The Good News About Chromebooks: Part Five

If you’re convinced that your next computer is going to be a Chromebook, then good for you! You have seen the light and accepted the good news about Chromebooks; but which one should you buy? In this, the final installment of my “Good News About Chromebooks” series, I will try to help you shop.

The market for Chromebooks is always changing, so first, I’ll offer some evergreen advice on where to look, and what to look for in a Chromebook. Next, I will offer some specific advice on what Chromebooks to consider today, in November of 2022.

General Shopping Tips:

person walking inside building near glass
Photo by Heidi Fin on Unsplash

#1: Whatever you do, don’t start by looking at a store. In the store, you’re going to see whatever dusty old museum pieces they’ve acquired over the years. There will be, like, four of them, and collectively they will have been produced over a span of, oh I’d say, about 6 years.

Buying your Chromebook is going to be more like buying an engagement ring. Load up on research online, and know exactly what you want, and learn all your best options. Then, and only then, try to locate one in the physical world. Most likely, it will need to be shipped to you.

#2: Try to read reviews from sites that specialize in Chromebooks. These devices are still *somewhat* new and *somewhat* rare. Because of this, there are a lot of reviews out there from otherwise very tech-savvy people who have never touched a Chromebook before. I know I’ve seen at least a couple reviews where some guy is blown away by what is actually a subpar and outdated Chromebook.

CNET or Tom’s List are ok sites to get reviews. Android Central and 9to5Google are better. My pro-tip: is your one-stop for all Chromebook information. They have reviews of all the Chromebooks you should care about, and they’re very thorough reviews. They also have a page with deal alerts, so at a given time, you can check in and see where Amazon or Best Buy might have drastic price cuts.

Which brings me to tip #3…

#3: Never buy for anywhere near the list price. Chromebooks more or less hover around the list price, for their entire lifetime. There are price cuts, but the trick is, generally, the price on a good Chromebooks doesn’t steadily fall over time. It tends to start at list price, then go on sales for hundreds of dollars for a week or two, and then run back up to list price. This is why it actually is sort of urgent that you buy in that window when it is on sale, because if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about buying Chromebooks, it is that the prices bob up and down, randomly. Again, Chrome Unboxed is very good at keeping an eye on price cuts, so you can follow their site while you’re shopping.

General Attributes To Prioritize:

person using black Samsung laptop with cup and camera
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

#1: The Screen. Not all Chromebook screens are created equal. Have you heard of nits? That’s the unit of measurement for screen brightness. In my estimation, 250 nits is the minimum. That is a very blah screen, that will seem a little dim sometimes. If you see 300-399 nits, the manufacturer is at least trying – you usually won’t notice the brightness one way or another, in normal use. Once you get to 400+ nits, you’re going to love it – those screens are spectacular, and you can use it outdoors in natural lighting.

How about aspect ratio? Ever heard of it? Most screens and monitors are widescreen. But are we sure they should be? I think at some point in the 2000s, flat screen TVs came out, and everybody wanted to watch movies that way, and any square screen looked dated. So then we went ahead and made everything widescreen. Well, that rectangular shape was cutting edge in 2002, and movies sure do look better that way, but do you use you computer for watching movies anymore?

You probably don’t, right? While for some spreadsheets, widescreen can be ideal, I, and many reviewers of laptops, find more and more that a compromised, more square screen shape is better for the full spectrum of things we use a laptop for. The sweet spot seems to be a 3:2 aspect ratio. Devices with this screen are rare, but when you find one, you know that the manufacturer was being extra thoughtful, and really going for it to make the best computer. So that’s something you may want to pay attention to.

In addition, there’s also the resolution and refresh rate of the screen; but here, my limitations as a reviewer meet a limit. I’m unsure of how important these factors are to user experience, but reviewers who stare screens full-time and compare them for a living, such as my dudes at Chrome Unboxed, or Marques Brownlee, tend to say it’s always worth paying for the highest refresh rate and resolution available.

In the end, the screen is going to be the main interface between you and this machine. That is why I think it’s the best starting point for narrowing down a search.

#2: The Keyboard. After the monitor, the keyboard is the next point of interaction between yourself and this machine. So I think it’s a high priority.

