Are Chromebooks Good? Pros and Cons
Who Are Chromebooks Meant For?
Are you looking to replace a sluggish PC laptop, or an older Macbook that you just don't have the money to buy all over again? If so, a Chromebook may be just what you need. If you use your computer primarily for email, Facebook, and general internet surfing, then you will probably really enjoy a Chromebook. However, they are not necessarily a good fit for everyone, so here's what you need to know.
What is a Chromebook?
Chromebooks are lightweight laptops designed for people who spend most of their time online. They run an operating system called Chrome OS, which is similar to Windows or Mac OS X, but actually sits on top of a Linux platform.
Chromebooks look like traditional laptops, which is kind of the point because they aim to replace traditional laptops. They are fast and secure, and support multiple users. Many Chromebooks have an 11.6-inch screen, but 13, 14 and even 15.6-inch versions are also available. Today you can buy Chromebooks from well-known computer manufacturers like Dell, HP, Acer, Samsung, Lenovo and more.
Key Advantages of a Chromebook
So, are Chromebooks good enough for what you want to do with your laptop? Here are some of the key features that drive people to a Chromebook as instead of a Windows or Mac computer.
- Price: The majority of Chromebooks cost significantly less than your average laptop. Chromebooks can be still be bought for as little as $200, with mid-range models in the $300-400 range. That makes them a very attractive proposition for budget conscious shoppers. However, there are a growing number of Windows laptops in the very same price range, so the price advantage is not nearly as great as it once was.
- Speed: Chromebooks can power up and be ready to use in around eight seconds. They can do this because of their SSD hard drives and the lightweight Chrome OS platform.
- Battery: Expect to get six hours (or more) from the battery on an average Chromebook. Some models claim as much as 13 hours. This is often more than you might get on a standard Windows laptops, although many newer Windows devices are catching up.
- Security: The Chrome OS has built-in virus and malware protection that is always updated to the latest version, so you almost never need to worry about malicious files when using a Chromebook.
- Parental Controls: Chromebook users can create supervised accounts to track or limit online activity for kids online. This makes the Chromebook a great family-friendly laptop.
- Sync: Chromebooks sync all your apps and passwords with Chrome browsers on other computers. So, if you use the Chrome browser at work, or on another home computer, your bookmarks and other preferences will automatically sync to your Chromebook, and vice versa.
- Cloud Storage: You get 100GB of Google Drive storage free for two years with all new Chromebooks. This is a huge amount of space. Comparable services from Dropbox, OneDrive or Box will cost you an additional subscription. With a Chromebook, you get a decent amount of cloud storage for free.
- Updates: Chromebooks update themselves silently, automatically, and in the background. So, your device is always up to date and works just the way you need it to.
- Weight: This varies, but most Chromebooks are lightweight devices that are portable and easy to carry with you when you need them.
- Android Apps: Google have recently announced that some touchscreen Chromebooks are able to run Android apps on your Chromebook. In fact, every Chromebook made in 2017 or later will have this ability. This merging of Chrome OS and Android really enhances the functionality of a Chromebook. It means you can use Android apps by Adobe, Microsoft and others to play games, create and edit files, or play music and movies.
Disadvantages of a Chromebook
So, it all sounds good so far, right? Well, it does, but technology pros will always tell you that there is no such thing as a perfect device. What follows are some of the reasons people think twice before purchasing Chromebooks.
- Office: If you love Microsoft Office products, a Chromebook is probably not for you. Google encourages you to use its own free online suite of Office-like services. Many of these services are comparable to components of Microsoft Office, but they do lack features that you may have come to rely on. Although you can use the Android version of Office apps, or Office Online, these services lack the full functionality of their desktop equivalents.
- Storage: Chromebooks typically only have 32GB of local storage. Limiting storage helps keep the price down because component costs are cheaper. However, Google actually wants you to store your data in the cloud, and that is why it often includes 100GB of online storage for free with new Chrombooks.
- No Optical Drive: A CD/DVD drive is quickly becoming a thing of the past with new laptops, but if you really need one, and use it regularly, you should know that you won't find one on a Chromebook.
- Video Editing: There are definitely some good online video editors you can use on the Chromebook. WeVideo, for instance, quickly comes to mind. However, if you need more control over your media, or deal with a lot of HD footage, the Chromebook might not have the horsepower you need because there are no offline editors like iMovie, Premiere Elements, or Windows Movie Maker.
- No Photoshop: Similarly, if you are a heavy user of Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or other Adobe desktop software solutions, you will need to look for an equivalent online application. Things like Pixlr, or the online Photoshop Express Editor, are perfectly good for casual family photo editing, but they lack the fuller feature set of Adobe's premiere editing products. Adobe were working on an online version of Photoshop, but there is currently no timeline for when it might actually be available to consumers.
- Printing: You can print on a Chromebook without too much difficulty, but depending on the printer you have, it might not be as easy as it used to be because you are required to use Google Cloud Print. It can take a little bit of setup to make it work, but again, this is not a priority for Google. They would prefer you to keep digital versions of your files in the cloud.
- Compatibility: There is no doubt about it. Windows is the most widely used desktop operating system in existence today. As such, you will find no shortage of apps and accessories to use with a Windows PC. A Chromebook can be more limited in this regard. It has a growing library of software applications, and can be used with a increasingly wide variety of accessories, but Windows machines still win in the battle for compatibility.
How to Use a Chromebook
Cloud Computing Is the Future
Still not convinced that Chromebooks are good enough for what you want them to do? Well, consider this. Computing as we know it is changing. The days of buying software on CD or DVD are fading fast. Many laptops don't even come with a CD/DVD drive anymore. Why? The Internet.
There has been a huge increase in the number of people connected to the Internet, and data speeds are faster than ever before. This has led to an increasing number of software developers creating lightweight mobile apps, or moving their products completely online. It also means you no longer need a high-powered device to access these services. This is something that even Microsoft is learning, and new Windows laptops are often optimized to take advantage of the power of the cloud.
So, take a minute and think about what you use your computer for. The chances are high that most of what you do is now done online, or can be done in a perfectly good online alternative. Social networks, banking, email, calendars, maps, music, shopping, and even Microsoft Office, are all available online, and they all work perfectly well on a Chromebook.
On top of that, an increasing number of Chrome web apps and extensions also work offline, and will sync all your data back to the cloud when you get connected again. The same is true for the new Android apps. So, don't fall for the myth that Chromebooks are useless without an internet connection. There is more to that than you might think.
Are Chromebooks Good Enough to Replace Your Windows PC?
It all depends on what you use a computer for. If you spend most of your time online and are comfortable spending the majority of your time in a web browser, then a Chromebook will be just fine for what you want to do. If not, you may be better off with a more traditional PC, and there is no shame on that. We all need different devices for different things, but if you haven't looked at a Chromebook before, now might be a good time to take a look.
Do You Think A Chromebook Could Replace Your PC?
© 2014 Jonathan Wylie