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New report highlights why buyers should be careful of cheap Chromebooks

Lack of repairability and Google's Automatic Update Expiration system are blamed for the Chromebook churn.

Published onApril 24, 2023

ASUS Chromebook Vibe CX34 Flip review 2
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
  • Chromebooks are cheaper than comparable Windows counterparts, but a new report highlights that their components for repair are challenging to locate and purchase.
  • Google’s eight-year automatic update guarantee for Chromebooks starts running from the day of certification and not purchase, meaning buyers are left with shorter update windows.
  • This also affects their resale value.

Chromebooks have become synonymous with cheap computers, largely in a positive way. They are inexpensive laptops that run Chrome OS and are perfect for browser-based use cases, such as online learning. You can spend about $200-400 and get a decent machine, providing a better experience than a similar-priced Windows laptop. However, this low price tag comes with some hidden costs, as schools in the US are just finding out about their Chromebooks.

According to a new report titled “Chromebook Churn” by the US Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (via TheVerge), schools that bulk purchased Chromebooks in 2020 when the pandemic hit are now seeing these laptops starting to break. That is a small problem by itself, but the bigger problem is that these Chromebooks are relatively harder to upgrade and repair when compared to their Windows counterpart.

As per the report, replacement parts for screens, hinges, and keyboards are difficult to locate and purchase for these budget Chromebooks. It mentions that school departments have resorted to buying extra laptops just to harvest them for their components!

The report further highlights how Chromebook’s automatic update guarantee acts against buyers because of the fine print. Google currently guarantees eight years of automatic updates for Chromebooks released in 2020 and beyond, but this duration is counted from when the laptop is certified by Google. The report notes that when a Chromebook is deployed to US school students, it has already spent two to three years of its software update guarantee. That said, Google maintains a full list of Auto Update Expiration (AUE) dates online and advises everyone to check these before purchasing a Chromebook.

Furthermore, the report mentions that the shorter expiration date for the software practically renders it as e-waste. Even though the Chromebook continues to technically function after the update guarantee expires, students can’t use them as these expired laptops often can’t access secure websites like the ones used for exams. The shorter expiration dates also make it harder to resell Chromebooks.

If you are looking to purchase a Chromebook for yourself or for deploying to a fleet of students in a school, it is definitely important that you consider the repairability of the laptop. Claimed parts availability is different from actual stock situations, and we hope Google pushes manufacturers to provide components for cheaper and with ease.