A Chromebook is a laptop of a different breed. Instead of Windows 10 or Mac OS X, Chromebooks run Google’s Chrome OS. These machines are designed to be used primarily while connected to the Internet, with most applications and documents living in the cloud. As a result, these clamshells don’t have a ton of onboard storage, but they don’t have very large price tags, either.
This Chromebook buying guide will help you to take the right decision.
Should I buy a Chromebook? Chromebooks run Chrome OS, Google’s operating system, so they rely heavily on Google’s suite of applications and a working Internet connection. Although you can log in to Chrome OS as a guest, to have the best experience, users should log in to the system with Google credentials.
Apps: Chromebooks are optimized for Google’s apps, such as Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Drive. This deep integration can be either positive or negative, depending on how you use a PC. Getting set up on a Chromebook will be easy if you already use Google’s services for your email, calendar and documents. It might take some time to get adjusted to Google’s OS.
Unfortunately, popular software applications, such as Adobe Photoshop and the Microsoft Office suite, aren’t available on Chromebooks. However, you can still get work done on these machines: Microsoft Office Online, the free cloud version of Office, is available as a series of apps for Chromebooks, and you can always use the native Google Drive to open and edit documents and spreadsheets.
Offline Use: Chromebooks are designed to rely heavily on the Internet, which means that many apps simply won’t work if you’re out of Wi-Fi range. There are more than 200 offline Chrome apps that can work without Internet connectivity, including Gmail, Pocket and Google Drive.
Games: You’ll still be able to play games on the Chromebook, but you’ll be limited to the titles available in the Chrome Web Store. Chromebooks generally have limited graphics processing power.
Google redesigned the on-screen keyboard for touch-screen use, making it easier to use on 2-in-1s like the Flip. With a minimalist design, the on-screen keyboard recognizes your scribbles and gives you choices of text to input. When we tested that feature, it was almost always accurate in recognizing our writing. Also, soon, Android smartphone users will be able to get text and call-pop-up notifications on their desktop.
Battery Life: Almost all Chromebooks have exceptional battery life, an average of 9 hours and 59 minutes of endurance.
Ideal Screen size: Those looking for more real estate for Web surfing, getting work done, watching movies and playing games can pick up a 13.3-inch Chromebook such as the Dell Chromebook 13 or the Toshiba Chromebook 2 CB35. If you need a large screen, consider the 15-inch Acer Chromebook 15, the biggest Chromebook so far. But you won’t find a 17-inch Chromebook yet.
What Specs Do I Need? Because Chromebooks are meant primarily for online use, the specs aren’t as important as they are for Windows laptops, but you’ll still want to know how much power and storage you’re getting for your money. Read more…
RAM: When it comes to RAM, 2GB is fairly standard for a Chromebook, but you’ll find some models with 4GB on board. Opt for 4GB if you’re a heavy multitasker.
CPU: The processor and amount of RAM will determine how smoothly your Chromebook performs, especially when you have multiple tabs open and you’re streaming video or playing games.
Storage Size: All Chromebooks come with at least 16GB of onboard storage, and that’s likely all you’ll need, because these systems aren’t designed to download large applications or store tons of media. Some Chromebooks, like the Toshiba Chromebook 2 CB35, come with an SD card reader, meaning you can expand the storage up to 64GB.
Display: The size of the screen isn’t the only thing that matters. Lower-end Chromebooks sport 1366 x 768-pixel displays, which are fine for most tasks. But if you want sharper images, video and graphics, spring for a full-HD display (1920 x 1080 pixels). You’ll pay anywhere from $50 to $100 more, although you can find some full-HD models for less.
How much should I spend? There’s a pretty narrow price range for Chromebooks. At the low end, you can pick up the affordable and light $199 Lenovo 100S Chromebook, which has an 11.6-inch HD display and 2GB of RAM. On the other end of the spectrum is the well-designed, long-lasting $429 Dell Chromebook 13, which sports a larger, 13-inch, full-HD display with 4GB of RAM. There are more affordable options, but the PC laptop market has a much higher cap than the Chromebook market.
Bottom Line: The bottom line is that Chromebooks are incredibly affordable and capable, and there’s more variety now in screen sizes and specs. Microsoft is fighting back with low-cost Windows 10 laptops, but if you’re looking for a simple way to get online and you prefer Google’s services, you’ll be happy with a Chromebook. Anyway, it’s your decision.