Updated: We're expanding our list of the Best Chromebooks and the latest entry to join the ranks is the Lenovo N20p. This machine is shakes up the typical cloud-based laptop formula with a back flipping screen and touchscreen controls.
Chromebooks are budget laptops that are both odd and brilliant, low-impact and potent. They focus on what computing has been all about since the late '90s, the web browser, through Google's Chrome operating system. The search giant's OS and mobile computer spec are just a few years old, and already companies like HP, Samsung and Acer have released several models.
What should you look out for in a Chromebook? The majority of these Google laptops use either the same or similar low-power components. This is largely what is behind the unquestionable affordability of these mobile rigs - most of which start under $300 (about £178, AU$319).
With low-impact processors and barely HD screens starting at 1366 x 768 resolution, most of these machines are also designed to last. Almost every Chromebook claims between 7 and 9 hours of battery life and comes within a few hours of that range, based on our testing.
Google-powered laptops rely on tiny amounts of onboard solid-state storage to keep costs down, starting with 16GB SSDs. To offset the loss, every version of the browser-bound notebook comes with at least 100GB of Google Drive space for two years.
As the market matures, look for displays to improve (see the Toshiba below), battery life to be extended, and already-light weights to decrease. Newer Chromebooks will feature touchscreen functionality, like the Lenovo N20p Chromebook, and Google will constantly update Chrome to provide the most up-to-date browsing features. Prices will start to climb above the budget range, but there should always be something within your spending limit. There are even ruggedized versions of Chromebooks designed to withstand the abuse of children.
At that point, it all comes down to size (and price), with Chromebooks available as small as 11.6 inches and as large as 14 inches. Always updated, here are our top-ranking Chromebook reviews:
Dell Chromebook 11
The Dell Chromebook 11 (starting at $299, £179, about AU$317) is an affordable machine that does not feel or look like it was made on a budget. Compared to its competitors, this Dell falls in line with the specs already set by other Chrome laptops on the market.
At the same time, it also has two USB 3.0 ports. What sets it apart, though, is its impressive longevity, which makes it perfect for anyone who wants to get away from the outlet with a mobile hotspot in tow.
We even recommend checking out what Dell has on offer before the Acer or HP offerings. For school and/or leisure, the Dell Chromebook 11 is a no brainer. For now, Dell leads the Chromebook class with the best-looking and longest-lasting Chrome laptop yet.
- Read our Dell Chromebook 11 review
Lenovo N20p Chromebook
This is one of the "sexier" Chromebooks available, showcasing Lenovo's eye for style. However, the best feature is the N20p's 300-degree hinge, which lets you flip the N20p's display backward all the way into stand mode (or 'tent' mode, whatever you prefer), which lends itself nicely to viewing movies or showing presentations.
The touchscreen controls also work in a pinch for recreational activities such as watching shows on HBOGo viewing or Pinteresting. Still there's some difficulty when using it as a tablet, as Chrome isn't entirely tailored to touch as a largely browser-based operating system.
It's not very tuned for business use, but the Lenovo N20p offers great versatility for a leisure device. Plus with two USB ports (one 3.0), and HDMI port and an SD card reader, this Chromebook delivers a great bang for its buck.
- Read our Lenovo N20p Chromebook review
Toshiba Chromebook 2
For $329 (about £205, AU$382), the Toshiba Chromebook 2 is a gorgeous and affordable laptop that doesn't have many weaknesses. It comes with more RAM and a full HD 1080p screen, making it a step up from other models in this class, like the Samsung Chromebook 2 and Acer C720.
But potential buyers should note that the Toshiba Chromebook 2 moves the Chromebook category closer towards the territory of an affordable Windows 8.1 laptop. So you might be overpaying if you're not purchasing this laptop specifically for the Google ecosystem.
That being said, the 1080p screen is a huge bonus and the laptop speakers made by Skullcandy are booming. Add it all up and the Toshiba Chromebook 2 might be an ideal streaming system for everything from YouTube and Google Play to Hulu Plus and Netflix.
- Read our Toshiba Chromebook 2 review