Latest posts by Ahmad Imran (see all)
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I first published this article here in July 2015. It is fully revised and rewritten in February 2017 as I have been using the chromebooks for nearly 3 years now. I am on my 4th chromebook at present and intend to replace it with the fifth in the first half of 2017.
Chromebooks are lightweight personal computers which are more than capable to handle light to moderate computing tasks.
In fact, for a user like me, a chromebook is all I need for my day to day computer use and online browsing requirements.
I gave up my 20 years of friendship with the Windows in favour of the chromebook in summer 2014. Since then, I have been a satisfied user of the chromebooks. Despite some limitations, chromebooks are generally to-the-point and no-hassle devices. The strengths of a chromebook outweigh its weaknesses by a big margin.
So the question is how to choose a chromebook that is appropriate for your needs?
What are the key factors you should be looking at in selecting your next chromebook?
Let me make this process simpler for you.
Hang around till the end of this article and you will get many answers which will assist you to make your decision in getting your ideal chromebook.
I am assuming that if you are reading this article, you are aware of the concept of the Chrome OS and the chromebooks.
chromebooks are not to be confused with the more traditional Windows or Mac based personal computers. If you don’t know much about these devices and the Chrome OS in general, a short 7 minutes video below by JimsReviewRoom will give you a good flavour.
On the other hand, you might be an existing user of the chromebook and just thinking to go for an upgrade.
Or perhaps just keen to get your first chromebook.
Wherever you stand, this article is a list of my top 7 factors to consider when you are in the market to buy a chromebook for personal use.
They are ranked in the order of priority based on my experience as a common user of the chromebooks.
I appreciate that these factors can go up or down based on your own individual circumstances. However, they should form a basic framework for you to select the right chromebook for your needs.
Let us start.
No one likes to use a personal computer which is slow, lags and generally not up to the mark.
Chromebook is a light and to-the-point device which is built with simplicity in mind. It is designed to get the task done quickly and with no hassle. So it has to be super-responsive, snappy and smooth.
To me, a laggy and slow performance is unacceptable.
And this is the first thing I look for in my chromebook.
Although there are many factors that contribute to the performance and speed of a chromebook, it is primarily down to the processing chip (processor) and the amount of RAM which make the biggest difference.
ARM based processors (Exynos, Rockchip, MediTek and Nvidia Tegra etc.) are generally fanless type and hence quieter and less demanding. However, they are relatively on a slower side as compared to the Intel based processors when it comes to multitasking (exceptions are possible).
“I prefer the Intel based chips in my chromebook but this is purely my own preference. Yours can vary depending on your nature of use.”
Within the Intel high-end range, we have the chromebooks with Core i7, i5 and i3 chips now and this set of machines are generally considered faster as compared to the other types of processing chips such as the Core M and Celeron ranges. The downsides are price, battery life and noise/getting warm (to some extent).
I am currently using the Core i3 version of the Dell 13 chromebook and for my day to day use, I have found it to be perfectly responsive and snappy.
If you are looking for a chromebook in 2017, I will recommend you to look for the Core i3 or above. However, some Core M and Celeron processors can be very good and equally acceptable as well as long as there are ample cache and RAM to support the processor.
Head over to this comparison spreadsheet at ChromebookChart to see different chromebook models with their processor types and the relevant Octane benchmark results to demonstrate their speed and performance.
As far as the RAM is concerned, except a few newer models with 8GM RAM or above (pricier variants), most of the chromebooks come with either 2 or 4 GB RAM installed in them. I am more inclined to the 4GB machines and want to see it as a minimum standard going forward. I have found the 2 GB machines to be relatively less responsive when a few tabs are opened simultaneously.
I am currently using a Dell 13 chromebook which has the 4GB RAM. This is a fast machine for me and has never let me down as a common user on the speed and performance front.
So how important is the speed and performance for you ?
If it is on top of the list for you (like me), spend some more time and investigate your options before making a decision.
Last thing you want is that your brand new machine in a few weeks time make you realise that you should have gone for a better processor or more RAM.
