In 2011, Google (being Google) disrupted the entire laptop and tablet marketplace with the debut of the first Chromebooks. The new devices operated on the same simple premise as all other Google products: things should be dead simple for the average consumer to use. It didn’t take long for the machines to find their way into the classroom once teachers realized they could leverage the low cost of Chromebooks for education.
Not every classroom has them yet, but Chromebooks are gaining popularity for use in the home to do homework. College students love them, too. Let’s look at why.
Why Chromebooks Are So Popular
Five years after their creation, the Chromebook experiment is officially a success. Chromebooks for education now account for more than half of all classroom devices. More than seven million devices were sold last year.
This trend is primarily driven by four factors. First they are tremendously affordable, with the average Chromebook costing less than $230.
Second, their design is simple, so anyone familiar with Google products can jump right in with no learning curve.
Third, they are super portable; not just the device itself, but the data. If a Chromebook dies, you just retrieve everything quickly and painlessly from the cloud.
And finally, they are easy to manage. Teachers and school tech officers can:
- limit and monitor usage,
- push apps to hundreds of devices with a single button, and
- set up multiple user groups with varying levels of permissions.
From a parental perspective, Chromebooks make it easier to help students out at home. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Windows person or an Apple person – everybody who’s conscious in America has at least a passing familiarity with the Google ecosystem. That knowledge bridges the tech gap between you and your child when they ask for help.
What to look for in a Chromebook for a student
Want to know how to pick the best Chromebook for school? Whether you’re a school IT worker responsible for hundreds of devices or a parent looking for a single Chromebook for your child to use at school, there are a few simple principles to remember as your shop.
Price: The cheapest Chromebooks on the market start as low as $149; on the upper end, you can spend well over $500 if you choose. Obviously, each price point comes with its own set of technical parameters; most purchases in the education space (IT managers and parents) spend under $300 per single device.
Ruggedness and Spill Protection: Just because you can easily replace a Chromebook doesn’t mean you necessarily want to. More expensive devices are obviously hardier pieces of equipment, with increasingly rugged casings, keyboards, and touchpads.
App Store Compatibility: A revolutionary announcement in the world of Chromebooks for education came just this month, as Google announced it would bring the Android App Store to devices running the Chrome OS. The first slate will include over forty different Chromebooks, with more to follow. This exponentially increases the number of apps available for each device, making Chromebook devotees even happier.
Weight: Some devices weigh as little as two pounds or less; the largest we reviewed was the Dell 3120, which came in at 2.75 pounds, nearly a full pound heavier than the closest competitor. This may be a particular concern for younger children, since you may want to minimize the amount of gear they have to haul around in their backpack each day.
Battery Life: It doesn’t matter how portable the device is if you’re constantly hunting an open plug to charge it; Chromebooks generally run off a single Li-ion battery, and have excellent battery life, but there’s still a wide spread from 8 hours at the bottom to more than 14 hours for top-shelf devices.
Storage: This may not be a concern for most users, as the entire Chromebooks concept is built around the notion that everything will be saved to your Google account in the cloud; that’s what makes Chromebooks so portable. However, you may still want to store some documents on the actual computer, and of course you’ll need storage space for any apps you plan to install on the device. Chromebooks come with storage ranging from 16-32 GB (not counting the possibility of external storage), so make sure you take that into consideration.
Screen Size: Chromebooks released in the past two years have screen sizes ranging from 11.6 inches to 15.6 inches. The smaller devices will serve most student well; however, students engaged in more visual pursuits, such as art or graphic design, may need the larger screens to adequately complete tasks.
Why Chromebooks Work So Well With Students
We’ve already covered some of that above, but there are a few more reasons. With a Chromebook, it is literally impossible for a student to lose an assignment. Even if they leave their computer at home, they can log in to their account from any other Chromebook and retrieve it within five minutes.
