Chromebooks: Compact work machines
Chromebooks are becoming a real alternative to Windows in the entry-level segment. We show where Chrome OS is already better today – and where not.
Years ago, Chrome OS was virtually useless. Because basically Chrome OS on Chromebooks before 2016 was mainly the Chrome browser. The individual Google services like Docs, spreadsheets and presentations came only as browser extensions. Additional programs outside the browser? Nothing. Offline use was also very limited.
Since May 2016 this is different. Because since that time Chrome OS emulates every app available from the Google Play Store on the Chromebook. Suddenly, Chromebook users have access to the entire app world. The hardware requirements are lower than for a Windows 10 installation. Offline functionality has also improved thanks to the apps.
For this guide, we have looked at how Chromebooks stand up to cheap Windows 10 notebooks, or for which user scenarios Chromebooks are recommended and for which not. Macbooks with Mac OS are excluded, as they are in higher price ranges. Windows 10 S also plays no role in this comparison for the time being.
Ranking First: Google Pixelbook
- Chic styling
- Magesium alloy body
- High-quality 1080p camera
- Good audio output
- Long battery life
- Expensive for a Chromebook
- No digital stylus support
Hardware – only the best
For a high price Google offers you a lot. ” tested the version with Intel i5 processor, 8GB RAM and 256 GB SSD. But the Pixelbook is also available with i7, 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD – all completely fanless. Not only for a Chromebook this is a first-class equipment. The workmanship is impeccable. The device looks as if it’s made of one piece, lies incredibly well in the hand and the keyboard types very pleasantly. The keys are indeed very short, but we still wrote very precisely on them. The trackpad has a good size for the small laptop and reacts exactly and reliably, just like the touch display.
Two USB-C ports and a headphone jack are included, with the ability to drive a 4K monitor. Don’t plug the USB cable for charging into your HP notebook like we did. This is because our business laptop is completely greased twice. Google is probably allergic to other people’s devices or it is the first step to subject all electronic devices to Skynet.
The display has a resolution of 2400 x 1600 pixels, is accordingly pin sharp and has rich colors. There is nothing to complain about here. It can be folded down so that you can use the Pixelbook like a tablet. Often such 2-1 devices look clumsy and unwieldy in this form. The Pixelbook is one of the few exceptions. This is primarily due to its low weight and thickness. This is also one of the first big differences to the 2013 Chromebook pixel. The first premium Chromebook from Google.
The Pixelbook has a 360° rotatable display. You can set it up like a tent if you want to present something or watch a movie on it. Or you can fold the display completely over and use it like a tablet. This is where the optional pen comes into play, for which you pay an extra 140 Dollar. At least some Wacom pens are compatible. The Pixelbook Pen works on an AAAA battery. Simply unscrew it, insert the battery, touch the display and the thing is ready for use. It couldn’t be simpler. Afterwards, however, it took us about an hour to figure out how to use the button on it. In the manual it only says: Press the button to use the Google Assistant. Nothing happens. No matter how hard we pressed, long or double. What is the problem? The Assistant doesn’t pop up as usually. Instead, if you hold the button down, you can use the pen to mark things on the screen, which the Assistant will then interpret. So a word, a sentence or a picture. That’s really handy, primarily of course if you use the Pixelbook as a tablet. With the pen, the device aims for a similar application area as the iPad Pro, which in turn mimics the Surface.
Verdict: The best Chromebook ever, but is it enough?
The Pixelbook is an impressive piece of hardware. You want to own it, but there are simply too many limitations. The surfing experience is probably the best you can get on any device. But even if the browser doesn’t run as smoothly everywhere as it does on the Pixelbook, few people are likely to buy a new device because of it. The small selection of apps that are compatible with the pen make it a hard sell. Yes, you can install Android apps, and with them you potentially have millions of applications at your disposal. But since Android tablets already lag behind the iPad in this respect, the Chromebook looks even older. You are always pushing the limits. Depending on how hard you are willing to accept workarounds, the Pixelbook will still be a very productive machine. Without the ballast of a Windows or MacOS the system runs extremely smooth and in 90 percent of the cases Chrome OS is enough for you. Since the 2011 release, a lot has changed, from the intuitive user interface to the integration of the Google Assistant and practical functions such as unlocking with the smartphone.
