Back to School Chromebooks

You'll be surprised how much schoolwork you can get done on a Chromebook, and appreciate the cost savings at the same time

Chromebooks have proven to be an extremely valuable tool for schools teaching younger children that want to introduce them to technology, but they have also shown to be a great go-to machine for young adults heading away to college. Whether you're going to a big school on a full-time basis or are just getting started with a smaller program, you'd be surprised as to how much of your college work you can get done with an inexpensive Chromebook rather than a full-fledged laptop running Windows or OS X.

If your school is one making use of Google Apps for your .edu email address as well, Chromebooks can be even more of a no-brainer considering the deep integration with Google's services. And depending on your choice, you could stand to save a huge amount of money going with a Chromebook for your laptop rather one running any other operating system. Read along to see our picks for the best Chromebook to take to college this year.

The best choice: Lenovo ThinkPad 11e Chromebook

Lenovo ThinkPad 11e Chromebook

Let's face it — students are tough on computers. You'll be lucky if your laptop makes it through four years at a university being tossed on tables, bumped around in bags and used for every single piece of computing for both school and fun. Lenovo's education-focused ThinkPad 11e Chromebook is built to take on the extra strain of being used in an education setting, and will be a fantastic choice for a college student.

The ThinkPad 11e Chromebook takes that legendary Lenovo toughness and backs it up with a new BayTrail processor (the higher-end N2930 at 1.83GHz), 4GB of RAM and an IPS display for great screen visibility — it even has a touchscreen as well. It's a bit pricey at an MSRP of $379, but at the time of writing we're seeing it on Amazon for just a hair over $300. That's a great deal for a tough Chromebook with great specs, and it's going to be a great choice for college students of all kinds.

If the extra money is no object, Lenovo also offers a "Yoga" version of the ThinkPad 11e, which adds the ability to flip around the screen for several different viewing options. Considering that the ThinkPad 11e offers a touchscreen this may be intriguing, but with an MSRP of $479 it doesn't make much sense unless you really want to flip your screen around.

On a budget: Acer C720 Chromebook

Acer C720 Chromebook

Chromebooks are a great choice for school for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest is their price. If you have a tight budget for a computer for school, look no further than the Acer C720 (read our full review) when it comes to getting the best bang for your buck. At a starting price of $199 you really can't do better than the C720, and best of all you're getting a very capable machine for that price. No matter what model you choose you're getting a good keyboard and trackpad, powerful internals and a travel-friendly size and weight.

The baseline C720 model with 2GB of RAM is regularly marked down to $179 — or even less — online, and will be a fantastic choice if you need a computer and don't have a bunch of dough to spend.

And for just a small bump in price, you can have the same machine with some combination of more memory, storage and a touchscreen as well — just keep your eyes peeled for deals on different models if you're looking to save a few dollars.

With mobile data: HP Chromebook 14

HP Chromebook 14

While many college campuses have pretty reliable and widely-available Wifi, you don't always want to be stuck within certain Wifi areas to get your work done. Having mobile data connectivity in your Chromebook can be a real boost to productivity, but there are only a few Chromebook models out there that support it.

The best of the bunch right now is the HP Chromebook 14. It offers a big 14-inch display, Intel Haswell Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM and comes in three different colors, but the big draw here is the ability to buy a model for $50 extra that comes with lifetime T-Mobile 4G (that's HSPA+) internet connectivity.

You get 200MB per month for the lifetime of the device — that isn't a whole lot of data, but it's more than enough to get some work done and a little casual web browsing on the side. And if you ever need more data, you can buy it on a pay-as-you-go basis for $10 per GB or less, with no contracts or fees from T-Mobile.

At over 4 lbs the HP Chromebook 14 isn't the most portable machine out there, but screen size is merely personal preference. If you need to have mobile data baked-in to your Chromebook to avoid carrying around a hotspot or leeching off of your phone's connection, this is the one to get. Just be sure to buy the right model that advertises the 4G connectivity — it should retail around $329, but at this point in its lifecycle can show up for less around the Internet.

