'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?
ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.
When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.
ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.
Students have a lot of options when it comes to how to study and get their work done. Sure, you can go with Apple's macOS, but there are also Windows and ChromeOS to choose from. Google's ChromeOS can be found in Chromebooks, which make for useful devices for any kind of student.
The streamlined Chrome OS makes it easy to navigate to popular apps like Google Docs, Google Drive, and email so students can stay on task and in touch with teachers and classmates. Chromebooks also have tons of security features like mic mute, camera shutters, and data encryption to keep students safe from digital spying and their personal information or classwork protected from theft or misuse.
You don't have to worry about viruses, either. The Chrome OS was designed with the Linux framework, making it very difficult for hackers and digital criminals to create harmful software that targets Chromebooks. The biggest pro is that Chromebooks are way more affordable than a Windows or macOS-based laptop, often retailing for just around $300.
I've rounded up the best Chromebooks for students on the market today, from brands like Lenovo, Samsung, and, of course, Google.
Tech specs: Display: 13.3-inch 1920x1080p touch display | Processor: Intel 1.3GHz Core i5-8200Y | RAM: 16GB | Memory: 128GB SSD | Cameras: 2 megapixel 60fps, 1080p front-facing camera | Ports: Two USB-C (one on each side) and a 3.5mm headset jack | Battery: Up to 12 hours battery life, with fast charging to provide up to two hours of life in 20 minutes
The Google Pixelbook Go is more than fast enough for most students. With its low-wattage 1.3GHz Core i5-8200Y processor, it came in with a decent score of 83 on Principled Technologies' CrXPRT 2 Chromebook benchmark.
The body of the black Pixelbook Go has a magnesium-alloy lid with an underside base featuring a ribbed easy-to-grip design. This makes this Pixelbook hard to drop. Speaking as someone who busted a laptop or two due to falls, this is a good thing. At 2.3 pounds and 12.2 x 8.1 x 0.5 inches, it's also very light.
The model I tested came with 16GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and a 13.3 inch 1920x1080p touch display. To power the display, it uses Intel UHD 615 graphics.
Review: Pixelbook Go review: Google's laptop is designed to please
This is the one Chromebook I looked at that I'd enjoy watching a movie on. The Pixelbook Go's 1080p webcam is also superior. I'd have no qualms about Zooming with teachers and classmates with this setup.
The keyboard, on the other hand, doesn't have a lot of travel. I could work on it, but I'd prefer pounding on the keys of one of the other models. The touchpad, though, worked just fine for me.
The ports, or rather the lack thereof, are annoying. All you get is a single USB Type-C port and headphone jack on the left and another USB-C port on the right -- that's it. To charge up your Pixelbook Go, you'll need to use one of those USB-C ports, so anytime you're charging, you're down to just one available port.
Still, when it comes to battery life, the Go's a champ. With a four-cell, 47 W/H battery, it delivered 11.5 hours of useful life.
Tech specs: Display: 14-inch Touchscreen FHD 1920 x 1080 featuring ultra-narrow bezels (5mm thin) | Processor: 1.1GHz Intel Core M3-8100Y | RAM: 4GB | Memory: 64GB eMMC storage | Camera: 720p camera | Ports: USB 3.1 Type-A port, 2 USB-C ports, headphone jack, and microSD card slot | Battery: 10 hours
If you want both a tablet and a laptop, get a 2-in-1 like the Asus Chromebook Flip C434. This Chromebook comes in several configurations, but I checked out the lower-end model. This came with a dual-core Intel Core m3-8100Y processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of eMMC storage. Despite its rather low-end hardware, it has a decent CrXPRT benchmark score of 75.
With its matte-silver aluminum finish and chrome trim, it's also a very handsome machine. When you turn it on to work with its 14-inch screen, you'll be pleased by its sharp, vivid display.
I'm not a big fan of touchscreens on laptops, but this one wasn't just a pretty face. It was easy to work with, and, for once, I found myself often using it. Normally, I stop bothering with touchscreens. I found both the keyboard play and touchpad feel to be decent, but nothing to write home about.
At 6 x 8 x 0.6 inches and 3.1 pounds, the Flip 434 is a bit heavier than most 2-in-1 designs, but I doubt most people will notice the difference.
For ports, it comes with a USB 3.1 Type-A port, a USB-C port, and a headphone jack on the left, and another second USB-C port and a microSD card on the right. You can use both type Cs to power the machine.
With its Li-ion 48W/H battery, this Asus model came in with an honest 10 hours of battery life.
Tech Specs: Display: 13.3-inch 1080p HD touchscreen | Processor: Core i3-1115G4 | RAM: 8GB DDR4 | Storage: 64GB | Camera: 720p | Ports: HDMI, 2 USB 3.1 Type A, USB 3.1 Type C| Battery: 10 hours
The Lenovo Flex 5i is a laptop that proves Chromebooks can be powerful. It's built around an Intel Core i3-1115G4 CPU, giving you up to 4.1GHz of processing power, which is more than enough to tackle classwork and video calls with teachers.
It has 64GB of storage, giving you plenty of space for documents, photos, and files you need to complete coursework; but if you do run out of space, you can back up or save to Google Drive to free up room locally.
The 13.3-inch screen produces great 1080p HD resolution for video classes, educational videos, and creating slideshows. It also supports touch inputs, and the 2-in-1 form factor lets you streamline your workflow by eliminating the need for a separate tablet.
With Wi-Fi 6 compatibility, you'll get blazing fast wireless internet speeds, and Bluetooth 5.1 lets you connect wireless peripherals like headsets and mice. The battery gives you up to 10 hours of use on a full charge, meaning you can go a whole day of class without needing to plug in. But when you do need to top up your new laptop, USB-C charging lets you charge up fast.
Tech Specs: Display: 12.2-inch, 1920 x 1200 touchscreen | Processor: Intel Celeron 3965Y CPU | RAM: 4GB Storage: 32GB eMMC | Camera: 1M Camera (front), 13M Camera (on keyboard deck) | Ports: USB3.0, 2 USB-C, MicroSD Multi-media Card Reader, headphone jack| Battery: 8 hours
The Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 is designed for students on the go. Not only do you get Wi-Fi connectivity, but you also get LTE cellular data to stay connected to the internet without a wireless connection. This is perfect for emailing professors or turning in assignments when you're not at home or off-campus. The 2-in-1 form factor gives you the best of both laptops and tablets, and the included pen makes taking notes a breeze.
Its compact form makes it easy to slip into a backpack, and it weighs just over 3 pounds, making it lightweight enough to carry around all day. It only has 32GB of onboard storage, but you can save that space by working directly with GSuite apps like Docs, Sheets, and Drive to draft and store documents.
The battery gives you up to 8 hours of use on a full charge, so if you have night classes or after-school study groups, you may want to pack your charging cable to top up.
Tech specs: Display: 13.3" OLED display | Processor: Snapdragon SC7180 | RAM: 8GB LPDDR4x | Storage: 128GB eMMC SSD | Camera: 5mp | Ports: 2 USB 3 Type-C | Battery: 12 hours
Lenovo's Chromebook Duet 5 is a perfect option for someone who lives and works inside Google's ecosystem of services and products. It's a full-fledged ChromeOS device, but instead of having a permanently attached keyboard, it's a tablet that docks into the keyboard that comes in the box. Finally, there's a tablet that comes with a keyboard.
When it's docked, you'll get a standard Chromebook layout and interface. You can access all of your Chrome apps, visit websites, and the like. You can also install Android apps directly from the Google Play Store. These are the same apps you can install on your phone, some of which are optimized for tablets.
Review: Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5: Great Chromebook, great tablet
When you disconnect the keyboard from the Duet 5, the interface will slightly adjust and adapt to a touch-first approach, ideal for a tablet. If you live and work in Google's ecosystem, then the Chromebook Duet 5 makes a lot of sense.
