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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

  • Sean Lumly

    Due to a lack of a release of the Samsung Chromebook 2 in Canada, I purchased the Asus Chromebook C200 (11.6″). I must say that I am EXTREMELY pleased with this device. The performance is great, and the device is very light, compact, and thus portable. But the things I love most surround the battery.

    The battery life is extremely good, reading 11 hours with light use. But more than that, it charges insanely quickly! A mere 1 hours after plugging the device in (during many of my charging sessions), it’s ready to go with a full charge. I haven’t clocked the charge rate from an empty battery (I rarely ever get to deplete it so severely), but the quick charging speed is a revelation. This is in stark contrast to my tablets with far smaller batteries and take ~6 hours to fully charge (microUSB).

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Samsung Chromebook was more power efficient, but it has a far smaller 30Wh battery compared to the C200’s 48Wh battery. Despite this, the C200 is surprisingly slightly lighter on paper.

    The other features of the laptop are quite pleasing. The speakers are loud, it resumes quickly (though not instantly — WiFi shuts off when the screen is closed), and the screen is good enough for a computer of this cost: it is clear and bright. I have never felt wanting for performance — the device scrolls quickly, and performs well on the web apps that I use. The keyboard is tactile and comfortable, and the trackpad is large and smooth. Chrome OS has some inadequacies, but it serves its purpose as a casual machine, and I have faith that the available software will increase dramatically in the future making it a good all-around computing device.

    I would love for the C200 successor to pack a larger/higher res screen into the same sized chassis, as the screen bezel can certainly accommodate it, and a teardown reveals that there should be enough room internally to accommodate a larger battery as well.

    All in all, the C200 is a crazy value for the price. If the C300 recommended above is similar, then it’s a no-brainer.

    • http://twitter.com/d0od Joey-Elijah Sneddon

      Fantastic first-hand account — and chimes with what i’ve heard from others who own this and the C300.

      • Sean Lumly

        Thanks! I do wonder what people would like to see on their Chromebooks. I’m guessing it has more to do with software than hardware.

        • googoolo

          Light weight, fanless & long battery life.
          Secure (no virus, no backdoor build in)
          Simplicity / auto update / always new / not slowing down after a while
          Easy / automatic cloud backup

          • Sean Lumly

            It seems that there are a good selection of Chromebooks available to satisfy your requirements!

          • googoolo

            @Sean lumly.

            I would share why chromebook is the best computing platform in my view.

            My patents doesn’t have a formal computing education. They both can use computer but ‘not smart’. In the era of BC (Before Chromebook) I really hate when my parents personal computer got virus — mostly BOTH my mom and dad got the same virus at the same time. Thats mean i loss 1 day of productivity. In the old day backing up, reinstalling really a lot of hasle. In the era AC (After Chromebook), I never loss a single day doing that ‘fool erand’.

            Not really related to chromebook. I hate when attachment pass around. In the old day, ex. My aunt take a picture and sent it to my mom. My mom saves the picture on her hard drive then pass it on to my dad, me, sister. We all got a copy in the hard drive. Once in a while someone will burn the photo into CD including the one that already sent with email. And give it too (i.e) my mom. That same photo for copied again to her hard drive. All those duplicate files/photo really bother me. With android phone and CB. Photo from my parents phone automagically uploaded into G+, and my mom just click share on the chromebook. Chromebook + google drive eliminate duplicate files.

            As for me. I used my HP CB 11 for daily use (email, browsing), and only use my ubuntu notebook to do programming. So, my ubuntu notebook is my 2nd computer (not the other way around)

        • Juan David

          Id personally like to see a Samsung Chromebook 2 13.3 (which i own) just with an IPS panel and a better processor :'(, its fine for my classes, google docs etc. but my personal browsing which involve content heavy sites can be such a lackluster experience. Might as well throw in a nicer webcam and backlit keys $500-600 and ill buy and recommend that device to anyone and everyone haha

          • Sean Lumly

            I see. It seems as though the A15 in the Chromebook 2 is clocked a little low. Next year’s A57s should have substantially better performance.

            What about software? Are there apps you would like to see?

          • Juan David

            For my uses no. Im using it as a school notebook/ personal web browser. All the serious work and programs i leave to my 24″ custom built windows desktop i have at my house.

    • darkich

      The 1600p Asus transformer Pad(metal hybrid laptop /tablet) with Android 4.3 and (the least efficient and a bit outdated Tegra 4 that pulls up to 16W under full load) – gets around 15 hours of WiFi surfing.
      Do I need to add that Android L will offer dramatic improvements in energy efficiency as well as in performance and stability?

      I’m just baffled at how you guys can be so enthusiastic about Chrome and miss the potential of an unprecedented phenomenon that is Android.

