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Review: 6 business-class Chromebooks test their mettle

Woody Leonhard | Dec. 11, 2014
I've spent the last three weeks taking six business-oriented Chromebooks through their paces. I started out as a skeptical Windows-rules-them-all kind of guy: I've been using Windows since the early days, and I've rarely strayed from the ghosts of my Windows masters. By the end of my Chromebook experiment, however, my old biases were shaken.

That said, the same hardware specs behind a speedy Chromebook may make for a decidedly underpowered Windows machine. As always, it all depends on the workload. As I experienced in my testing, a Chromebook can seem underpowered too — if you drive it hard enough.

None of the Chromebooks I reviewed struck the perfect balance in performance, usability, and price. While Google's Pixel is unmatched in almost every respect, the price tag makes it a nonstarter for all but the most well-heeled. Otherwise, its only shortcoming is its 3.5-hour battery life, which is more akin to a Windows laptop than other Chromebooks.

I found the Nvidia Tegra K1 machines — the Acer Chromebook 13 and HP Chromebook 14 G3 — to be a bit underpowered for demanding use. For serious productivity, I recommend you find a Chromebook with an Intel Celeron or Intel Core processor. The Celeron-powered units here — the Dell Chromebook 11, the Samsung Chromebook 2, and the Toshiba Chromebook 2 — delivered both better performance and battery life that matched their Nvidia-based competitors.

With the one obvious exception, none of the Chromebooks here paired a great screen with a great keyboard. Apart from the Pixel, only the screen of the Toshiba Chromebook 2 stands out. The Toshiba's combination of gorgeous screen, usable keyboard, good performance, and excellent build quality make it my top choice.

Chromebooks can't do everything Windows PCs can do, obviously. You wouldn't want to saddle an Excel expert or PowerPoint power user with a Chromebook, and if Andrea in Accounting wants to run QuickBooks, she won't find a Chrome version. But neither individual users nor companies are homogeneous. Some people will breathe a sigh of relief when they discover that they don't have to wrestle with Windows Update and can get all their work done in a no-hassle browser.

For the user who likes to keep it simple — and the company that could see a specific job function, carve it out, set it in Chrome, then strip back all the extraneous junk — the Chromebook offers a way to pursue a nearly hassle-free cyber existence. With a Chromebook, the computer's no longer part of the problem. It's a simple tool, like a phone or a desk chair, and it doesn't require any care or feeding.

Talk about productivity

InfoWorld Scorecard

Usability (30%)

Build quality (20%)

Performance (20%)

Battery life (15%)

Value (15%)

 

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