There are well over 100 different Chromebook and netbook models currently on sale in the UK. While the vast majority is aimed at the consumer market, a small but still significant portion targets the educational and business markets, especially customers that are price sensitive.
Chromebooks are based on Google's Chrome OS while netbooks are based on Microsoft's Windows. They usually share the same underlying set of components bar the processor (which is often ARM-based rather than AMD-based) and the keyboard.
Both platforms have their pros and cons. Chromebooks are designed to run only one primary application, Google's Chrome browser (hence the name), with everything else running within the browser. It runs comfortably on a slow processor, minimal system memory (or RAM) and a tiny bit of storage. All Chromebooks come with some sort of free cloud-based storage courtesy of Google, usually 100GB for two years.
A Chromebook however won't run Windows applications; for that you need, well, a Windows operating system which is where netbooks come in. The resurgence of this category, which was pummelled and lost considerable market share as tablets became popular, is due to the compelling platform that Intel and Microsoft have put together. Windows 10, in particular, is particularly nimble, capable of running on the type of hardware on which a nearly-decade old OS like Vista was introduced.
What characterises both platforms are the dimensions and weight (usually a footprint smaller than a A4 sheet of paper and weighing less than 1.5Kg), the processor used (ARM or low end Intel Celeron or Atom), the amount of system memory (often 2GB, rarely 4GB) and the on-board storage (almost always solid state).
1. Toshiba CB30-B-104
A smart looking MacBook Air-alike
CPU: 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels | Storage: 16GB
From afar, this Toshiba effort looks like the MacBook Air with its silver finish and large touchpad. The CB30-B-104 matches the latter when it comes to the amount of on-board memory and the Wi-Fi connectivity used (802.11ac). However, it trumps Apple on rated battery life (more than 10 hours) and on the screen resolution (full HD). Keep an eye on John Lewis as well which usually has this Chromebook in stock and adds another year of warranty.
2. HP Chromebook 14 G4
A notebook with impressive business features
CPU: 1.83GHz Intel Celeron N2940 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 14-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels | Storage: 16GB
This is certainly an expensive Chromebook – you can easily get one for half the price. This one however clearly targets businesses with Citrix-certified VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) compatibility, access to Google Apps for Work, noise suppression software and even a TPM embedded security chip, plus a larger than average full HD display, and twice the storage found on its rivals.
Read the full review: HP Chromebook 14 G4
3. Dell Chromebook 11 3120
This Dell offering is a tough nut with impressive battery life
CPU: 2.6GHz Intel Celeron N2840 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 pixels | Storage: 16GB
Dell designed this laptop for students, and it has been tested using the MIL-STD US military standard which means that it is tougher than most laptops out there. It has a rubberised LCD and base trim for extra cushioning and as Dell puts it "superior drop protection". A fully sealed keyboard and touchpad should provide ample spill protection as well.
Read the full review: Dell Chromebook 11 3120
4. Lenovo ThinkPad 11e
Another tough customer aimed at the education sector
CPU: 1.83GHz Intel Celeron N2940 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 pixels | Storage: 16GB
Just like the Dell Chromebook above, the Lenovo ThinkPad 11e is aimed at the education sector. Lenovo slapped on a ThinkPad sticker to highlight its business credentials as well. As expected, it supports the stringent MIL-STD military standard and is designed to endure some serious abuse at the hands of our little monsters (physical demands of the primary school experience, as Lenovo politely puts it).
5. Acer TravelMate B116-M
A solid netbook with plenty of storage
CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3050 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 pixels | Storage: 500GB
The TravelMate range is Acer's business proposal which makes the presence of Windows 10 Home a bit puzzling. Regardless of this oddity, this is a decent netbook. It has more than enough system memory and a massive hard disk drive. We'd have preferred an SSD model for extra performance, though – speaking of which, the N3050 CPU should prove to be a nice upgrade from the N2xx0 on other models.
6. HP Stream 11 Pro
A tasty budget offering
CPU: 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB | Screen: 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 pixels | Storage: 32GB
Meet this education PC from HP. The second candidate from the US PC manufacturer is smaller than its Chromebook sibling and far less expensive at almost half the price. In terms of obvious differences between the machines, this one halves the amount of system memory while doubling the SSD storage and shrinking the laptop altogether. Note that it runs Windows 8.1 Pro (upgradable to Windows 10 Pro), which is worth probably as much as the laptop itself!
7. Zoostorm 7270-9013
A unique notebook with plenty going for it
CPU: 1.8GHz Intel Celeron 1037U | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 pixels | Storage: 500GB
This is the best affordable slim-and-thin laptop on the market and deserves a spot on our best netbooks for business list. This is a notebook like no other and the word 'unique' is certainly fitting here. It packs a tablet-size touchscreen with plenty of ports including a Gigabit Ethernet one, a relatively spacious 500GB hard drive, and plenty of system memory. The big surprise though remains the old-but-still-very-capable Celeron 1037U processor that powers it.
Read the full review: Zoostorm 7270-9013