Thanks to pen support, the operating system is on the right track to remain an attractive alternative, especially for students. At a price of 700 Dollar, however, the question arises as to who buys a pixelbook. It’s a nice device that cuts a good figure all round on the hardware side, it is not difficult to recommend it to anyone. If you are sure that Chrome OS covers all your needs and you want to have the best Chromebook of all, then the Pixelbook is the right one for you.
Second: Asus Chromebook Flip C434
- Elegant design
- Excellent battery life
- Restricted tablet mode
- High price
The Chromebook Flip C434
Due to its positioning in the upper class, the Chromebook Flip C434 has a higher price than usual for a Chromebook. It will cost at least 599 Dolar for the cheapest configuration. At this price, you’ll get the version with an Intel Core m3-8100Y with 1.1 GHz, 8 GB RAM and 64 GB internal memory. For our review, we tested the version with an Intel Core i5 of the 8th generation, 8 GByte RAM and 64 GByte internal memory.
Laptop and tablet in one
Asus does not change a formula that works. The Chromebook Flip C434 replaces the popular predecessor Flip C302. Like the latter, the Flip C434 also has a 360 degree hinge that allows it to be used as a tablet. Although the format does not change significantly (15.7 mm thick and weighing 1.45 kg), the new Chromebook benefits from advances in display edges. The Chromebook now offers a 14-inch diagonal with almost no frame, compared to 12.5 inches previously. So more display on the same surface.
The Chromebook Flip C434 is completely made of metal, the case is made of aluminium all around. The design is homogeneous in appearance, regardless of whether the C434 is used in laptop or tablet mode. In practice, the Chromebook Flip C434 is one of the highest quality Chromebooks on the market. Its 16:9 format makes it compact and easy to carry in a backpack.
It’s not surprising to find a backlit keyboard with a relatively long keystroke (1.4 mm key spacing) in the Chromebook. When typing, I was more than happy to use the Flip C434. My only regret is the backlighting of the keyboard and its intensity. Sometimes the keys can’t be distinguished properly due to the dim light. The plastic touchpad underneath the keyboard is big enough, but doesn’t reach the size or quality of a Macbook or Matebook, and the Asus ErgoLift hinge, which raises the back of the keyboard for a more comfortable typing experience, could be made even better.
The Chromebook Flip C434 offers good connectivity with two USB-C ports and a large USB-A port. Good, you’ll need fewer dingles and adapters. There are two speakers integrated in the base of the computer, and there is also a mini jack socket. Via microSD you can expand the memory.
A very nice screen
The IPS display of the Asus Flip C434 is simply outstanding. Its narrow edges allow you to enjoy a 14-inch screen in a 13-inch case. The Full HD resolution (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) provides an excellent picture. We could have hoped for a QHD definition, but in everyday use it doesn’t bother us and it’s simply necessary to make concessions every now and then to keep the price down.
There’s also nothing to complain about in terms of brightness or viewing angles. The 16:9 format is ideal for video streaming. On top, above the screen, there is a webcam that offers a fairly simple HD resolution, but does the job for a few video calls. That’s all it needs. The screen is touch-sensitive and its responsiveness is excellent.
Weak as a tablet
The interesting feature of this Chromebook is the ability to flip the display over to use it in tablet mode. While the idea is good, the practice is less successful. The Chromebook is too heavy and unwieldy, the use as a tablet is no fun at all.
The multi-window mode is also missing in tablet mode and you have to use the not very good virtual keyboard. Finally, many applications and games can’t be downloaded to the device, so this is not necessarily the best use for this Chromebook.
Nine hours battery life
Let’s end this review of the Chromebook Flip C434 with one of the device’s strengths, namely its battery life. Asus promises ten hours. In practice, I worked at least more than nine hours without any problems, all with a screen brightness of about 70 percent, connected to a stable Wifi and without Android apps in the background. A type C USB charger is required for charging. Plan about an hour for a full charge.
