If you’re in the market for a new laptop, you’ve probably stumbled upon a few Chromebooks at your local stores. They look like any other laptop, just with a much lower price tag. That doesn’t mean less value, though. Chromebooks may be even better than their Windows or macOS counterparts, depending on your needs.

Regardless, it’s important to do your research before buying a Chromebook — you might not want one at all if you’ve got particular needs. Choosing between a Chromebook and a more typical laptop can be hard, so let’s get into what makes them different.


Chromebooks vs laptops: how are they different?

Dell laptop in cafe.

First of all, a Chromebook is still technically a laptop too. It’s a portable computer with a desktop OS, just like the options it competes with.

Chromebooks have taken on a different name mostly for marketing reasons, but also because they largely differ in functionality, software, UI, design, and overall philosophy. This gap in how Chromebooks and Windows or macOS laptops operate keeps them in different realms.

We know Chromebooks are technically laptops too.

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Chromebooks run Chrome OS, Google’s own operating system which focuses on online usage. Essentially, Chrome OS is a glorified Chrome browser.

It was only recently that Chromebooks started taking more advantage of specialized software. After gaining access to the Google Play Store and Android app support, Chromebooks have become much more functional offline and online machines.

On the other hand, Windows and macOS laptops are more well-rounded devices. They use traditional desktop operating systems designed to operate independently, and do much more than a Chromebook; especially offline. Because they can do more, Windows and macOS computers require more resources, and need more powerful (and expensive) components to keep things running smoothly.

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Which is better for you? There’s no simple answer. It depends on what you value in a computer.


Do you need specialized software?

Huawei Windows 10 tablet showing start menu.

Software is the main reason why people may choose to go with a Windows, macOS, or even a Linux-based laptop, as opposed to a Chromebook. Most specialized software is released primarily for those three traditional options. Some examples include Adobe’s Lightroom, Photoshop, or Premiere, which are very popular photo and video editing tools. Designers may also want to run apps like AutoCAD. Furthermore, accountants, architects, and other professionals all have their unique software needs too.

Software is the main reason why people may choose to go with a Windows, Mac OS, or even a Linux-based laptop, as opposed to a Chromebook.

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While some of these programs have Android apps, and some web services may work as alternatives, they tend to be inferior to the full desktop options. A Chromebook will easily fall behind Windows or macOS in such a situation.

Let’s not even get started with gaming. You can have some fun with Chromebooks if you are happy with Android games from the Google Play Store, but a powerful Windows laptop can run some serious games. The portfolio of available titles is insane.


Chromebooks are for casual users

Google Pixelbook closed, with smart pen on top.

It’s not that Chromebooks can’t take care of serious work. I have used them to edit photos and write articles for Android Authority. They are just not meant to take on certain tasks extensively.

Check this out: One-month test: Can a Chromebook replace my main computer?

Chromebooks will work amazingly if most of what you do can be done with a browser. Email checkers, Netflix bingers, social media buffs, and web surfers will have a blast using these machines. You can even go to Google Drive for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Google Drive can harness the power of the cloud for your storage needs.

Google Pixelbook displaying Google Play Store, laying over table top.

While Chromebooks have the Google Play Store and its wide portfolio of apps, I am not a fan of depending too much on these. Android apps are usually not well designed to work on larger computer screens. The UI can be a bit messy and bugs are common. These Android apps work, but they don’t do as well as we would want.


How much local storage do you need?

There is no denying Windows and macOS laptops have the upper hand when it comes to storage. While 128GB is plentiful in the Chromebook world, Windows and macOS laptops with that amount of storage are lacking.

If you have a huge collection of movies, videos, photos, music, and other resource intensive files, you might want to consider going with Windows, macOS, or the cloud.

There is no denying Windows and Mac OS laptops have the upper hand when it comes to storage.

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Speaking of the cloud!

Google Drive icon shown on smartphone.

Chromebooks can live on low storage space because they rely on the cloud, especially Google’s own services. If you (like me) already use Google Drive for most of your files, stream music, watch movies online, and store your photos in the web, you may not even need that much local storage.

