Here’s why I can’t pick the best Chromebook

Aside from writing here on the site, I receive and respond to Chromebook buying recommendation requests on a near-daily basis. The emails often come in with messages to this: “I want to buy a Chromebook, which is the best Chromebook right now?” That’s a great question, but it’s a bit vague. So I typically have some back and forth conversation about what the person is looking to spend and how they plan to use their device. The fact is, there is no best Chromebook; at least not in a universal sense.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not whining about these recommendation requests in my Inbox. I thoroughly enjoy offering my opinions to guide people to picking their new Chromebook!

But my goal isn’t to tell them what the best Chromebook is. Instead, it’s to focus on their requirements so they can choose the best Chromebook for them.

Sometimes, this lack of picking a “winner” in the Chromebook market comes back to bite me a little. Readers have suggested I follow some of what other sites do, including:

  • Best Chromebooks of July
  • Best Samsung Chromebooks you can buy
  • Best Chromebook for business

Look, I don’t begrudge any content that other sites publish. That’s their choice and if provides value to their readers, that’s awesome! I simply choose a different approach.

I’d rather offer up guidelines based on budgets and use-case requirements to get you started. I did this with my high-level Chromebook buyers guide, for example. And if you need help after that, I’ll help you focus on the options you’re gravitating towards based on those requirements.

Recently a segment on This Week in Google put the spotlight on my approach. My friend Jeff Jarvis, who loves Pixelbooks, said I was “such a fair man” and say it could be this one or that one when giving Chromebook recommendations.

I can see why he said that. I don’t have a horse in the race for any specific brand or model of Chromebook, so I rarely say “Go buy this exact Chromebook” without knowing all of a buyer’s requirements.

Here’s the segment where this comes up. My IoT Podcast partner, Stacey Higginbotham, takes the middle ground both defending me and conceding Jeff’s point, which is also a fair approach. 😉

If you watch the segment, you’ll see that Jeff refines the features he’s looking for, ranging from the processor, display aspect ratio, touchscreen or not, etc…. These, along with factors such as budget, weight, battery life, expected performance for various activities and more should all factor into the decision process.

Let’s look at this from a similar situation. I wouldn’t walk up to a used car lot that hypothetically had every brand and type of vehicle and ask “What’s the best car?” If I did, the salesman might point me to a used Tesla (just an example here). Ok, that’s nice but it’s $50,000 and I only want to spend $20,000.

“In that case, this Honda Civic is perfect. It’s priced at $19,995. It’s the best car on the lot in your price range,” the salesman says. Great! Well, unless I live in a state that gets dumped on with snow and everyone who lives there generally has a 4WD vehicle. The hypothetical decision to buy the best car isn’t a simple one. Nor is it with Chromebooks.

My daily driver, the device not the car, is still the Acer Chromebook Spin 13 that I bought in 2019. Right now, it’s still the best Chromebook for me because it has 16 GB of memory, uses a screen with a 3:2 aspect ratio, and performs well.

Linux on Chromebooks

It meets my needs to run Linux apps for computer science classes very well along with all of the other benefits of Chrome OS. But not everyone wants or needs that kind of performance at $800 or more. Why pay for it then when a well-designed $300 Chromebook will do?

If I ever did pick the best Chromebook, I can guarantee you that people would disagree. And they’d be correct to do so because it may not be the best Chromebook for them.

Perhaps they have some special requirements, for example.

Maybe they work outside quite a bit and the “best” Chromebook has a 250 nit display. That’s typically bright enough for indoor use but not so great outside.

And then there are personal preferences too. I’ve recommended some devices to people who say, “Oh, I’ve tested that one in a store briefly and I can’t stand the keyboard, build quality, small trackpad….” or some other specific aspect.

Best Chromebook keyboard

With all of these differing requirements and personal preferences, how can I (or anyone else, really) tell you what’s the best Chromebook? Again, there’s isn’t one.

There may be very good, even best Chromebook options for you. Universally though? Nope, there’s no best Chromebook so don’t ask me.

Instead, let’s go through your requirements, preferences, use case needs, and budget. Then and only then might you find your best Chromebook even if it’s not what others consider the best Chromebook.

13 thoughts on “Here’s why I can’t pick the best Chromebook

  • July 8, 2021 at 10:35 am
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    I have always treated the question about “what’s the best” anything as the person not understanding their needs and the questions they should be asking themselves. I agree, for the most part, that there is never really a best of anything. If you are one of those people that think there is always a “best” and one should never settle for anything less, then trust me, your significant other wouldn’t have anything to do with you.

    Reply
  • July 8, 2021 at 11:09 am
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    You are absolutely correct to seek functional requirements before recommending a smaller set of possible solutions. The car analogy is completely apt.

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  • July 8, 2021 at 11:37 am
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    I saw that episode , I laughted .

    Cheers ,
    Barry (dinosaur)

    Reply
    • July 8, 2021 at 11:42 am
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      You laughed at Jeff or you laughed at me? 😉

      Reply
  • July 8, 2021 at 12:23 pm
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    I understand your position. It is just that I hate that tech sites and blogs – including those ostensibly dedicated to Google platform products – are staffed by MacBook, iPhone and iPad lovers who don’t like ChromeOS and have no interest in it beyond using them to bash Android tablets. (Note: if a site LOVES to talk about how much better Chromebooks are than Android tablets – which they objectively aren’t if you actually want a device that provides the best experience at running Android apps – but never compares Chromebooks to iPads or MacBooks then yeah … the site’s writers use Apple tech personally and possibly professionally). Instead, this is one of two regularly updated sites – if there are more I am unaware of them – by people who actually use and like Chromebooks instead of merely being forced to put up with them as review units and using them as little as possible (mainstream tech sites) or pretending to like them (most Google platform blogs). And neither of them makes recommendations!