Yes, the Asus Chromebook Flip C434 is one of the best chromebooks on the market. The Taiwanese manufacturer’s new factory has taken up the best features of its predecessor (C302) and at the same time offers new options that optimize design and performance. The strength of Chrome OS and Google’s recent efforts to improve its system means that a bright future for this computer can be expected.
However, this nice result is spoiled by two things: its tablet mode, which is ultimately not very useful, and above all its price, which shouldn’t exactly please the users and fans of Chromebooks.
Third: The ASUS Chromebook C425
- Simple but nice design
- Solid quality
- Good display
The best no-frills Chromebook
The C425 has a washed-out, touch-free screen and a weaker case than the HP Chromebook x360 14, but it’s fast enough and its keyboard and trackpad are reliable.
The Asus Chromebook C425TA is the best no-frills Chromebook; it’s much faster and cheaper than most competitors. Its plastic case has more flexibility than the HP Chromebook x360 14, and it has a duller looking, touch-free screen, but it’s a solid clamshell laptop. The keyboard and trackpad are responsive, the screen is great for documents and spreadsheets, and the battery life is enough to last a full day of work or lessons. It’s also lighter and more compact than our top pick. Most people will be more satisfied with the HP x360’s more beautiful screen and superior workmanship, but this is the Chromebook I would buy if the budget is a bit lower.
We recommend the DH384 model with a 14-inch 1920×1080 IPS display, an Intel Core m3-8100Y processor, 8GB of memory and 64GB of RAM. The full price is around 500 Dollar, but we have seen that it starts at 380 Dollar, which is an excellent price for a good but basic Chromebook.
The C425’s keyboard is responsive and the keys have a deep stroke, although they are not as fast and pleasant to use as those of the HP x360. Because the C425 is made of plastic, the keyboard flexes much more under pressure than the x360 and the all-metal Asus Chromebook Flip C434; this flex doesn’t interfere with the light keying, but as a pound-the-key writer it can be annoying. And the C425 has silver keys and a white backlight, which together make the keyboard legends difficult to read in a well lit room. You can turn off the backlight when there is enough light to see the keys, but you shouldn’t have to.
The trackpad of the Asus Chromebook C425 is responsive and even a bit wider than the HP x360’s spacious trackpad. It is a significant improvement over the narrow trackpad of the Asus Chromebook C434.
In our battery life test, the Asus C425 lasted 12 hours, 51 minutes, about one hour less than the HP x360, but otherwise in line with the other models we tested at the end of 2019. It’s long enough to get you through a full day of work or lessons. It’s also much more compact and lighter than the HP Chromebook x360 14 – the C425 weighs just 2.93 pounds and measures 12.67 by 8.19 by 0.67 inches. If you prefer a lighter, more compact laptop, the C425 is for you.
The Asus Chromebook C425 has exactly the same connectors as our other picks: two USB C ports, one USB A port, a headphone jack and a microSD card slot. It also has guaranteed update support until June 2026, and it comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty and 100 GB of Google One memory for one year.
The Asus Chromebook C425 is a normal, boring laptop – no touchscreen, no 360 degree hinge. These additional features have become common in most Chromebooks in recent years, but ChromeOS is still not optimized for touch, so the C425 doesn’t suffer without them. The C425’s 14-inch, 1920×1080 screen is much duller, and the colors (especially purple tones) look more blurred than on the displays of our other picks. It’s fine for document work, but it can make Netflix look a little sad. If you need a large screen, choose one of our other tips.
Fourth: Acer Chromebook 15
- Crisp visuals
- Touchscreen controls
- Firm, well-sized keyboard
- Chrome OS is basic
- Large and heavy
- Battery life relatively weak, when compared to competition
Acer gives its new Chromebook a black chiclet keyboard. All keys are built in sufficiently firmly and don’t give way too much at the corners. The stroke is very soft and somewhat short, which is why typing is a bit spongy. Unfortunately, a clear edge of the letters’ imprint can be seen. The background noise remains pleasantly quiet and muffled even with unrestrained typists. As usual in Chromebooks, the F keys have been replaced by shortcuts. These have the same purpose as the known Fn combinations. We unfortunately can’t find any other special keys or a numpad in the large notebook.