Bear in mind Chromebooks can work offline to a certain extent. You can download emails and work on them offline. Similarly, you can edit documents offline too. Many Android apps can also operate without internet too.


Portability

Samsung Chromebook laying on table top.

Chromebooks tend to be thinner, smaller, and lighter, for the price. Meanwhile, the ultra portable traditional laptops are less common and usually more expensive.


Performance

Performance is relative. How well a machine operates depends on its specs, workload, and many other factors. If we put the same specs on a Chromebook, a Windows laptop, and a Macbook, the Chromebook will always outperform the others, provided the given task is something it’s compatible with. Chrome OS is a lightweight operating system and doesn’t need much power to run smoothly.

You definitely get more bang for your buck with Chromebooks.

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However, if what you are looking for is true performance, you won’t find it in a Chromebook. Windows and macOS laptops can be completely specced out, with all the necessary power to run anything you throw at them, and on top of that they’re actually compatible with intensive software. Windows laptops especially can run just about anything. If you are willing to put in the cash, you can get much more raw power out of a regular laptop.

Chromebooks vs laptops - which should you buy?

No matter how much you throw at a Chromebook, the specs plateau after a certain point. The most expensive Chromebook is the Google Pixelbook, which at its highest setup costs $1649. This version comes with a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of internal storage. There’s not a whole lot you can do with all that, aside from running some heavier Android apps. All that power becomes overkill because the operating system’s not compatible with software that could really take advantage of it.

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Security

While we can’t say any OS is completely safe, Chrome OS is not as prone to attacks. Google has taken multiple measures to make sure its OS is safe from evil hands.

Chrome OS security measures:

  • Sandboxing: Every application and tab in Chrome OS runs on its own “sandboxe.” Even if some virus gets to you, it should be killed whenever that process ends.
  • Automatic updates: Hackers and evil internet dwellers are working hard to get to your computers, so Google made it simple to act on any vulnerabilities that show up and get any new code to you ASAP.
  • Verified boot: Chrome OS can’t boot an infected system. It has to boot the way Google intended it to. Upon booting, the system will check all files. If anything is looking infected, it will be immediately resolved by pulling a backup.
  • Power washes: Traditionally known as factory data resets, Power washes wipe everything in your Chromebook and get you back to point A in a few minutes. Since the OS mostly works with the cloud, you can’t lose much.

Using and typing on an Acer Chromebook 11.

Meanwhile, Windows is a prime target for hackers, viruses, malware, and other internet dangers. Microsoft’s operating system is complex, giving people more vulnerabilities to attack from. It’s definitely harder to keep a Windows laptop clean. MacOS is generally considered safer, but it’s more vulnerable than Chrome OS.


Battery life

Other laptops are also catching up in this department, thanks to low-power processors and other enhancements. That is the key word, though: catching up. It’s very hard to beat Chrome OS devices in battery life.

The Google Pixelbook has a 10-hour battery life, while the Pixel Slate improves that with a 12-hour run time. Other Chromebooks usually get at least eight hours of juice. Those numbers are very rare in the Windows or macOS realm.


Price

If you can live without fancy software, Chromebooks offer the best value right now. The operating system’s not compatible with most power-hungry software, which means Chromebook components can lean into more affordable territory. This is why a $300 Chromebook can often run faster and smoother than a traditional laptop twice the price. Chromebooks will boot, open apps, load pages, and even turn off faster.

Windows and macOS devices cost more, but that extra cash may be worth it, depending on your needs.

Google Pixel Slate on table.


Chromebook vs laptop: which are you going for?

Now that you know the main differences between Chromebooks and laptops with other operating systems, which side are you picking? Keep your priorities and needs in mind, when making the right decision.

In a nutshell, we would recommend Chromebooks to anyone who means to use a computer for web purposes and can live on Android apps for more complex processes. Chrome OS is faster, more affordable, secure, and much simpler to use. Windows, macOS, and other Linux-based operating systems can run more advanced programs and are more efficient offline.

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