Friday, November 15, 2019

Fall 2019 Chromebook Buyers Guide

I originally wrote this for my class blog @HeathcoteTech. After receiving multiple emails from parents with personal device/Chromebook questions I figured I'd turn my email replies into a more structured "buyers guide" of sorts. The thoughts and opinions in this post are my own and crafted with 2nd-5th graders in mind, as that is the population I teach. This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive list of the "best" Chromebooks on the market.

This is the second annual Chromebook Buyers Guide. Chromebooks are great devices for elementary school students and beyond. There are lots of options and hopefully this guide will give you a sense of why go Chromebook and which models(s) to check out. Enjoy...

As the years have progressed there has been an ever increasing interest from parents to purchase Chromebooks for home use. Awesome!
I think it's an excellent idea and a great investment, we use them every day at school and I have four in my home.
Before I get into some device specifics I want to touch on a few common points of interest from parents...
By Koman90 [BSD (, CC BY 2.5  ( or GPL (], from Wikimedia Commons

  • Yes, Chromebooks are fully functional and very robust computing devices
  • Yes, they do require a wifi connection to work (although they do have some offline capabilities) but in 2019 I have two things to say to that
    • a 2-5th grader is most likely using this device at home, or another location, where there is wifi
    • if they are in a place without wifi it is probably best to go outside and enjoy the lack of wifi
  • Why are they so cheap? Well, relatively inexpensive is a better description...
    • You can spend $1,000 on a Chromebook, but you can also spend $150 on one; as with any machine the cost differential is due to items like screen quality, physical weight, touch vs non touch screens, etc.
    • The biggest price difference between a Chromebook and a Mac or Windows machine is the operating system license. A Chromebook runs on Chrome, which doesn't cost anything. Microsoft charges laptop makers a license fee for installing windows on their hardware, and that fee gets passed on to the consumer.
  • How long do they last? Officially? 3 years. Realistically? 6-7.
    • When Chromebooks were first released you could only purchase them from Google, and Google had them on a 3-year life cycle, meaning after 3 years Google wouldn't service or support them and expected you to get a new one. That has changed dramatically over the years. Now that many vendors make Chromebooks the quality has gone up, immensely. I bought my mother-in-law a Chromebook 9 years ago. It lasted her 8 years, she only upgraded during Christmas 2018 because the deal was so good. It is her only computer and she uses it daily. A Chromebook in the hands of an elementary age student should last 3 years at the minimum and closer to 5 on the high end.
  • Touch screen? Detachable screen? Flip screen? For the most part, no.
    • In my opinion the tool and app availability for Chromebooks, to take full advantage of touch and tablet features, just isn't there yet. In Scarsdale we look at those features every year when we evaluate the 3rd grade Chromebook purchase. We have yet to go that route not because the devices aren't solid but rather there is a lack of apps and tools that require, or take advantage of, those features. Maybe next year...
    • However, for the home user, there are a few very solid options that are flip but also less than $300. The Lenovo Flex 11, for instance, is a situation where the device is solid, and economical, enough without the flip, so the flip is just a bonus.
  • Don't spend a lot on a Chromebook for an elementary-age student.
    • Yes, you can go $1,000, but why? My feeling is $300-500 is a range with a lot of very solid devices that will last a few years.
    • In fact, there are a lot of very solid options in the $279 range.
    • Spending less than $400 or $500 eases any potential upgrading in a few years, or adding something like an iPad to the mix (my personal feeling is an iPad and a Chromebook is the best power-computing combination for $1,000).

At school

In Scarsdale we use Dell Chromebooks. Right now Dell has discounted their 3100 model (last Christmas they discounted models up to 65% so if it's not urgent, check the Dell site in December).
  • The 3rd grade uses 3100 (non-touch)
  • The 4th grade uses the 5190 (non-touch)
  • The 5th grade use the 3180
  • I am using a 5190 2-in-1 touch-screen model as a test machine
    • initial thoughts are:
      • it's heavy
      • awkward as a tablet
      • touch is nice when in laptop mode
      • I wouldn't consider it an iPad replacement, not at all close
At home I have 4 Chromebooks; two Dell Chromebook 11 3180, one Toshiba Chromebook 2 and one Asus 302C. The Dell I bought, for my children, is the same model our 5th graders currently use. The Toshiba was my wife's and is now 5+ years old so last Christmas I got her the Asus and I use the Toshiba. All four are going strong and are well suited to everyones needs.


Here are some sources I always use for reference in my own research

So, with all of that, it boils down to...


If I were buying for my children right now I'd decide between

If I were buying for myself I'd decide between

A thing to keep in mind

Don't be swayed by extremely low prices on clearance at store like Best Buy. I love Best Buy but generally their clearance models are years-old overstock. This Dell 3181 for instance, is a great deal at $189, however that model is at least 3 years old, and depending on manufacture date it might be 4 years old. It's a good machine, the 5th graders have been using it since 3rd grade. However, the brand new 3100 series are currently at $249 (yes, it's $60 more so not a small number, but $60 to jump to a brand new model is a serious consideration) and those prices are likely to drop a little more. So while the $189 is definitely a great deal on the surface, it's not a solid a deal when compared to brand new machines, like the $229 Samsung 3 I recommend above.

Final thoughts

  • Chromebooks are awesome
  • Don't spend more than $300 for a student device
  • At the top end, I wouldn't spend more than $600
    • yes, you can pay $1,000 for a Chromebook, but why would you...
  • Touch is fine but not required - a touch Chromebook is not an iPad
    • but if you really want touch, the Lenovo C330 is good at $279 and the Asus C434 is top notch at $540

I hope this post guides your purchasing decision.

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