Low-Cost Windows Alternatives
There are plenty of laptops available, but what do you buy when pretty much everything you do is online, you don't need much in the way of software support, and you want to spend around $300, rather than thousands? A chromebook could be your answer. These inexpensive laptops may not offer a full Windows experience, but their web-centric operation and ultralow prices make them perfect for light-usage social media and web-based productivity. If you spend more than 90 percent of your computer time in a web browser, you should have no trouble using a chromebook as your primary PC.
Chromebooks typically don't pack impressive hardware, but they also rarely require it. Because you'll be visiting websites and running programs all from Chrome OS, which is basically a souped-up version of the lean-running Chrome web browser, the technical barrier to entry is low. This also means you don't have to deal with downloading and installing traditional software; if you can't do something on a standard webpage, chances are you will be able to from one of the thousands of apps and extensions available to Chrome OS users.
With just a few clicks, your chromebook can have almost as much functionality as a budget Windows laptop. Even Microsoft Office is now available on chromebooks via the Google Play store for Chrome, a revolution in functionality that removes one of the last barriers preventing productivity devotees from switching to Chrome. Unfortunatley, Office for Chrome is currently little more than a clone of the Office 365 mobile apps designed for Android phones, which means the experience will be different than using the full version of Office on a PC. Microsoft hasn't announced plans for a dedicated Chrome version, but the company said in November that it is gathering customer feedback.
One primary benefit of running exclusively web software is security: For all intents and purposes, you're immune to the viruses and other malware that so often plague vulnerable Windows systems. Chrome OS updates also take just seconds to complete, rather than the minutes or hours you may have to wait on macOS and Windows. And although easy access to an always-on Internet connection is a must for chromebooks, you're able to perform most standard tasks offline and sync up later on so you don't have to slow or stop your work if there's an internet hiccup.
Chromebooks Are Evolving
The newest chromebooks have stepped up from being basic systems running Chrome OS to being elegant computers that offer surprisingly rich capabilities. Some sport carbon fiber or use a lightweight magnesium alloy frame with a glossy white plastic exterior. Others add a bright In-Plane Switching (IPS) display, which offers sharp images and wide viewing angles, or up the standard 16GB of solid-state storage to 32GB or even 64GB. Some even have premium styling that even high-end laptop owners would envy.
Over the last few years, the chromebook category has matured beyond basic functionality, and the real competition is now based on features. We're seeing more options that previously were only available on Windows laptops. For instance, some chromebooks have touch displays. Various screen sizes are available, too, from 10 inches to 15 inches. Other models sport convertible designs that let you fold the chromebook into several modes, and even use it as a tablet, just as you can with other 2-in-1 laptops. Internal components have also improved, with more powerful Intel Core processors supplanting the low-power, low-performance chips from just a couple of years ago. The result is that these days, a budget laptop and a similarly priced chromebook can look more alike than you might expect.
Chrome's software capabilities are improving, too. Some new chromebooks now have access to apps designed to run on Android smartphones and tablets, in addition to Chrome apps and extension. This development could be a game-changer that obliterates the already-blurring line between laptops and dedicated mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. To see if your chromebook supports Android apps, check out Google's expanding list.
Whether you're a Facebook addict or you just need a machine for checking email and working in Google apps, chromebooks are easy to use, convenient to take on the go, and inexpensive. If you think a Chrome OS laptop is right for you, check out the reviews below for the top-rated chromebooks on we've tested. It you absolutely need Windows and don't have an unlimited budget, our list of the best cheap laptops and the best laptops for college students are worth a look. For more general buying advice, check out our buying guide with the top laptop picks regardless of price.
Bottom Line: The Acer Chromebook 14 gives you just about all the features and quality you need from a basic laptop, plus extra niceties like a metal body and almost 12 hours of battery life.
Bottom Line: The Acer Chromebook Spin 11 is an 11.6-inch convertible that offers keyboard, touch, and stylus input, runs Chrome OS and Android apps, and shrugs off knocks, drops, and water spills. It's t…
Bottom Line: The Asus Chromebook Flip (C302CA-DHM4) might be more expensive than the average chromebook, but its rich selection of features makes it well worth the extra money.
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Bottom Line: Students or parents looking for a laptop that will survive an intense day at school will like the Chromebook Flip C213SA's all-day battery life, sturdy build, and multiple viewing modes.
Bottom Line: The Dell Chromebook 3189 is a durable convertible laptop, with a long-lasting battery, a multimode hinge, and enough processing juice to help power online and classroom learning.
Bottom Line: The Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook is a well-equipped and semi-rugged convertible-hybrid laptop that offers just enough features to make it a strong bargain over other budget laptops.
Bottom Line: Acer's aluminum-clad Chromebook 15 packs spectacular battery life along with a sprawling 15.6-inch screen, but it's not very bright.
Bottom Line: Your kids will jump for joy—or at least jump up and down on—CTL's super-sturdy chromebook, designed to survive hard knocks and whiteboard scribbles while delivering first-class p…
Bottom Line: The Google Pixelbook is a powerful, upscale 2-in-1 convertible laptop that will serve well-heeled Android and chromebook fans well.
Bottom Line: Samsung's Chromebook Plus takes convergence to another level, with a 2-in-1 form factor and the ability to run both Android apps and ChromeOS.
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