We like the large dimensioned trackpad of the Acer. The smooth surface aims for perfect gliding. For the most part, inputs close to the edge and corners are also recognized without problems. Even multi-touch gestures, such as scrolling web pages, succeed constantly smoothly and without delay. The two built-in keys emit a bright clicking noise. The firmness of the individual keys increases towards the center.
Special attention should be paid to the display of the CB5: The test device in our equipment costs just 370 Dollar. You don’t have to make any concessions regarding the display, as Acer equips its Chromebook with a viewing angle stable IPS panel. The HP Chromebook, for example, is a competitor at the same price and only has a 1366 x 768 pixel resolution, reflective TN panel. However, the Acer has to plug in a bit in terms of brightness.
Outdoor use is not denied with Acer’s Chromebook 15. The illumination turns out too low for outdoor use, though, so only shady places should be visited to guarantee a carefree working environment. Thanks to the matt display, direct light sources hardly disturb.
Due to the selected IPS panel, the acer’s screen can also be viewed from the side. The subjective perception of colours and greyscales is very satisfying, especially for this price category. A detailed analysis can unfortunately not be made due to the Chrome-OS operating system.
The Acer Chromebook CB5 trumps in several categories at once. It has an economical processor inside, but it perfectly complements the RAM and works exemplarily in the Google operating system. Although the test device leads the Chromebooks’ benchmark tables, the manufacturer even allows an even more powerful CPU for an additional 100 Dollar. Furthermore, potential buyers not only get a viewing angle stable, but also a matt display. Equivalent counterparts like the HP Chromebook G1 can only have a TN panel. The battery life of 9 hours catches the eye just as positively.
One could easily think that the Acer doesn’t have any shady sides. But concessions have to be made in terms of keyboard and workmanship: The keyboard is spongy and is only suitable for longer typing tasks to a limited extent.
Fifth: HP 15 Chromebook
- Light and yet robust housing
- Long battery life
- Good keyboard
- Always stays cool and silent
- Moderate display (colors, contrast)
- Operating system with limited functionality
About the HP 15 Chromebook
The HP Chromebook 15 has a huge, vivid screen that’s ideal for viewing Netflix and working in multiple windows, but it’s huge and heavy.
If you want a big, beautiful screen and don’t need to take your laptop with you often, get the HP Chromebook 15, which is similar in design and quality to the HP Chromebook x360 14, but has a larger screen and is more voluminous and heavy. We recommend the de0010nr model with a 15.6-inch 1920×1080 IPS touchscreen, an Intel Pentium Gold 4417U processor, 4 GB of memory and 64 GB of storage. HP also offers a de0517wm model with an Intel Core i3-8130U processor and 128 GB of memory – most people won’t need to spend more on this more powerful model, but if it’s a similar price or even cheaper, it’s worth it.
Chromebooks have been on the market for a few years now, but remain exotic. Google’s lightweight operating system Chrome OS is strongly interwoven with the manufacturer’s services and is therefore especially worthwhile for those who frequently use services such as Gmail, Google Docs, Maps and Co. In the meantime, the system, which runs completely in a browser, can also run Android apps from the Play Store. The touchscreen function of the display is a great help for these apps. Apart from the exotic operating system, you can get a lot for little money. The performance is easily enough for everyday use, the case makes a noble impression and the battery lasts for a long time. The display isn’t a real highlight, though. Colors and contrasts simply turn out too weak.
The HP Chromebook 15 is a solid Chromebook. Do not expect any fancy features. However, as an entry model for users interested to get in into Chromebooks this is a great option without having to comproise too much. The price is very fair.
More about Chromebooks
In comparison to other notebooks, the focus of Chromebooks is not on the hardware. It should be easy to replace if necessary, and this without any changes or loss of programs or data. For this purpose the Chromebook is usually connected to the Internet cloud.
