What’s a Chromebook, and Ought to You Purchase One?

Chromebooks are an innovative alternative to Windows-based laptops and MacBooks. If you're looking for a laptop with a simple operating system that's easy to use and even easier on your wallet, one of the best Chromebooks might be perfect for you.

However, there are a few things to consider before buying a Chromebook, such as: B. the limited hardware and the general functions. Read on to see how Chromebooks work and perform compared to other options.

What is a Chromebook?

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Chromebooks are laptops that use Google's Chrome OS platform instead of Windows 10 or MacOS. They're more entry-level, great for college students and tight budgets, but you're sure to find premium models at premium prices.

software

Chrome OS is essentially the Chrome browser that has been redesigned to serve as the operating system instead. It includes OS specific features like a file manager, app launcher, taskbar, etc. It also focuses on Google services like Gmail, YouTube, Maps, and Docs, much like pure Android.

By default, Chrome OS relies heavily on web-based apps that open from a Chrome tab, rather than apps that you download and install. This web-based dependency results in low overhead and enables a super fast start and fast performance even on most low-end hardware.

Currently, you can also install web-based Chrome apps from the Chrome Web Store. This is essentially functional web-based code contained in a single package that installs, resembles, and works mobile apps. Many require an internet connection while others can function offline.

However, since Chrome apps were rarely used, Google discontinued them on MacOS, Linux and Windows in June 2020. Google will then pull the plug on Chrome apps for Chromebooks in June 2022.

Replacing Chrome Apps supports Android apps installed on the Google Play Store. Now you can get the best of both worlds: the speed of a lightweight operating system and access to your library with Android apps. Unfortunately, this means that you're consuming more local storage space than using lighter web-based apps.

Storage and screens

Local storage is typically limited, but with 100GB of online storage and the option to expand it significantly if needed, there is plenty of storage available for most tasks and laptop usage styles. Some Chromebooks have much more local storage, but this comes at an additional cost.

The advantage of storing almost anything on the web is that you can access everything from any computer. If your Chromebook ever bites the dust, you no longer have to worry about losing all of your apps, documents, and settings.

After all, Chromebooks tend to be more on par with Windows' screen sizes, from miniature 12-inch Chromebooks like the Pixel Slate to 15-inch models like the one Lenovo Yoga Chromebook C630. There aren't any bigger ones, but Chromebooks work well with external monitors for those who need more screen space.

However, the resolutions can be high. The Pixel slates The screen has a resolution of 3,000 x 2,000 and looks amazing. There's a 4K Chromebook from Lenovo that we particularly like, while the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook has a 4K AMOLED screen and the latest 10th generation Intel Comet Lake processors.

Not all Chromebooks have high resolution screens, but there's no reason to believe that a Chromebook's screen can't look as good as Windows laptops.

Chromebooks work offline

Most Chromebooks connect to the internet via Wi-Fi, although some more expensive models offer cellular connections. If you can't find a signal, there are workarounds for many routine tasks. Don't let the strong reliance on Chrome fool you.

For example, you can still compose and read email offline with Gmail and work on documents offline with Google Drive. The offline apps automatically save your work and sync it back with online services when your Chromebook reconnects. In addition, you can also download and play many Android games offline.

Chromebook performance

Chromebook specs often seem weak compared to Windows laptops, but that's because they don't have to be particularly powerful. Chrome OS was never intended to run desktop software or Android apps. Instead, Google wanted notebooks to undercut Microsoft and Apple at extremely affordable prices – notebooks that are more secure because they are based on web-based apps.

Because of this focus, Chrome OS is so lightweight that it doesn't need the same processing power as a Windows laptop. Additionally, the bottom components typically use less power to operate, which significantly extends the Chromebook's battery life – another big selling point.

However, there are some specifics. Google's Pixelbook and Pixelbook Go paved the way for a new generation of premium Chromebooks with high-end hardware and even higher performance.

Most Chromebooks don't have such impressive specs, however. They usually offer entry-level processors that can save more energy than number crunching or 3D rendering. There are quite a few Core i5 and Core i7 configurations, but they feel like an overkill in Chrome OS.

Memory can be capped at 2GB or 4GB, which isn't much by Windows laptop standards, although it's more than enough for most Chrome OS tasks.

There are currently no Chromebooks with dedicated graphics chips. However, some offer more powerful onboard graphics than others. For example, Acer sells Chromebook 315 configurations with an AMD APU that includes Radeon onboard graphics, but it is still designed to accelerate web services more than it does gaming.

Play

Gaming isn't actually a Chromebook thing, partly due to the limited storage space and relatively weak specs.

Some Android games (and non-gaming apps) don't scale well on the larger Chromebook screens. In fact, many games are only played in smartphone mode and crash when you expand the view to full screen. Don't expect games to work perfectly on a Chromebook unless games already support tablet-sized screens.

