a Chromebook tucked under a man's arm

Chromebooks have long been viewed as a cheaper alternative to Windows and Mac-based laptops. And, while some top-rated models—the Google Pixelbook and the Acer Chromebook CB713—stretch well beyond $500, you can still find a well-made Chromebook for under $300.

It may not have the latest Intel processor, nor the largest hard drive, but it will be perfectly capable of browsing the web, streaming videos on platforms like YouTube and Hulu, and doing “real” work, using productivity apps such as Google’s G Suite and Microsoft’s Office 365.

If you've never used a Chromebook, though, be prepared for a slight learning curve.

Instead of using Windows or macOS, Chromebooks use Google’s Chrome OS operating system, which is fairly easy to master, especially for someone familiar with the Chrome web browser. They rely heavily on web-based apps, reducing the need for onboard storage and processing power.

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In recent years, they’ve even gained the ability to run Android apps, opening the door to software such as Word, Excel, and Adobe Lightroom (for editing photos), all of which can be downloaded from the Google Play app store on a Chromebook.

Bottom line: If your computing needs are mostly confined to reading emails, paying bills, and browsing social media, a Chromebook will get the job done without putting a big dent in your wallet.

We test Chromebooks much like we test traditional Windows and Mac-based laptops. We look at how well they perform while running different apps, how comfortable the keyboard is to type on, and how long the battery lasts. We also take display quality into account, evaluating how accurately the screen represents colors and how wide the viewing angle is.

There are currently 23 Chromebook models in our ratings, from well-known companies like Acer, Asus, and Lenovo. And while many score reasonably well, the following list shows the best models you can buy for $300 or less. 

Acer Chromebook C732

This 11.6-inch notebook sells for around $290. Our testers say it’s a good choice for consumers interested in the basics. Think browsing the web, streaming videos, and using web-based productivity apps.

The specs are modest, which is true for other Chromebooks in this price range: There’s an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of memory, and 32GB of flash storage.

That is not a lot of storage, so be prepared to “live in the cloud.” That is, rely heavily on cloud-based apps and services, instead of storing data such as audio and photo files directly on the laptop.

The battery lasts more than 17 hours on a single charge for web browsing. And the device weighs a little less than 3 pounds, which makes it light enough to carry around without feeling the heft.

The screen is also good, with accurate colors and a coating that helps cut down glare in bright environments (like under the harsh lights of an office). The viewing angle is somewhat narrow, however, which may not be a problem in day-to-day use, unless you enjoy watching videos on the screen with friends and family members.

If the 11.6-inch display is a little too small for you, consider Acer’s 14-inch ($230) and 15.6-inch ($300) models. The 14-inch model may seem like the best deal of all—it’s bigger and costs less than the 11.6-inch model—but the performance isn’t quite as good. 

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Acer Chromebook C732-C6WU

Price: $290

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Asus Chromebook C223NA

This 11.6-inch model costs $300 on the nose. The specs are about average for a Chromebook at that price. There’s an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of memory, and 32GB of flash storage.

This, according to our testers, is adequate for doing things like browsing the web and watching streaming video, but you’ll have to do away with the idea of keeping a large number of files (like music, videos, or photos) stored on the computer itself.

At 10 hours, the battery life isn’t quite as impressive as that of the above Acer model, but it’s still long enough to last a full workday. The display received good scores, too, with accurate colors and a coating to cut down on the glare.

Here again, if 11.6 inches is too small for your liking, Asus makes a 14-inch model ($270) that rated nearly as highly, but the battery life is a little on the short side for a Chromebook. 

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Asus Chromebook C223NA-DH02

Price: $230

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Lenovo Chromebook C330

This 11.6-inch convertible—you can flip the keyboard behind the display to use like a tablet—sells for around $250. It uses an ARM processor typically found in mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. (There’s also 4GB of memory and 32GB of solid state storage.)

While the processor is more than powerful enough to handle web browsing, video streaming, and web-based productivity apps, it's slower than the Intel and AMD processors in the other models here.

And while an ARM processor should result in better battery life—it is designed for mobile devices, after all—the 10.5-hour stretch recorded by this computer is merely on par with that of the Chromebooks above. A few more hours would have been nice to see.

Beyond that minor nitpick, however, this is a solid choice, with an accurate display and a comfortable keyboard.

This is the only Lenovo Chromebook currently in our ratings, but the company does have reasonably priced Windows-based laptops, too, including the IdeaPad S340, which we recently highlighted in our list of the best sub-$500 laptops

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Lenovo Chromebook C330

Price: $250

Performance
Portability
Versatility
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