The permanent online access makes it possible to use all functions. So the connection to the Google apps and to the own cloud data is guaranteed.
With a Chromebook you are usually always online. This makes it easy to retrieve mails, research on the Internet or play games. The exchange with colleagues and updates in the calendar also work great.
How does a Chromebook work?
A Chromebook is extremely user-oriented due to its special features. It is intuitive to use and has pre-installed virus protection. In addition, the Chromebooks from the test convince with their strong battery. This often lasts for several hours, so that you can work or surf without interruption.
The users stay constantly up to date by connecting to their Google account. This means that they are always protected by the latest virus protection and can also always access the new functions.
The Chromebook maintains its fast speed no matter how long you use it. You only need to log in once with a Google account and the applications can be started without unnecessary waiting time. Chrome OS gives you permanent access to your cloud data and online applications.
Advantages & Applications
The comparison with other notebooks shows how quickly the Chromebook starts. You have to wait a maximum of 8 seconds after switching on the device until it is ready for use and you can access the internet. The basis for this is, among other things, guaranteed by the pre-installed operating system. With Chrome OS you have a slimmed down version of a web browser.
This ensures that all applications run via Chrome: So there’s no need to install the applications on the mobile device. For this reason, there is no need to update manually when a new version of the program is available.
The Chrome system also eliminates the need to adjust security settings. All updates for your operating system and browser are done automatically when the Chromebook is connected to the Internet. When the applications are updated, the update is done via the corresponding servers of the app providers.
Because Chromebook only works with web applications, no extensive hardware is needed. Nevertheless, labor-intensive applications can be performed well. Whether you edit videos or pictures, with the right web service you’ll soon have these tasks done. All you have to do is upload the data to be edited – a video or a graphic.
The Chromebooks from the test can be synchronized with smartphones, tablets and other devices. As soon as you have logged on to the device with your Google account, you can access the files in the cloud. This practical feature makes a Chromebook not only suitable for private surfing the Internet, but also for work.
Even with very cheap Chromebooks, it only takes about ten seconds to enter a password, then another five seconds or so until Chrome OS is fully operational. Closing the Chromebook reliably puts it into sleep mode, and after opening it, the system is immediately back. Shutting down is possible within a few seconds. The speedy Chrome OS performance is very similar to that of Macbooks.
In Windows, the times for booting up and shutting down, hibernating and waking up differ significantly from device to device. Overall, you can easily count on double the time in comparable price regions, though.
If you work on many file levels, you will not want to turn your back on Windows. After all, file management is one of the great strengths of the operating system. Even Mac OS users sometimes look enviously at Windows with its perfectly integrated Explorer. Especially the clear file structure, the good file preview, the easy moving, cutting and copying as well as the many options, many Windows users would miss on Chrome OS. Whoever has a problem with the Windows Explorer will find good alternatives in Freecommander XE, Total Commander and Q-Dir.
Nevertheless, you can also shove files back and forth on Chromebooks. For this purpose there are countless third party file managers like File Manager+, Total Commander and Astro Manager available. USB sticks, micro-SD cards and external hard disks also understand both systems, as long as they are correctly formatted.
The Chrome browser offers virtually the same user experience on a Chromebook as on a Windows computer. All extensions and options are available. Also, websites present themselves exactly as they do on Windows. But this is only true for Chrome. Although other browsers such as Firefox can be installed via the Playstore, they have the same functionality as on an Android smartphone.
Chromebooks have long since stopped relying exclusively on Google Docs, spreadsheets and presentations. Although they have become really good and are a real competition to the classic Microsoft programs. They are not only available as web applications in Chrome browsers, but also as stand-alone apps. No matter whether in the browser or in the app: you can also work with them offline. Alternatively, users can of course also use Microsoft Word, WPS Office, Polaris Office and countless other alternatives.
The Office programs are Microsoft’s cash cow. And rightly so! Microsoft Office has proven itself millions of times and is one of the best, if not the best software for everyday office life. There are plenty of alternatives on Windows.
