But the weeks of working from home have turned to months. for many of us, we may never return to the office for work. In that case, you upgrade from the old Chromebook you already have at home or the first one that came to hand at Best Buy when the shutdown started to a true business-class Chromebook.
With that goal in mind, I looked for the best Chromebooks available for work. These are not one-size-fits-all machines. Each has its strong points for different users.
Acer Chromebook 714
This Chromebook may not look that special, but there's a lot of power hiding underneath its aluminum hide. It's also remarkably tough. It's MIL-SPEC Standard 810G tested, which means it can handle drops and other physical shocks. If you need to take a computer to a building site, this is the one I'd take.
Powered by an 8th generation 2.2-GHz Intel Core i3-8130U CPU, the 714 had an excellent CrXPRT score of 91. If you need even more power, you can get this Chromebook with a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-8350U processor.
The Chromebook 714 version I tested also came with 8GB of RAM, 64GB of flash memory, and an Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU.
The graphic chip powered a decent 14-inch HDTV 1920 x 1080 touchscreen. It's on the dim side, but this is a Chromebook for work, not watching Avengers: Endgame. With a 720p webcam, you won't be making any movies yourself, but it works just fine for video conferencing.
The keyboard is solid and works well to my press hard typing style. The Corning glass trackpad also worked well.
For a Chromebook, this model has a goodly number of ports. On the left, there's a USB 3.1 Type-C port, a USB 3.1 Type-A port, and a headphone jack. The right side has a microSD card reader and another USB 3.1 Type-C port. You must, however, use one of those Type-C ports to power the machine. It also comes with an integrated fingerprint reader for added security.
The 714's 56 Watt/hour (W/H) 4-cell Li-ion battery lasted for a trifle over nine and a half hours. That's on the low side for a Chromebook. At 3.3 pounds and 12.7 x 9.4 x 0.7 inches, the Acer Chromebook 714 is on the heavy side.
But, weight and the screen aside, this is a sturdy, fast, and powerful Chromebook. And, for a price as reviewed of $649.99, it's well worth the money.
Acer Chromebook 715
Don't let the close numbers fool you, this is an entirely different kind of Chromebook. The 715's target audience is accountants, spreadsheet mavens, and anyone else who spends their day pounding in numbers on a ten-key. This Chromebook is one of the few that comes with a ten-key dedicated numeric keypad. Or, as my significant other CPA says, "This, this is what I need."
The first thing you'll notice when you unbox this bad boy is it's a big Chromebook. There are bigger ones, but weighing in at 3.8 pounds, the 14.4 x 9.8 x 0.7-inch notebook is a laptop bag filler.
That's to make room for its larger-than-usual keyboard. This keyboard also comes with an embedded fingerprint reader. The keyboard, as you'd expect for its intended users, has good play and has a clicky feeling I quite liked. The Corning glass touchpad was always comfortable to use.
Under the keyboard, on the Acer Chromebook 715 I tested, you'll find an 8th Gen Intel Core i5-8350U processor running at 1.7GHz. On the CrXPRT benchmark, it registered a zippy score of 90.
This model includes 16GB of RAM, 64GB of flash storage, and an Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU.
The 620 GPU backs up a 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 display. While the screen real estate is ample for spreadsheets, like its 714 brother, the display's rather dull. The 720p webcam comes with a wide-angle lens, but it didn't work that well for me. This is not a Chromebook for video; it's for number-crunching.
By Chromebook standards, it has a decent number of ports. Once more, on the left, there's a USB 3.1 Type-C port, a USB 3.1 Type-A port, and a headphone jack. The right side has a microSD card reader and another USB 3.1 Type-C port. Again, though, one of those Type-C ports must be used to power the laptop.
The 715's 56 WH 4-cell Li-ion battery proved good for just over ten hours. More than enough time to get that spreadsheet into the boss.
