Chromebooks in school: How to pick the best laptop for any student

Chromebooks are cheap, fast, secure, and work well. Really, what more do you need for your classroom computer?
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Top five 2015 Chromebooks for students (and the rest of us)

Laptops are stolen every day. If they contain your school work, you're in a world of hurt. But, if you use a Chromebook, it's no big deal. By default all your papers, e-mail, and notes are safe on the Google cloud.

Chromebooks are great in classrooms.
All you need do is buy a new Chromebook, sign into your Google account and you're back to business again. If you got the Chromebook from a school, Google has made it easy to disable stolen or lost Chromebooks. This makes it useless for any thief.

It's no wonder that Chromebooks have become popular in schools. Google offers a suite of programs just for schools, Google Apps for Education Suite; class-specific ChromeOS and Android apps, Google Play for Education; and Chromebooks that come with Google Play for Education at prices from $199 to $227. In addition, each Chromebook has a $30 management fee.

Also, Chromebooks require no anti-virus programs and can automatically update with the latest patches without any fuss or muss. Google claims that schools using Chromebooks require 69 percent less effort to deploy and 91 percent less time to manage Chromebooks over Windows laptops and Apple iPads.

Besides, the upfront price is right. Valerie Truesdale, technology chief for North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, was quoted in THE Journal: "HP came in with a bid that is about $220 per device, which is significant when you're trying to provision 32,000, price is key."

School systems are getting why Chromebooks work well in the classroom, so why not you?

Chromebooks have other advantages. For example, their boot-up time is typically less than 10 seconds. Generally speaking, Chromebooks have great battery life. And, as the cash-strapped school systems have noticed, Chromebooks don't cost much.

Some people are still under the illusion that Chromebooks can't be used when they're off-line. That's not true. I write documents, answer e-mails, read e-books, listen to music, and watch movies on my Chromebooks without a Wi-Fi signal to be found. I'm just as productive on my Chromebooks when I'm off-line as I am when I'm using Linux, Mac OS X, or Windows desktop without an Internet connection.

So, which is the best Chromebook for your school use? My recommendations are in the gallery that goes with this story, but you might want to consider getting a used Chromebook instead of a new one. You see, it doesn't take much of a processor, RAM, or storage for Chromebooks to run well.

Until recently, I was still using my June 2011 Samsung Series 5, the first commercial Chromebook. I only got rid of it because I didn't need it anymore. When it left my hands, it was still working just fine with the latest version of Chrome OS on it.

While I wouldn't recommend getting a Series 5, used 2014 models such as the Acer Chromebook C720P, HP Chromebook 11, or Toshiba Chromebook run about $150 and run as well as ever. You see, unlike Windows PCs or Macs. Chromebook don't get cluttered with junk software or the remains of old, uninstalled programs. Additionally, Chrome OS is very lightweight. It doesn't require the latest hardware to work well as does, for example, OS X Yosemite.

When considering a used Chromebook, you should also keep in mind that while clearing personal data off a Mac or Windows PC can be a titanic struggle, getting rid of personal information on a Chromebook is a snap

Just take the following steps:

  1. Sign in to your Chromebook.
  2. Click the status area where your account picture appears.
  3. Click Settings > Show advanced settings.
  4. In the Powerwash section, click Reset.
  5. Click Restart and don't sign in with your Google account.

Whoever logs into the Chromebook next is its new primary owner. That's all there is to it. That means you can both trust a used Chromebook to not have malware hiding on it and that it's safe and easy to move on to another Chromebook when the one you're currently using doesn't meet your needs anymore.

So what you be looking for in a Chromebook?

Generally speaking, RAM isn't a problem. 2GBs is enough, 4GBs is better but not necessary.

The processor also doesn't have to be that fast. If you you're going to do is light web work, say Google Docs and e-mail, even the slowest CPU will be fine. That said, it you want more oomph, you'll want to avoid ARM processors and look to the faster Intel CPUs.

One thing you will want is 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Chromebooks can work without Wi-Fi, but they show to their best advantage with a fast Wi-Fi connection.

Storage? Don't worry about it.

True, Chromebooks don't come with much storage. They average 16 GB to 32GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage or up to 500 GB of hard drive space. So what? Chromebooks store almost all your data on Google Drive. And, by the way, whenever you buy a new Chromebook, you get two years of at least 100GBs of free Google Drive storage.

You also can't run Windows PC or Mac specific programs on a Chromebook. You can, however, run Microsoft Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications, such as Office 365, in a Chromebook. Some popular programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, are not currently available on Chromebooks. There is Adobe beta version of Photoshop for Chromebooks, Project Photoshop Streaming.

You can also run Windows or Mac OS X from your Chromebook with programs such as Chrome Remote Desktop or Chrome RDP. If your office uses Citrix for virtual Windows desktops, you can also run them from your Chromebook with Citrix Receiver. If you're a Linux desktop user, you can also run Chrome OS and Linux at the same time on your Chromebook with Crouton. No matter how you run Linux, Mac OS X, or Windows on a Chromebook you'll want to use a fast x86 AMD or Intel CPU.

So put it all together: Chromebooks are cheap, fast, secure, and work well. Really, what more do you need for your classroom computer? Head out now to see what deals you can score for your new school laptop.

Top five 2015 Chromebooks for students (and the rest of us)

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