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1 October 2020

What is a Chromebook?

Chromebooks are much cheaper than conventional laptops. Read on to to see the best Chromebooks and discover what they are - a viable option if you're after a cheap laptop.
What is a chromebook
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Callum Tennent

A Chromebook is a low-cost laptop (usually costing less than £200) running Google’s Chrome OS as its operating system rather than Windows or Apple's OS X.

Designed to be primarily used while connected to the internet, Chromebooks start up in seconds and offer thousands of apps for productivity and creativity. Their battery life can be fantastic - many last for more than 10 hours and some almost 14.

Chromebooks also have built-in virus protection and back up all your files online to the cloud rather than storing them on the actual device. As well as Google itself, most of the other major laptop manufacturers have produced them too, with Acer Chromebooks, HP Chromebooks and Asus Chromebooks all on the market.

Originally, Chromebooks were perceived as being notably cheaper than a traditional laptop, and while that's still the case for a lot of models, there has been a recent trend towards more high end Chromebooks that cost as much as a MacBook. These are for the real Chromebook enthusiast, but don't despair if your budget is tight, there are still bargains to be had. 

We round up the best Chromebooks available now - based on rigorous independent Which? tests - in the table below. Only logged in Which? members can view our Chromebook recommendations - so if you're not yet a Which? member, take a trial to Which? to get instant access.

 

 

Best Chromebooks

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82%
Best Buy
£629.00
Reviewed

This is our new favourite Chromebook. It's thin, light, has a great screen and is reasonably fast, too. It's more expensive than most Chromebooks, but it's also substantially better.

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70%
Best Buy
£699.00
Reviewed

This lovely Chromebook has a great screen and fast performance thanks to its Intel Core i5 processor. Its squarer screen also means it's better suited to working on documents than widescreen equivalents.

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65%
£449.00
Reviewed

This is a fine Chromebook for the money, but there are shortcomings that mean it won’t be for everybody. As a device to take out and about, it could be a good choice thanks to its great battery life and light weight.

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62%
£180.00
Reviewed

This Chromebook set the world alight with its speed, but if you’re after a laptop that does the basics without putting up a fuss and prioritise portability above all else, then you can do a lot worse.

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62%
£349.00
Reviewed

If you’re buying this laptop as a homework accomplice for a child, its small size and versatile design make this a good choice. However, if it’s to be used by an adult with more specific demands, issues with its screen might be off-putting.

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60%
£299.00
Reviewed

You get a lot of laptop for your money, with this large 15-incher ideal to replace an ageing desktop. It runs on ChromeOS, so its slightly slow processor doesn't feel as clunky as it would on a Windows 10 machine. You get what you pay for, but the price is so low that it's worth considering purely on that basis.

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Recommendations correct as of March 2019

Not found the right Chromebook for you? Jump straight to our laptop reviews page for more.

Should you buy a Chromebook?

If all you need is a cheap machine for checking emails and catching up on some TV, then a Chromebook could be the ideal bargain purchase. Similarly, if you've been considering an Android tablet, but don't want to part with your keyboard, then Chromebooks offer a handy halfway house.

But because they have barely any storage, they're not an obvious replacement for your desk or laptop PC. You'll barely have any space to save files and you might find some compatibility problems between their apps and traditional programs. Plus, they don't have DVD drives.

Pros: Chromebooks are cheap to buy and start up lightning-fast as they use solid state drives instead of traditional spinning hard drives. They don't tend to get viruses and your files are stored online in the cloud, so are better protected against data loss. Their bumper batteries are a bonus - some last around 14 hours, which is double the average Windows laptop.

Cons: There's little storage space on a Chromebook, so you can't keep files, photos or your music collection on them. This means you have to always be connected to the internet to access your files, or to run the web apps. You may miss using traditional programs (such as Word and Excel), though Google has app equivalents that carry out the same kind of tasks.

How do apps work on a Chromebook?

Like your smartphone or tablet, Chromebooks run web apps that you download instead of traditional programs physically installed on your computer, as used on PCs and Macs. For example, instead of using Microsoft Office to create documents, you can go to Google Drive to create and share files online. The Chrome Web Store helps you find the apps you need with its collections and app categories.

The Chrome Web Store contains a wide range of free and paid-for apps, extensions and themes, all designed for Chromebooks and the Chrome browser.

Microsoft Office isn’t available for Chrome OS, but that doesn’t mean that your work files aren’t supported. You can always use the native Google Drive to open and edit spreadsheets or documents. All your old documents, presentations and spreadsheets can be directly imported into Drive, allowing you to continue working without missing a step.

Can you work offline with a Chromebook?

Chromebooks do rely heavily on being consistently connected to wi-fi, but you can still work with a limited number of ‘offline’ apps. Any work completed while away from the wi-fi connection is instantly synced and saved to the cloud once you reconnect to the internet.

 

Furthermore, the offline mode isn’t enabled by default and it will take a few minutes to set up with additional plugins, so you can easily access your files.

If you wish to print from your Chromebook you'll need to have a printer with wireless or internet connectivity.

Want to know which are the best models? Our Best Buy Chromebooks page reveals our full list of recommended buys.

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