The best Chromebooks you can buy right now (December 2014)

Choosing a Chromebook can be a difficult decision -- but it doesn't have to be.

Best Chromebooks

Thinking about getting a new Chromebook? Google's Chrome OS platform has grown in leaps and bounds over the last few years, and if you spend most of your time using the Web and Web-centric services, it might just be the thing for you.

But where to begin? There are loads of Chromebook options out there these days, and figuring out which one's the best for your needs isn't always easy.

That's why I'm here to help. After living with all the various contenders over the past several months, these are the Chromebooks I'd recommend right now:

[NOTE: You can find a more current version of this list here.]

The best all-around Chromebook for most people

Toshiba Chromebook 2

Best Chromebooks - Toshiba Chromebook 2

When you're using a laptop, the screen is your primary focus -- the thing that you stare at all day long. And most Chromebooks have shockingly poor displays that'll leave your eyes straining after mere minutes of use.

Toshiba's Chromebook 2 is a rare exception. The system, which sells for $330, has a 13.3-in. 1080p IPS screen that's leaps and bounds above the rest. The resolution is significantly higher than the accepted norm, which is a nice touch, but what makes the most difference is the fact that the display is based on a high-quality IPS technology instead of the cheap TN material used on most current Chromebooks. As a result, it's bright, crisp, and clear, with vivid colors and excellent viewing angles. Once you've seen how good it looks, you'll never want to go back to the status quo.

(Note that Toshiba also sells a cheaper version of the Chromebook 2 that lacks the 1080p IPS display. The one being described here -- and the one you want -- is the "Full HD" version, model CB35-B3340.)

The Chromebook 2 has exceptional speakers, too, along with reasonably good build quality and respectable stamina. The only asterisk is its performance: The system is perfectly suitable for most normal use, but if you're a power user who tends to keep lots of tabs open at once, it may be a little light on horsepower for your needs.

The best midrange Chromebook for those who want a little more

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook

Best Chromebooks - ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook

If you're willing to spend a little more -- $455, to be precise -- Lenovo's ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook delivers an awesome midrange user experience in an unusual form. The system is fully convertible, meaning you can use it in a traditional laptop configuration or tilt the screen back to use it as a stand-supported slate or fully flattened touchscreen tablet.

The Yoga 11e Chromebook is in a league of its own when it comes to build quality, with none of the flimsy surfaces or cheap-feeling materials you frequently see on lower-end laptops. It also has a fantastic keyboard and trackpad -- hands-down the best you'll find on any Chromebook under $1000.

The only real downside to the Yoga 11e's body is that it's not exactly what you'd call sleek. It's rugged -- and thus a bit heavy and clunky compared to other Chrome OS systems. But let's be honest: Most Chromebooks aren't exactly pinnacles of design. If you can deal with the heft, you'll get a laptop that's on another level in terms of quality and durability.

Like the Toshiba model, Lenovo's Yoga 11e uses a higher-end IPS screen that's easy on the eyes. It has a lower resolution than what Toshiba provides, at 1366 x 768, but it still looks good and is an immeasurable step up from almost every other Chromebook in the sub-$1000 range. (It's also more compact than Toshiba's, at 11.6 in.) As I've noted before, the quality of the screen means a lot more than the resolution in these systems.

And while its stamina is just okay, the Yoga 11e has commendable performance that should keep both casual users and power users satisfied. Between that, the standout hardware, and the versatile form, there's an awful lot to like about this device.

The best Chromebook for under $300

Dell Chromebook 11

Best Chromebooks - Dell Chromebook 11

If you need something with more horsepower than the Toshiba Chromebook 2 but don't want to shell out the cash for the Lenovo system, Dell's Chromebook 11 is your best option for great performance in an affordable but still pleasant-to-use package.

With its Haswell-based Intel processor and 4GB of RAM, the Chromebook 11 has the speediest setup you'll find this side of the $1000 mark. It's actually even a teensy bit ahead of the Lenovo on the performance front, though you'd be hard-pressed to notice the difference in most real-world usage. Both systems are snappy, responsive, and able to keep up even with unusually demanding use.

