What to look for in a good Chromebook for back to school

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Chromebooks have become a standard for education and you might even be considering one for the new school year. They’re inexpensive, but before you buy, here’s how to make sure the one you’re getting is worth it.

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“There are so many terrible Chromebooks out there,” started Wirecutter editor Kimber Streams. Streams has been testing Chromebooks for 6 years and knows how to pick a good one.

“I was surprised to find out that they do so much more than most people tend to think,” said Streams, who recently posted the test results in this Wirecutter Chromebook guide.

Chromebooks basically run a glorified web browser known as Chrome OS.

“You can check your email, you can check your social media, you can work with documents, you can take Zoom calls,” explained Streams.

What you can’t do is run Windows or Mac-specific apps. This is less of an issue these days, as most of what we need to accomplish can be done on the web. Additionally, there is usually an Android or web-based equivalent to any software you might need.

The other nice thing about Chromebooks: they don’t need antivirus, there’s no bloatware and no lengthy software updates.

“The main thing you’re looking for is good enough performance, that’s number one,” says Streams.

Kimber Streams, Wirecutter Senior Staff Writer

When shopping for a Chromebook, you want a good processor, long battery life, a comfortable keyboard, a 1080p display, and at least 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage.

Kimber’s top pick is the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5 which is around $400.

“The Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5 is one of my favorite Chromebooks I’ve used in a really long time,” says Streams.

The runner up is the Acer Chromebook 714, at around $500.

The Acer Chromebook 712 was designed with education in mind. It’s about $300 and surprisingly durable.

“It has bumpers around the edge to protect it from impact and drops, but also it has a spill-resistant keyboard,” explains Streams.

Acer Chromebook 712

If you really want a top of the line Chromebook, check out Google’s Pixelbook Go. It has the build quality of a premium Dell or MacBook laptop. At $650, it’s considered pricey, but not when you compare it to those laptops, which would cost hundreds of dollars more. Of course, you can do a lot more with the Dell or the MacBook.

No matter what you decide to buy, keep an eye on the specs to avoid a slow, frustrating experience. You definitely want to be able to run a Zoom call and have a bunch of tabs open without your Chromebook slowing down to a crawl.

Also, be on the lookout for deals on Chromebook at Costco. They generally have a few models in stock.

“They get better every single year, but there are still so many [Chromebooks] that no one should buy,” concluded Streams.

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