This Chromebook is dedicated to those who make their living from mastering numbers whether you're an Excel expert or a master of Quickbooks. For those users, it's worth its list price of $749.99. It's hard to find, but you may be able to find it for less. For serious number crunchers, it's worth the search.
Dell Latitude 5300 Chromebook Enterprise
Some people say you don't need real power in a Chromebook. After all, you're only running a "browser." This is so, so wrong. If you're also running complex SaaS applications, Android, or Linux, you can use all the CPU horses you can get. If that's you, you need to check out the Dell Latitude 5300 Chromebook.
With a quad-core, 1.6GHz Core i5-8365U processor, the 5300 delivers a best of breed CrXPRT score of 113. That makes it not only the fastest Chromebook in this roundup, it's the fastest Chromebook I've ever used. If you want even more speed, you can get it with a Core i7-8665U.
You can run this 0.76 by 12 by 8.2 inches and 3.2 pounds Chromebook in either keyboard or tablet mode. The backlit keyboard doesn't have deep travel, but it still manages to be snappy enough to suit my heavy-handed typing style. It's also one of the few Chromebook keyboards with Page Up and Page Down keys. The touchpad, while on the small side with its pair of plastic buttons, is also easy to use.
The Dell model I tested came with 16GB of RAM, 128GB of Solid-State Drive (SSD), and an Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU.
The GPU backs up a 13-inch Gorilla Glass touch-screen with a full-HD (1,920 x 1,080) native resolution. Oddly, though, by default, it starts at 1,536 x 864. You'll need to adjust it to bring the display up to its best resolution. The display, while brighter than the Acer models, is still a bit on the dim side. The 720p webcam is also nothing to write home about.
The Latitude 5300 has an ample number of ports. On the left, you'll find both USB 3.1 Type-C and Type-A ports. And, a rarity on most Chromebooks, an HDMI video output port. Here, you'll also find a rarity on today's Chromebooks, a dedicated AC adapter power port. On the right, there's a second USB-A port, an audio jack, a microSD card slot, and a mobile SIM tray so you can connect to the internet over 4G or 5G when you're well away from Wi-Fi hotspots.
For power, it boasts a 60 W/H 4-cell battery. With great processing power, comes great battery drain. The Dell Latitude 5300 came in last with just over 9 hours of life.
Still, if you want the fastest of the fast -- and I know some of you do -- you'll want to look into this powerhouse of a machine. But, and it's a big but, it also comes with a high price tag. The Dell Latitude 5300 Chromebook Enterprise I checked out will cost you $1,551.
Google Pixelbook Go
Until Dell came along, Google pretty much held the monopoly on high-end Chromebooks such as the i7-powered Pixelbook. While Google is still selling Pixelbooks for those who want all the power they can get, Google's newest Chromebooks are the lower-powered and lower-priced Pixelbook Go series.
While fast enough for most work, the Google Pixelbook Go I reviewed with its low-wattage 1.3GHz Core i5-8200Y processor came in with the lowest CrXPRT score of the four I tested with 83.
The body of my black Pixelbook Go has a magnesium-alloy lid with the underside base featuring a ribbed easy-to-grip design. This makes the Go difficult to drop. And, 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.
The Corning Concore Glass screen is very nice. With the 615 powering it, It's bright and renders colors much better than its rivals. 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 co-workers 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 on one of the other models. The touchpad, though, worked just fine for me.
The ports, or rather the lack of them, is another matter. 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 also need to use one of those USB-C ports.
Still, when it comes to battery life, the Go's a champ. With a four-cell, 47 W/H battery it delivered eleven and a half hours of useful life. It beat the others easily. That's not just a benchmark result. Back when I was still flying to Europe on business before the pandemic, I could work all the way from Atlanta to Barcelona without a charge.
So, for me, the Go is the ideal road-warrior Chromebook. Fast enough to be useful, great screen, and it just keeps going and going and going. The Pixelbook Go model I looked at isn't cheap at $999. But, since I used to do a lot of business travel, and eventually I will again, I bought this Chromebook for my use.
