Is a Chromebook Right for You?

John Lister's picture

With smartphones and tablets gaining extreme popularity thanks to low-cost production and ever-increasing CPU speeds, many users are looking at alternatives to Windows when it comes to being able to compute on the go.

One system in particular is the ChromeBook (laptop) which is based on Google's Chrome operating system. Many major manufacturers produce Chromebooks, including Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Samsung. As of September 2016 there were at least three dozen Chromebook models on the market.

What is Chrome OS?

Chrome OS is a somewhat similar, but separate operating system to Android operating system found on tablets and phones. Both are based on the Linux operating system, but their relationship is a little like being distant cousins.

Chrome OS uses the Chrome browser as its main interface. It means that rather than have a traditional desktop (like older versions of Windows) or a tile and icon system (like most smartphones and tablets, or newer versions of Windows), using a Chromebook looks and feels like using the Chrome browser on a normal computer.

How do programs work on Chromebooks?

A Chromebook is more like a tablet computer or phone, compared to a traditional Windows computer when it comes to programs. Users install apps from the Chrome web store, just like a smartphone.

What's the big advantage of a Chromebook?

For one, cost is a major incentive. Chromebooks are typically much cheaper than their Windows counterparts because hardware requirements are considerably less. In fact, many applications on a Chromebook involve most of the processing and data storage being done remotely online ("on the cloud") rather than on the computer itself. This means the computer doesn't need as much storage or processing power. In turn, this allows for cheaper components than with many computers, lowering the overall price.

Another benefit is that the Chrome OS system is simpler than Windows and fewer applications have to load and run in the background at startup, so users can usually turn on a Chromebook and be using it within a few seconds.

What about storage?

Most Chromebooks only have 16GB of on-board storage because the idea is to access big files stored online rather than on the computer. This means the computer doesn't need a bulky hard drive, so it can be thinner and lighter than many laptops.

With that said, one major disadvantage to this type of centralized computing is that users will require access to the Internet in order to access the majority of their files. Another major disadvantage is that updates of the operating system, including apps, can easily fill the internal 16 GB of memory; this makes it difficult to free up space in order to continue receiving updates to the operating system.

Can I use Microsoft Office on a Chromebook?

Yes and no. While some third-party alternatives are available, Chromebooks are generally designed for use with Google software such as Google Docs for word processing and spreadsheets. This means more advanced features such as those in Microsoft Office aren't available unless you use "Office Online", which is a cloud-based instance of Microsoft Office.

Is a Chromebook useless without an Internet connection?

Most apps are designed to assume a connection will be available. You will be able to carry out some work, such as editing documents and saving changes, but you won't be able to access all features. Streaming video or audio will be a particular problem without a connection as the idea is to not download files to the limited storage space, but rather to access everything online.

What is the future for Chromebooks?

Industry speculation suggests that Google will eventually try to merge Android and Chrome OS so that it has a single operating system that works on every kind of computer device from smartphone to tablet to laptop to desktop. In theory, this would mean phasing out Chromebooks in their current form. Based on what we've read on the subject, this will likely not happen for many years, if at all.

In the meantime, some (but not all models) will get the ability to run Android apps natively from late 2016. This will dramatically increase the range of things users can do with a Chromebook and make it more of a hybrid laptop and a tablet.

Is a Chromebook right for you?

For many people a Chromebook won't be ideal as a main computer, particularly if: you need to use more advanced software or features, if you move about a lot (and don't have WiFi access), or if your home Internet is unreliable. It's definitely not a good option if you don't want to have a Google account or use Google services.

A Chromebook may be a good option as a second computer in your home, or if you only need to browse websites and carry out light tasks such as emailing, writing and editing documents or carrying out very basic photo editing.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you use a Chromebook? How do you like it compared to a Windows-based laptop? Do you plan on purchasing a Chromebook in the future? Is a Chromebook offer most users enough apps to fully replace a Windows tablet?

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Average: 4.9 (8 votes)


guitardogg's picture

Chomebooks have made a big splash in education. Many educational apps have moved to the cloud, so the Chromebook (Chomebox), with it's low cost and central management capabilities, are a good fit. With a charging cart full of Chromebooks in a classroom, it is easy to provide a device to each student. A robust and reliable WiFi is key to successfully using Chromebooks (most Chromeboxes have an Ethernet (wired) connection available as well). While the Chrome management console leaves a LOT to be desired, it works (I supplement with GAM, which allows script-based access to Google API's). There are 3rd party management consoles available, but they are pricey. Our school district has about 7000 students. We have over 2700 Chromebooks(boxes), about 2000 Windows PC's and 400 iPads(mostly elementary and special ed).

Many people don't realize there is a version of the Chrome OS for PC's. You can put it on a USB and boot your PC from it straight into Chrome OS. It's free, and a good way to see if Chrome works for you.

keffdoak2's picture

As I understand it, updates to the Chrome OS are not needed; it's kept up-to-date on the web, and whenever you boot up, you get the latest version.

billevans7_8015's picture

1. It's very inexpensive, if it gets stolen/lost/dropped, you are only out less than $200 usually.
2. When on WiFi, you have access to google drive and any files you share there.
3. You can store camera photos on google drive for a quick backup to your camera's SD card.
4. Long battery life, typically 8-12 hours depending on mfg. and model.

It won't replace my home laptop, doesn't run all the programs I need yet, but for travel, it's the only one I take.

millergrobert_8024's picture

I have a Chrome OS HP Laptop. Well, if all you are going to be doing is surfing the internet, its the perfect box, I cannot believe anyone would actually pay over 100 dollars for a device like this. I did not, my wife uses it to do just that surf the net, any heavy PC work she goes back to her Windows 10 PC.

One thought I had was how many schools are now using these devices. The kids are getting trained on PCs, but not REAL PCs.

Oh well, does not really matter, I dont have kids, so.