There are plenty of laptops available, but what do you buy when pretty much everything you do is online, you don't need much in the way of software support, and you want to spend around $300, rather than thousands? A chromebook could be your answer. These inexpensive laptops may not offer a full Windows experience, but their Web-centric operation and low, low prices make them perfect for light-usage social media and Web-based productivity. If you spend more than 90 percent of your computer time in a Web browser, you should have no trouble using a chromebook as your primary PC.
Chromebooks typically don't have much in the way of impressive hardware, but they also rarely need it. Because you'll be visiting websites and running programs all from Chrome OS, which is basically a souped-up version of the Chrome Web browser, the technical barrier to entry is low. This also means you don't have to deal with downloading and installing traditional software; if you can't do something on a standard webpage, chances are you'll be able to from one of the thousands of apps and extensions available to Chrome OS users. With just a few clicks, your chromebook can have almost as much functionality as a budget Windows laptop.
One primary benefit of running exclusively Web software is security: For all intents and purposes, you're immune to the viruses and other malware that so often plague vulnerable Windows systems. Chrome OS updates also take just seconds to complete, rather than the minutes and hours you may have to wait on macOS and Windows. And although easy access to an always-on Internet connection is a must for chromebooks, you're able to perform most standard tasks offline and sync up later on so you don't have to slow or stop your work if there's an Internet hiccup.
The newest chromebooks have stepped up from being basic systems running Chrome OS to being elegant computers that offer a surprisingly rich capabilities. Some sport carbon fiber or use a lightweight magnesium alloy frame with a glossy white plastic exterior. Others add a bright In-Plane Switching (IPS) display, which offers sharp images and wide viewing angles, or up the standard 16GB of solid-state storage to 32GB. If you aren't concerned with finding the best deal, big spenders can also pick up the latest iteration of the luxurious Google Chromebook Pixel, which boasts premium aluminum construction and a design that even high-end laptop owners will envy.
Over the last few years, the chromebook category has matured beyond basic functionality, and the real competition is now available based on features. We're now seeing more options that previously were only available on Windows laptops. For instance, some chromebooks have touch displays, giving your fingers direct access to the intuitive features beginning to reach every part of the Web, as tablets and touch-screen ultraportables take over the market. Various screen sizes are available, from 10 to 15 inches. Other models sport convertible designs that let you fold the chromebook into several modes, and even use it as a tablet. The components within have also improved; for instance, the Dell Chromebook 13, the Google Chromebook Pixel, and the Toshiba Chromebook 2 all feature Intel Core processors.
Whether you're a Facebook addict or you just need a machine for checking email and working in Google apps, chromebooks are easy to use, convenient to take on the go, and cheap. If you think a Chrome OS laptop is right for you, check out the reviews below to find the best chromebooks on we've tested. For more general factors to look for when choosing a laptop, check out our top overall laptop picks, as well as our favorites for work and play. And our roundups of the best budget notebooks and the best laptops for college students offer up more bargains.