A Chromebook (Chrome notebook) is a lightweight laptop that runs on an operating system called Chrome OS. Chromebooks tend to be much more efficient at the tasks they can handle, but have some limitations in what they can and can’t run.
This being said, there’s a lot that’s interesting and useful about a Chromebook, and whether or not this is the right choice for you depends on your budget and what you want to do with the laptop. We’ll look a bit at how Chromebooks were developed and how they work — if you’re interested in recommendations, feel free to skip to the latter part of the article.
The main difference between a Chromebook and “regular” laptops is the operating system. Chromebooks run on Chrome OS, which is essentially a tweaked Chrome browser produced by Google.
Can you get by with a modified browser as an operating system? Turns out, you really can.
Chrome OS is built on Linux, which makes it fast and lightweight, while also ensuring a very long battery life. It’s also secure, which is an important bonus, but other than this, it’s a pretty barebones operating system (OS).
You need an internet connection to use most of the features on a Chromebook, though this is not as restrictive nowadays as it was a few years ago. The idea behind the system is to use the cloud (and Google Drive in particular) for data storage and things like text editing, and if you can ensure this functionality, then a Chromebook will never fail you. However, if you want to work on things without internet (while traveling, for instance), there are also decent workable options you can use.
The main advantage of a Chromebook is that it is faster and cheaper than an equivalent “normal” laptop.
Because it’s a different operating system, programs that work on Windows or macOS don’t work on Chromebooks — some might be “translated”, but that’s a different problem. So if you need to work with specific programs or want to play specific games, you need to check if there’s a Chromebook alternative for it. Newer Chromebooks also support Android apps, but not all of them, so you need to check this beforehand. The Chrome Web Store also has a lot of apps and programs you can run, including the common Office suite and text readers, editors, and movie or music players.
A good rule of thumb with Chromebooks is that if you want to use them for general things (writing, reading, watching movies, browsing), you’re good to go. If you need them for a specific task, you should always double-check beforehand.
Outside of the software, the hardware inside Chromebooks is fairly standard. As a general idea, Chromebooks tend to have low drive space, because their main idea is to be used on the cloud. Other than this, they are comparable to other laptops. The hard drive is an embedded MultiMedia Card (eMMC), which is less robust and resilient than a solid state drive (SSD), but still generally faster than magnetic hard disk drives (HCD).
It’s not just Google that manufactures Chromebooks — it’s just the Chrome OS that’s Google-specific. We sometimes refer to these devices as ‘Google Chromebooks’ but that’s a bit of a misnomer. Several other companies produce them, and you can get myriad designs and configurations to suit your needs, style, and budget. Yes, Chromebooks have come a long way in the past years.
Development and history
The first Chromebooks went up for sale in mid-2011. It wasn’t just laptops — a desktop version (called a Chromebox) was also launched (and is also an available product today).
Chromebooks were considered good, cheap alternatives for businesses and schools. Initial reactions were skeptical, especially as the initial price of Chromebooks was as high or even higher than equivalent laptops. That changed quickly.
Chromebooks became the go-to option for schools, especially because they’re so cheap. By March 2018, 60% of computers purchased by schools in the US were Chromebooks.
This seems to be the niche that Chromebooks have focused on: fast, cheap, secure machines. However, that’s not to say that they can’t also be powerful. In 2013, Google announced the launch of the Chromebook Pixel, a high-end machine with a high-end retail price.
The devices have also caught on for some businesses and humanitarian projects. Working as a journalist, I’ve found most if not all of my work needs brilliantly satisfied by a Chromebook.
However, Chromebooks are still fairly young and offer dynamic, improving prospects.
Advantages and disadvantages of Chromebooks
Both the advantages and the disadvantages of Chromebooks come from the operating system.
lightweight and fast system;
cheaper than average;
long battery life;
directly synced with all Google accounts;
thin and light.
not compatible with Windows/macOS programs;
only some are compatible with Android apps;
low storage space;
might require a bit of getting used to;
excellent for work, but might not be a good fit for everyone;
not a good fit for gaming.
Other features (like screen quality, sturdiness, etc) depend from manufacturer to manufacturer and can vary greatly. You can find some remarkably good quality chromebooks, which we’ll mention below.
The best Chromebooks
In my view, the Chromebooks shine best in the low to mid range, where their speed really shows. This being said, you can find good devices on all price ranges.
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Best Budget Chromebooks
The main thing to look for here is 2 or 4 GB of RAM, and preferably 32 GB hard drive. There are several good options:
Alexandra is a naturalist who is firmly in love with our planet and the environment. When she's not writing about climate or animal rights, you can usually find her doing field research or reading the latest nutritional studies.