Should I Buy a Chromebook?

chromebook buyers lead

A Chromebook is a laptop of a different breed. Instead of Windows or Mac OS, 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 memory, but they don’t have very large price tags, either.

Low prices and Windows 8 confusion have many people considering a Chromebook. In fact, according to ABI Research, Chromebook shipments doubled in 2014. But is a Chromebook right for you? And how do you pick the best model for your needs and budget?

Our Chromebook buying guide has the answers to these and other questions.

What Chromebooks Can and Can’t Do

Because Chromebooks run Chrome OS, Google’s operating system, they rely heavily on Google’s suite of applications. Although you can log in to Chrome OS as a guest, users should log in to the system with Google credentials in order to have the best experience.

MORE: Best Chromebooks Now

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. However, if you use other popular services — such as Microsoft Outlook, AIM or Yahoo Mail — it might take some time to get adjusted to Google’s OS.

Unfortunately, the Microsoft Office suite isn’t available on Chromebooks, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to work on your files. Microsoft Web Apps, the free cloud version of Office, is compatible with Chromebooks, and you can always use the native Google Drive to open and edit documents and spreadsheets. With Drive, users can create everything from text documents to spreadsheets and presentations. Plus, all of your old Microsoft Word documents and PowerPoint presentations can be imported directly into Drive, allowing you to work on your files.

But it may be best to stick with Microsoft Web Apps if you already have a lot of Office files that you’re bringing over to your Chromebook. There are often formatting issues when importing third-party documents into Drive, so the first few minutes of work may involve fixing anything that’s broken. Fortunately, Google Drive allows you to save documents to Microsoft formats, so you’ll still be able to share files with non-Chromebook users.

Another issue that could influence your Chromebook buying decision is the availability of Internet connectivity. 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 a growing number of “offline” Chrome apps that can work without Internet connectivity, including Gmail and Google Drive.

You’ll still be able to play games on the Chromebook, but you’ll be 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 you would on a Windows machine or a MacBook. 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.

Choose the Right Size

samsung chromebook 2 g01

The 11.6-inch Chromebooks, such as the Acer C720 and Samsung Chromebook 2, are on the smaller side. These models are generally less than 3 pounds, making them the most portable — and great options for kids. However, to some people, the screen size and keyboards will seem cramped.

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 like the Acer Chromebook 13 or the Toshiba Chromebook 2. The biggest Chromebook so far is the 14-inch HP Chromebook 14, but you won’t find a 15- or 17-inch model yet.  

Know Your Specs

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. Here’s a quick guide.

CPU and RAM

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.

Intel Celeron chips provide a decent amount of pep, but if you want even more speed, you can find models with a Core i3 CPU.11. