The need for a traditional computer is no longer dire. Phones and tablets are often more than sufficient for casual users. Even those who require more than a mobile device have alternatives to expensive Windows and macOS laptops. Chrome OS computers will provide bigger screens and a proper keyboard, while also keeping the experience portable and light. But what is a Chromebook exactly, and how does it differ from a traditional PC?
What is a Chromebook?
You may be used to choosing between Apple’s macOS and Windows when shopping for a new computer, but Chromebooks have offered a third option since 2011. What is a Chromebook, though? These computers don’t run Windows or Mac operating systems, instead, they run on Linux-based Chrome OS.
What is Chrome OS? In the most basic sense, it’s an operating system based on the Chrome browser you probably already know and love. That means anything you can do in Chrome for Windows or Mac, you can do in Chrome OS.
Chrome OS used to pretty much be a glorified browser, but things have changed in recent years. Chromebooks can now run Android apps, and some even support Linux applications. This makes Chrome OS laptops helpful for doing more than simply browsing the web. You won’t get the full desktop software portfolio Windows and macOS rock, but there are millions of Android apps and a wide variety of full Linux desktop apps at your disposal.
Are you still confused? Basically, Chrome OS is awesome unless you are using them for certain types of tasks. Here are some very specific situations where they aren’t the best option:
- Chromebooks aren’t great for gaming. Sure, Chromebooks have Android app support, so mobile gaming is an option. There are also browser games. But if you are looking to play high profile PC games, you should look elsewhere. Unless you can live with cloud gaming from services like Stadia and GeForce Now. Those cloud gaming services require a very good internet connection, though.
- These computers aren’t a great option for ‘creative’ professionals. That is unless you’re a writer, in which case they work wonderfully. Google Drive is baked in, and there are even ways to get Microsoft Office and Skype working. Unfortunately, most Chromebooks aren’t really powerful enough for 3D editing. Photographers could live off the Lightroom Android app and other mobile editing options, and there are some ways to edit video, but most options require significant sacrifices, and/or pretty fast internet.
- Chromebooks aren’t powerhouses… though there are exceptions. Many of these laptops 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. Of course, more powerful options exist. If you really want Chrome OS and the power to run Linux apps, Android apps, and more, you could go for something like the Google Pixelbook, Pixelbook Go, or the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook.
So, should I buy a Chrome OS computer?
If most of your PC activity is stuff like browsing Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, and other online tasks — 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 available from the Google Play Store, you’ll find that modern Chromebooks rock.
Those with higher-end needs will need to really pay up to get a superior Chromebook. Those can cost over $1,000. At that price point, there are many other options to consider, many of which sport a full desktop OS. Check out the link below for some great options.
Alternatives: These are the best laptops you can buy right now
What are my buying options?
Still want a Chromebook? 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 extra buyer guides that will help you find the right laptop for your needs. Also, be sure to check out our guide for the best Chromebook covers and cases.
Now you know what a Chromebook is, what it can and can’t do, and what buying options are out there. Once you buy your first Chrome OS device, you’ll likely have plenty of questions. Don’t worry, we’re here to help. Here are some resources to make life easier: