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Chromebook vs laptop: Which one should you get?

Chromebooks are awesome, but can they replace a traditional laptop?

Published onFebruary 27, 2023

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 fully open
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

If you’re in the market for a new laptop, you’ve probably stumbled upon a few Chromebooks at local stores or online. They look like any other laptop but usually have a much lower price tag. But does that mean you get less value? Not quite.

Chromebooks may actually be better than their Windows or macOS counterparts, depending on your use-case. Regardless, it’s essential to do your research before buying a Chromebook — you might not want one at all if you’ve got particular needs. So while choosing between a Chromebook vs laptop can be challenging, here’s a quick guide on what makes them different.

Chromebook vs laptop: What’s the difference?

Google Pixelbook Go Review rear profile
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

First of all, a Chromebook is technically a laptop too. It’s a portable computer with a desktop OS, just like its competitors’ options. Chromebooks have taken on a different name, mainly for marketing reasons, but also because they vastly 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.

Chromebooks are technically laptops too.Edgar Cervantes

Chromebooks run Chrome OS, Google’s operating system, which focuses on online use. In the past, Chrome OS used to be a Chrome browser and not much else. That has changed recently as Chromebooks started taking more advantage of specialized software. After gaining access to the Google Play Store, Chromebooks have become much more functional offline and online machines. Furthermore, Chromebooks now have access to Linux apps, which significantly widens their desktop app portfolio.

Samsung Galaxy Book Flex Chromebook vs laptop

On the other hand, Windows and macOS laptops are more well-rounded devices. They use traditional desktop operating systems designed to operate independently. These do much more than a Chromebook, especially offline. Because they are more capable, traditional computers require more resources and need more powerful (and expensive) components to keep things running smoothly. A Windows or macOS laptop would perform worse with basic Chromebook specs.

Which is better for you? There’s no simple answer. It depends on what you value in a computer. Here’s a table to help you figure out the main differences between laptops and Chromebooks.

Operating system
Chrome OS.
Windows, macOS, or Linux.
Usually very fast, even with lower-end specs.
Lower-end laptops can be very slow. You need to pay for better specs to see performance improvements.
Software availability
Google Play Store apps, Chrome web apps, and some Chromebooks have Linux app support.
Windows: Microsoft Store, or third-party software direct from websites.
Mac: Mac App Store.
Linux: Third-party software direct from developers.
Offline functionality
Very limited.
Unless inherently web-based most software can be used offline freely.
Android games and cloud gaming.
Higher-end laptops have a huge advantage in game support and availability. These can also come with advanced specs, more efficient cooling, and dedicated GPUs, improving gaming performance significantly. Dedicated gaming laptops are also available.
Battery life
Most Chromebooks last 8-12 hours.
Power-efficient laptops and ultrabooks can last 8-12 hours. Of course, mileage will vary. High-end gaming laptops with resource-intensive specs usually last no more than about five hours.
Estimated pricing
Low-end: $200-$400
Mid-tier: $400-$700
High-end: $700-$1,500
Low-end: $300-$500
Mid-tier: $500-$1,000
High-end: $1,000-$3,500

Chromebooks are web-centric computers with a focus on mobility and ease of use. Laptops run full desktop operating systems and are considered proper PC replacements for more complex tasks.

Do you need specialized software?

Google Pixelbook AA 11
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Software availability is the main reason to go with a Windows, macOS, or even a Linux-based laptop instead of a Chromebook. Most specialized software is released primarily for those three traditional options.

This is beginning to change as cloud and mobile apps become more sophisticated. For example, Adobe’s Lightroom CC photo editing software is now nearly identical to its desktop PC software counterpart. You can also run Microsoft Office online with the most important features available. Even video editing web apps are pretty sophisticated now.

You can do a lot with a Chromebook these days, but don't expect support for most specialized apps.

If you need something like Photoshop or Premiere, you may be more out of luck. Designers may also want to run apps like AutoCAD. Furthermore, accountants, architects, and other professionals have dedicated software needs. Those who use specialized software of this kind are still better off going with a traditional laptop. The ultimate truth is that desktop apps still offer a fuller experience compared to their mobile/web alternatives. You could argue there’s Linux app support on some Chromebooks, but most developers ignore even that platform.

As for gaming, if you are happy with Android games, you can have some fun with Chromebooks, but a powerful Windows laptop can run some serious games natively. The portfolio of available titles is insane, especially on Windows. Things are beginning to change as cloud gaming becomes more sophisticated, though. Alternatives like NVIDIA’s GeForce Now make Chromebooks a better gaming alternative if you have a stable internet connection. Windows users won’t need a solid internet connection to play high-end games unless the game is inherently online-based.

Are Chromebooks for casual users?

Lenovo Chromebook Duet with accessories - Chromebook vs laptop
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

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

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 use Google Drive for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. It can also harness the power of the cloud for your storage needs.

