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Back to School 2014: The 3 Best Chromebooks

back to school chromebooks

A glimpse of a new semester on the horizon can mean only one thing: ka-ching!

Yep, America’s annual 10-week back-to-school shopping period is now well under way. Just a few weeks for parents and students to take advantage of deals and price drops on everything from stationary to smartphones, backpacks to Apple Macs.

The sales phase which spans early July through mid-September (though you could be forgiven for thinking it starts in April, so eager are some stores) is an important one for retailers.

Last year sales of Chromebooks were standout, with one industry watching firm declaring them to have “…provided all the growth in the challenged notebook market”.  With analysts this year predicting a rise in back-to-school spending we could, once again, see sales of Chromebooks find favour with budget-conscious sale-savvy shoppers.

But which Chromebooks offers the best bang, battery or build quality for the proverbial buck? Our top three picks from the current Chrome OS crop have something to suit everyone. 

But First: Caveat Implorium

Whenever the subject of Chromebooks is raised someone, somewhere will chip in with “…but you can buy a 15.6-inch Windows laptop for the same price.”

Sure. But the pros/cons argument has been done to death. Anyone looking to be “convinced” that a 11.6-inch Chromebook with 16GB SSD and 10 hour battery life is a “better buy” than a 15.6-inch Windows beast with built-in DVD burner, 2TB storage and gnat-like battery life, probably won’t be.

But assuming you have done you research, and know what a Chromebook is, what it can do, and what it can’t (i.e., no Skype for calls to mom, no Photoshop for design courses), read on.

HP Chromebook 14 – Teacher’s Pet

Not the 11" Version

HP Chromebook 14: The Stylish All-Rounder

The colourful HP Chromebook 14 is the only current generation Chromebook to use a large 14.1-inch display.

For those coming from a midsize laptop, whether Windows or Mac, this is the Chromebook that feels most like a notebook and less like a netbook.

‘This is the Chromebook that feels most like a regular notebook’

An ample-sized display means there’s plenty of room for multitasking.  And while it uses the same 1366×768 resolution as a 11.6-inch device, the added inch or so means you don’t spend quite so much time squinting at text.

It has a respectable battery life of up to 9 hours, a capable dual-core Intel Celeron 2955U CPU chugging along at 1.4GHz, and (arguably) the nicest design of all Chrome portables. There’s 2GB of memory, a 16GB solid state drive, and all the essential ports (HDMI, USB, SD card reader).

Pick it up for around $279.

  • Pros: Decent specs; great build quality; long battery life
  • Cons: Has a fan; marginally more expensive than rivals; heaviest

Buy HP Chromebook 14 on Amazon US

HP Chromebook 14 on BestBuy

ASUS C300 – The Campus Wingman

asus c300 blackLose an inch, gain in…well, everything! This 13.3-inch Chrome OS laptop from ASUS is light, slim and cheap. And it can be nabbed for less than $250.

‘Large trackpad, loud speakers, long battery life’

The C300 uses a power-efficient dual-core Intel Bay Trail CPU clocked at 2.16GHz. While this is not as powerful as the Celeron in the devices listed above or below the difference it makes in real-world uses is mostly imperceptible.

But what you lose in overall performance you gain in battery life: the ASUS C300 is good for around 10 hours of standard use, though with Wi-Fi off and screen brightness dialled down you could find it runs for a bit longer. Plus, it’s also a fanless design, making it not only super slim but ideal for silent study in the library, too!

Standard features include 2GB RAM, a 16GB solid state drive for keeping all your essays, selfies and memes to hand, and HDMI, USB and SD card reader.

Standout features include a huge trackpad with multi-gesture support and (arguably) the best set of speakers on any Chromebook. Rounding it out is super fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi, a decent 1.2MP webcam, and a lightweight chassis.

  • Pros: Long Battery Life; fanless design; cheap
  • Cons: Plasticky feel; not as powerful as Haswell models

ASUS Chromebook C300 on Amazon US

ASUS Chromebook C300 on BestBuy

Acer C720(P) — The IB Student

acer-c720p-2600

For the ultimate portability, power and price nothing compares to the Acer C720 series — for now, anyway.

‘…light and thin; ideal for carting around campus’

The entry-level Acer C720 can be picked up for as little as $179. For this you get a dual-core Intel Celeron processor running at 1.4GHz, 2GB of memory and a 16GB SSD for storing your files (plus 100GB of online Google Drive storage).

Models with larger SSDs, more memory and a touchscreen are available, but these will nudge you towards a $300 price point.

For basic computing needs the C720 is more than capable, plus the super light (1.25kg) and super thin (0.90 inches thick when closed) design is made for being thrown in a backpack and carted around campus.

The Intel Haswell processor balances performance and battery (expect 8.5 hours) well, and can manage multitasking, HD media, Google Hangouts, etc. with ease.

If there’s a letdown to be found it’s the one that afflicts most Chromebooks: the display. Depending on the task at hand you may need to keep adjusting to find an optimum viewing angle.

  • Pros: Excellent performance; truly portable
  • Cons: Middling display quality; finicky touchpad

Acer C720 Chromebook (32GB) on Amazon US

Acer C720 Chromebook (16GB) on BestBuy

Bonus: Acer Chromebook 13

Acer Chromebook 13 CB5-311_AcerWP_app-01

A bonus pick? Don’t give us detention but yes: we couldn’t resist plugging the recently unveiled Chromebook 13 from Acer. The 13 hour battery life is well suited to seminar note-taking and sequestered essay writing in a coffee shop.

While it is not, yet, available to buy in store it should begin shipping in early September. If you’re able to wait you can even pre-order it now from Amazon priced at $279.

Acer Chromebook 13 (HD, 2GB) on Amazon US