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Best Chromebook laptops for school

Chromebook users to get easy access to Linux apps
Chrome developers are working on project Crostini to bring containers for running Linux VMs on Chrome OS.
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Some people still think you need a Windows laptop or an Apple iPad for school. Nope. By FutureSource’s latest count of school computers, Windows is in decline, and iPads are holding their own, while Chromebook laptops grew to 60% of total K-12 school computer purchases in 2018.

Why buy a Chromebook? 

When it comes to school, you have to watch your pennies. Windows laptops, according to NPD, have an average price of $448. Apple? Please! Even if you buy a used Mac, you’re looking at over $500. You can get many excellent Chromebooks, like the Dell 11 Inspiron Chromebook for $170. It’s easy to do the math.

Chromebook laptops feature low prices and long battery lives. True, there are expensive Chromebooks, like Google’s super high-end Pixelbook, but you can get all the laptop your kid will ever need for less than $400. 

If you’re short on cash, you can often find used or older Chromebook laptops going for a song

What can you do with a Chromebook?

You might think a Chromebook is limited because it can only run programs when it’s online. That’s not true. For example, you can still work with Google Docs when you’re offline.  

Also, you can now run many Android apps on Chromebooks. And, these days you can run a full Linux desktop on your new Intel-based Chromebook. Indeed, as my tech buddy Mike Elgan points out, today’s high-end Chromebook laptops “run more apps without dual- or multi-booting than any other computing platform. Chromebook laptops can run apps from Android, Linux, and Windows concurrently in the same session.”

In addition, as FutureSource points out, when it comes to school work, Chromebook laptops combine “affordable devices, productivity tools via G-Suite, easy integration with third-party platforms/tools, task management/distribution via Google Classroom, and easy device management remains extremely popular with US teachers and IT buyers alike.”

One unsung advantage of Chromebook laptops is that, if your dog ate the Chromebook, you wouldn’t have lost your work. All you need do is get another one, log on, and you’re back in business with all your e-mail, documents, and calendars intact and ready to go.  Another sweet deal that comes when you buy a Chromebook is that you can get 100GB of free Google One cloud storage for a year. That’s more than enough room for your homework. 

And, since it’s easy to erase a Chromebook and then reset it to your account, this is safer than using a used Windows laptop. 

Best Chromebook laptops for school

In short, for school — or home or work — you can’t beat the multi-operating system, inexpensive, easy-to-use Chromebook. Here’s the best of the best for this coming school year. I’ve started with the least costly and go all the way up to the powerhouse Google Pixelbook. That’s the Chromebook for those who  simultaneously want what all Chromebook laptops can offer and a Linux laptop.

Dell Inspiron Chromebook-11-3181

Dell

Dell Inspiron Chromebook 11 Laptop for $170

For $170, Dell’s Inspiron Chromebook 11 laptop won’t hurt your budget. It’s also one sturdy little laptop, which can take a licking from your elementary school kiddo and keep on ticking. 

It comes with an 11.6-inch HD 1366 x 768 Anti-glare LED backlight display. This Chromebook weighs in at just over three pounds. 

As the price indicates, this is a stripped-down, no-frills model. With a 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3060 (dual-core, 2MB cache) processor — and for graphics, it uses the built-in Intel HD Graphics 400 chipset — this won’t set any speed records But then, Chrome OS doesn’t need a fast processor. 

Add this to its 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM and 16GB of eMMC flash storage, and you have all you need for any school work you’d want to do on a Chromebook. With a battery life of almost 12 hours, you can work through the school day and then follow up on your homework that night without needing to charge up. 

For connecting to the outside world, this Inspiron uses 802.11ac Wi-Fi and a pair of USB-3.1 ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, and a Micro SD card reader. It also comes with an HD webcam (1,280 x 720).

If you want a solid, inexpensive hard-working Chromebook, look no further. For $169, you’re not going to find better than the latest  Dell Inspiron Chromebook 11 laptop.

Acer Chromebook 14Acer Chromebook 14

Acer

Acer Chromebook 514 for $350

Starting at $350, Acer’s Chromebook 514 has a lot going for it, starting with its looks. With its metallic chassis, backlit keyboard, and Corning Gorilla Glass touchpad, it’s a remarkably attractive inexpensive Chromebook. This is not the laptop you should send to grade school with little Susie. It’s sturdy enough, but you don’t want to get chocolate milk besmirching its looks. It weighs in at 3.3 pounds.

The dual-core Intel Celeron 1.1GHz N3350 processor is slow and old, but again, with Chrome OS, you don’t need power. This CPU would be painfully slow for Windows. On a Chromebook, it’s just fine. It’s backed by Intel HD Graphics 500 chipset. This powers up a 14-inch 1,366-by-768-pixel display. 

