Many people consider the Chromebook to be the slimmer, faster, and even simpler cousin of the traditional laptop. In contrast to a Mac or Windows system, a Chromebook relies heavily on the Internet for everyday tasks.
Since they tend to be cheaper too, you might be wondering how a Chromebook compares to a regular laptop. Are they a waste of money or an affordable rough diamond? Read on to find out!
Both Chromebooks and laptops can't get expensive. Check out the best Chromebook deals and best laptop sales available when your looking for a discount.
What is a Chromebook?
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
When Chromebooks first launched in 2011, they were lightweight, affordable laptops based on Google's new platform called Chrome OS. These laptops relied primarily on cloud-based applications rather than traditional software. Over the years, their cheaper way has changed, but value is still at the heart of what a Chromebook has to offer.
Acer, Asus, HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Samsung sell Chromebooks in a variety of sizes, ranging from ultrabook designs to 2-in-1 hybrids to the standard thick laptop.
The cheaper models tend to be larger and less powerful than the slimmer, slimmer premium models. These low-end Chromebooks are most commonly used in schools or as first-time personal laptops. High-end Chromebooks like Google's own Pixelbook have high-quality aluminum housings, fast Intel Core processors and in some cases 4K screens.
While you can't buy a $ 2,000 Chromebook like a Windows 10 laptop or MacBook, there are now a variety of options depending on your needs.
What can a Chromebook do?
Unlike Windows 10 or MacOS, Chromebooks have their own operating system called Chrome OS. Although there are basic computing elements like a file manager and app launcher, the main focus of these devices is on the Google Chrome web browser. Since you can't download web-based apps, most of the action is done on Chrome's tabs.
That may sound like a limitation, but many applications already offer web versions such as Spotify, Netflix, Gmail, Slack and Evernote. Because of the proliferation of web applications, many people spend most of their time in a web browser anyway. If your typical workflow is similar to this scenario, the transition to a Chromebook will be relatively smooth. Just connect to Wi-Fi and continue browsing as usual.
However, you can also use the Google Play Store to download Android apps to close any software gaps. Implementing it in a laptop environment might be a little unconventional in some cases – some extend to full screen while others stay locked in smartphone screen mode – but Android apps are available when you really need them.
Chromebooks also support Linux. If you are in desperate need of desktop applications, setting up Linux is certainly an option. There are Linux versions of Audacity, Firefox, GIMP, OBS Studio, Steam, VirtualBox, and many more, but your favorite application may not offer a Linux-based variant. Before ruling out a Chromebook, check the developer's website first.
If you are a gamer there are many options, but you are also limited. For example, the best thing to do is to install Android games or subscribe to Google's new Stadia streaming service. Installing Steam over Linux makes sense, but the typical low-end hardware and minimal storage space limit downloading and gaming.
What can't a Chromebook do?
Due to the limitations of Chrome OS, you can't install essential software that you might otherwise need. Some notable examples are certain Adobe applications or any type of proprietary software limited to Windows or macOS. If you rely on similar apps, you'll either need to find a Linux-based alternative or avoid Chromebooks altogether.
Limitations also extend to performance in general. Chromebooks tend to run fast, but in some cases you are limited by the components they contain. Lower-priced Chromebooks tend to use older processors that can't compete with what you get in Windows and Mac, especially when it comes to multitasking. If you're looking to spend $ 200, a Chromebook is a far better option.
At the high end, there are options like the HP Chromebook x2 or the Pixelbook, and you'll find familiar processors like the eighth generation Core i5, which has four cores and lots of power. Chromebooks tend to fly with these faster options. Some newer Chromebooks, like the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook and the Acer Chromebook Spin 713, feature the latest Intel 10th generation processors, further bridging the gap between the Chromebook, MacBook, and Windows 10 laptops.
Who are Chromebooks for?
Chromebooks were designed for a few specific people. Students come out on top, as school administrators prefer Chromebooks because of their security benefits, robust build quality, and software limitations. That means you can find affordable Chromebooks in public schools across the country.
Chromebooks go beyond cheap plastic kids' laptops. There are also high-end options for professionals and students. Because they're typically light in weight and have long battery life, they're great for people who need to get their work done on the go, whether it's from class to class or on long flights. Some of these are the Google Pixelbook, the Google Pixelbook Go, and the Asus Chromebook Flip C436.
In the Windows 10 laptop world, there are certainly the same options. In the cheaper price range, however, Chromebooks sometimes offer better value. For example, Chromebooks thrive around $ 500, but Windows 10 laptops at this price point tend to be overwhelmed with a thick chassis and chunky performance.
What Chromebook options are available?
The most expensive Chromebook you can buy is Google's Pixelbook, which starts at $ 1,000. It represents the high-end not only in terms of premium materials and workmanship, but also in terms of performance.
Overall, you'll find Chromebooks with 11-inch 2-in-1 options and 15-inch options for extra screen real estate. HD resolution is the standard, while touchscreen and 4K options are rare. Intel Celeron processors are a popular choice for today's Chromebooks – usually dual-core versions that rarely cross the 2.0 GHz mark.
Most Chromebooks offer 2GB to 4GB of RAM, which is enough for average laptop tasks, but is small compared to traditional laptop models that regularly offer 8GB or 16GB of RAM. Chromebooks don't have large hard drives because they depend on the internet for most data purposes. The storage can usually be expanded with an SD card or USB drive if necessary.
When it comes to ports, most Chromebooks are largely comparable to laptops, but less so. USB-A, USB-C, and headphone connections are common connections.
Most Chromebooks have better battery life than the typical laptop. Although around 10 hours is most common, newer models are more likely to have 12 hours of battery life. Windows 10 laptops are slowly closing the gap, but Chromebooks last longer on average.
The really high quality part of the laptop lineup doesn't include Chromebooks, however. You won't find six- or eight-core processors like you have on a laptop like the MacBook Pro 15, the Razer Blade, or the Dell XPS 15. These content creation devices and gaming laptops outperform any Chromebook in terms of performance.
Finally, Chrome OS tablets are available like Google's own Pixel Slate, but we wouldn't recommend them without a keyboard.
Even more expensive Chromebooks are relatively cheap. For the price of one of Microsoft's $ 3,000 laptops, you can buy Chromebooks for the whole family and a few more.
For example, HP's latest Chromebook 15 is only $ 450, and Lenovo's Chromebook Flex 15 is only $ 410. For $ 226, you get a popular 2017 Samsung model. These low prices are one of the top selling points for Chromebooks. The only exception is Google's $ 1,000 ultra-premium Pixelbook.
The features of a Chromebook will never be able to compete with more expensive laptops, but they have pretty much everything you could need to do that. They are the perfect choice for those who need a computer on short term or at a cheaper price. Their simple design also makes them incredibly easy to use and ideal for people who are not particularly comfortable with laptops or computers.