What Is a Chromebook, and How Does It Differ from a Laptop?

Chromebooks Featured Image

If you are looking for a new computer, a Chromebook is an option for traditional PCs and Macs. They look like laptops from the outside, but once you log in it is an entirely different experience.

What Is a Chromebook?

Chromebooks are laptops that run Google’s Chrome OS instead of the usual Windows or macOS, and Chrome OS is simply an extension of the Google Chrome browser. So in short, it is basically a laptop that runs the Google Chrome browser.

Chromebooks Using

Since it is running Chrome OS, you won’t be able to install Windows or Mac applications on it. However, you can install Chrome extensions or Android apps (yes, it comes with the Play Store app) to extend its functionality. Most of the newer Chromebooks also come with support for Linux apps, so they will function like your traditional laptop.

Chromebooks are less expensive than traditional laptops. Since Chromebooks mostly rely on cloud storage, they don’t require large hard drives. Their quickly-loading operating system doesn’t require higher-end components to work effectively. These two features keep the prices down and the performance up.

General Specifications

Chromebooks are generally a little smaller than traditional laptops. The available screen sizes top out at 12.3 inches, with most being 11.6 inches. There are a few Chromebook manufacturers whose machines are 14 or 15 inches, but they are the minority.

A 4GB RAM is standard for these devices. Some models have 8GB and even 16GB, but unless you do a considerable amount of multitasking, 4GB of RAM is sufficient.

Most displays are 1366×768, the best for reading and writing. If you want a screen with sharper images, video, and graphics, you can get a full HD display (1920×1080).


Chromebooks don’t have much onboard storage space – that’s why they can stay inexpensive. There is 32GB of storage in most models, but some are boasting storage of 64GB or more, even up to 512GB. Instead of paying more for extra storage, you can easily expand your Chromebook’s storage with an SD card or a separate external hard drive.

You also get 100GB of Google Drive storage for free for the first year after you buy a Chromebook. It reverts to the standard 15GB after the year is over, so there’s a backup plan if you use a lot of storage space.

Chromebook Security

Chromebooks Security

Chromebooks have superior security features, including something called sandboxing. Where you have all of your processes sharing resources on a regular laptop, on a Chromebook each app and each tab on the browser have their own pool of resources. So if malware or another threat does manage to get through security, it will be trapped in that “sandbox” and unable to spread to other parts of the computer. When you close that app, the data deletes and the threat is gone.

What You Can Do on a Chromebook

With the recent explosion of web-based apps and the arrival of Chromebook apps and Android apps, there is very little you can’t do with a Chromebook. For example, while you cannot install and run the desktop version of Microsoft Office on a Chromebook, you can either use Google Office Suites, use Microsoft Office Online, or install the Android version of Microsoft Office. Those with support for Linux apps can even install a Microsoft Office alternative, like LibreOffice.

Chromebook is not totally reliant on the Internet connection either. There are over 200 Chrome apps that you can access while offline, and many of the Android apps also work without an Internet connection. Offline apps will automatically save your work and update it on the cloud the next time the machine connects to the Internet.

Why Should You Try One?

Chromebooks Choices

Why should you take a risk and try a Chromebook if you have always used a traditional laptop?

  • Chromebooks have outstanding battery life. On average they last for over nine hours on a single charge.
  • Boot-up time takes only about five to fifteen seconds.
  • Chromebooks are durable. They can survive falls other computers might not, and some are even waterproof.
  • The Chromebook’s price is right. You can get a dependable entry-level Chromebook for around $200. On the high end, you can buy one of the best Chromebooks for about $500.
  • Your work is safe. If your Chromebook dies, you can access all your apps, settings, and documents on a new one just by logging in. There is no time wasted downloading and reinstalling everything from your old device.
  • Updating is easy. The operating system updates every time you boot up and runs in the background. Chromebooks do not hold your computer hostage like many traditional laptops when it installs updates.

Who Are Chromebooks Not Right For?

Chromebooks Drawbacks

You will want to stick with a traditional laptop if you work on a Windows or Mac software that has no online version or alternative or if you are a serious gamer. However, gamers, be aware that Google’s new platform for gaming, Stadia Streaming Game Service, will be released in 2019 and claims to be capable of streaming AAA games like Assassin’s Creed and Doom to Chromebooks. In addition, there are also plenty of games for Chromebook that you can play.

If you use your laptop mostly for web browsing, emails, binging on Netflix, using online apps, and watching videos on YouTube, a Chromebook could be right for you. They don’t cost as much as a traditional laptop, are portable and these machines are super-fast to boot up and run smoothly.

Tracey Rosenberger
Tracey Rosenberger

Tracey Rosenberger spent 26 years teaching elementary students, using technology to enhance learning. Now she's excited to share helpful technology with teachers and everyone else who sees tech as intimidating.

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