Chromebook Buyer's Guide
There are a lot of chromebooks to choose from, so let this comprehensive guide help you decide which model is best for your students.
By Brian Nadel
When Chromebooks first arrived on the educational scene in 2011 they excelled at delivering a notebook for about half what comparable Windows and Macintosh systems cost. An immediate hit at schools, they allowed even the poorest districts to embark on one-to-one deployments.
Today, Chromebooks are the most popular notebooks in education, according to IDC’s analysis. In the second quarter of 2016, Chromebooks even outsold Macintosh systems and now account for one-quarter of total U.S. notebook sales.
“At first it was all about price,” explains Linn Huang, Research Director at market analysis firm IDC. “Now, Chromebook makers are branching out with new designs that suit different activities and uses. They still do a lot with a little.”
While retaining a foot in the value market, Chromebooks have moved from exclusively appealing to the bottom line into high-performance models as well as systems that are rugged and have touch screens. There are even Chromebooks that aren’t notebooks at all for those who prefer a less mobile desktop all-in-one format.
That’s not to say that the basic Chromebook format, design and software haven’t improved with time. In fact, a few Chromebooks can now use Android as well as Chrome apps, widening their appeal in the classroom. By early next year, there will be a software update allowing just about every other recent Chromebook to go between Android and Chrome apps. This can open up the genre to use everything from DuoLingo language lessons to Khan Academy video lessons.
Regardless of whether a school provides the Chromebooks or recommends that parents buy them, there are several models that stand out in a variety of ways. Each, in its own way, offers something special for teachers and students alike.
While they have evolved and improved, Chromebooks still excel at providing a lot of computer for the money. No system exemplifies that notion better than Samsung’s $180 Chromebook 3 11.6 (CB3), one of the cheapest Chromebooks around. It’s a basic system housed in a black case that’s powered by a 1.6GHz Celeron processor, 2GB of RAM and has a vibrant 11.6-inch display. According to Samsung, the CB3 can run for up to 11 hours on a charge, opening the possibility that it might only need to be plugged in every other day.
At $220, Dell’s Chromebook 11 may cost more, but it delivers a 2.2GHz Celeron processor along with 2GB of RAM and an 11.6-inch screen. It has an Activity Light that can improve the teacher-student relationship with a small rectangular LED light in the upper right corner of the screen lid’s back. With the Chrome Activity Light app students can digitally raise their hands by flashing the blue light. They can also ask a question (red light) or start a discussion (yellow light). In November, new software will be able to show 7 different colors, so one can even be for asking to go to the bathroom.
Nebraska’s Lincoln Public Schools is deploying 5,000 Dell Chromebook 11 systems at its 57 schools for one-to-one student use, while New Jersey’s Passaic Public Schools is using an earlier Samsung Chromebook model at its 16 schools.
Sometimes, you need more than a basic computer and Acer’s Chromebook 15 C910 is a powerhouse. It’s what’s inside that counts and the C910-54M1 model comes a 2.2GHz Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM that will leave other Chromebooks in the digital dust.
At just under 5-pounds, the wide-body C910 is a lot of carry around, but rather than an 11.6-, 12.1- or 13.3-inch screen, the C910 carries a 15.6-inch display that can show full HD content. In other words, it’s perfect for video editing and other high-performance tasks. Even with all that power, the Core i5-powered C910 costs $500, although there’s also a Core i3 version for $430.
School notebooks have to survive daily punishment meted out by teachers and students alike and the HP 11 G4 EE Chromebook is the strong silent type. That’s because the 11 G4 EE has a strong metal frame inside along with soft rubber edging around its perimeter. In fact, it passed many of the Army’s MIL-STD 810G tests for durability, including those for shock, vibration and repeated drops from as high as 48-inches.
With a 2.2GHz Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM and an 11.6-inch screen, it costs $220. One of the first of a new generation of notebooks that don’t need cooling fans so there’s less on the 11 G4 EE Chromebook to break and it can run longer on battery power. A bigger payoff is that it makes the classroom a quieter place to study.
In February, the Forney (Texas) Independent School District Board purchased 8,000 HP Chromebook 11 G4 EE systems so that every student from 4th through 12th grade has access to a computer. There’re also enough systems so that there’s one Chromebook for every four of those in kindergarten to third grade.
Chromebooks have been late to the touch-screen party, but are catching up quickly with models like Asus’s $250 Flip C100PA convertible. Its lid hinge rotates a full 360-degrees, allowing the screen to – well – flip over offering several different configurations. Students and teachers can use it as a keyboard-centric notebook, in tent configuration, as a presentation system with the keyboard underneath or even fold it all the way over to yield a Chrome-based tablet.
The system’s 10.1-inch screen is on the small side but responds to 10 inputs from fingers or a stylus. Flip goes its own way with a quad-core Rockchip processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage space and two years of 100GB of online storage space. It squeezes a lot into a small case that easily slides into and out of a backpack and weighs less than 2-pounds, making it the lightweight of the Chromebook crowd.
Finally, Chromebooks don’t even have to be notebooks anymore. In fact, LG’s Chromebase 22CB25S is an all-in-one system that can teach Windows and Mac desktops a thing or two. At less than $350, it not only undersells the competition, but has a 1.4GHz Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM and 16GB of storage space for everything from lesson plans to videos.
The Desktop Chrome system comes with a keyboard, mouse and has a pair of stereo speakers inside. Its 21.5-inch screen can show flicker-free full HD content and LG’s Chromebase desktop has an innovative reader mode that reduces eye-strain for displaying black type on a white background.
The Greater Michigan Educational Consortium has purchased 7,000 Chromebase units through CDW to distribute to its 22 school districts over the summer and fall of 2016.