The Google Pixelbook Go is the best Chromebook for students, because of its adequate processor, sleek design, and great battery life.
Google Pixelbook Go
Starting at $660
Asus Chromebook Flip C434
Starting at $269
Lenovo Flex 5i
Starting at $469
Samsung Chromebook Plus V2
Starting at $248
Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5
Starting at $379
One of the good things about Chromebooks is that almost any Chromebook will work for you. Yes, there are real differences between them when it comes to speed and memory, which is another aspect of speed, screen size, brightness, and resolution for practical purposes. But, for sheer functionality, they all do pretty much the same job.
Generally speaking, the older the student, the more power they can use. On the other side of the age gap, so long as a Chromebook can take a beating and keep on running, it's fine for a younger kid.
Personally, just like with any computer, I'll take all the power and screen real estate I can get. But, for the students in your home, you don't need to spend a lot of money for them to go to school virtually.
Choose this Chromebook...
If you want or are...
Google Pixelbook Go
The best overall option thanks to its low-wattage 1.3GHz Core i5-8200Y processor and 12-hour battery life. Its 1080p webcam is also superior.
Asus Chromebook Flip C434
A 2-in-1 Chromebook that's ideal for classwork. Its big touch screen also makes it great for artwork.
Lenovo Flex 5i
A Chromebook that delivers the most features for the money. It also supports touch inputs, and the 2-in-1 form factor lets you streamline your workflow by eliminating the need for a separate tablet.
Samsung Chromebook Plus V2
A Chromebook for Samsung brand loyalists. Samsung devotees will appreciate the option for LTE cellular data.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5
Extended battery life for your Chromebook. Its 12-hour battery life is more than enough time for classes and a study session.
Besides using Chromebooks for my own work, I benchmark them using Principled Technologies' Chromebook-specific, CrXRPT 2.0 benchmarks. Principled Technologies, a descendant of Ziff-Davis Benchmark Operations, is one of the best private benchmarking and testing companies on the planet.
This test tells you how fast a Chromebook handles things you do every day. This includes doing work as well as more fun activities such as playing video games, watching movies, and editing pictures.
This benchmark consists of six scenario tests:
The performance test gives you an overall score. With this benchmark, the higher the score, the better.
CrXPRT includes a battery test. In this test, all six workloads from the performance benchmarks are run, plus realistic periods of wait time and three additional scenarios:
All tests were run using ChromeOS 89. Wi-Fi was on, but Bluetooth was disabled during the benchmarking. The screens were set to 80% brightness.
Chromebooks are good for almost any job. But they're great for students. If a student can use a web browser, they can use a Chromebook.
For teachers and school administrators, Google also provides G Suite for Education and Google Classroom to help them make remote learning as easy as possible.
You can argue that thanks to ChromeOS's built-in security, even out-of-support Chromebooks are safer than a newer macOS or Windows laptop. Don't believe me? In Chromebook's 10-year history, only 45 ChromeOS security exploits have been documented.
The main point is that if you're short on cash, a cheap used or older model Chromebook will work just fine. And, since it's trivial to erase a Chromebook and then reset it to your account, it's much safer than buying a used Windows laptop.
A Chromebook can be a great laptop choice for students of all ages. They're more basic than their Windows-based counterparts, which means even very young children will be able to use them. They also have less powerful processors and graphics capabilities, reducing the temptation to play games all night rather than finish up homework.
A Chromebook's battery life is its biggest selling point, with many models sporting at least 10 hours of use on a full charge. This means your kids won't have to keep track of charging cables in order to use their Chromebook throughout the school day.
There are lots of options out there if you're looking for a Chromebook geared towards students of all ages. Here's a short list of alternate Chromebooks I thought were great choices for students:
The HP Chromebook 11A is a compact laptop great for everyday Internet use.
The Acer Chromebook 311 has a state-of-the-art low-energy-consuming AMD processor that allows for up to 10 hours of battery life.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 3 can be configured in three ways thanks to its 360-degree hinge: Tent, Stand, and Tablet.