Help Me, LAPTOP: Should I Buy a Chromebook?

Help Me Laptop Chromebook

You may be tempted by the the low prices of various Chromebooks but were frightened away by fears of limited productivity. Reader Meghan Morrant had the same issue, wondering whether she should take the risk and try an unfamiliar operating system or pay more money and stick with a familiar Windows or Mac OS laptop. She writes:

I need a new computer but don’t have a big budget. I’ve been looking at the various Chromebooks, since they’re so cheap, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do everything I need. I spend most of my time on Facebook or watching TV through Netflix and Hulu, but sometimes I’ll need to edit Word documents or work on PowerPoint presentations.

Should I get a Chromebook or stick with a budget Windows notebook?

Much like high-powered gaming notebooks are best suited for a select group of people, Chromebooks will be good enough for some users while proving limiting to many others. Since Chromebooks run Chrome OS, Google’s operating system, it relies heavily on Google’s suite of applications. Although users can log into Chrome OS as a guest, users should log into the system with Google credentials in order to have the best experience.

MORE: Best Laptops 2014

The Chromebook is optimized for Google’s apps, such as Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Drive. This deep integration can be a positive or negative feature, depending on how you use a PC. Getting set up on a Chromebook will be easy if you already use Google’s services for email, calendaring and documents. However, if you use other popular programs, such as Microsoft Outlook, AIM or Yahoo Mail, it might take some time getting adjusted to Google’s OS.

Unfortunately, Microsoft Office Suite isn’t available on Chromebooks, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to work on your files. Google Drive is the Chrome OS equivalent of Microsoft’s suite of office applications. Users can create everything from text documents to spreadsheets and presentations. All your old Microsoft Word documents and PowerPoint presentations can be imported directly into Drive, allowing you to work on your files.

But there are often formatting issues when importing third-party documents into Drive, so the first few minutes of work may be fixing anything that’s broken. Fortunately, Google Drive allows you to save documents into Microsoft formats, so you’ll still be able to share these documents with non-Chromebook users.

Another issue that could influence your decision about getting a Chromebook is the prevalence of Internet connectivity. Chromebooks are designed to have a heavy reliance on the Internet, which means that many apps simply won’t work if you’re out of Wi-Fi range. There are a growing number of “offline” Chrome apps, which can work without Internet connectivity, including Gmail and Google Drive. However, offline mode isn’t enabled by default, so you’ll have to install a few plugins in order to access your email or documents sans the Web.

You’ll still be able to play games on the Chromebook, but you’re limited to the games available in the Chrome Web store. Classics such as Angry Birds and Cut The Rope are there, but you won’t have the same title selection as with a Windows or even OS X notebook. Chromebooks generally have limited graphics processing power, so even if a game such as “Bioshock Infinite” were available  it would not play smoothly on these notebooks.

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For your needs, either the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 or the Acer C720 are very good choices at $249 each. Both notebooks are similarly sized, but the Samsung’s silver plastic surface gives it a slightly more premium look and offers an hour more of battery life. The C720, alternately, offers speedier performance on its Intel Celeron 2955U processor with Haswell architecture and 4GB RAM compared to the Samsung’s Exynos 5 chip with 2GB RAM.  

If you want a bigger screen, and don’t mind a size and weight increase, the $329 HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook features a larger 14-inch display and great speakers. It also offers better graphics and speedier performance than the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 but provided weaker performance on browser-based tests than the Acer C720. On Sunspider, which tests Javascript load times, the HP took 631.1 milliseconds to load, faster than the Samsung (737.2ms) but slower than the Acer C720 (348.3ms). Scoring 1,422 on the Peacekeeper benchmark test, the HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook outdid the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 (1,214) but fell behind the Acer C720 (2,955).

Battery-wise, the Pavilion 14 Chromebook lagged both 11-inch notebooks, lasting just 5 hours and 29 minutes against the Acer (6:25) and the Samsung (7:34). And for a price in the $300 range, you might very well find a Windows 8.1 system like the $349 Transformer Book T100 on sale. 

A drawback to all three machines is that they come with just 16GB of onboard storage, meaning you won’t be able to store much local multimedia content in your notebook. 

Overall, users who are looking to spend less than $300 who are content with living in the cloud will find a Chromebook a viable solution. You also won’t have to deal with nagging Windows updates. However, if you’re willing to be spend $400 or more, a Windows 8.1 laptop will give you a lot more versatility.