      • Sean Lumly

        I own 3 android devices including a 1600p Nexus 10 with a keyboard. Let me be the first to tell you that Chrome OS is a very diffent experience, and one far better suited (IMHO) to productivity.

        • darkich

          I respect your opinion but I personally wouldn’t go that far to claim it is far better.
          First, there is quite a difference between a tablet with a keyboard dock, and a dedicated hybrid form.
          Second, how much productivity can Chrome offer outside of document editing?
          On android, you can already get all the office average user could want with apps such as WPS (yes, it can edit two documents at once, lol), but the point is that’s just one tiny thing that you can do with it; it has this vast and unseen potential. Imagine what the ecosystem and dev community could do with it in a few years. If Google decides to ditch Chrome in favor of future versions if Android, vendors will build productivity Android hardware and you will witness the explosion of high quality productivity apps Chrome couldn’t hope to achieve in wildest dreams.

          • Sean Lumly

            I’m not trying to sell or convince you — we’re all entitled to our perspectives. I think that you may already be convinced that Android and Chrome are close substitutes with Android being the better all-around choice. This is not the view that I and many others share.

            There’s no right or wrong answer here as both viewpoints are based on intimitely personal preferences. Arguing as proponents of these viewpoints would not be very productive.

  • r4in

    Get C720. For that price, it’s no brainer – and it still has better performance than Bay Trail-based Chromebooks.

    • view2share

      You are so right — best processor for the job, cost less, and is quiet — at least my Toshiba with the Celeron Haswell is quiet and like you said, more power than these newest Bay Trail. Low price, and more power is a simple win, on my books. It still has day long power. Just how many hours do ya need – 8 hrs vs 13 hrs? Works fine plugged in too.

  • Steve Turpin

    I have the HP 14 (4 Gig Ram and 4G version) my first Chromebook, and I love it…I have other, high end laptops, but this does 97% of what I need most of the time, and offers great performance and build quality. Absolutely love the quick boot and shutdown, great battery life…highly recommended, what’s not to love!!

  • E Lobdell

    Doesn’t the Asus have a glossy screen? That is a deal breaker for me. Too much glare. Acer all the way. We love ours.

  • Pauho

    I’m still gonna wait and see how the Dell i3 Chromebook fares once it’s released.

  • Nick Gustoff

    Why did Dell Chromebook not make it?

  • Winnz

    No Mention of the Lenovo n20p N2930 quad core version?

  • LiamTHX

    What about the ThinkPad 11e? That’s much better than the C720.

  • ForSquirel

    I must be horrible. I bought the (non touch)720 for my wife..

  • Franco Troncoso

    Guys.. The fans are not that loud. Bay Trail is better for libraries because of the lack of a fan? Come on.

    • MeTooooo

      fans = hot, lower durability.

  • fuzzylumpkins

    not only does the c720 have the worst build quality of any chromebook, but it has a SUPER loud fan and SUPER loud and clicky keyboard. terrible for a classroom, perfect for couch surfing or home use.

    • http://www.nerdofsteel.com Rocco Augusto

      I’ve never heard the fan on my C720 and while I do like the clicky sound of the keyboard it does feel fairly cheap.

  • AJtheSloth

    I recently faced this decision because the fan on my HP 14 decided to be crazy loud constantly. I’d spent weeks pouring over reviews and looking for new announcements of some perfect Chromebook. In the end though, I couldn’t resist the allure of the screen on the HP 11 and found a new one on Ebay for $177. I’ve currently no regrets (understatement; I’m in love!) since I am a very low demand user (and have my HP 14 running Chrubuntu here at home for anything else) and there are more than enough outlets around campus for the micro-usb charger.

  • Bluegrapes

    Try to check slickdeals regularly for the refurbished HP Chromebook 14 sale from WOOT that pops up at least once or twice a month. For around $200 it comes with 4gb of ram and free 200mb of T-mobile 4G a month.

  • Joseph Dickson

    Why is everyone so hung up on 13″+ models. For portability the ASUS C200 and other 11.6 models can’t be beat.

    • googoolo

      I agree!
      I love the 1kg hp cb 11
      But i really want the 1080p

      • Joseph Dickson

        1080p will come in time. For now I plug my system into a HDMI 24″ monitor when at my desk.

        As for lecture halls a 11.6″ system can barely fit on the slide out desk as it is so any larger is simply too big.

  • pikapichu

    My vote’s for the HP. Not only do my old eyes appreciate the relatively large display, but it also sounds great, has a smooth trackpad and has a comfy keyboard to type on! The screens on the 11 models are too small for me and the keyboards too cramped.

  • x4zta9q4AEsJ5gP

    I’m using the HP 14 right now (the 4 GB T-mobile version) and its not fast enough for me. I will probably return it and wait for the core i3 chromebooks.