The Chromebook advantages
Chromebook laptops are very flexible. They are not just a web browser in a box. Sure, you need the internet to get the most from a Chromebook. But, tell me, when was the last time you did any serious work with a Mac or Windows PC without an internet connection? Back in the 2000s. Sure, if you're doing video editing, you need a powerful PC. But, for most of us, our work lives and dies with the internet.
Modern high-end Chromebooks, as tech expert Mike Elgan points out, "run more apps without dual- or multi-booting than any other computing platform. Chromebooks can run apps from Android, Linux, and Windows concurrently in the same session."
Most of you may never need those alternatives. Google's G Suite may be all the office you need. If you're wedded to Microsoft Office, Microsoft now supports Office and Microsoft 365 on Chromebook. Need Quickbooks? Run Quickbooks Online. It's 2020; the vast majority of office applications are now available on the cloud as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).
I also like that Chromebooks update frequently and transparently. Unlike Windows 10 PCs, where lately it seems like every upgrade is an adventure, Chromebooks just take their patches and, when you want them to, reboot in a few seconds and just keep on working.
Another advantage is that if something goes wrong with your Windows PC, restoring your data to a new PC can be a real pain. It's especially annoying when you're stuck at home and your backup is somewhere at the office. With a Chromebook, if you pour a cup of coffee on its keyboard and it goes to that great bityard in the sky, who cares? You just buy a new Chromebook, enter your ID and password and you're back in business again. No-fuss, no muss.
If you need IT help Google offers Chrome Enterprise. With it, for $50 a device per year, your IT crew gets access to Managed Google Play via an approved Enterprise Mobility Manager EMM for Cisco Meraki; Citrix XenMobile; IBM MaaS360; ManageEngine Mobile Device Manager Plus; or VMware Workspace ONE. It also includes Active Directory (AD) integration.
Testing Chromebook laptops
Besides using Chromebooks for my own work, I benchmark them using Principled Technologies' Chromebook-specific, second-generation CrXRPT benchmark. 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 and more fun activities such as playing video games, watching movies, and editing pictures.
This benchmark consists of six scenario tests:
- Photo Effects: Applies three effects (Sharpen, Emboss, and Glow) to two photos each, a set of six photos total.
- Face Detection: Checks for human faces in a set of five photos (low resolution).
- Offline Notes: Measures the time to encrypt, store, and display notes from local storage.
- Stock Portfolio Dashboard: Calculates and displays different graphical views of a stock portfolio.
- DNA Sequence Analysis: Measures the time it takes to process eight DNA sequences for open reading frames and amino acids.
- 3D Shapes with WebGL: Generates equation-based 3D shapes and displays them with WebGL.
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:
- Video Player: Plays a two-minute 1,080p H.264 video clip in a browser from the local system.
- Music Player: Plays an audio clip for three minutes.
- HTML5-based game: Runs an impact.js-based game for about two minutes.
All tests were run on the above enterprise Chromebook laptop using the latest version of ChromeOS (ChromeOS 83). Wi-Fi was on, but Bluetooth was disabled during the benchmarking.
Choosing the right Chromebook
Yes, you can use any old Chromebook to get work done. But, for business purposes, you want more than an adequate machine. You want one that will fit your needs. Here's your decision tree:
- Construction and factory workers: If you want a strong machine for a reasonable price that you can take to the factory floor or a construction site, I recommend Acer's Chromebook 714.
- Data geeks and math pros: Make your living from number crunching? Then track down an Acer Chromebook 715. You won't be sorry.
- Power users: If you're a power-user' power-user, then the Dell Latitude 5300 Chromebook Enterprise may be worth your money. You might also want to consider the older, but still fast, Google Pixelbook.
- On-the-go workers: Finally, for those of us who hope to spend a lot of time working from the road rather than from the home, I highly recommend Google's Pixelbook Go.
Chromebooks are not just for schools. They're for serious work as well.