(Note that Dell also sells a 2GB version of the system for $279 and an Intel Core i3 version of the system for $379. If you're going to get this laptop, I'd suggest going with the $299 4GB model I'm describing here; the extra 2GB of RAM is well worth the additional 20 bucks, especially if you're more of a power user, but the jump to Core i3 doesn't make enough of a real-world impact to be worth the extra $80 for most people.)

Dell's device is somewhere between the Lenovo and the Toshiba system in terms of build quality. It's by no means a premium laptop, but it feels solid and well-constructed and is a noticeable step above most other Chromebooks. Its keyboard is fairly good, too, with a comfy soft rubberized plastic material surrounding it, and its speakers are pretty decent.

The Chromebook 11 doesn't have the higher-end IPS-caliber screen that the Lenovo and Toshiba systems enjoy; it's the same ol' 11.6-in. TN panel that's standard on most entry-level Chromebooks. No two ways about it: It isn't great. Within the TN parameters, though, I've found it to be a bit better than most.

Stamina, meanwhile, is a strong point: The Dell Chromebook 11 gets around 10 hours of use per charge, which is quite impressive. All in all, it's an admirable system and the nicest you can get for under $300.

The best Chromebook for under $200

Acer C720 Chromebook

Best Chromebooks - Acer C720 Chromebook

Make no mistake about it: Acer's 11.6-in. C720 Chromebook is an entry-level device. But despite its lackluster build quality and ho-hum hardware, the C720 packs some serious power -- the same Haswell-based setup seen in the Dell system, albeit with 2GB of RAM instead of 4.

And you know what? For $199.99 -- the price the C720 is selling for on Amazon right now -- that's pretty darn impressive. You aren't going to get a thoughtfully designed laptop or a high-quality keyboard for that price. You aren't going to get a great-looking display. But even with 2GB of RAM, the level of performance you'll get from this bad boy is outstanding -- far more than what you'd expect from the budget Chromebook realm.

If you want solid performance and need to keep costs low, Acer's C720 is a fine option to consider.

(Acer does make a 4GB version of the system, by the way, but it's selling for around $270 to $280 these days. If you're going to spend that much, you'd be better off dropping an extra 20 bucks and getting the far nicer Dell Chromebook 11.)

The best Chromebook money can buy (if you're willing to spend a lot of money)

Google Chromebook Pixel

Best Chromebooks - Google Chromebook Pixel

I'm listing this laptop last for a reason: While Google's Chromebook Pixel is without a doubt the best-in-class option, its level of quality also comes at a price. A really high price.

If you can justify spending $1300, though -- or $1450, if you want an LTE-enabled model -- the Pixel will give you a Chromebook experience like no other. The laptop is downright luxurious, with a gorgeous design, premium materials, and top-notch build quality that screams "high-end" from edge to edge.

The Pixel provides a sleek and minimalist aluminum body, an outstanding backlit keyboard with powerful speakers hidden beneath it, an etched glass trackpad, and an stunningly beautiful 12.75-in. 2560-x-1700 touch-enabled LCD display. Performance is second to none, as you'd expect. The only real thing to gripe about is the Pixel's stamina: At around five hours per charge, it could stand to be a bit better.

At $1300, this system certainly isn't going to be for everyone -- but boy, is it a treat to use. If you really want to go all out and get the best experience money can buy, this one's as lust-worthy as it gets.

What about all the other Chromebooks?

As I said at the start of our discussion, there are lots of Chromebooks out there these days. If a device isn't listed here, that doesn't necessarily mean it's bad; it just means it doesn't stand out as much as the ones mentioned above and thus isn't one of the top options I'd recommend at the moment.

When I think about these sorts of suggestions, I think about which products I'd buy myself or suggest to my own friends and family. The Chromebooks outlined above are those products.

Now it's up to you to figure out which category makes the most sense for your situation. If you still aren't sure, stick with the first one (there's a reason I called it the "best all-around Chromebook for most people"!). The good news, though, is that you really can't go wrong with any of the options on this page. It all comes down to what you need and how much you're willing to spend, but at their various respective levels, these devices will get you the best overall experiences available for Chrome OS today.

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