For this price point, it comes with a generous 4GB of RAM and 32GB SSD. If you need more storage, it comes with a MicroSD card slot.

Another plus for this Chromebook is that it comes with a decent number of ports. This starts with USB Type-C port for power and data, another Type-C for data and DisplayPort graphics and a pair of USB Type-A 3.1 ports. 

Finally, like most Chromebooks laptops, it has outstanding battery life. Indeed, with almost 14 hours of working battery at your beck and call, you may run out of power even if you’re doing homework on a school trip to Europe. 

In short, the Acer Chromebook 514 is a nice machine. And, at $349, it’s affordable to boot.

asus-chromebook-flip.jpgasus-chromebook-flip.jpg

CNET

Asus Chromebook Flip C302a for $450

This year’s’ Asus Chromebook Flip C302a comes with a 12.5-inch touch-screen and 1,920×1,080-pixel resolution and a 360-degree display hinge, and it weighs in at less than 2.5 pounds. With Apple-like looks, it’s a pleasure to use, and you can carry it use it and anywhere. And, at a street price of $450, it’s a heck of a lot less than the Macbook Air, Apple’s current entry-level laptop. 

With a 2.2GHz Intel Core M3 processor, it won’t set any speed records, but then that’s more than fast enough Chrome OS. Add this to its 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC flash storage, you have all the power you need for any work you’d want to do on a Chromebook.

For connecting to the outside world, the Flip uses 802.11ac Wi-Fi and a pair of USB-C ports. Unfortunately, these ports don’t support the faster Thunderbolt 3 technology.

If you want a good-looking Chromebook with decent performance, a 10-hour-plus battery life, and a street price tag of $450, the Asus Chromebook Flip is a great laptop.

Samsung Pro ChromebookSamsung Pro Chromebook

CNET

Samsung Chromebook Pro for $480

You probably know Samsung best for its smartphones. It turns out, now that Android apps run on Chromebooks, it makes a mean Chromebook, too: The Samsung Chromebook Pro.

At a list price of $599, but street prices at down to $480, Samsung’s affordable if you look for a deal on it.  It comes with an excellent 12.3-inch 2,400-by-1,600 touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio. With its 360-degree hinge, Samsung is ideal for Android or Chrome OS tablet use. It also comes with a stylus for when you need fine control on the screen.

It has only a 900MHz Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor and 4GB of RAM. This is backed by an Intel HD Graphics 515 chipset. Still, it worked well, with multiple tabs while streaming HD video and running four Android applications at once. I was impressed by how much I could do on this Chromebook.

The Pro also comes with dual USB-C ports, 802.11ac Wi-FI, and 32 GBs of SSD storage. The battery life, at not-quite nine hours, is good, but not exceptional. Think about that for a moment, though: A few years ago, we would have killed for that kind of battery life.

In short, the Pro is a good solid Chromebook with excellent Android compatibility. If Android apps are essential to you, this is the Chromebook to buy.

Google PixelbookGoogle Pixelbook

Image: Josh Miller/CNET

Google Pixelbook for $999

I started my “portable” computer life with a 22-pound KayPro II in 1982. Since then, I’ve used IBM, and Lenovo ThinkPads, Compaq luggables, Nec Ultralites, Dell XPS 13s, the list goes on and on. These days, my laptop of choice is Google Pixelbook.

At a starting price of $999, this is not a Chromebook for everyone. But, if you want to make the most not just from Chrome OS, but from Android and Linux as well, it’s your Chromebook.

At a minimum, the Pixelbook comes with a 1.2GHz 7th gen Intel Core 7Y57 processor, 256GB of SSD storage, and 8GB of RAM.  You can also get a top-of-the-line Pixelbook with a 1.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-7Y75 processor, 512GB SSD, and 16GB of RAM for a list price of $1,649.

If you’re a student, you can also get a 10% discount on the Pixelbook 

The Pixelbook also has Google Assistant, built-in. You can get to it via its dedicated button on the Pixelbook’s keyboard or by simply saying “OK Google.” It’s context-sensitive, so it will open with search results for what you already have on screen.

This luxury-model Chromebook comes with a pair of USB-C ports. One of these, however, is used to power the system up. For Wi-Fi, it uses 802.11ac.

With a battery life of about 10 hours, it won’t last long as some of the others, but then you can do a lot more with it. On my high-end model, I’ve had over 100 tabs open, while running Android and Linux applications.

You sure wouldn’t want to give this Pixelbook to an elementary student, but an advanced high-school or college student would be another matter. The Pixelbook is meant for power users and developers, if that describes your daughter or son — or you — then get them this one. You’ll be glad you did.

Disclosure: ZDNet may earn a commission from some of the products featured on this page.

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