These days fewer consumers feel the need to own a computer, with many simply using their phones and tablets as gateways to the web. For those that would like a bigger screen device for typing, browsing, and other basic activities, Chromebooks are a great choice.
But what is a Chromebook exactly, and how does it differ from a traditional PC?
How are Chromebooks different from other laptops?
You may be used to choosing between Apple’s macOS and Windows when shopping for a new desktop or laptop computer, but Chromebooks have offered a third option since 2011. What is a Chromebook though? Chromebooks don’t run Windows or Mac operating systems, instead they use Chrome OS.
What is Chrome OS? In the most basic sense it’s the same desktop Chrome browser you may have used with your older Mac or PC. That means anything you could do in Chrome on Windows or Mac, you can do here. All the programs that you used outside of your browser on your PC or Mac? They simply don’t work with Chrome OS, unless there is a web app or mobile app equivalent.
So Chrome OS is basically a browser that also happens to run your entire computer. Of course Chrome OS has some ‘extras’ that make it more than just a browser. For one, there’s a desktop environment similar to Windows, you can also use a Chromebook offline. There are more than 200 web apps that work offline for ChromeOS, and many Chromebooks now run Android apps. You can find a full list of Chromebooks with Android app support here.
Still a bit confused? Basically, Chromebooks are awesome unless you are using them for certain types of tasks. Here are some very specific situations where Chromebooks aren’t the best option:
- Chromebooks aren’t great for gaming. Sure there are now Chromebooks with Android app support, so mobile gaming is an option. There’s also browser games. But if you are looking to play high profile PC games? Nope, not an option. Chromebooks simply aren’t for you. Move on.
- Chromebooks aren’t really an option for ‘creative’ professionals. Unless you’re a writer, then they work wonderfully. Google Drive is baked in, and there are even ways to get Microsoft Office and Skype working. Unfortunately they aren’t really powerful enough for 3D editing and even Photoshop requires you to stream the experience from another PC or stick with limited mobile apps.
- Chromebooks aren’t powerhouses… though there are exceptions. The vast majority of Chromebooks are under $300, with options as low as sub-$200 cropping up. That means a Chromebook typically can’t handle 500 browser tabs and other intensive tasks. But if you have modest needs, they are great. Of course, more powerful options exist. If you really want ChromeOS and the power to run Linux apps, Android apps, and more — the Google Pixelbook is probably what you’re looking for.
So.. should I buy one?
If most of your activity is stuff like Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, and other online activities – get a Chromebook! You’ll find it is up to the job and a lot cheaper than Windows, Mac, and Linux options. Additionally if most of your favorite apps and games are on Google Play, you’ll find modern Chromebooks rock.
Want to do advanced gaming, 3D editing, and have full access to programs made for Mac or Windows? Then Chromebooks are too different for your needs.
What are my buying options?
Just like Windows PCs, Chromebooks come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and form factors. There are larger screened devices and some that are barely 10-inches in display size.
Here are a few buyer guides that will help you find the right Chromebook for your needs. Also be sure to check out our guide for the best Chromebook covers and cases.
- The best Chromebooks you can buy
- The best Chromebooks for students
- The best Chromebooks with touchscreens
- The best Chromebooks of CES 2019
Looking for a deal? We also regularly look around for new Chromebook deals and gather them up into a Chromebook deal guide. Also keep in mind there are even Chromebook tablets if you don’t want a laptop, though there still aren’t many options yet.
Other Chromebook resources
So now you know what a Chromebook is, what they can and can’t do, and what buying options are out there. Once you buy your first Chromebook, you’ll likely have plenty of questions. Don’t worry, we’re here to help. Here are some resources to make life with your new Chromebook easier:
- How to setup up Chromebook parental controls
- How to install Kodi on Chromebook
- How to set up a VPN on a Chromebook
- How to Manually Update Your Google Chromebook
- How to reset a Chromebook
- How to print from a Chromebook
- How to take a Chromebook screenshot
- How to right click on Chromebook
- Can you use Microsoft Office on Chromebook?
- How to change wallpaper on a Chromebook
- How to enable Developer Mode on a Chromebook
Have an unanswered question about Chromebooks? Let us know in the comments!