For many of you out there, when it comes time to buy a Chromebook, price is the main thing that informs your ultimate decision. Sure, we can talk about processors and storage and RAM all day long, but at the end of the day, we all know that money talks. If two Chromebooks look pretty similar next to one another, I’d wager that 99% of the time the purchase goes to the one with the lower price, even if those savings mean a diminished experience is part of the trade off. But that doesn’t have to always be the case if you know what you are looking at in a spec sheet and you have time to do some research.
Your reasons for shopping for an affordable device may vary, but the process is always the same. Whether you are purchasing a device for a student, for yourself, or just as a general around-the-house computer, you need to be armed with the information to help you make a solid purchasing decisions. So, in that spirit, we thought it might be time to take a look at some of the pitfalls that can accompany affordable Chromebook purchases and how you may be able to avoid them if you know what to look for.
Speed and EOL: pay attention to the processor
First up, let’s talk about processors. Unfortunately, there are quite a few retail outlets that sell outdated Chromebooks and do absolutely nothing to alert the buyer that the model is years old at the time of purchase. It’s a shady practice for sure, but it is most definitely something you’ll run into pretty frequently. Knowing a bit about what processor you need to be shopping for will help this greatly, so here are a few things to keep in mind.
Low-end Chromebooks will likely have either a small-core Intel processor, an entry-level AMD processor, or some sort of ARM processor inside. For Intel-based Chromebooks, I’d recommend sticking with the N4000 series of Intel chips (aka Gemini Lake) or better. If you see anything that is in the N3000 series or lower (a Celeron N3350, for example), I’d say to stay away. N4000 series chips finally made small-core Intel processors completely usable in low-end Chromebooks when they arrived, and with prices as they are at this point, there’s no reason to get an older generation device. Keep in mind this will also give you more time before the Chromebook stops getting regular updates as well. Gemini Lake devices are set to keep getting regular updates until June of 2026, so you’d have a full 5 years of use if you were to buy one today. There are measures in place that look to be extending that end of life further, but those changes to Chrome OS aren’t set in stone yet. And you don’t want to buy hardware today based on future software promises.
If you are looking at Chromebooks powered by affordable ARM processors, at this stage I’d recommend sticking to MediaTek devices and I’d tell you to stay with the MT8183 versus the MT8173 that is still out there in a handful of Chromebooks for sale. The MT8183 is found inside devices like the Lenovo Chromebook Duet and while it isn’t a performance beast, it will get regular updates until June 2028 and is far better than the previous MT8173 that came before it. Oh, and if you see any device with a Rockchip ARM processor inside, just run away.
Finally, there are also the entry-level AMD A4 and A6 processors that are OK as well. There is only a single generation of these processors available right now in Chromebooks, so there are no worries about getting the older or newer versions of these chips. If you are choosing between the two, the A6 is a much better purchase versus the A4, so keep that in mind. However, both provide decent performance and shouldn’t be an issue for anyone looking to purchase a solid, low-end Chromebook.
The screen type matters. A lot.
Alright, that was a lot, I know. The rest of these sections are much simpler and straightforward, I promise. Let’s begin with screens. There are basically two types of screens we see on low-end Chromebooks: TN and IPS. IPS has good viewing angles, colors, and generally performs well. TN panels are the ones that look terrible off-angle, are usually blown out, have very little contrast, and invert colors when not viewed dead-center. If you can’t tell, I’m not a fan at all. Their only redeeming quality is the fact that they are cheap and help bring down the overall price of a Chromebook. Here’s my advice: avoid them if you can. If the Chromebook you are looking at doesn’t have an IPS screen listed in the spec sheet, it is likely TN panel. See if there is an IPS upgrade or another similarly-priced Chromebook with an IPS screen and you won’t be sorry for it. Even if the upgrade costs you $20 or $30, I promise over the life of the Chromebook, you’ll be glad you spent the extra cash.
Mind your storage space
Storage is another spec to keep an eye on. There are tons of cheap Chromebooks that really skimp on the internal storage and you need to know what you are getting. With Android apps enabled, a 32GB Chromebook gets cramped really, really fast. Look for at least 64GB of storage if you can and if you can’t find that in your price range, be sure any 32GB Chromebook you buy has expandable storage. It’s not as good as internal space, but it does help quite a bit and I promise you will need it.
Build quality factors to consider
The last couple things to consider before buying an affordable Chromebook are build quality and input methods. There’s no doubt that many low-end Chromebooks have flimsy builds, mushy keyboards and less-than-stellar trackpads. But that’s not the case across the board. In fact, there are plenty of cheap Chromebooks that come with surprisingly great build quality and input methods. It’s just not easy to tell right up front as there’s no spec sheet entry that can help you sort which devices are good or bad in this respect. Honestly, all you can really go by are hands-on reviews for this sort of thing and many times you won’t have those available at the time of purchase. But there’s a secret weapon you wield as a buyer that you need to take advantage of in these situations: the return policy.
If you make sure the place you are buying your Chromebook from has a good return policy, you can make your purchase when you see a device that meets all your criteria and if it shows up and feels like its held together by scotch tape and rubber bands, you can simply send it back and try again. Sure, getting the opinion of a tech reviewer first would be more optimal, but there are simply too many low-end Chromebooks out there to expect all of them to get the full hands-on review treatment, and a solid return policy is the antidote to crummy Chromebook builds.
So, there you have it. If you take all this info into your purchase decision, I guarantee you’ll end up buying a Chromebook you’ll be far happier with in the future. Sure, there are other factors to a Chromebook’s overall usefulness, but these core parts of the experience should ensure that you get the best bang for your buck as you go to buy one, and that’s what we’re most concerned with here at Chrome Unboxed. If that’s the sort of content you’re into, be sure to get subscribed to our YouTube Channel and to our newsletter below so you don’t miss future videos and posts.