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Dann Berg
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  1. Bill Says:

    While you touched on some aspects of the Chromebooks, you failed to mention that Microsoft Apps are available on Chromebooks via the Office Apps extension. That uses the same version of Excel, Word, PowerPoint and One Note as Skydrive. For many users, direct MS Office app access is a great alternative to the full MS Office Suite or Google Docs.

    In addition, you didn’t mention that the 16GB drives are solid state drives (SSD’s – no moving parts), which gives a great deal of speed to the systems in exchange for smaller storage. Since Chromebooks come with 100GB of Google Drive space, free for 2 years, the drive space becomes a little less concerning for those willing to use the cloud for storage.

    While not for everyone, Chromebooks and Chrome OS are great solutions for those of us who rely on the web for so much of our computer use. Offline apps are growing as well.

  2. Pat S. Says:

    I would suggest that the reader in question give Google docs a workout before making a decision. If the word processing and the presentation applications will work for her,needs then she might be very happy with it. I bought the $199 Acer and wouldn’t trade it for a high end Windows laptop if someone offered to swap with me. In fact, if ChromeOS continues to be developed and supported, our current Windows 7 desktop will be our last Windows machine. Research is key, though. I read every review I could find, including pages and pages of user reviews for each of the available models. It was worth the time, because the only surprises I’ve had were pleasant ones.

  3. Mark Says:

    For an average user Chrome OS is like a web browser. You can install these so called applications, but they are quite limited. And it is not very surprising, because technically they are just extensions for Chrome browser. Maybe for some people a Chromebook is all they need, but for the most a computer with just a web browser is probably insufficient.

  4. Ricardo Says:

    I personally wouldn’t own one but I’ve bought two of them, one for my mom (the original Acer) and one for my sister (the latest Samsung).

    Even though being online all the time is often raised as a concern you need to ask yourself how often you’re not online.

    As for the rest of it, there’s never any OS upgrade cost or headaches (it’s always the latest version), there’s never any virus cost or headaches, there’s rarely if ever any support necessary.

    As another poster mentioned if you really need MS Office, MS now has it’s stuff online as well.

    The only pressing question is do you need software that isn’t offered through the web. That’s why I don’t own one – I need a few programs that aren’t industrial strength enough for being web based – yet.

  5. Richard Lawrence Says:

    Be wary of people who are critical of Chromebooks. I would venture to say most have not actually used one and are rendering their judgment based on their opinion and from experience. I have a MacBook Air. While the Chromebook does not feel quite as polished as my Mac, there is something special about the Chromebook that makes me want to use it as my primary machine. Based on your question, you’re the perfect candidate for the Samsung Series 3. The majority of your time in front of your computer is spent in a web connected state. Why not save some money and headache?

    One of the great advantages of a Chromebook is you no longer need to worry about software upgrades or security. There is no malware, no trojan horses, and no viruses to protect yourself from. Everything you need is built right into the browser.

    Of course there are individuals who still need a Windows or Mac OS based machine for getting their work done. But for a great many of us, a Chromebook offers more than enough performance. For doing word processing, spreadsheets, or presentations, I can use Google Docs. They’ve come a long way since I first began using an online word processor in 2006. While there is still a difference between what you can do with Google Docs and Microsoft Office, the gap has become so narrow only advanced uses will really notice the difference. And if you are in need of more advanced tools, there are virtual versions of Open Office (a really fine MS Office alternative) available or you can even open a Microsoft SkyDrive account and actually use a slightly limited version of MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Once again, only power users will likely need the missing features.

    There are even powerful image editing tools you can use through the browser. Again, you’ll need to be connected, but the truth is, how often do we turn on our computers and not connect to the web? My guess is not very often.

    In fact the only downside to having a Chromebook is printing. It’s a bit complicated if you don’t have a Google Cloud Print compatible printer (however, many newer printers are wi-fi compatible – my girlfriend purchased a Kodak at Big Lots for about $25).

    As a previous poster said, do your research, but if you really think you need a new machine sooner rather than later, take the plunge for a week and see how a Chromebook suits your needs. If it doesn’t work as you thought it might, return it. However, I have a strong feeling you’ll be very satisfied with your purchase.

  6. Brodie Capel Says:

    I agree with Richard, I purchased a chromebook as a second computer and its become my primary computer now, I love it so much that I started a blog about life with chrome and how it intergrates into my everyday life to try and help people decied if its for them. I even included a quiz to help them decide you can find it at http://lifewithchrome.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/should-i-buy-chromebook-quiz.html

  7. Ziggy Kratzer Says:

    If you love Google products and use them all the time, then I suppose getting a Chromebook would make sense. If you constantly use Google software, then it would probably make your life a little easier.