No matter your choice, we're sure you'll be able to keep up with school work and personal business with any of these great Chromebooks while attending college. With these sleek, light and inexpensive laptops, you may just be the envy of a few of your friends who are dealing with their clunky Windows laptop as well.


Reader comments

Back to school: The best Chromebooks to consider for college


I have the C720 (Haswell) and the HP 14 with data. Both are excellent!

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Please excuse any typos or autocorrect derps.

This article couldn't have come at a better time I'm starting school next week for IT and need a new laptop.

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Depends what you will be doing. I think a Chromebook is the perfect companion to a powerful desktop that can do anything your heart desires via remote desktop. I am a computer engineering student and I havent found anything that this combo doesnt work with.

I use a Chromebook for college and am beyond satisfied. With that said, I'm picky as hell and wanted to wait for a pimped out Chromebook but got the C720 because I couldn't pass it up for it's $129 price tag. It handles all the virtual classes and online environments just as well as my $2200 Asus does.

Just looking at my program, SAS, R, SPSS, etc...

You can't use these on a Chromebook.

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A surface 2 could be enough, they're not that expensive. Plus Microsoft has student offers.

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May I ask when that was? And what major? And possibly the school if you're willing to share. I didn't know you could limit something to one ecosystem for what's likely a tech based major and to a "closed" ecosystem at that.

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I graduated 3 years ago. From KCAD in Michigan. My major was digital illustration but all students then and now are required to buy a Mac laptop of some sort. What model depends on major. You can get out of it and use a Windows machine but you won't get student discounts on Adobe software (also required for most majors) and those discounts are huge.


Oh, okay that makes sense, I wondered if it was a school thing or nearly convenient and it seems like more of the latter but the former is still in effect.

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I think chrome os has to get better at scaling before any more 1080p laptops show up imo I've used the Samsung chrome book 2 and idk of its just my bad eysite buy a lot of text is really small

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That is good to know. I guess I'd try to look at one in person before just ordering one then. I figured the scaling would be similar to how windows works. I am surprised Android is so good with 1080p+ but Chrome OS isn't apparently designed well for it.

Then why does the chromebook pixel have no problem with 2560 X 1700 resolution. Please explain that. Same OS. Only logical that if pixel can display that resolution then the reason that Chromebooks haven't had higher resolution so far isn't the OS. Cost has been the reason.

Jim Lloyd

Every time I see a new Chromebook come out, the first thing I check is the screen res. I am pleased that this will be 1080. Thanks for putting it on my radar!

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That actually looks pretty nice. I have the HP 11 ( not the newest one ) and actually really like it. Was $179 and for what i use it for ( school, reddit, random browsing/ watching movies ) its pretty much perfect. Feels nice and solid, has a better display than just about every other Chromebook, pretty good speakers, and doesn't look cheap at all.

Battery life could be much better though.

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i have the hp 11 too. design wise, its def the best chromebook. yeah...battery life could be better and it is def a 5 or less tabs' computer....but that screen pretty much blows everything else out of the water as far as chromebooks are concerned that aren't the pixel. (i've yet to see the acer tegra powered version at 1080 p)

Just got my Acer C720 and I absolutely freakin love it! It's way zippier than I expected it to be. Battery life is beyond stellar, lasting me all day while the screen was on and connected the whole time. Got it refurbished from Groupon for $129. I use it all day while studying for classes and haven't found a hiccup yet.

ps... I'd love that "Android Central" logo for my Chromebook that's displayed in the picture! Is it available for purchase?

Bought one too from Groupon. Shipping took forever. I haven't used it much but my wife likes it. All she uses laptops for is Web browsing so it's perfect for her. I on the hand need more than a chromebook can for offer.

