Chromebooks vs. laptops

Chromebooks are sleek and fast alternatives to laptops. They’re ideal for browsing the web and using cloud-based applications. Their lightweight design makes them highly portable.

If you’re on the market for a new laptop, you might be wondering if a Chromebook would be a good option for you. After all, Chromebooks often have more affordable price tags compared to laptops. Read on to find out more about Chromebooks, what these computers can do, and what their limitations are.

What is a Chromebook?

Acer Chromebook 13 review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

When they started out, Chromebooks were lightweight, low-cost laptops that run Google’s Chrome OS platform and do most of their work in the cloud. The more affordable nature of these laptops has changed over the years, but the value is still at the heart of what a Chromebook offers.

They tend to be around the size of ultrabooks, with similar slim design features (many are also 2-in-1 hybrids), but they’re often far more budget-friendly than an ultrabook or even an average laptop. Chromebooks are most often seen in the education world or as a first-time personal laptop. Chromebooks are primarily offered by Acer, Asus, HP, Dell, and Samsung, but Google also has its own premium Chromebook, the Pixelbook.

There are now a number of higher-end Chromebooks also available, which feature premium aluminum bodies, faster Intel Core processors, and even some with 4K screens. Although you can’t buy a $2,000 Chromebook like you can a Windows 10 laptop or MacBook, there is now a wide range of options depending on your needs.

What can a Chromebook do?

As opposed to Windows 10 or MacOS, Chromebooks have their own operating system called Chrome OS. Though there are now some basic elements such as a file management and an app launcher, the focus of these devices is the Google Chrome web browser. Because you can’t download applications (outside of the Google Play Store), most of the action will all happen within the tabs of Chrome.

That might sound limiting at first, but these days, many applications have a web version of its apps, whether that’s Spotify, Netflix, Gmail, Slack, or Evernote. Once you’re hooked up to Wi-Fi, you can proceed with your browsing as normal.

These days, you might notice that your current workflow looks pretty similar to that. Because of the prevalence of web applications, many people spend a majority of their time in a web browser. If that’s you, transitioning to a Chromebook will be relatively smooth.

With the addition of the Google Play Store, you can also download Android apps to fill in any gaps in your software needs. Their implementation in a laptop setting might be a little funky in some cases, but they’re there if you really need access to them.

Finally, average Chromebooks have better battery life than the average laptop. Though nine or 10 hours is most common, newer models are more likely to have 12-hour battery life. Windows 10 laptops have been catching up as of late, but on average, Chromebooks last longer.

What can’t a Chromebook do?

how to copy and paste on a Chromebook

The limitations of Chrome OS mean you can’t install some important software that you might otherwise need. Some notable examples might certain Adobe applications or any kind of proprietary software that’s restricted to Windows. If you rely on something like that, a Chromebook just isn’t the right choice for you.

That also extends to performance in general. Chromebooks do tend to run fast, but in some cases you’ll be limited by the components inside. Lower-end Chromebooks tend to use older processors that can’t compete with what you would get on the Windows side of things, especially in terms of multitasking. Then again, if you’re looking at spending $200, a Chromebook is a far better option.

On the higher end, such as the HP Chromebook x2 or the Pixelbook, you’ll find familiar processors like 8th-gen Core i5, which feature four cores and plenty of power. Chromebooks tend to fly with these faster options. There are also newer Chromebooks on the way, with Intel’s latest 10th generation processors, further closing the Chromebook, MacBook, and Windows 10 laptop gap.

Who are Chromebooks for?

Chromebooks are designed with a few specific people in mind. The first is students. You’ll find cheap Chromebooks in public schools all across the country. Because of their security benefits, sturdy build quality, and software limitations, school administrations tend to favor Chromebooks.

But Chromebooks go beyond just cheap, plastic laptops for kids. There are also higher-end options for business people and college students. Because they tend to be lightweight with long battery life, they are great options for people who need to take their work on the go, whether that’s from class to class or on long flights. Some of these include the Google Pixelbook, Google Pixelbook Go, as well as the Lenovo Yoga Chromebook C630.

There are certainly those same options in the Windows 10 laptop world, though in the cheaper price range, Chromebooks can sometimes provide a better value for what you’re getting. A great example is around $500, where Chromebooks thrive but Windows 10 laptops tend to get bogged down with thick chassis and clunky performance.

What Chromebook options are available?

Google Pixelbook running Adobe Lightroom CC

The most expensive Chromebook you can buy is the $1,000 Google Pixelbook. It represents the high end not only in premium materials and build quality, but also performance.

You’ll find Chromebooks ranging from 11-inch 2-in-1s up to 15-inch options for additional screen real estate. HD resolution is the standard. Touchscreen and 4K options are rare but do exist. Intel Celeron processors are a popular choice for today’s Chromebooks, typically dual-core versions that rarely rise above the 2.0GHz mark. There’s even the option of Chrome OS tablets, such as Google’s own Pixel Slate, though we wouldn’t recommend those without a keyboard.

Most Chromebooks also offer 2GB to 4GB of RAM. This is enough for average laptop tasks, but low compared to traditional laptop models, which regularly offer 8 or 16GB of RAM. As for ports, most are largely comparable to laptops, although fewer in number. USB-A 3.0, USB-C, and headphone jacks are common. With storage, Chromebooks don’t have large disk drives, as they depend on the internet for most data purposes. Storage can usually be augmented with an SD card or USB drive if necessary.

The truly high-end part of the laptop range, however, is our of the territory of a Chromebook. You won’t find six-core or eight-core processors like you get on a laptop like the MacBook Pro 15, Razer Blade, or Dell XPS 15. These content creation machines and gaming laptops will outclass any Chromebook in terms of performance.


Take a look at popular Chromebooks on the market, and you’ll quickly see just how affordable they are. This HP flagship model is $600. This Acer version is $426. A popular 2017 Samsung model can even be found for $226. Asides from Google’s ultra-premium $1,000 Pixelbook Chromebook, this is another big departure compared to other laptops. Ultrabooks can easily surpass $1,000 even with a basic specification, and something like an upgraded Surface Book can break $3,000.

Such low prices are one of the strongest market differentiators for Chromebooks. When people are on a strict budget and can only afford a few hundred dollars for a new laptop, Chromebooks are their first — often only — choice. No other laptops (and increasingly few tablets) are so affordable.

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