When Chromebooks first came out in 2011, they were basically just low-spec laptops that could access web apps – fine for students maybe, but not to be regarded as serious computers. While they’ve become more popular (the low cost, simplicity, and dependability appeal to businesses and education systems), as of 2018 Chromebooks still haven’t managed to become widely accepted as a Windows/Apple/Linux alternative.
That may be about to change. The humble Chromebook has gotten a lot of upgrades, so let’s get ourselves up to speed on some things that just aren’t true anymore.
1. Chromebooks don’t work offline
Early Chromebooks could do a few things offline, but small SSDs and a lack of substantive apps meant that without a connection it was generally a semi-functional slab of plastic. Fast-forward a few years, and there still isn’t a lot of storage, but just like a regular laptop, you can now install a ton of apps (Chrome OS and Android) that work offline, and your Google Drive, Google Docs, Gmail, etc. can be stored for your offline perusal as well.
2. Chromebooks just can’t do very much
The accusation that Chrome OS was basically just, well, a Google Chrome browser, was valid in 2011, but Google has been piling on the features since then. You can use it to run most Android apps, including Microsoft Office apps, Adobe apps like Photoshop, alternate browsers, email clients – basically anything you can do on an Android tablet. It actually seems to be approaching the functionality of a bigger OS when you consider that Windows and Linux programs are also entering the picture (more on that below).
3. Chromebooks are cheap and low-quality
A lot of Chromebooks are geared towards the budget market and are still pretty low on drive space, RAM, and processing power. Don’t expect a $200 machine to do any video rendering or serious gaming. Luckily, though, you can now choose to pay a bit more for a setup that doesn’t give you flashbacks to the late 2000s, which I think is the last time I saw the word “Celeron” used in any context except a Chromebook.
On the high end, a fully upgraded Google Pixelbook runs about $1650 and sports an i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 500GB of storage. That’s on par with any other premium laptop out there, so at this point, the only thing keeping your Chromebook underpowered is your bank account. For the more budget-conscious buyer, there are plenty of options that deliver good specs at a lot of price ranges, from low-spec (but functional) $150 machines to solid $400-$800 mid-range options, all the way up to the lap of luxury.
4. Chrome OS isn’t a real operating system
The 2011 Chrome OS was pretty bare-bones, but it’s gone to the opposite extreme since then. Not only is it steadily blurring the line between Chrome and Android, it can now install and run some Windows programs as well, at the same time as a Chrome and an Android app, if you like. And hey, while you’re at it, why not open a Linux app as well? You can already install Linux on a Chromebook if you want, but one of the next versions of Chrome OS is going to include a Linux virtual machine accessible right from your desktop (which is already possible, just not built-in and user-friendly). In sum, Chrome OS has gone from barely being an operating system to one that can run apps from four other OSes at the same time.
5. Chromebooks don’t have much storage space
This one is selectively true. A lot of low-budget Chromebooks still have 16-32GB SSDs, but 64-128GB is becoming more common, and higher-end models have even more. If it’s not enough, many Chromebooks are easily upgradeable (check before you buy!), so you can toss in whatever size of SSD you want. If you want something even easier, get a Chromebook with an SD card slot and add up to 512GB (though 256GB may be a better deal if you don’t want to pay as much for the SD card as you did for the Chromebook).
You also, of course, have the entire cloud to choose from. Google Drive gives you 15GB with a free 100GB upgrade for two years, and there’s no shortage of other services. Overall, don’t let the lack of onboard storage deter you. Your weirdly massive collection of post-chillwave Serbian house techno will still have a home.
Is Chrome coming for the big three?
Windows, Mac, and Linux have thus far held a monopoly on personal computers, but Chrome OS has already dominated the education market, is getting footholds in the business market, and is starting to look like a much more realistic option for everyday users. Google really doesn’t need to know about my penchant for underground dachshund racing.
Like Android, Chrome OS is a free-to-use operating system, so users should be aware that there’s some monetization going on. If that doesn’t bother you, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t eye up a Chromebook as a possible Windows/Mac/Linux replacement. They’re still not quite at the level of being perfect substitutes for everyone, but they’re getting closer than you might have thought.