What Is a Chromebook, and How Is It Different than a Laptop?

If you’ve been in the market for a laptop recently, you may have seen a type of laptop called a “Chromebook” It might sound a little weird; after all, isn’t Chrome a web browser? Why are there laptops named after it?

Chromebooks fill a specific niche in the laptop world. If you purchase one expecting something similar to a normal laptop, you may end up very disappointed with your purchase. However, if your needs and wants from a laptop match what a Chromebook does, you may find yourself saving a bit of money in the process!

So, how do Chromebooks differ from regular laptops? Let’s take a look at the main areas where the two are different.

Cheaper Price

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On average, Chromebooks are cheaper than their laptop brethren. This is because they’ve been designed in a way that cuts down costs, as we’ll explore later in this article. If you’re only interested in something to carry around and do work on, a Chromebook is an inexpensive solution to a simple problem.

Chrome OS Operating System

You’re probably used to buying laptops with Windows, macOS, or Linux installed on them. Chromebooks don’t have a choice in these, instead coming with Google’s own operating system, Chrome OS. This is the reason why they’re called “Chromebooks.” This means if you treasure the freedom of installing whatever operating system you like, a Chromebook is not ideal.

No Hard Drive

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Chromebooks also don’t have a hard drive installed. Instead, they will have a small solid state drive which holds the operating system. This is deliberately done to help keep the cost of the Chromebook down to a budget price.

So if there’s no hard drive and only a small solid state drive, how do you save work on it? The intent with Chromebooks is that you use cloud-based storage, specifically Google Drive, to keep your files. That way the Chromebook doesn’t really need a hard drive; all your storage is in the cloud! If you’re doing all your typing on Google Docs anyway, a Chromebook may be an inexpensive way to take your work on the go.

Faster Boot Times

Because everything on a Chromebook runs off of the solid state drive, this means you’ll get a faster booting time overall. On average, it take eight seconds for a Chromebook to go from completely turned off to active and ready to go. This makes it very appealing for those who want fast, speedy boots from their laptops.

Limited Software

Maybe not limited software, but at least none without using specialist tools! While you can download software just fine, actually installing programs such as Word, Photoshop, and Skype won’t be possible unless you use workarounds. This is often a dealbreaker for people who rely on these tools to get work done. However, before you throw the idea of a Chromebook out entirely, check if there’s an online browser or Android version for your favorite software. For instance, Microsoft has recently been rolling out Office for the Android store for specific models of Chromebook.

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Chromebooks fill a very specific niche when it comes to computing. Some users may fall in love with the positives, while others will consider the negatives an absolute deal-breaker when purchasing a laptop. So, who are Chromebooks for, and who will fall out with them?

Perfect Fits

Chromebooks fill a fantastic niche for people who want a simple, lightweight laptop for basic work. If you just want something that can browse the Internet and help you get your school or office work done, a Chromebook is a perfectly inexpensive way to do just that. It also makes for a great basic entertainment center. Want to watch YouTube videos or catch up on social media at the café or in bed? Chromebooks can fill that niche.

 Not Ideal Picks

If you’re a power user and need a laptop that keeps up with your demands, give Chromebooks a pass. This includes performing heavy-duty work that requires specialist software to perform, such as 3D modeling. Also, you’ll be hard-pressed to enjoy a Chromebook if you’re an avid gamer, so perhaps stick to Windows machines if you enjoy video games.

Despite their unique name, Chromebooks are quite simple in their design. If you’re a lightweight user who loves the cloud, a Chromebook is a budget-friendly way to work on the go. However, power users may want to stick with their traditional laptops.

What do you think of Chromebooks? Are they for you? Let us know below.

Image credit: Open Grid Scheduler on Flickr

15 comments

  1. A Chromebook is a regular, low-cost, laptop that’s been lock-down to run a modified Operating System capable of running a single application – a spyware browser.

    We can add to this (Android, cloud-services, etc) but we must not lose sight of Google’s end game. The customer has the right to know exactly what they’re getting and a company’s motivation for creating such a product. Otherwise, it’s sleazy car-salesman speak.

  2. I consider myself a knowledgeable user; I’ve been working and playing with pcs since the late 1970s and recently retired from IBM. While I have several Macs and use to have several Win pcs too, I now do most of my work on a Chromebook. If all or most of what you do gets done in a browser, and you can adopt to using Chrome, then a Chromebook is possibly a good match for you.

    While we seem to be past the period where Chromebooks could be very cheap, good ones are still less expensive than a powerful laptop. Chromebooks are inherently safer online (because malware is unable to install itself) and you don’t need extra anti-virus. Updates are much easier and quicker too. Almost all of your ‘data’ is stored in the cloud and not on the Chromebook. So if your machine breaks or is stolen, you’ve only lost the inexpensive hardware. A replacement Chromebook can be up and running in a very few minutes; not the hours it can take to rebuild a complex setup on a regular pc. Even if you use a regular machine for work that can only be done there, a Chromebook can be used for online activity; this makes your online activity safer in the Chromebook environment and your other pc is safer too because it isn’t as exposed as it was every time you go online.

