For the first few years, Chromebooks were only worth buying if they were cheap as dirt. As Chrome OS has improved, so has the hardware. While Chrome OS is still more limited than Windows or macOS, there's an argument to be made for a nicer piece of hardware running Google's software. Not too nice, though. Chromebooks like the Pixelbook or Galaxy Chromebook are too expensive to be genuinely competitive. The Spin 713, on the other hand, is priced just right.
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There are a lot of "cheap" Chromebooks out there, but if you want a good cheap Chromebook, you'll really have to dig. In fact, they're few and far between, and between old models, soon-to-be unsupported chipsets, and "gotchas" like legitimately terrible display panels, it's legitimately difficult to separate the genuine competitors from laptops deserve to be in the proverbial trash heap. But Lenovo's C340 is a great follow-up to the success of the previous C330, and it's Android Police's Most Wanted budget Chromebook pick.
This time around, we're taking a look at the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5, a budget 13-inch Chromebook that ranges in price from $360-410. There's a lot to like about the Flex 5, but one or two flaws keep me from whole-hardheartedly recommending it to everyone.
The first Chromebooks were budget laptops, which made sense for a stripped-down OS. Over time, Chrome OS has gotten (somewhat) more capable, and OEMs have paired it with premium hardware. The Pixelbooks and Galaxy Chromebooks of the world have their fans, but most Chromebooks are much more modest. However, few are as modest as Lenovo's $250 Ideapad 3 14-inch Chromebook. It sports a Celeron CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 14-inch 1366 x 768 LCD. This Chromebook gets the job done—the performance is acceptable though not impressive, and it has a passable keyboard. The fuzzy, dim screen is the biggest problem, but even that I can partially forgive at this price point.
Lenovo's Chromebook Duet sounded like a winner the moment we first heard about it. It's a 2-in-1 detachable tablet running Chrome OS, and though it might not pack the fastest chipset, the rest of its hardware impresses — especially given that it starts at just $280 and comes with a keyboard cover. While the Surface-style form factor has its issues when it comes to usability, this the first Chrome OS-powered tablet that's actually made sense.
Google introduced the idea of a premium Chromebook (and a matching premium price tag) with the original Chromebook Pixel. Other companies have followed suit with devices like the Yoga C630 from Lenovo and some HP X360. In this competitive landscape, Acer has a compelling solution of its own: the Acer Chromebook 715. Acer's new high-end Chromebook sports an all-metal construction with MIL-STD 810G compliance, optional quad-core Intel Core i5 processor with up to 16GB of RAM, a full-size keyboard with a number pad, and an optional fingerprint reader. Currently, there is no other large Chromebook on the market that has those last two features.
In 2013, Google released the Chromebook Pixel, a beautiful, weird, unabashedly high-end device meant to show other manufacturers what Chrome OS could do with more power than it needed. Google nerds were into it, but it didn't have much impact on the greater Chrome landscape. Following a 2015 hardware refresh and 2017's similarly pricey convertible Pixelbook, Google tried and failed to catch more mainstream attention with last year's Pixel Slate, an overpriced, badly-optimized two-in-one that sold so poorly the company actually gave up on making tablets. This year, Google is taking a different tack in trying to sell to normal people with the Pixelbook Go, a regular ol' Chrome OS laptop with regular ol' specs, starting at $650.
For a few years, the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 has been one of the best Chrome OS devices around. Its MacBook-like design, great keyboard, Android app support (though that came a few months after release), good screen, and sub-$500 price point made it a great computer for many. I should know — it was my main laptop for over a year.
The C302 has been due for an upgrade for some time, and Asus has finally given it a sucessor. The Chromebook Flip C434 is Asus' new flagship Chromebook, with an updated design and a larger screen. It's also more expensive; while the C302 started at $500 for a Core M3 CPU and 4GB RAM (and now goes for ~$470), the entry-level C434 with an m3 CPU and 4GB RAM is $569.99.
Premium Chromebooks are a niche product category; most Chromebooks in any price range can do pretty much all the same things. The difference comes in how well a particular device handles those tasks — and while HP's Chromebook x360 14 G1 is unlikely to convert anyone already against high-end Chrome OS devices on principle, it's an extremely competent laptop that's worth a look for anybody interested in a quality Chrome machine.