Keyboard quality is a highly subjective property. They can be clicky, or mushy, loud or quiet, and not everyone is going to have the same preferences and opinions about the same keyboard. Unfortunately, there’s just no way to know how you’re going to like it. The opinions of reviewers will go a long way, and they can reliably tell you if a keyboard is terrible. But in the end, you might just need to rest assured that Best Buy has the 2 week return window, so if all else fails, you can just try it out for a week.

#3: The Processor. I’m using a Chromebook that is 6 months past its originally scheduled end of life. It is still plenty quick for what I do with it.

But supposing you do want to push your Chromebook to stream games, or do some other type of heavy duty work (assuming you have the internet connection to support that), then processor speed is going to be something to pay attention to, in order to future proof.

When it comes to chips and processors, we are once again beyond the outer bounds of my expertise. My fast and loose opinion is that anything that was cutting edge and premium within the last two years is going to be just fine right through end of life; but you should turn to the experts and dig deeper if that is particularly important to you.

#4: “Nice to Have.”

I’ve given my top three things, but here are some quick things that are nice to have. I don’t consider them deal-breakers, personally, but they are out there for consideration:

  • Convertible Touchscreen. Many Chromebooks can be converted to fold various ways, like as a tablet. In order to work as a tablet, they need to have a touchscreen as well, so touch screen is usually paired with a convertible. I think that both of these features are somewhat of a gimmick. I’ve had a convertible touchscreen for the last six years. I take advantage of the tablet mode maybe something like monthly. The touchscreen I find handy more often, but at the same time, I don’t appreciate how it results in a smudgy screen.
  • Aluminum Chassis. Bargain Chromebooks will be made of plastics, and more “premium” ones will flaunt the aluminum or occasionally some other alloy components. This one is big for me; a practical advantage of the metal frames is that it tends to translate to better behavior from the keyboard and track pad (due to less flex). But I’m rather shallow here and would prefer the aluminum build for the look and feel alone.
  • Quality Track Pad. There are glass track pads and plastic track pads, and now even haptic track pads. I really don’t care, because I strongly prefer using a portable mouse, and I’m annoyed using a track pad, no matter how nice it is. That is just me, and there are those times when you are on your couch or maybe in a plane or something, and then you’ll remember how much you paid (or didn’t pay) for a good track pad.
  • Port Selection. My Asus Chromebook was from an era when manufacturers got carried away with the potential of USB-C. So it’s only got two ports (and a headphone jack), and they are both USB-C. That’s kind of a bummer, especially since one of them burnt out (boo on Asus production quality). The one remaining port must be used for charging, so I’d be out of luck were it not for my investment in dongle-less bluetooth peripherals and a charging docking station (which has all the ports I’ll ever need). So, pay attention to the ports. The good news is that the USB-C exclusive phase seems to have passed, and now, most new Chromebooks come with a more useful variety of ports.
  • Fingerprint Scanner. A luxury I have never had, but given the way that passwords have evolved to be hopelessly complicated, this feature is more and more critical with each passing year.
  • Stylus Support. I could not care less about stylus support. I have no idea what situation would need to arise in which I’d use one. But I still think I’d look really cool – like a sophisticated, artistic, entrepreneur from the future, were I to be seen in public, scribbling on my convertible Chromebook with a stylus. The vibes of importance and general superiority would be strong, at least in my own head.

Having reached the bottom of the list of attributes, I’ll give a quick-hit summary of the major Chromebook brands:

Acer: Acer is at the top of the Chromebook game, in my opinion. The best array of options, with the most enticing prices.

Lenovo: Reliably excellent, and dominant winners when it comes to price. Never flashy, these always have hardware that you won’t hate. Good quality stuff. Probably truly the “best” value Chromebooks. They always have acceptable screens, very nice keyboards, and the lowest prices.

Asus: Right on the border of greatness. These are consistently the flashiest. They really look sharp, and go for it with the materials and features. And they have a nice array of options every year. In recent years, the value just hasn’t quite been there to stack up against Acer or Lenovo, but you just might fall in love with the aesthetic.