Chromebook feels excellent when it is quick and snappy.
Chromebooks come in different screen sizes but the most common sizes are either 11.6″ or 13.3″/14″ screens.
15.6” chromebook screen size is not common
In late 2015, Acer brought us the 15.6″ screen size chromebook (Acer Chromebook 15).
While this model was well received by the majority of the chromebook community and fans, I personally do not like this size in chromebooks. To me, it is too big and affects the portability of the device.
But it is a highly subjective matter.
Your requirements and circumstances might be different to mine and a bigger screen might be something critical for you in which case the Acer’s 15 inch chromebook should be a worthy consideration for you.
Mainstream options – 11.6” to 14” and everything in between
I have used both the 11.6″ (Acer C720 and HP 11) and the 14″ (HP 14 and Dell 13) screen sizes.
The Comparison between 11.6″ and the 13.3″/14″ options is an interesting one.
If I summarise it briefly, I would suggest going for an 11.6″ option if portability and mobility are of paramount importance to you. However, a perfect balance of portability and usability (user experience) comes from a 13.3″/14″ screen size in my opinion.
In early 2017, we have seen an emerging trend in chromebooks where ASUS Chromebook Flip C302 and the Samsung Chromebook Pro/Plus have the 12.5” and 12.3” screens respectively. Also note that the aspect ratio is 3:2 in Samsung chromebooks as opposed to a more common and wider 16:9 aspect ratio. I believe this can be useful for running the Android apps when they are available in standard and stable channels.
I am keen to try these “in-between” screen sizes. I hope they don’t feel a touch too small to my taste.
Which screen size is perfect for your needs ?
Are you like me who prefers 13.3”/14” as a maximum display size?
Except the Google Pixel range (which is not for masses in my opinion), majority of the chromebooks are generally a good value for money. The reason is lesser reliance on the hardware due to cloud-inclined computing style.
In early 2017, we have started to see the premium quality chromebooks touching the £450 mark ($500) and above. However, if you are budget conscious, you can get a decent chromebook around £300 mark ($350)
I bought my first chromebook for £120 (a second hand HP 11 – Gen 2).
The second one was an Acer C720 for £179 (new) and then the HP 14 for £229 (new).
I am now on my 4th chromebook, a Dell 13 which I bought brand new for £460.
Head over to your local Amazon or Ebay to get a better view about the prices of the current models in your region. I have personally found the Amazon and Ebay prices to be competitive and better value.
You can tell, they are not expensive devices as compared to their Windows and Macs counterparts. Having said that, depending upon the model you choose (processor, RAM, memory, screen, battery life and other features), the prices will fluctuate accordingly.
“It all depends on your budget and how much you want to spend in buying a chromebook for yourself.”
If it is your first time, I suggest doing something like what I did. A second hand cheap but decent enough chromebook to start with – getting used to the environment and jump on to the next better device in a few months time.
This gives you some time to think, explore and evaluate different options based on your requirements.
The key is to strike the balance between your needs, luxury and the budget available.
Design is a general term and contributes directly to our user-experience of the machine.
The primary contributors are the weight, size, ergonomics, material and build quality, keyboard and trackpad quality and buttons/controls placement.
Weight is a critical one for me.
There is nothing to hide. I don’t like heavy machines. I want my chromebook to be as light as possible but still sturdy enough for day to day use. And generally speaking, chromebooks are great in terms of their light-weightiness. I still miss my first HP 11 Chromebook (ARM based) which was only about a kilogram in weight.
If you want to carry your chromebook around with you more frequently, it is worth investigating for a model which is not very heavy.
Material and build quality of the chromebooks are important too.
Due to their competitive price tag, chromebooks are generally made of plastic and are not very premium looking (Google’s Pixel is an exception). However, there are certainly some manufacturers and models which are better than others and will not disappoint you.
In late last year and 2017 however, I can see a trend-change already.