Plus, even your favorite Android games may not show up on Google Play if you're on a Chromebook. This is likely due to the PC's processor. Why? Most smartphones and tablets use a different processor design (ARM) than laptops and desktops (x86). Your favorite game may not be written for an Intel processor, although it will run fine on your Qualcomm Snapdragon-based phone.

An alternative to playing Android games is to install Linux – so if you have the space. This platform allows you to install Steam and any game in your library that has a Linux alternative with no additional purchase required.

Even then, Chromebooks' underlying hardware is typically chosen to speed up web-based tasks and keep the overall price low. Limited storage space prevents large and / or multiple game installations, and performance will not bring you great frame rates in your favorite AAA games.

However, we have a list of the best games for Chromebooks if you're interested in what's available and easy to play.

Finally, you can bypass the hardware and software limitations by playing Google Stadia in the Chrome browser. These games are streamed straight to your Chromebook. This means that performance will depend mostly on your Wi-Fi connection, and not the CPU (or built-in GPU). You can buy games directly and stream them in 1080p at 60 fps, or subscribe to Stadia Pro and not only stream games in 4K, but also play Google's free games library. The subscription also increases your paid games to 4K.

Limitations for Chromebooks

Acer Chromebook 15 Spin ReviewMark Coppock / Digital Trends

Chromebooks have their strengths, but also their weaknesses. At first glance, your biggest flaw is the inability to install traditional desktop software. For example, there doesn't seem to be a way to install photo editing applications like Adobe Photoshop or GIMP.

To compensate, there are plenty of Android and Chrome OS apps that can fill the niches normally taken up by Windows or macOS desktop apps. Unfortunately, Chrome OS and Android counterparts aren't always perfect alternatives – or even that good.

None of these are particularly problematic if you are a prolific Google product user as all of these services and apps are linked to and work well with Chrome OS. The problem lies with those who want and need more from their laptop.

Getting desktop software on a Chromebook isn't impossible either. Experienced users can install Linux, the open source alternative to Windows and MacOS. After that, they can install any Linux-based version of their favorite desktop software, including GIMP, Discord, LibreOffice, and more.

Unfortunately, you can't find a Linux version for every desktop application available on Windows and macOS. Sometimes you have to rely on Android versions or web-based alternatives.

The support and storage of the peripherals is not ideal

New accessories sometimes lack the drivers they need to work properly on a Chromebook. Support might come down the line, but it might not. Sometimes Chromebook users are limited by the choice of accessories compared to Windows laptops and Macbooks.

Local storage is still limited to 16GB to 64GB, and it's almost entirely eMMC flash storage. That said, it's relatively quick, but space is restrictive.

Why so little? Again, Chrome OS was originally designed as an affordable, lightweight solution based on web-based apps. Now that the platform supports Android apps and Linux desktop software, storage requirements have skyrocketed, but storage capacities remain limited.

This is where Google Cloud comes in. You get 100 GB of free cloud storage for 12 months. After that, you will be billed $ 20 annually, which is not bad. Other Google One plans range from 200GB to 30TB and cost up to $ 150 per month. Ouch.

Because of the Chromebook's limited storage space, you have to rely on subscription-based cloud services. However, an alternative solution is to install an SD card if the Chromebook has a slot. Currently, you cannot move Android apps to an SD card. The supported SD card capacities vary between models.

You can also use an external hard drive if you need more local storage.

Should You Buy a Chromebook?

Google Pixelbook Review pen on keyboardDan Baker / Digital Trends

First, ask yourself the following question: Why do I need a notebook? Dig deep and consider what you need from a mobile PC.

If you're looking for a laptop that supports high-level gaming, crystal clear 4K video editing, or even professional digital art programs, the Chromebook is likely not the choice for you.

While you can install Linux-based alternatives to upgrade your system, the underlying hardware in most Chromebooks just isn't compelling when compared to alternatives. Android apps fill in many of the loopholes that native Chrome OS apps cannot fill, but the Windows and macOS software environments are just richer and more comprehensive.

Limited storage space can also be problematic. Most Chromebooks require 32 to 64 GB of storage, while Windows laptops and Macbooks start at 128 GB in the lower end. Some of the newer Chromebooks have expanded storage, like the Galaxy Chromebook at 256GB, but most capacities are low to keep the price down.

However, if you're not looking for a lot of performance and don't mind that they have limited capacity for gaming or video editing, Chromebooks are great features. Particularly noteworthy is the low price, which makes it perfect for certain target groups. Note-taking and media viewing are very student-oriented tasks, and a limited budget is a hallmark of this audience.

Ultimately, Chromebooks may not be as powerful as many Windows laptops or Apple MacBooks, but more than enough for some people. They certainly don't offer enough power for everyone, but if it sounds like it might be a good fit for you, it's worth a try. For college students and anyone looking to buy a budget laptop, a Chromebook can even exceed your expectations.

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