Android apps work well on Chromebooks but don't expect a consistent experience.

While Chromebooks have the Google Play Store and its broad 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. Android apps work, but the experience isn’t as refined as it should be.

If you decide to rely on Linux apps, given that your Chromebook supports them, you will find that the portfolio of available apps is not as broad. Windows and macOS still have Linux beat in this department.

How much local storage do you need?

MicroSD card slot stock photo 4
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

There is no denying that Windows and macOS laptops have the upper hand in storage. While 128GB is plentiful in the Chromebook world, Windows and macOS laptops with that amount of storage are seriously lacking. If you have a massive collection of movies, videos, photos, music, and other files, you might want to consider going with Windows or macOS. Taking advantage of the cloud is another excellent alternative.

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

You can always use external storage too. External hard drives, SD cards, and USB flash drives can help alleviate Chromebooks’ commonly low storage space. Check out the links below for our recommendations.

Speaking of the cloud!

Google Drive logo on smartphone stock photo 3
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

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

Bear in mind Chromebooks can operate 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 run without an internet connection, not to mention Linux ones.

While everyone gets 15GB of cloud storage for free with Google Drive, upgrading to more costs money. Luckily it isn’t too much. A $1.99/mo Google One subscription can get you 100GB of cloud storage. You can also pay $2.99/mo for 200GB or $9.99/mo for 2TB. There are higher plans for those who need them, too.

Chromebook vs laptop: Portability

2020 MacBook Air review laptop inside manila envelope1
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Chromebooks tend to be thinner, smaller, and lighter for the price. Meanwhile, ultra-portable Windows and macOS laptops are less common, and the few that can compete with Chromebook portability are usually significantly more expensive.

Chromebook vs laptop: Performance

Razer Blade 15 Studio edition from back - Chromebook vs laptop
David Imel / Android Authority

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 (at least for everyday tasks). 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. Edgar Cervantes

However, if you’re looking for is true performance, you won’t find it in a Chromebook. Windows and macOS laptops can be completely spec’d out with all the necessary power to run anything you throw at them. You can get much more raw power out of a regular laptop… if you are willing to pay for the beefier specs. On top of that, they’re actually compatible with intensive software.

razer blade 15 6
Igor Bonifacic / Android Authority

No matter how much money you throw at a Chromebook, the specs plateau after a certain point. For example, the Google Pixelbook Go can be completely spec’d out for $1,399. This gets you an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a 4K screen. This is nothing to scoff at, but these are specs you can easily surpass in the Windows and macOS market. Remember, the Google Pixelbook Go, in its top configuration, is one of the most expensive Chromebooks around. You can’t really get much better, even if you are willing to pay for it.

On the other hand, it’s not uncommon to see Windows laptops with Intel Core i9 processors, 32GB of RAM, terabytes of storage, dedicated GPUs, and more. Gaming laptops especially will cost a pretty penny, but they’re available. You can’t get those specs on Chromebooks yet, and it’s likely because you don’t need them.

Chromebook vs laptop: Security

Robot security- Chromebook vs laptop

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

Chrome OS security measures:

  • Sandboxing: Every application and tab in Chrome OS runs on its own “sandbox.” 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 looks 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.

Meanwhile, Windows is a prime target for hackers, viruses, malware, and other internet dangers. Microsoft’s operating system is complex, giving hackers more vulnerabilities to attack from. Windows is also extremely popular, which gives hackers more chances of success, and therefore they tend to focus more on the OS. It’s definitely harder to keep a Windows laptop clean. macOS is generally considered safer, but it’s still more vulnerable than Chrome OS.

Chromebook vs laptop: Battery life

Google Pixel 3 XL showing USB C and cable stock photo 3
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

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

Chromebooks usually get at least eight hours of juice. Those numbers are rare in the Windows realm unless you pay up. And if you go with power-hungry gaming laptops, it’s nearly impossible. Of course, you can always get yourself a high-power battery bank that’s capable of keeping your laptop or Chromebook alive for longer.

Chromebook vs laptop: Price

Money Stock Photo - Chromebook vs laptop
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

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 costing twice the price. Chromebooks will boot, open apps, load pages, and even turn off faster.

Are you looking for a deal? We also regularly look around for new deals and gather them into a Chromebook deal guide.

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

Chromebook vs laptop: Which is best for you?

Now that you know the main differences between Chromebooks and laptops, which side are you picking?

In a nutshell, we would recommend Chromebooks to anyone who uses a computer for web purposes and can live on Android apps for more complex processes. Chrome OS is faster, more affordable, more secure, and much simpler to use. Windows, macOS, and other Linux-based operating systems can run more advanced programs and are more efficient offline. They also have a healthier selection of apps optimized for the laptop form factor.

Regardless of your preference, we have lists of the best laptops from each realm. Check out our favorite Chromebooks, and Windows laptops.

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