Professionals use Windows and the Creative Suite running on it. But professionals also invest more than 600 Dollar in their work computer. This is because cheap Windows notebooks with weak hardware can run Photoshop and the like without any problems, but take much longer than a professional would wish for each individual work step.
Countless image editing apps are available on Chrome OS. Even if they cannot compete with Photoshop in terms of functionality, they should be sufficient for most users. The best apps include Photoshop Lightroom, Photoshop Express and Snapseed.
Music / Videos
If you prefer to listen to music and watch videos mainly via streaming, Chrome OS is easily ahead. Not only does the Chrome browser support all providers, but the Google Play Store leaves nothing to be desired. Streaming apps run wonderfully in full screen on Chrome OS. Windows can also stream perfectly, but in the lower price segment everything takes a bit longer than on Chromebooks.
Some streamers like Netflix and Amazon Video offer a download of the videos for offline use. Amazon Video only works on Android/iOS and Chrome OS, but not on Windows.
If you prefer to use files for media consumption, Windows might be better – especially if the file formats are very exotic, Windows has slight advantages when reading. But not necessarily, after all, Chrome OS video players like VLC, for example, have no problems with .mkv files.
Neither cheap Chromebooks, nor cheap Windows 10 notebooks are first choice for gamers. Their hardware is simply too weak for that. Nevertheless, it is possible to game on them. For example, Asphalt 9 runs quite acceptably on cheap chromebooks. The app immediately opens in full screen mode and recognizes the keyboard for control input. This works less well on other games. For example, the Mariokart, which is designed for upright use and touch control, doesn’t recognize the keyboard. The game wouldn’t work as well with it. Mariokart runs as well on convertible chromebooks in tablet mode as on (very large) smartphones or even Android tablets. If the Chromebook plays along. Because the emulation of Android apps costs power, which you can clearly see in Mariokart. Partly the game plays like in slow motion mode. Chromebooks with a strong i5 processor deliver a smooth display.
Windows offers a considerably larger selection of AAA gaming titles. Whether these then run smoothly on a cheap notebook depends primarily on the notebook’s hardware. Starting with an i5, 8 GByte RAM and a current Intel Graphics On-Board graphics card or even a Geforce MX, most current games should run smoothly with medium graphics settings.
In the gaming category, Windows is ahead of Chrome OS. This is mainly due to the fact that its games are programmed for Windows and a keyboard/mouse combination and don’t have to be emulated like in Chrome OS and are designed for predominantly touch control. Also, the selection of Windows games is of higher quality.
Even if we haven’t (yet) measured this explicitly for each device, we can already say after a few days of trial and error that Chromebooks run significantly longer on average than Windows notebooks. This is mainly due to the slim software, which puts less strain on power-consuming components like the processor.
Chrome OS offers many small tricks that make everyday life a little easier. For example, its close connection to an Android smartphone helps. Should it ever be outside a Wifi network, it recognizes the linked smartphone and offers a connection via a hotspot. You can also unlock the Chromebook via your phone. If you click on a phone number on your Chromebook in the browser, your phone will dial this number. There are many such tricks.
Chrome OS runs Linux (beta) to develop software on Chromebook. You can install Linux command line tools, code editors and IDEs on Chromebook and use it to write code, create apps and more.
What should I look out for when buying Chromebooks?
Whoever wants to buy a Chromebook should know about the different apps and know the differences to the classic laptop. The Chrome OS operating system works a little differently than Windows, so you have to rethink the programs. On the one hand, this makes it easier to use, because you don’t need to install any software. Instead, you set up the apps via online connection. The Google services are available here. With Google Mails and the Google Play Store you have access to all important programs.
The Chromebooks don’t need a high capacity for memory. Just like when using the programs, you simply go on the internet: The cloud memory is always available here to store files securely.
If you choose Google Drive, you get free cloud storage with 100 GB capacity for 24 months. Other offers are also available, so you can order the appropriate version and the necessary storage capacity.
Thanks to the wide range of apps, the Chromebooks from the review can be adapted to suit everyday and special needs. You can use them for learning and reading, chatting or various work and games.