Chromebooks vs. laptops: which one is right for you?
Google’s Chromebooks certainly look like any other normal laptop. However, when it comes to Chromebooks and laptops, this resemblance is only superficial. So what type of shell computer is right for you? It turns out that there is a surprisingly long list of things to consider before making your purchase!
Google’s Chromebooks have been very successful in education, but in the consumer market it has been more difficult to properly position yourself in the laptop market. This brings us to the question of whether you should shell out money for a traditional laptop or on a (very different) Chromebook device.
I’ve divided the reasons why you might want a Chromebook into several general points. Which should clarify the overall idea of Chromebooks, so you can decide if this fits your own approach to personal computing in the battle between Chromebooks and Windows notebooks for your wallet.
Chromebooks are cheap!
It is true; on average, Chromebooks will be priced considerably lower than laptops of the same size class. Although, under the hood, you will not find components that fully match the performance of even low-end laptops. It turns out that it’s not really a problem, since Chromebooks are a combination of a specialized lightweight operating system, Google data centers, and carefully evaluated and balanced hardware to host the two. The low price of Chromebooks has made them attractive. However, it is important to understand that you are not getting the full set of features that traditional Windows laptops offer.
Chromebooks run Chrome OS
The hardware inside a Chromebook is nothing special. You’ll find it in both laptops and regular tablets. The defining characteristic of a Chromebook is that it runs Chrome OS as its operating system. Based on the Linux kernel and derived from Chromium, it is a very light operating system.
Chrome OS is so stripped down, because its main task is to provide a base for the Chromebook to run the Chrome browser. Almost all of the software you use on a Chromebook is presented through the Chrome browser. In a sense, Chromebooks really only run this one app. At least that was the idea at the start.
Modern Chromebooks now also have Chrome apps that look like the traditional app model. For Chromebooks that use the same hardware architecture as Android devices, it’s now also possible to access apps from the Google Play Store. Just make sure you get a compatible Chromebook if that’s important to you.
Chromebooks need the Internet, but not as much as they used to
Google realized early on that its vision of a thin client laptop that absolutely needed an Internet connection was a little too far ahead of its time. Chrome OS has therefore constantly adapted to provide a more balanced approach to IT. Chrome apps, offline syncing from Google Drive, and many other little touches have made Chromebooks quite usable in the absence of the Internet. You can still do light work or watch a downloaded movie on an airplane. That being said, a Chromebook feels much more limited than a traditional laptop when the umbilical cord is cut.
Chromebook apps are quite limited
As you can imagine, you won’t find any great apps ported to Chrome OS. Which means you’re probably not going to be able to give up laptops. Not if your work is absolutely based on specific Windows, Linux or macOS applications. It’s better to think of Chromebooks offering certain classes of services. Such as word processing or web browsing. Rather than as a platform for heavy third-party applications.
Additionally, although Chrome apps are designed for the form factor of laptops, many Play Store apps are inconsistent or just difficult to use in a desktop environment. This makes sense, as they weren’t developed for Chromebooks in the first place, but it’s worth mentioning as a caveat.
The ideal Chromebook user
The perfect user of Chromebook is someone whose IT life already revolves around the ecosystem
Chromebooks vs. Laptops: Choosing the Best Chromebook
If you think a Chromebook will suit you better than a traditional laptop, you can head over to Kyle Bradshaw’s excellent overview of the best Chromebooks you can buy today. You can’t replace the functionality of a laptop with a Chromebook. However, there are many people who can certainly get a Chromebook to achieve the same goal that they currently use a laptop with. If you don’t need more than a Chromebook, these are the lightest, most affordable, and often the most enjoyable machines!
Don’t miss my review of the best chromebook for kids here.