks and watching movies/listening to music and the battery life is INCREDIBLE.

    Reply
  • July 16, 2020 at 10:38 pm
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    Even though Google will stop supporting updates to older Chromebooks in the future, there are ways to install other operating systems like Pop Os! from System 76, which is based on Ubuntu. I own Toshiba Chromebook, the latest model, which is going to be not on the Google’s list for updates, but I read about how to install version of Linux I mentioned above. Only thing is needed is some elbow grease and online search about ‘how to install other operating system on…’. My Toshiba Chromebook have a physical screw which prevents from having other operating system installed. As long as I can get under the hood and remove that screw I can installed whatever OSes I want. I am planning to just do that in very near future as I like lighter version of Ubuntu, from System 76, which is Pop OS! I will try to upgrades the hard drive while I will be there since the original hard drive is small. In short, there is no need to panic about the EOL (End of life date) from Google about any Chromebook. There are ways to install other OSes on them. Hope this helps!

    Reply
  • July 27, 2020 at 12:22 pm
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    Thanks for the great article. With the return to school in the fall most likely including distance learning for younger kids. How would the entry level devices handle the Google educational tools? Especially concerned with Google Meets performance.

    Reply
  • October 15, 2020 at 2:14 pm
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    I am looking to purchase my first chrome book and have no idea where to start. I want to purchase it mainly to teach my six year old. We are currently homeschooling and the laptop we have is awful. I am looking for something that will load sites and apps quickly and that have lots of storage. I also want to be able to view videos easily for teaching/learning purposes. Any recommendations is appreciated.

    Reply

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