Should I buy a Chromebook? Is this a question you’ve been asking yourself? If you know nothing about this fairly new class of laptops and have been wondering what makes it different from traditional laptops, you’re not alone. Many have asked the same question, which is why we’re here to clear things up a bit for you.
So, what exactly is a Chromebook? In essence, Chromebooks are designed to run a lightweight operating system that’s intended to help you with some productivity tasks, but mostly handle light computing ones like browsing the Internet, streaming videos and playing mobile games. In other words, they are typically some of the most lightweight and among the most affordable laptops around.
So the question now is: are Chromebooks good enough as a laptop replacement for you? Ultimately, it all depends on your computing needs. If your typical computing needs involve several processor-hungry apps or specific software unavailable in the Chrome OS, then Chromebooks probably won’t cut it.
However, if you’re day-to-day computing demands involve browsing the web, working on documents online, streaming videos and playing mobile games, then the Chromebook is a perfect – not to mention, very affordable – laptop alternative.
It’s worth knowing, however, that not all Chromebooks are created equal. Some are more powerful than others while a small number tout a premium price tag. In fact, you can spend over $1,000/£1,000/AU$1,300 on a Chromebook with powerful hardware, even though it still won’t be able to run software from outside the Google Play and Google Chrome Stores.
A Google Pixelbook will set you back even more – though we’ve just gotten our best look at the Pixelbook Go, which should give budget buyers a more affordable Pixelbook option – And at that price range, there are no advantages over a Windows laptop.
To be fair, Chromebooks are often discounted heavily on Black Friday, so it’s worth taking a look at the best Chromebook deals on the day to find a bargain. Our guide on Black Friday laptop deals: how to get the best model for the best price has more advice on getting a Chromebook on the big day.
What is a Chromebook?
Let’s begin with a quick overview: what is a Google Chromebook exactly? Generally speaking, Chromebooks are light and cheap laptops that run Google’s ChromeOS operating system.
Most traditional laptops run on either the Windows 10 operating system or the macOS, if they’re Macs. Chromebooks, on the other hand, run on the ChromeO, a lightweight operating system that isn’t as fully featured as Windows 10 or macOS. In fact, when ChromeOS was first released in 2011, it was extremely bareboned, and you needed an internet connection to use apps such as Google Docs.
ChromeOS has evolved since then. Now install apps – including Android apps – and use it (to an extent) without an internet connection. However, it’s still more limited than Windows 10 and macOS.
The fact that’s it’s a lightweight operating system is one of the reasons why Chromebooks are so appealing to many users, in the first place. It doesn’t need powerful components to run, and it can use hardware that Windows 10 or macOS would struggle to run on, keeping the overhead price down. This enables Chromebooks to be much more affordable to users than other laptops.
That also means Chromebooks have impressively long battery life, easily lasting a whole work day – plus, some movie watching – on a single charge.
While we sometimes refer to the devices as ‘Google Chromebooks’, a number of major laptop manufacturers make Chromebooks. In fact, the first Chromebooks were released by Samsung and Acer in May 2011, and other manufacturers like Dell, HP and Asus joining have jumped on the bandwagon.
Of course, Google has also released its own Chromebooks over the years. Interestingly, while most Chromebooks are affordable alternatives to Windows and Mac laptops, Google’s Chromebooks, like the Google Pixelbook, are premium devices that show that a Chromebook can be as powerful, and as beautifully designed, as any MacBook or Windows laptop – and also just as expensive, if not more.
What software can a Google Chromebook run?
Now that you know the answer to the question: what is a Google Chromebook?, let’s get into how it works. Because Chromebooks run ChromeOS, you can’t simply install and run Windows or Mac programs. Instead, you are limited to Chrome apps and online apps that you can run through the Chrome browser, such as Google Docs.
The good news is that there’s a decent selection of Chrome apps. Plus, using online apps like Google Docs means you won’t need to install as many as apps, which is why many Chromebooks only need small hard drives – which again helps to keep their price low.
Additionally, Chromebooks are now also able to run Android apps, giving Chromebook users access to thousands of apps through the Google Play Store. Most modern applications have a version for Android devices, which means Chromebooks users have a huge range of software, from office suites like Microsoft Office to photo editors and even games, at their disposal.
Chromebooks can also run Linux applications, further bolstering the productivity benefits of the devices. Compatible Chromebooks can now use programs that were created for Linux, the open source desktop operating system.
While ChromeOS used to be seen as a limited operating system, the scope of the software you can now run on a Chromebook is truly impressive, making it – now more than ever – a viable alternative for more users.
Lastly, ChromeOS is a lot less prone to viruses and malware than Windows 10, as malicious users are more likely to attack Windows 10 devices due to their popularity. Using cloud-based services on a Chromebook also limits the number of files you download and install, and ChromeOS is automatically updated with the latest security patches to keep you safe and secure.
Chromebooks and education
Because of the affordability, long battery life and security of Chromebooks, they’ve become increasingly popular in the education sector.
They’re indeed ideal laptops for students, as they come with pretty much all the software they would need, including word processors and presentation programs. The use of cloud services such as Google Docs also allows for online collaboration between students and teachers, and several manufacturers have made Chromebooks that are specially designed for students, with durable bodies that can survive being tossed into a backpack and carried around all day.
The Chrome Education License also enables schools to provide Chromebooks to students and easily manage the devices centrally, ensuring that only approved apps are installed.
Most importantly, the parental controls these Chromebooks have on hand can also ensure that students are kept safe from inappropriate online content.
So, to answer the question, ‘What is a Google Chromebook?’ Essentially, they’re affordable laptops with simple designs, and they can surprise you with how flexible and adept they are for handling many day-to-day tasks.