Best Chromebooks for 2020
By Michael Passingham
Article 3 of 4
Chromebooks have been around since 2011, but if you’ve never considered one before, it might be time to have a look. We run you through what you need to know about Chromebooks, then provide our own expert recommendations based on our extensive lab testing.
In this article:
- The Best Chromebooks to buy right now
- How much should a Chromebook cost?
- Pros and cons of Chromebooks
- Does a Chromebook always need an internet connection?
Chromebooks are like normal laptops, but instead of running Microsoft Windows or Apple MacOS they run ChromeOS, which is made by Google.
ChromeOS is a more basic operating system with fewer features and programs. What it lacks in applications it makes up for in speed and ease of use. ChromeOS, for the most part, feels pretty fast no matter what laptop you’re using.
ChromeOS works on the basis that much of what we do on a computer these days – email, writing documents, spreadsheets, social media, and even more demanding tasks such as photo editing – can be done via a web browser. These are accomplished using services such as Google Docs, Office Online, Google Photos and a host of smaller services.
If you’re not sure whether you can make the change, just start using web apps on your current laptop and see how far you get. You might be surprised.
These are the Chromebooks we recommend right now. Only logged-in Which? members can access the table. Sign up for a trial to gain access.
This Chromebook is well worth a look thanks to its 2-in-1 design that means it can also be used as a tablet. In fact, it’s so light it actually weighs well under 1kg, making it one of the very lightest laptops we’ve ever tested. If portability is the top of your priorities list, this is well worth a look. Our full review looks into the pros and a few cons.
Prices and ratings correct as of December 2019
Chromebooks are generally inexpensive and have more modest components than their Windows or Apple counterparts. That’s because Chrome OS is a more streamlined operating system that doesn’t demand intensive processing power – and that also means that battery life tends to be good with Chromebooks, too.
As such, most Chromebooks are very cheap and not particularly fast. They’ll be fine for basic tasks, but not for editing huge photographs and videos. There are some more expensive devices around, such as the Google Pixelbook, but these are in the minority.
Chromebooks under £200
Budget Chromebooks can cost as little as £150 and are often the thinnest and lightest laptops on the market. They’re not powerful by any stretch and won’t be able to cope with doing more than one task at the same time, but they can be great value nonetheless.
Chromebooks under £500
Mid-range Chromebooks are becoming more and more common. These machines often come with 360-degree hinges so they can fold over and double as a tablet, more powerful processors and can be larger than their cheaper counterparts.
These are still quite rare, but offer the best Chromebook experience. With high-resolution screens, more powerful processor and great build-quality, they can be very tempting if you’re happy using web-based apps.
Some people may be wary of buying a Chromebook - it’s a departure from the familiarity of a Windows-based computer and familiar software such as Microsoft Office.
Before considering a Chromebook, it’s important to make sure it’s the right type of laptop for what you need.
Almost everything you’ll do on a Chromebook will be done in a web browser using what’s called a ‘web app’. This includes Google Docs (word processing), Google Sheets (spreadsheets) and Pixlr (image editing). You can also access Microsoft Office Online software if you prefer it.
It used to be the case that a Chromebook had to be online all the time for all web apps, but there’s plenty you can do without an internet connection. All the Google apps – Docs, Sheets, Slides, Files and Mail – have an offline mode (that needs to be activated first), which means you can work on spreadsheets and presentations or write documents and emails without being online. And the next time you do go online all your work will be synchronised with the cloud. Offline editing should be enough to keep you going on a plane or train journey without a wi-fi connection.
Modern Chromebooks come with a surprising amount of storage, too: most come with at least 64GB, and some come with more. While that would be tight for Windows, the Chrome OS doesn’t take up much hard drive space, leaving more room for your files. That means you could easily download a few films to watch offline, for example. Cheaper models might only come with 16GB, however, so check the specification sheet carefully if you need more.
Some Chromebooks support apps from the Google Play Store. This is the same app store as you’d find on an Android phone. However, you’ll need to check the model you’re buying to see if it’s compatible – only some newer Chromebooks have Google Play.