    My issue: so many Chromebooks are subpar because manufacturers obviously use them to get rid of unsold parts that they were otherwise just going to either write off or resell. My favorite example is HP taking unsold HP Stream devices that they manufactured for Microsoft’s abandoned Windows 10S experiment and loading ChromeOS on them. Even the CPUs were unsold 2 year old Android laptop SOCs that MediaTek was just trying to get rid of. A lot of the rest: OEMs just stick with the same 1366×768 screen, (last gen) Celeron or Pentium CPU, 4 GB (DDR3) RAM and 32/64 GB (emmC) storage. Even some of the best Chromebooks like the quite good HP x360 14c are simply ChromeOS equivalents to Windows machines (the entry level ones anyway … not the Intel Core i7 or i9 with 16 GB RAM, discrete GPUs and 256 GB SSDs/1 TB HDDs).

    So who is it that actually makes an overt effort to try to make the best Chromebooks that they can? To even – gasp! – innovate to the maximum extent that Google with their infamous foot dragging with approving certain boards allows? I guess those are going to have to be Acer and Asus. Neither gets very much revenue from Android (unlike Samsung and Lenovo). And neither is a top Windows OEM, especially for enterprises (unlike HP, Dell and – again – Lenovo). That is why Asus tried to give us a serious AMD Chromebook with the Flip CM5 and a serious tablet with the CM3. As for the issues with both blame Google – they have neither optimized AMD APUs or approved/created a decent ARM SOC – and not their designs. And that is why Acer was the first out of the gate with an 11th gen Intel Core i5/i7 with Thunderbolt support. Or they will be when the chip shortage lets them.

    So feel free to steer users towards Asus and Acer Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. They are the ones who deserve it.

    Reply
  • July 8, 2021 at 12:38 pm
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    atlman largely agree with what you say ( though I’m using Lenvo Flex 5i Chromebook which is great)

    Thing is Google has allowed Chromebooks to be branded as not up to the jobs that Windows can do and not really fighting that branding. So an Apple user who already hates Windows will think why should they try something that’s even below Windows.

    So instead of fighting that with a Chromebooks are great / cool message of some kind, they have taken to bit by bit trying to reach 100% windows ability – Play store and Linux. Which is fine, but:

    1. They need to market Chromebooks are great regardless of the windows comparison. That direct to to consumers and the press.

    2. Fine try and make Chromebooks do more – but actually make it work not buggy which it is (both playstore and Linux) and make the Linux thing more user friendly and professional, maybe even do their own Linux apps to show how it’s done, Google sheets that is as powerful as excel in Linux, Media editors etc. Those versions can then bit by bit make it to Cloud / Web browser versions as needed. Also get devs to make proper playstore apps for Chromebooks not just phone versions.

    It’s almost as if Google doesn’t care about Chromebooks that much and hence why should the press.

    Reply
  • July 8, 2021 at 1:40 pm
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    And everyone was so looking forward to T³: Tofel’s Top Ten.

    Reply
    • July 8, 2021 at 10:18 pm
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      While I appreciate the sentiment… I highly doubt anyone is looking forward to that. 😂

      Reply
  • July 8, 2021 at 9:39 pm
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    I’ll narrow it down. Last week I got this at Best Buy for $299 and it’s head and shoulders above my last chromebook.
    https://www.bestbuy.com/site/lenovo-c340-15-2-in-1-15-6-touch-screen-chromebook-intel-core-i3-4gb-memory-64gb-emmc-flash-memory-mineral-gray/6411998.p?skuId=6411998
    It’s super awesome. I’d like more of everything, but at under $300, and what it does with such a big screen? Come on. Give it up. This is the best deal in the world.

    Reply
    • July 8, 2021 at 10:17 pm
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      That is a great deal! Hope it works well for you. It wouldn’t for me though. 😉

      Reply
  • July 11, 2021 at 2:05 pm
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    I’m so glad for a perspective that questions the craziness of the “best” craze, that fails to recognize the many possible parameters. I’ve watch Consumer Reports magazine over the years, that relies on the donations of the more affluent, catering increasingly to ratings based on that kind of “best” that only more money can buy. I still have an aging “best” Canon camera (granted it doesn’t get much use) that cost under $100. It left me wanting no other, as it was clearly best for my needs. So thank you Kevin for being ‘smart’ about this.

    Reply
  • July 12, 2021 at 4:18 pm
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    Have only been using them since May this year…heck, I wouldn’t even have known what to ask!? Have been impressed with them…other than that AUE date. Hopefully Google it going to fix that problem w/ maybe a combo of Chromium OS ‘n CloudReady OS. Lot of new buyers got stuck last ‘n early this year with Chromebooks that expire in a year or two. My Samsung 12.2″ expired in 2024, but the HP 14″ doesn’t expire until 2026. Have already converted the Samsung to a Linux Laptop, so no problem with expiring dates. Gave away the HP 11.6″ – that 1366×768 display was horrid compared to the other two! That Chromebook was bigger than the 12.2″ ‘n almost as big as the 14″.

    Reply

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