And, as we mentioned above, they are so much more affordable. For the cost of an iPad, you can buy a Chromebook, accidentally destroy that Chromebook, and buy a completely new Chromebook. (This method is obviously not recommended – I’m just pointing out the drastic difference in price.)
Kids forget things constantly, and Chromebooks are easy to borrow. A student who needs to complete an assignment on another computer simply logs into their Google account. Whatever work they complete on the new computer will be waiting on them when they get back to their machine. That means there’s no need for complicated hard-drive sharing software or annual fees.
Finally: Chromebooks have keyboards. This is perhaps the single greatest thing separating them from their Apple competitors. Anyone who types well knows that it is much more efficient than writing by hand, as it enables words to appear on screen as fast as you can think them. This is simply not possible using a touchscreen device. Further, since keyboards in the business world aren’t going away anytime soon, Chromebooks actually prepare students for a business environment more thoroughly than their touchscreen-only competitors.
The Best Chromebooks for Students Under $250
I arrived at this list by looking for the highest rated, most popular Chromebooks on Amazon. All of these models are current (please let me know in the comments if you notice that’s no longer true). I own and love the Dell 11.
Note: I have looked for the best price between Amazon and Best Buy at the time of publication. Please comparison shop your favorite retailers for the best current price. The product links below are affiliate links, which means that I get a small commission if you purchase. It doesn’t affect the price you pay for the item.
- ASUS C201: With a price tag of $235, the C201 is an adequate option. However, its 1.8 Ghz processor is a slight step down from the best options available, and it has the smallest screen size as well (11.6 inches). With a 13-hour battery life, it comes in near the top of the stack on that front. It features one HDMI and two USB ports, which are pretty standard. This is the best middle-of-the-road option.
- Samsung Chromebook 3 XE500C13-K02US: This model starts around $199, making it slightly more affordable than its ASUS competitor above. At this price, you give up a little battery life (down to 11 hours); however, you pick up a spill-resistant design and a slightly improved 2.16 Ghz processor. In addition to the HDMI port, this model features 1 USB 2.0 port and 1 USB 3.0 port (which is designed for newer, faster connections). This is the best option for young children, in my opinion.
- Dell Chromebook 11: At $242, this is the most expensive model I reviewed. It’s slightly heavier than some lower-end models. However, that additional weight comes from sturdier materials and a greatly improved casing. The spill-resistant keyboard may end up paying for itself, tool. This model’s keyboard is much more responsive than the others, and simply feels more solid. However, it’s possible your student may not care about–or even notice–that fact, particularly if they are very young and just learning to type. The Dell has the standard HDMI and USB ports described above. It also has a port for a removable SD card, adding to the portability of files stored on the device. This is best for power users and older students.
- HP Chromebook 11 G4: At $179, this is the cheapest device reviewed, and it definitely feels cheaper to the touch when compared to the Dell reviewed above. It has the same number of USB and HDMI ports, but it only has 2GB of available RAM, which could lead to performance issues. In its favor, it also has the card media reader. That being said, none of the negatives would matter to a young student, so this is the best option based solely on affordability.
- Acer Chromebook CB3-131-C3SZ: The second cheapest, at $185, the Acer also comes with only 2GB available RAM. Added to that, it comes with a mere 2 USB ports (one 2.0, one 3.0) However, this model does have an HDMI port and a card reader, keeping it competitive. Battery life on this device is rated at 9 hours, but the charger is well-designed and minimal. The aluminum clamshell, however, simply doesn’t feel like it could stand up to the rigors imposed by a young child. I would skip this one.
You are going to love whatever Chromebook you buy
My job is to pick one, I know. The Dell is the best for adults and older students, while the Samsung is the best option for young children. The HP is the best option if money is the only criterion.
But in the end, I literally don’t know a single person who has given a Chromebook a shot and come away anything other than amazed at the simplicity of concept, minimal design, and magical experience. There’s simply something about logging in to a brand new computer for the first time, and having your entire Google account show up ten seconds later, that boggles the mind.