    Give one a try, you might like it. Too many seem to be prejudiced against them yet only know them by inaccurate statements they’ve heard. Don’t follow the herd, try it for yourself.

    Cheers… Russ

    Sent from my Chromebook

    • “Give one a try, you might like it.”
      I might or I might not.
      Chromebooks are just another way of Google ensnaring users into its closed ecosystem.
      If you don’t mind handing over the control of your data to Google, Chromebooks are great. At any moment, Google can lock you out of your data for any of a myriad of reasons. I want MY data to remain MINE and accessible to me 24/7/365.
      You may have great security on a Chromebook BUT you have no privacy. You share EVERYTHING with Google.

      OTOH, a Chromebook is exactly what the proverbial “average user” needs. (S)he does not have to worry about updates, upgrades, security, software installs, etc. Chromebook is an appliance connected to Software as a Service. Chromebook is the second generation of netbook.

      • Well you don’t have to use Google for all your data needs. The minimum requirement is you need a Google account to login to the Chromebook and the only browser available is Chrome. However from there you can use any web based email service you want (I recommend Fastmail.com). You can use Dropbox in addition to, or instead of, Google Drive (I use both). You can use different search engines instead of Google; that is configurable in the settings for the Chromebook/Chrome.

        All the tracking that Google does is controllable too and can be shut off. I’ve turned most of it off. I’m more worried about our Gov spying/tracking us than commercial interests and Congress is the only party that can throttle that.

        And Yes, it is very suitable for those ‘average users’; I have recommended Chromebooks/Chromeboxes to many of them. Between them and family members I have setup about a dozen users.

        Cheers… Russ

        Sent from my Chromebook

  3. Android apps have pretty much alleviated the argument of only doing stuff online. Microsoft and Adobe apps are now available as well.

    Your data can stay yours forever on an external drive/USB/SD, that is until you lose it.

    You can install Crouton, Ubuntu or any other flavor Linux distribution.

    And yes, as a regular user, I can do everything I want or will ever need to do on any of my 3 Chromebooks and phone at the same time with all files and data accessible at the same time from any device, including for example open tabs, bookmarks and passwords.

    However, the absolute advantage is the security, fast startup (only as long as it takes you to type your account password) and automatic updates. Never again waiting for Windows to finish updating!

  4. No antivirus required is also a big plus. I have a powerful desktop for heavy lifting, but the Chromebook is great as a secondary computer. I use it even more than I do my desktop.

  5. I’ve had my HP Chromebook 14 since 2014. While it doesn’t serve all my needs, it has been a really convenient tool. I was already using Google Drive, Box and Dropbox for most of my storage anyway. And since most of my pc activity is online, this made my life so much easier. BTW I do also have a Windows 10 laptop but don’t use it very much.

  6. Well you don’t have to use Google for all your data needs. The minimum requirement is you need a Google account to login to the Chromebook and the only browser available is Chrome. However from there you can use any web based email service you want (I recommend Fastmail.com). You can use Dropbox in addition to, or instead of, Google Drive (I use both). You can use different search engines instead of Google; that is configurable in the settings for the Chromebook/Chrome.

    All the tracking that Google does is controllable too and can be shut off. I’ve turned most of it off. I’m more worried about our Gov spying/tracking us than commercial interests and Congress is the only party that can throttle that. And Yes, it is very suitable for those ‘average users’; I have recommended Chromebooks/Chromeboxes to many of them. Between them and family members I have setup about a dozen users.

    Cheers… Russ

    Sent from my Chromebook

    • “All the tracking that Google does is controllable too and can be shut off.”
      Are you sure of that? I use Firefox and Google has its tracking tentacles into it. The only way to turn it of (maybe) is to edit the about:config file. However, with thousands of keys, it is not easy to find all the Google-related settings.

  7. At prices occasionally around $100, I am considering one to be reserved exclusively for banking and serious financial transactions. This should provide some security enhancement both by the restriction of its use and by the O/S characteristics. (However, I would not use it in any wireless mode for this application.)

    • “I am considering one to be reserved exclusively for banking and serious financial transactions.”
      :-O
      Of course, you do realize that you’ll be sharing ALL the details with Google and its partners?

  8. I am however loving my new job as a digital marketing assistant at google OS hq

    Cheers… Russ

    Sent from my Chromebook

  9. Instead of carrying a laptop around, I keep it back at home safe and use Google remote desktop to access pc apps as needed.

  10. I recently got an original Chromebook Pixel for $200 refurbished. It has an i5 chip, 4 GB ram, and I put an SD card in it to save data. The hi-res touch screen is great and the build quality is nice. I put crouton on it to edit with Gimp and LibreOffice. I tried a couple distros like Gallium, Mint, and some others I had laying around so I might go with those someday, but right now I can do 99% of what I need to do on it as is.

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