This article has recently been updated.
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. As the market matures, look for displays to improve (see the Toshiba below), battery life to be extended, and already-light weighs to decrease.
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.
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 (plus, stay tuned for an update that will point you to the best deals on these budget books):
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
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
Acer Chromebook 13
Powered by Nvidia's ARM Cortex A15-based Tegra K1, this Chromebook packs a lot of punch in a tiny frame. Users will love its 13.3-inch 1080p resolution screen, as well as its portability. At 3.31 pounds, the Acer Chromebook 13 is one of the lightest laptops on the market.
This Chromebook does have some minor issues: the keyboard is a little clunky and the laptop itself only comes in one color. But for the price ($279 about £165, AU$300), you're likely to enjoy the simplicity and productivity, as you learn to overcome the design limitations.
- Read our Acer 13 Chromebook review
HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11 (starting at $279, £179, AU$399) is smooth and usable. While Chrome OS is limited by definition, between us growing more comfortable in web apps and those apps growing in power – and Chrome OS maturing – we're bumping into those limitations far less often.
This laptop is punchy enough to make the experience slick, cheap enough for anyone on a budget (or an impulse buy for the well-off), but something that still feels solid. It is a delight to own and use.
Apple and the other premium manufacturers should look at this little gem of a computer and applaud what has been achieved. The Chromebook 11 shows that it's possible to create a product with a little bit of the magic and joy you get from an Apple laptop without charging four figures for it.
- Read our HP Chromebook 11 review
Acer C720 Chromebook
In terms of power and endurance, you can't argue with the Acer C720 Chromebook (starting at $199, £199, AU$399). When you just want to get on the web quickly to answer emails or look something up, the C720 is ideal. For parents, it's also a perfect "homework machine," as long as you can get a printer hooked up.
This is a true web appliance, a fine system for families. The Google account log-in gives each user a personalized interface, and just a few keystrokes completely wipe the system. That limits the risk substantially in sharing the system with others.
One key criterion we use in evaluating a device is whether we'd actually want to use it every day. Even taking this laptop's flaws into account, it's something we definitely would want to use, for the price.
- Read our Acer C720 Chromebook review