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I recently purchased the C720 as well. I surprisingly love this thing!!! I loved it so much that I have pre-ordered the one with the Tegra K1 chip in it. At $379, not a bad price and if performed as advertised with better graphics, powerful processor (for a chromebook anyway), more RAM, and more storage, I will be in heaven. My son will get my C720. Can't wait.

You're in for a rude awakening to be considering a Chromebook for college.

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Pardon? I'm not sure where the animosity came from but yes, I go to a real school with real teachers while also taking online classes. Why wouldn't online classes be considered college, anyways? I lived on campus 12 years ago (my first run at college) and the learning environment isn't much different than it is today besides the fact that computers are integrated into everything now. I got it last week so I kinda did "just" get it but I've used it heavily since day one.... So what's your issue besides having a little pecker?

For my classes, it would be perfect. Everything I do is online and I manage all my notes in OneNote. I don't see any problem at all with having a chromebook for college.

that entirely depends on what you do at college i do health and social care with nursing, for my needs a chromebook is more than acceptable

I too use a Chromebook for college, the Samsung series 3, probably the worst-performing one in terms of specs, and it works fine. I can go from powered down to logged in and in an online seminar in less than 60 seconds. The only "problem" is that the school I attend requires assignments to be submitted in word doc format. works well, but likes to fight against APA formatting... Which is more of an issue with office online than anything.

Can you be kind enough to elaborate, as I was gonna swing by bestbuy today to pick one up. The only reason I want one is for school and given that all the lab, 360 and all are online I just can't see why I'd spend money to buy a machine just to get online.

No he can't. His whole M.O. is to come around, make troll comments like these, and then move on to the next article to do the same thing.

Posted from the Avengers: Age of Droid Ultra

This from someone without a high school education, let alone a college degree

Posted from the Avengers: Age of Droid Ultra

I love Chromebooks for their simplicity and have bought three as gifts so far but I would never recommend a Chromebook to a university student as their only computing device. I think for elementary and high-school students, they fulfill that need quite nicely and they make great companion devices for university studies.

Three of my cousins went back to school this week, one got a descent desktop for her dorm room and I got her an HP Chromebook (strictly for the color choices) for lugging around campus. The other has a 17" gaming laptop that pretty much serves as a desktop replacement and the third pretty much uses a MacBook Pro permanently docked and hooked up to a 27" monitor. I still got them a Chromebook (used Pixels I picked up dirt cheap at a local Computer store) and I'm surprised even the Mac fiend in the family loves it for everyday classwork and web surfing.'s not like I've never asked about those stickers! Find that box that Richard Devine said is somewhere in the US! We shall have them all!.....if we ever find it. Can't wait to see a keep calm and whatever sticker next to a AC sticker!

Been reserving a spot on my laptop for one. It shall be acquired. Even if it doesn't fit in with all the GoT sigils.

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They're the same fools who think they need a top off the line MacBook Pro to take notes in their useless Liberal Arts degree classes, so a wast of money on the computer and degree

I use autoCAD .. SPSS .. R ..Paraview .. Statistica .. And dont use google products .. Chromebook is good for my needs? I dont think so .. Who says Chromebook is good for college don't study in sciences ..

Most people don't study science and I've never heard or read anyone ever say a Chromebook was enough for everyone's needs.

Agreed. Try running SolidWorks, MathCad, Xilinx Studio, MicroCap, AutoCAD, various compilers for various architectures, and 3-5 USB devices with a Chromebook. I like the idea of a Chromebook, but I just can't justify a stripped down android tablet with a keyboard as a primary computing device. The guy that mentioned using it to remote into a powerful desktop may be on to something though.

I got a refurbished HP Chromebook 14 from Woot for $200 and it is great! My daughters love using it for their school work and watching YouTube and the build quality is surprising given the price-point.

First o your research and understand the limitations of ChromeOS and only then get a Chromebook. For most end-user use-cases it is perfect, doubly so as a second computer.

