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Back to school: The 5 best Chromebooks for students

Chromebooks are the ideal tool for remote learning: Secure, affordable, easy to manage, and easy to use. No wonder they're so popular with students and teachers alike.

Schools and children love Chromebooks. They're affordable, easy to manage, and easy to use. Can your kids use a web browser? Then they can use a Chromebook. Google also provides G Suite for Education and Google Classroom to help schools make remote learning as simple as possible. 

While I looked primarily at higher-end machines, which are suitable for high-school and college students, you can get even more affordable Chromebooks from brand-name vendors. For example, you can get a decent Chromebook -- such as the ASUS 11.6 ChromebookHP Chromebook 11A G6 - Education Edition, or Lenovo 11.6 32GB Chromebook 100e -- for under $200. If you're short on cash, you can often find used or older Chromebooks going for a song. Since it's simple to erase a Chromebook and then reset it to your account, this is far safer than buying a used Windows laptop. 

Sturdy and powerful Chromebook

Acer Chromebook 714

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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 eighth-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 hammering 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. Thanks to its sturdiness, I'd consider getting this Chromebook for the junior-high or older student in your house.

$614 at B&H Photo-Video $664 at Walmart

Affordable 2-in-1 for advanced students

Asus Chromebook Flip C434

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If you want both a tablet and laptop, get a 2-in-1 like the Asus Chromebook Flip 434.

It 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 with 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 certainly was. 

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 the 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. 

For what it is, I think the Asus Flip C434 is worth its high -- but reasonable -- $569 price. I'd give this one to my honor roll junior-high-or-older student.  

$570 at Amazon $569 at B&H Photo-Video $570 at Adorama

Fastest Chromebook today for those who need the best

Dell Latitude 5300 Chromebook Enterprise

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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. 

True, the Latitude 5300 is overkill for most students. But, if you're in college, and you need real power, this high-end Chromebook is worth your consideration.

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. 

This Chromebook has the following dimensions: 0.76 x 12 x 8.2 inches and 3.2 pounds. You can run it 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 SSD storage, 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 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 nine 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. But, again, if power is what you need for grad school, this is the machine for you. 

$1,549 at Dell, Inc.

Tough Chromebook for students facing all-nighters

Google Pixelbook Go

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Until Dell came along with the Dell Latitude 5300 Chromebook, Google pretty much held the monopoly on high-end Chromebooks, like with 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,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 a decent CrXPRT score of 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 hard 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 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 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 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 11.5 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 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 if you need a great Chromebook that can last through an all-night study binge, this is the one for you. 

$849 at Amazon $849 at Best Buy $799 at B&H Photo-Video

Inexpensive Chromebook for elementary school kids

Lenovo Chromebook 100e 11.6

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The least expensive Chromebook I reviewed, the Lenovo Chromebook 100e, retails for $259. But cheap doesn't mean bad. It's still a strong, perfectly functional Chromebook for school or work.
 
It's powered by a 1.6GHz MediaTek MT8173C Processor. This is a four-core ARM SoC (system on a chip) CPU. Its CrXPRT number is a low 43, but that's still fast enough for student and low-level business work. Just don't try running anything too fancy on this machine and you'll be fine. 
 
It comes with 4GB of RAM. That's a step up from the 2GB in older low-end Chromebooks. For storage, it has a 32GB SSD, which you can expand with a microSD card. 
 
It is short on ports. You get a single USB-C, a USB 3.1, and an HDMI port. For power, it has its own dedicated port, so you do get to use the USB-C port.
 
At 11.42 x 8.03 x 0.8 inches and 2.66 pounds, it's a lightweight laptop. But it's also sturdy with a spill-proof keyboard and touchpad with rubberized edges to protect against drops. In short, this Chromebook is built to take a licking from your 3rd grader and keep on ticking. 
 
With a 3 Cell Li-Polymer 42W/H battery, this Lenovo model can last for a good 10 hours. 
 
The 11.6-inch screen with its 1366x768 resolution looks quite sharp for such an inexpensive device. The graphics are backed off by a PowerVR GX6250 graphics chipset.

Is this a great Chromebook? Oh no! If you want a top-notch Lenovo Chromebook, check out the Lenovo Yoga Chromebook C630. But at a starting price of $769.99, you're once more moving into high-end Chromebook territory. But, for a good, solid performer that can make it through the school year with your elementary school kid, it's an excellent choice.

$299 at Amazon $169 at Best Buy

Why go with a Chromebook

You might think a Chromebook is limited because it can only run programs when it's online. That's not true. For example, you can still work with Google Docs when you're offline.  

Also, you can now run many Android apps on Chromebooks. And these days you can run a full Linux desktop on your new Intel-based Chromebook. As my tech buddy Mike Elgan points out, today's high-end Chromebook laptops "run more apps without dual- or multi-booting than any other computing platform." Chromebook laptops can run apps from Android, Linux, and Windows concurrently in the same session.

Besides, as FutureSource notes, for schoolwork, Chromebook laptops combine "affordable devices, productivity tools via G-Suite, easy integration with third-party platforms/tools, task management/distribution via Google Classroom, and easy device management remains extremely popular with US teachers and IT buyers alike."

One unsung advantage of Chromebook laptops is that, if your dog ate the Chromebook, you wouldn't have lost your homework. All you need do is get another one, even if you just borrow one, log on, and you're back in business with all your e-mail, documents, and calendars intact and ready to go. 

Chromebooks are also much safer than Windows PCs. First, you can't easily install third-party software on them even if you want to -- nevermind having a malware program try to sneak in your machine. Moreover, Chrome OS encrypts all your files. Finally, every time you start your Chromebook, it does a self-check. Verified Boot detects if the system has been tampered with or corrupted in any way, and it will automatically repair itself by restoring it to a clean version of Chrome OS.

They also feature long battery lives. Most Chromebooks I've reviewed lately average over 10 hours of battery life. You're unlikely to ever need more. 

Top Chromebook buying tips

While even the lowest-powered Chromebook is still useful -- I got eight years of useful life from the first commercial Chromebook, Samsung's 2011 Series 5 -- like any system, the more resources you have, the better. 

But, unlike Windows machines, where there are clear benefits to paying for the fastest possible processor and the maximum amount of memory, that's not so true with Chromebooks. Any Chromebook with at least 4GBs of RAM and an i3 or better processor will work well for most users. If you are doing serious work with Linux or constantly running multiple Software-as-a-Service apps, then you should invest in a high-end Chromebook. I can recommend these for advanced high school or college students, but not for grade-schoolers.

Chromebooks usually have 16GB and up of Solid-State Drive (SSD) for onboard storage. That's better than it looks. First, Chrome OS is very light and most of your applications are Software-as-a-Service programs such as Google Docs, so most of that space is available for your files. And, remember, all new Chromebooks come with 100GB of free Google One cloud storage for a year.

All Chromebooks have a predetermined support life. You can find your Chromebook's Auto Update Expiration ("AUE") date on this site. If you have a Chrome Education Upgrade or Chrome Enterprise Upgrade Chromebook, you can find the AUE date in the Google Admin console. Generally speaking, Chromebooks get six years of support. In my experience, unlike Windows, where running a non-supported operating system is asking for major trouble, out-of-date Chromebooks are still safe to use. If there's ever been a significant security breach of an older Chromebook, I've never seen it.

Like all laptops, these days there's a huge demand for Chromebooks. If you want a Chromebook for school, order one as soon as possible.