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The pros and cons of buying a Chromebook

Sunday, 15 March, 2020

The arrival of Google’s Chrome OS has thrown a machine-tooled spanner into the traditional Windows-versus-OS X debate which has raged for decades.

A modified version of Linux (itself a disruptor in the computing market), Chrome offers an intriguing alternative for a desktop or laptop computer’s operating system.

Yet unlike Linux, it’s a commercial product produced for profit. In fact, as a sealed unit with minimal scope for modification or personalisation, it closely resembles Apple’s OS X.

Nonetheless, Chrome OS is a highly-regarded operating system. It’s even inspired an eponymous range of low-cost, lightweight laptops known as Chromebooks.

These affordable devices are effectively glorified web browsers, designed to dovetail with cloud-based services.

As such, there are some specific Chromebook pros and cons…

Pros

Simplicity. The open-and-surf nature of Chromebooks is very welcome. They boot up in less than ten seconds, and a single charge can last for most of the day.

The operating system is basically hidden from view, making it quick and easy to browse the web and install apps from Google’s App Store – the same one Android devices access.

Affordability. The streamlined operating system in a Chromebook doesn’t cost a fortune to make, while the laptops themselves are often limited in size and specs.

If you’re happy with an 11.6-inch screen, you can acquire a brand-new Chromebook for under £200, while Google’s impressive G Suite productivity tools cost a few pounds a month.

Great for web surfing. Chromebooks dovetail with the cloud, so they’re great for people who live on social media platforms and store their documents in Dropbox.

Chrome is arguably the best web browser to date, and it’s baked into the OS to the point where pretty much everything you do on a Chromebook is conducted via webpages.

Robustness. Google knows a thing or two about staying up to date, and Chromebooks automatically update themselves against the few viruses targeting this OS.

There’s no need to install software, update or manage existing applications, perform resets or anything else. Plus, mechanical simplicity makes Chromebooks reliable.

Cons

Limited third-party software. Chromebooks can’t support the vast majority of third-party software, though it does offer basic compatibility via apps for Office, etc.

A Chromebook isn’t intended as a professional machine. It lacks the CPU and GPU power to conduct video editing or MMORPG gaming, and peripherals like printers often fail to work.

Unintuitive file management. Any list of Chromebook pros and cons must include the challenges of downloading files via an impenetrable and unhelpful file layout.

Everything is meant to be cloud-hosted, so storage is already limited. Even finding a document stored in the Download folder can be enough to drive you to drink.

Offline limitations. Because Chromebooks are web-based, they’re effectively rendered null by the absence of internet connectivity.

You might, with some advanced planning, be able to save a document locally and work on it offline. However, a lack of WiFi or broadband exposes the web-based nature of Chrome.

Verdict

In specific circumstances, a Chromebook represents an ideal choice.

These laptops are cheap, portable, simple to use and perfect for today’s cloud-hosted infrastructure. They rarely go wrong or pick up viruses, and updates occur automatically.

However, they’re not especially stylish or prestigious, screen and speaker quality lag behind the market leaders, and functionality is compromised – especially without WiFi.

We’d recommend thinking carefully about your computing needs and weighing up the various Chromebook pros and cons before deciding you can use one as your main laptop.

Neil Cumins author picture

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Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!

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