  8. B Says:

    Big thumbs down. Google chrombook hp pavilion is nothing but a fancy ipad with a keyboard attached to it in my opinion.

  9. a random who hates crome books Says:

    no you should not the crash all the time in our classes,and they reqire a google acount and they can break in a click.
    Why dont’t you sell me a stick and a stone and i wiil be happy.

  10. polifrog Says:

    I use a chromebook (acer) and easily manipulate word, excel, onenote as well as others via office apps.

    I simply sign in to outlook.com, then goto skydrive where I can render/edit existing Microsoft documents or create new documents in word all while using my chromebook.

    I am, however, limited to saving work done to skydrive but I download very little to my chromebook anyway. So, no loss there.

    Additionally, functionality of the office apps is modestly limited as compared to the true suite of Office tools. While the office apps will render the full functionality of docs created on a fully functional version of Office, the apps may not be able to create docs with those particular functionalities. In my use I have not missed those functionalities, though.

    In the end, my I find that my chromebook bridges my Microsoft/Google environments in an increasingly seamless manor.

  11. Jack Varsani Says:

    I took a Chromebook after my 2006 Macbook died and hoped that I wouldn’t need to upgrade to a MacBook Air. See mylifeinchrome.blogspot.com

  12. Brian Craft Says:

    I own the Acer C710 Chromebook and love it. Many people make an issue about only having 16GB of SSD storage…..but if you have a usb flash drive or an external hard drive….the storage can be as much as any traditional laptop.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Just so everyone knows, If you have ever used Linux before, you can get the full Ubuntu Desktop OS on the Chromebook. Let me mention, if you are going out to buy a CB for just this reason, don’t. Just buy a budget laptop.

    http://lifehacker.com/how-to-install-linux-on-a-chromebook-and-unlock-its-ful-509039343

  14. Peter Flynn Says:

    I bought the HP Google 14 Chromebook. I love it since I mostly on Youtube and gmail I saw the Samsung Google Chromebook and it looked like a toy compared to the HP For an extra 30 dollars, The HP is twice the machine in my opinion.Check the two of them side by side, you will see what I mean.

  15. TOM Says:

    NOW IF THIS CHROMESHIT IS NOT JUST A PIECE OF SH@T THEN I DONT WHAT IT IS… EVERYTHING IS F@CKED EVERYTHIG EVERYTHING…….NO SKYPE, NO REGULAR MESSANGERS, JUST EXCUSES…. F@CK THE CHROME….

  16. Bert Says:

    If one needs VPN, Chromebook is not a wise decision. Chromebooks are plagued with VPN connectivity issues. Because of this, I would not buy a Chromebook again. I would buy a traditional laptop and run Ubuntu/Mint, for example. I would not use Chromebooks in a corporate environment, again, because of the VPN connectivity issues. For whatever reason, Google appears unwilling or unable to fix their VPN connectivity problems with their Chromebooks.

  17. Claire Says:

    DO NOT BUY A CHROMEBOOK. IT SUCKS!!!!! I bought one and it fights with just about everything. I can not talk to any of my family on Facebook because it crashes every 10 minutes. When you ask for help Chrome has no answers. By a REAL laptop.

  18. philip Says:

    If you are constantly online – maybe.

    Unless you like any MS software; like word, excel etc.

    Google remove a MS office app I had installed and working. It just disappeared.

    They are more insidiously controlling than MS ever thought of being.

  19. Saintly Says:

    Repeat after me (or write on the blackboard):

    Mmmmmm, Cloud.
    I love the Cloud.
    I TRUST the Cloud.

    I love the Cloud.
    I TRUST the Cloud.

    One hundred times, or until you feel ready for a Chromebook.

  20. Sanah Says:

    Can you use the Microsoft Software app offline?

  21. Diego Says:

    Hello:

    I just purchased my second chromebook, and I could not be happier. My first one was a small 11.6 samsung chromebook, and I fell in love with the concept. I just purchased an HP 14″ screen chromebook and I am head over heels. This is wayyyyy faster than my samsung and the screen is 10 times better, i am just in love with this machine. I was about to purchase a MAC but I am glad I didn’t, this machine for under 400 dollars, rocks.

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