Is a Chromebook a proper laptop?

Is a Chromebook a proper laptop?

Thursday, 4 April, 2019

Necessity is the mother of invention, which is why the mobile computing market saw several innovations at the start of this decade.

Laptops had hitherto been heavy and expensive machines, so the new wave of lightweight, battery-maximising netbooks made a great deal of sense for people constantly on the move.

Apple’s iPad was about to introduce us all to the seductive concept of tablets.

Meanwhile, Google was putting the finishing touches to its introductory range of Chromebook laptops, launched in 2011 with much fanfare.

Powered by a revised version of the open source Linux operating system, Chromebooks were initially cut-price competitors to conventional laptops.

However, Google’s decision in 2016 to make Android apps from its Play Store available on Chromebooks transformed these lightweight machines into powerful multimedia hubs.

Precious metal?

Initially, Chromebook laptops were unfavourably compared to the more powerful Microsoft Windows-powered machines which dominated the market.

However, Chromebooks were aimed at very different markets.

Laptops of the day cost up to £1,000 and bulged with battery-draining hardware and software, whereas Chromebooks were lightweight and cheap.

This made them ideal for students and schoolchildren, who would eventually become key demographics in terms of Chromebook sales.

(From Google’s perspective, this got people enmeshed in the company’s software at an early age, encouraging them to become lifelong Chrome web browser users and YouTube addicts).

Today, a Chromebook laptop costs as little as £160 while still containing an 11-inch screen, a full-size keyboard and an Intel Celeron processor.

Despite their tactile nature and impressive design, tablets can’t offer that level of day-to-day practicality.

The inevitable compromises

The first key difference between a Chromebook and a laptop is the former’s relative lack of functionality.

The operating system doesn’t take kindly to programs being installed, other than apps from the Google Play Store – though there are several million of these.

You can’t really use Chromebooks as gaming machines unless the games in question are hosted through a website interface like Steam.

Microsoft Office and Adobe CC can’t be installed, though it’s possible to use certain applications through the cloud, and Google offers its own suite of productivity tools.

Going online couldn’t be easier, but even something as basic as changing the screen background may seem unduly complicated to anyone familiar with Windows or macOS.

Don’t expect eye-popping screen quality or punchy sound output from these budget machines, though weedy speakers may be enhanced by a volume booster utility.

Case for the defence

Once you’ve accepted they’re built to a budget, Chromebooks certainly qualify as laptops – and they offer many advantages over more traditional portable computers.

Chromebooks combine the lightweight chassis and app-powered simplicity of tablets with a full-sized keyboard and conventional trackpad.

(Most Chromebooks offer peripheral ports to plug in external monitors, mice and suchlike.

However, because they’re intended to work over WiFi, it’s generally easier to hook up to wireless devices like printers and scanners.)

The cost-saving absence of CD/DVD drives is irrelevant given the evolution of online file storage and cloud-hosted software applications.

The introduction of Android apps was a literal and metaphorical game-changer, offering far more practicality than tablets could ever offer, at prices far below traditional laptops.

Rock-bottom pricing means a stolen or broken Chromebook laptop won’t be punishingly expensive to replace – ideal for younger users.

And because saved documents are stored by default in Google Drive cloud storage, important data won’t be lost even if the Chromebook itself is.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is an expert tech writer. He's written hundreds of guides on all things broadband!

News What's the story?

Keep up with the latest developments in UK broadband.

UK 5G network goes live – are you up to speed?

Here's everything you need to know about the new mobile broadband network.

UK 5G network goes live – are you up to speed? Read more

TalkTalk offers exclusive £80 reward to new fibre customers

The huge bonus is available to anyone signing up for a 'Faster Fibre' bundle through

Read more

TikTok ‘gifts’ empty kids piggy banks

Children are most vulnerable to 'influencer' donation pleas

Read more

Netflix ruins 90’s cartoon, enrages internet

The streaming giant came in for criticism for 'straightwashing' Japanese cult classic anime.

Read more

Porn-block pushed back by clerical errors

Further delays to the child-protection measure, with the process mocked as an 'utter shambles'.

Read more

How to watch Wimbledon online for free

How to make sure you don't miss out on the action from your favourite sports stars.

How to watch Wimbledon online for free Read more

Fast fines for ISPs could end the “Loyalty Penalty”

But could the proposed measures mean worse deals for those who shop around?

Read more

Boris Johnson mocks full-fibre roll-out plans

The likely next PM boasts plans to beat current targets by 8 years, but is it all just hot air?

Read more

Broadband and phone companies to put Fairness first

Telecoms providers commit to raising standards.

Read more

UK to get legal right to decent and affordable broadband

New legislation will ensure minimum speeds for every UK household.

Read more

GDPR – One year on

The landmark legislation gave people the ‘right to know’ when their data had been hacked.

Read more

Help Learn with us

Make the most of the internet with our broadband library.

How to childproof your home broadband

How to childproof your home broadband Read more

Why Ofcom’s USO is more than pie in the sky

Read more

Protecting your small business against cyber attacks

Read more

Could 5G end fixed-line home broadband?

Read more

How broadband availability varies across the UK

Read more

Which social media platforms should I be on?

Read more

Will you get online on holiday?

Stay connected during your get-away.

Will you get online on holiday? Read more

Make the most of your broadband overnight

Read more

The main causes of slow internet connections

Slow broadband can be more than just an irritant - but what causes it, and what can we do to fight back?

Read more

Do you need to ramp up your broadband controls?

Read more

The different types of home computer

Read more
Back To Top