The chromebooks are being produced with more emphasis on design and form factor now as compared to the past. Acer 14, HP 13, ASUS C302 Flip and Samsung Chromebook Pro/Plus are some of the examples of premium design in chromebooks.
I am currently using the Dell Chromebook 13 and wrote about its design in detail previously. While it is not metal finish, the premium looking carbon fiber body is a unique material that Dell has used in this business range chromebooks.
Keyboard and trackpad are important if you are a student, writer or anyone who has a significant use of these two input methods. It is vital that the keyboard is comfortable and the trackpad is not making you feel tired. The best advice I can give you is to pop into your local store and try it on a display chromebook unit to get a feel about the quality of its components.
Buttons and controls placement add to the practicality of the design. A well designed and well-positioned controls such as USB ports, HDMI port, SD card slot, charging and locking ports and audio jack etc. are only going to make your life easier.
It is not only “how it looks” that I call the design, it is how it functions as well.
At the end of the day, design is just a tool to enhance your user experience and feel about the device.
The most common resolution you are going to get in the chromebooks at the time of writing this article is 1366×768 pixels.
I don’t like that.
I think that in this day and age, the standard should be 1080p resolution (1920×1080).
In 2016 and onward, we have noticed that many manufacturers have started producing more chromebooks with full-HD 1080p resolution screens.
This is a welcome trend. The whole user experience is enhanced due to rich, immersive and better picture quality. Please also note that it is not just the resolution which affects the picture quality, the type of panel (TN, IPS, AMOLED etc.) also plays a crucial role in the overall screen quality of a chromebook.
“When I changed from HD to full-HD screen in my current chromebook, only then I realised how big a difference it makes in your overall user experience.”
I highly suggest you to go for a full-HD screen or better in your chromebook. It might cost you a bit more but it is worth an investment in 2017 and going forward.
Where do you stand?
Are the screen resolution and picture quality important for you?
My current chromebook gives me more than 7 hours of battery life.
It is a heaven – because my work Windows laptop gives me 3 hours at a push.
Chromebooks due to the nature of their operating system and relatively less intensive hardware are good on battery life. They last longer than their Windows and Mac counterparts generally. However, within different chromebook models, you will notice that the real-life battery span ranges from a couple of hours to 8 hours or even more.
If you are out and about mostly and want to have a long battery life on your chromebook, look for the chromebook which gives you over 8 hours of use on a single charge.
“Almost all the newer chromebooks I have come across give you a plenty of battery life. Normally between 6 to 10 hours. A great plus point.”
All the chromebooks that I have used so far, came with a built-in battery which is not removable and replaceable easily. Something to keep in mind when you are buying your next chromebook.
Things go wrong and a machine is no exception.
You need to be prepared for this.
A good and reputable make generally offers good customer service and return/exchange/repair service depending on your mode of purchase and other terms and conditions.
I never had an experience with the chromebook where I had to take it back for repair or return etc. hence I am reluctant to expand it any further.
I do appreciate though that it is important to go for a make which is reputable for its customer service and after sales dealings.
“In essence, choosing a reputable and established manufacturer for your chromebook is a wise decision which will give you a peace of mind in the long run.”
Another factor worth considering is the “End of Life” date for a specific chromebook or a Chrome device (thanks Stephen Gale for your comment and highlighting this point). Generally 5 years from the date of release for a chromebook, this is the date after which Google considers the device to be obsolete and can not guarantee future updates and device support. Google has published a table with different chromebooks and their End of Life date.
This might not be an issue for new purchases but for those who consider buying a second hand chromebook released a few years back, might need to keep this in mind.
So these are my 7 main factors to consider when I am trying to compare and weigh up the different chromebook options for my next purchase.
As I mentioned earlier, their sequence may be different for you depending on your circumstances. Also, it is possible that I might have missed a point or two which are critical for you based on your requirements.
Tell us what are your main points to consider in selecting a chromebook for your personal use?
I hope this article has given you an insight into key factors in choosing the right chromebook for your use.
Go and explore your options.
I want you to make an informed and better decision.
And then share with us which model did you go for.