Chromebooks are a fantastic learning tool for children, and you won't break the bank buying one for the student in your life.
Choosing to buy a computer for a younger student making their way through elementary or middle school is more of a necessity than a choice nowadays, but you'd be right in thinking there needs to be some thought put into which you buy. Given the scope of their work and the amount of money you are likely to want to spend on a child's computer, a Chromebook can end up being a fantastic laptop choice for your young scholar.
Add to that the number of schools that are embracing one-to-one computer programs, Google Apps for schools and other online curricula and a Chromebook can be a fantastic learning tool. Chromebooks offer fantastic security, battery life and a variety of size options as well, all at affordable prices. There are only a few that should be considered for the younger student in your life, though, and we're here to help you choose the right one.
Best choice: ASUS Chromebook Flip
ASUS has released the first 10.1-inch convertible Chromebook, called the Chromebook Flip, and while its size may be a hinderance for adults with larger hands to use it's just the right size for the young student in your life.
The 10.1-inch display looks great and has multitouch capabilities — which is increasingly the way kids interact with devices — and is an appropriate size for small hands. The Chromebook Flip also converts from a traditional laptop into a touch-only experience in a "tablet mode," which will also be useful. And at less than two pounds, it's a size that a kid can carry around on their own.
Battery life is good, and performance is solid — particularly if you opt for 4GB of RAM — from this little fanless Chromebook. It isn't the cheapest possible choice out there — ranging from $225 to $275 depending where you get it and which model you choose — but it's a great choice if you're getting a young student started with a simple laptop.
Runner-up: Acer C720P Chromebook
We're sticking with another touchscreen-enabled recommendation because we understand the importance for a younger student. The Chromebook Flip is really affordable for what it offers, which is great, but if you happen to come across a deal on the Acer C720P Chromebook you should take it.
Acer has replaced the non-touch C720 model of this computer with a newer C740, but has yet to make a new model with a touchscreen, so this slightly-older version should show up on sale. And if you can get it for less than the Chromebook Flip, go for it. It's built tough, has solid performance and of course the touchscreen.
Most of the time the C720P will show up with a higher retail price than the Chromebook Flip even though it's an older device, so in those cases just go with our top pick instead.
Wild card: Maybe a Chromebox is best
We understand that the prospect of handing over a full-fledged computer with an internet connection to a young child may be a point of contention. For those who wish to keep a young student's computer usage in a more "public" area of the home, a Chromebox may be a better choice. You get all of the simplicity and power of a Chromebook in a more stationary machine that can be kept in a place where the parents can keep a lookout.
Chromeboxes do require a bit more setup than a Chromebook, though, as you'll need to provide your own monitor, as well as a keyboard and mouse in most cases. If you're not opposed to the small amount of setup and bulk, though, the ASUS Chromebox packs a ton of power and has an option to include a wireless mouse and keyboard for about $250 retail.
If you already have a keyboard and mouse to attach and want to save a few dollars, we wouldn't hold it against you. You can pick up an older model, the HP Chromebox for about $150 instead. But also keep an eye on other models of the ASUS Chromebox, which can reach those prices as well.
As a third option, if you don't want to bring your own monitor but still want a computer that's more stationary, you can also consider a Chromebase. These all-in-one Chrome OS desktops — with screens around 22 inches — are ideal for simplicity in a desktop form factor. A couple manufacturers make quality Chromebases — we recommend Acer's, but it's a little more expensive at $329 retail than the slightly older LG model that's under $300 nowadays, which is still an acceptable choice.
No matter what kind of computer you're looking to give to a young student, you have great options here with these Chromebooks and Chromeboxes.
Article originally posted September 2014, updated August 2015.