I recently got a Acer C720 and took it with me on a business trip to San Francisco. I left my laptop at home so I would use the CB. It worked great! Did everythign I needed to do. The best feature is being able to access my Desktop at home and work. You can have windows eight I am hooked on Chrome.

I'm back in grad school, and the Chromebook was exactly what I needed. For the nay sayers, what majors/type of classes and what reasons are you talking about? If you are talking for graphic design, illustration, then yeah, I can see needing something different. If you are compiling your own code locally, then of course this won't do what you need. If you are using some specialized piece of software only available on a PC or Mac, then same deal. But if you are using the Chromebook to to take notes in class, write up papers, do research on line, etc, then this is totally rocking for me! Last year I used my Samsung Chromebook. Over the summer I got an Acer 720. Either will work fine, and I've never needed the power cord while on campus.

It's great the reactions I get from people when I tell them I compile android from my Chromebook. I did up the ram to 6 gbs and it works wonderfully. Just get a chroot environment and you're good to go!

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What about the acer Tegra k1 chromebook? What nvidia is trying to do with it seems more exciting then the other chromebook so I'm wondering how well it tests up against the other models.

I have the first Gen Samsung ARM chromebook for college. I'm going to need windows for programming classes, but until then it's sufficient, if a bit slow. What are you people doing at college (other than programming) that ChromeOS WON'T work for?

This is what I find most frustrating about tech folks. Nine times out of ten if you hear someone say "They suck!" and then you ask them if they have actually used said suckage they will say "Well no..."

I thought a Chromebook would suck but I went out and bought one to find out.

They don't.

Personally I need Menedely to organize my article, I need R for Stats and Latex. I suppose one of the online versions might work like WriteLatex, but Latex as it is free. Chromebooks can be made to work, but unless all you do is bibliographical research and type up documents (maybe in a humanities type degree) they make your life just a little more difficult. And in college, you computer should be the least thing to make your life difficult.

I know this comment is old... But I've been thinking about getting a Chromebook and the lack of access to Mendeley is the one factor holding me back.

Since I bought my chromebook a year ago, the Google Docs, Sheets and Slides have become much improved. They play much nicer with Office docs, though tables are not very customizable. The battery life is awesome

For campuses with great WiFi, its a great budget option. If price is no object a Haswell laptop would be great and more flexible.

Hp14 works great and I actually use it ( dual-booted with linux) for my java class and it works well. As long as you can get past the fact that almost everything is done in the browser and you have to install linux to do other stuff its a good laptop.

I would love to pick one up. I'd keep my windows laptop around for my java and html coding programs

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I can't use a chromebook for college. I am using a windows laptop because we get free MS office 365, Microsoft developer tools etc.. we get all kinds of free stuff. Unless they add it in the tuition and don't tell us lolll. Majoring in Computer information systems

Question about chromebooks, especially those of you that have the$130 one from Groupon.

Any problems hooking up an older common printer that you have laying around the house?

AC, why everytime you all do a "which Chromebook is best type" article the Dell model never gets a mention. Is it simply because its not really commercially available?

Studies show that students taking notes on laptops have a 20%-40% loss in retention. I don't have a source but I trust the instructor that mentioned it since he's not against the use of computers with him being perfectly fine with the use of tablets with active stylus support.

Having a laptop for college is definitely a perk though.

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No Chromebook start at that price but used, I can do with my Lumia 520 everything a Chromebook can do. My Icon overpass it!!! For 229 wich is the cheapest chromebook I can use my Dell Venue 8 Pro with a $15 keyboard, Office that run offline, with 64 GB instead and even more portable. How about that?

Because the Windows laptop will also be "beyond" the Chromebook in boot time, susceptibility to viruses and malware, and general slowdown over time.

Windows PC vs Chromebook is like comparing a Ferrari to an Accord. Sure, the Ferrari will be more capable, but it will break down more and require more maintenance. And if you're comparing a sub-$250 Win PC to a Chromebook, it's like comparing a 30 year old Ferrari to a new Accord.