If you’re in the market for a laptop, you might have seen Chromebooks and considered them as an option. But what is a Chromebook really, and how does one compare to a laptop that you may have used before?
We’ve got you covered in this introduction to Chromebooks. We’ll cover what Chromebooks are, who they’re good for, what you can do with them, and more.
What Is a Chromebook?
First, let’s look at what a Chromebook actually is. Simply put, a Chromebook is a computer that runs Google’s Chrome OS. Most of the time, these are laptops, but there are a few tablets and desktop machines that run Chrome OS too.
Chrome OS is a Linux-based operating system. It’s essentially the Google Chrome browser you’re likely familiar with on other platforms, with a few extra features to make it a full OS.
The appeal of Chromebooks lies in their simple nature. They don’t need antivirus protection, and update automatically without annoying you. Chromebooks also make it easy to work online and do your everyday tasks on the web without a bunch of extra confusing features.
For the right person, Chromebooks are excellent. We’ve mentioned before that Chromebooks are perfect for students. Indeed, Chromebooks are now the most common computers purchased by US schools.
What Is a Chromebook Good For?
Chromebooks are great for anyone who doesn’t need any heavy-duty desktop software. Most Chromebooks have a small amount of storage space and RAM, so it’s not feasible to run apps like the Adobe creative suite or virtual machines. Instead, Chrome OS is geared towards people who don’t do much more than browse the web. check email, and prepare basic documents and spreadsheets.
The small size and lightweight nature of Chromebooks makes them a great secondary laptop, particularly when you’re traveling. If you don’t like using your phone or tablet for browsing social media, paying bills online, and similar tasks, a Chromebook offers you a bigger screen and real keyboard for doing these.
Because of the small amount of storage space, you’re encouraged to store your files in Google Drive. This means they might not be a fit for you if you avoid online storage for privacy reasons, or are often offline.
How Much Is a Chromebook?
Another big benefit of getting a Chromebook is the affordable pricing. While you’ll find some top-of-the-line Chromebooks (such as the Google Pixelbook) that rival a MacBook in price, they’re the exception, not the rule.
Chromebook pricing starts as low as $180-$200, while the Pixelbook costs $1,000 or more. However, most Chromebooks fall into the $300-$600 price range.
On the cheaper end of the spectrum, you’ll have to put up with a low-resolution screen (usually 1366×768), mediocre trackpad and keyboard, and slow processors. Upgrading to a better model typically gets you an HD screen, more local storage and RAM, and improved physical construction.
Another key aspect of Chromebooks is their strong security. Google boasts that Chrome OS doesn’t need antivirus protection because every process runs in a sandbox. This means that nothing can see other parts of the system, and even if you visited an infected page, it’s totally isolated to that tab.
Chrome OS also updates automatically, something that’s a relief for Windows veterans. You’ll see an icon in the corner when there’s a pending update, and can choose to apply it manually if you wish. But the system will do it for you after you reboot.
The Difference Between a Chromebook and a Laptop
Technically, most Chromebooks are laptops because they’re foldable portable computers. But when most people ask this question, they want to know the difference between a Chromebook and a Windows laptop.
The major difference is the operating system. Chrome OS is different than Windows, so if you’re used to Windows, you’ll need to make a few adjustments.
In particular, you can’t install traditional Windows desktop software on a Chromebook. Full versions of Adobe apps, Microsoft Office, Discord, games, and other such programs aren’t available on Chrome OS. However, many of these tools offer a web version, though this is often stripped-down compared to the full tool.
You can use Microsoft Office Online or Google Docs to type documents, but those don’t offer all the features of Office proper. We’ve looked at some solid video editors for Chrome OS, but they pale in comparison to more powerful tools available on other platforms.
A big advantage in a Chromebook’s favor is their ability to install Android apps. Most modern Chromebook devices support the Google Play Store, which adds millions of apps to check out.
Local vs. Cloud Storage
Most Chromebooks also come with a limited amount of storage compared to traditional Windows laptops. Aside from premium devices, you’ll typically find 16GB or 32GB of space on a Chromebook. While you can often expand this with a built-in SD card slot, Chromebooks aren’t a good fit for people who need a lot of local space.
Chrome OS encourages you to move everything to the cloud. That means using web apps instead of locally installed programs, storing files in Google Drive, and similar. Thus, what’s right for you all depends on how you use a computer.
More on Chromebook vs. Laptop
If you’d like more detailed information on this comparison, perhaps when comparing a Chromebook vs. laptop for college, take a look at our Chromebook and laptop breakdown.
Is a Chromebook Right for You?
We’ve taken a look at some basics of Chromebooks and what you can expect when you use one.
In summary, if you don’t use your computer for anything more than basic web tasks and don’t need a lot of storage space, a Chromebook could work as your main computer. For everyone else, a Chromebook can still make a great backup or travel device.