Guest Expert: Sam Tatum, Tear Down Technician
Perusing the lengthy list of Chromebook models can feel like staring blankly at the menu of a classy French restaurant. Maybe you know what Moules Marinières, Pissaladière, or X360 G4EE translates to — but if you don't, it's probably best not to just point to something and hope for the best. Get the model that's right for you, with the ingredients features that will satisfy your Chromebook appetite. Below are some recommendations based on different types of use.
Flexibility is the name of the game, here. The best personal Chromebooks have the ability to transition seamlessly from the desk to the kitchen countertop to the living room couch, which is where the 2-in-1 models come into play. As a laptop, they're all business; as a touchscreen tablet, they're living for the weekend. That increased functionality comes with increased strain on the system resources, however, so it's advisable to also opt for a model with 8GB of RAM in order to facilitate the smoothest experience. I mean, maybe you're not the type of person who keeps 500 tabs open on their browser while also binge-streaming true crime documentaries on Netflix, but to prevent crashes for any reason, that additional RAM will come in handy.
A few other options to consider are a backlit keyboard (most education editions don't have this feature) for low-light typing, a 14" screen with a 1080p resolution for those who like their visuals crisp (Lenovo and HP offer reasonably priced models with this feature), an HDMI port to connect to an external screen (possibly a larger work monitor), and maybe even a world-facing camera, for anyone who for some reason can't be bothered to take photos with their phone.
While most teachers probably don't expect their school-issued device to be the Cadillac of Chromebooks, there are still a few higher-end features that will make educating a room of little monsters a lot easier. First and foremost, make sure the device has an HDMI or USB Type C port to connect to a docking station. Being able to simply plug in the device and instantly connect to different monitors and/or projectors without having to waste time with hookups maximizes workflow and keeps focus on the lesson plan instead of on the tech.
Also, since the ability to screencast is now available on Chromebooks operating on ChromeOS 104 or later, it's not a bad idea to favor a device powerful enough to easily handle such things. Look for units with AMD processors, or Intel Celeron 4500 or better. 8 GB of RAM is also recommended, which will help when multitasking. Show videos, present slides, run multiple tabs — go nuts with it. And lastly, a touchscreen could come in handy for those who like to use a stylus. While the days of smearing Sharpie ink across the overhead projector slide are mostly ended, that doesn't mean you can't still show off your chicken scratch penmanship to the whole class.
Let's face it —the biggest concern with school-issued student Chromebooks isn't having the most advanced features or convenient options. It usually comes down to cost, plain and simple, and what costs more than a Chromebook that keeps "accidentally" breaking? Durability is desirable here, so look for models with rubberized corners (like the Dell 3100, 3110, and 5190), thick screen glass (some Acers employ Gorilla glass, though this can be expensive to replace if they do crack), and/or spill-proof keyboards (the Lenovo 300e and 500e are good examples). For the latter, opting for a model with a separate keyboard can save money, as entire replacing palmrests can be a little pricier.
Depending on how necessary certain functions are, it might be wise to avoid 2-in-1s, as touchscreens are far more fragile and expensive than the alternative. Also be on the lookout for models with weak hinges that might need regular tightening (or even break easily), units with internal plastic pieces (or bezels) that can snap at the drop of a backpack, or models with a thin, sleek appearance (thin components might look cool, but are more fragile).
In the end, the better a student's Chromebook can survive all the usual fumbles, dog attacks, and spilled beverages, the better off any IT director's life will be. Check for models with a decent battery life to round things off, and your fleet should be ready (hopefully) to endure the inevitable abuse.
There are a plethora of choices when it comes to picking out your next Chromebook, and the best options will depend on the intended use. Have any suggestions for features and functions that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!