Chromebook buyer’s guide: What is a Chromebook, what can and can’t it do?

Chromebooks are taking the computer market by storm. They’ve managed localmilfselfies to find their own market in the portable computing space, standing against the massive demand for traditional laptops, as well as good tablets like iPads. At this point, these machines are in demand, with many people opting for a Chrome OS laptop over an affordable Windows laptop.

The need for a traditional computer is no longer dire. Phones and tablets are often more than sufficient for casual users. Chrome OS computers provide bigger screens and a proper keyboard, while also keeping the experience portable and light. We’re here to answer all your burning questions – what a Chromebook is exactly, how it differs from a traditional PC, and which one you should buy.

What is a Chromebook?

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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. But what is a Chromebook? These computers don’t run Windows or macOS operating systems. Instead, they run on Linux-based Chrome OS.

Chromebooks are portable computers running Chrome OS, designed to run workflows that generally run in a browser. They have plenty of app support, but they’re not meant for heavy workloads. As a general rule, if the work resides mostly in a web browser, you can use a Chrome OS machine to get it done. In case of complicated workflows that need specific apps, a Chromebook may not be the best fit.

What’s the difference between a Chromebook and a laptop?

Chromebooks aren’t all that different from laptops from a hardware perspective. They’re portable computing devices that are rather similar to laptops in terms of design and basic hardware, with some of them sharing similarities with tablets, as some 2-in-1 laptops also do. The major difference comes down to the operating system on board, which is Chrome OS, compared to Windows on traditional laptops, and macOS on MacBooks.

One of the major hardware differences is the built-in storage space. Given that Chrome OS is quite light, and most of the apps are really web apps, most Chrome OS laptops come with limited internal storage. Most Chrome OS users don’t need a lot of storage though, and there are always external storage options like external HDDs/SSDs, if needed. You also get an SD card slot with some of these Chrome OS laptops.

What is Chrome OS?

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In the most basic sense, Chrome OS is 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 also do it in Chrome OS.

This may sound like a glorified browser, and it used to be, 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.

Can you run Windows on a Chromebook?

Like we mentioned above, Chrome OS laptops generally have a lower storage capacity. This makes them less than ideal to run Windows. However, these machines can run Windows, if you really want them to. The process is quite complicated, and can potentially damage your device and/or void your warranty. We recommend you don’t use Windows on a Chrome OS laptop.

There are Android and Linux apps you can run on a Chrome OS device that will do a better job of getting your work done than installing Windows on a Chrome OS laptop. Additionally, there are also ways of running Windows apps on these Chrome OS laptops. We’ll detail all the possibilities, including how to install Windows on a Chromebook, in the guide linked below.

Chromebook advantages and disadvantages

Chromebooks are perfect for some use cases, and not so ideal for others. Let’s get into the major advantages and disadvantages of these computers.

Chromebook advantages

  • They’re great for student and light office use. Chromebooks do well with work that mostly needs to be done in a browser. From the typical work-from-home workflows, including online classes and meetings to word processing and spreadsheets, Chromebooks do it all. They’re the ideal machines for such work, especially as more and more work in these use cases has moved online with services like Google Docs Editors suite and Office 365, among others.
  • They generally have a better battery life than similarly-priced laptops. Chrome OS is rather light in comparison to Windows, and that shows when you’re using a Chrome OS laptop for the kind of usage it’s intended for. Most of these machines, especially the cheaper ones, will give you quite a decent battery life.
  • They’re cheaper. They’re often quite a bit cheaper than Windows laptops that come with the same processor and similar specifications. This has been a major reason why they’ve been adopted by the education community. It’s also led to their growing popularity in the low-end segment of the portable computer market. Premium options can cost quite a lot, but those aren’t for everyone.

Chromebook disadvantages

Basically, Chrome OS is awesome unless you’re using it for certain types of tasks. Here are some very specific situations where they aren’t the best option:

  • They aren’t great for gaming. Sure, Chrome OS laptops have Android app support, so mobile gaming is an option. There are also browser games. But if you’re 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 always a great option for creative professionals. That’s 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 of these devices aren’t really powerful enough for 3D editing. Even if you pay big bucks for one of the powerful machines, most of the popular creative software isn’t available for Chrome OS. 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.
  • They aren’t powerhouses…though there are exceptions. Many of them are affordable, low-end machines. 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.
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