Samsung and HP: These guys don’t make as many noteworthy Chromebooks, but once every couple years, they really put together something spectacular.

Google: Google makes the absolute best Chromebooks. Well, they made three of them. Bar none, worth the investment, even though they cost the most. However, the last Chromebook they made was released in October 2019. There are no plans whatsoever from Google to ever build a Chromebook again, so you may never be faced with the dilemma of paying more for one.

And here we are. I have given all the general Chromebook advice I can give you. So now, I’m going to give a quick list of what I consider the most compelling Chromebooks that you can buy right now.

Acer Chromebook Spin 513:

Short and quick, I think this is the 2022 ambassador of Chromebooks. It runs around low to average on the price spectrum. It has a phenomenal display, which, as discussed above, I think is the #1 most important hardware feature to prioritize. The display is great because it has a 3:2 aspect ratio, and it is super duper bright. It’s also got a great track pad, enough ports to be useful, and a future-proofed processor. The cost-cutting comes from it’s keyboard, which is just ok, there’s no stylus built in, and, fast as it is, you’re not going to have the fastest Chromebook on the block.

I’d try to get it for $400, though I’ve actually not yet seen it go below $500.

Acer Chromebook Spin 714:

Short and quick, this is the mature big brother of the Spin 513. It’s faster and so more future proofed – even though the Spin 513 is fast enough. The screen, I do not like as much, but it gains ground with a superior keyboard, which to me is the second most critically important hardware component to differentiate Chromebooks. Get this one if you want an acceptable (nice) screen, and phenomenal everything else.

It’s dropped as low as $500, and I think that’s going to be the floor for a while.

HP Elite Snapdragon:

This is the Chromebook that I would buy if I needed one today. It’s a very simple pros and cons: Pros: Everything. Everything on this Chromebook is simply the best that’s ever been available. Cons: You pay for it. This one, on sale, with minimum (albeit totally acceptable to me) configuration is going to run you $800. And I repeat, that’s on sale. Usually this is about $1,000.

Lenovo Flex 5:

This is the Toyota Camry of Chromebooks. I can’t go more than 500 words without making a car analogy. Nothing is exciting here, but what it does, is done with exceptional quality. This, I think, is the Chromebook for the masses. Most people just want a functioning computer, and never think about aspect ratio or things like that. If you’re not all excited by frills or cutting edge feature, and just want high quality and firm value, I’d look around for this one.

The price hovers in the $300-$500 range.

Lenovo Flex 3:

No Chrome Unboxed review for this bargain-basement dweller, but they recommend it at the $99 price point.

Here’s the Best Buy listing:

This computer right here is what really was the original claim to fame for Chromebooks. It gets on sale for $100 and it is probably better at most things than your Windows laptop. It is ugly and plastic, but gets the job done if you’re on a budget. I hear it suggested as perfect for kids, but I think really it’ll get you by if you dock it to good external hardware 90% of the time anyway (which is the way I use my Chromebook).

Acer Spin 516 Gaming Edition:

This is an outlier. I’d like to see one before really giving an opinion, but the long and short of it is that you get the absolute best screen, best processor, and phenomenal keyboard. And you DON’T get some other things that I don’t think matter – not convertible, no touch screen. It’s supposedly aimed at online gaming; while I have no intention to get into gaming, this Chromebooks priorities are in perfect line with mine. Hence my curiosity.

I don’t know the pricing for this one, but it looks like it’ll be around $450-$600.

Oh, and one last thing; when you’re shopping for any of these Chromebooks, beware that a lot of these model names are re-used year to year. Best Buy, Amazon, etc, are not particularly forthright in letting you know which year’s model you’re looking at. So if the price is suspiciously low, look carefully into that.

In Conclusion:

And thus concludes my Good News About Chromebooks series. What a journey it has been! It’s been fun collecting all this Chromebook knowledge to share. If nothing else, I feel better having gotten this all off of my chest.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this; I really hope to get some subscribers on this Substack. I’m not 100% sure where this blog will land, but right now I hope that it will continue to focus on electronics, like Chromebooks, with maybe technology in general as a wider scope.

Finally, I really do hope this helps people pick out their computer. Please do share with anyone on the brink of a laptop purchase!


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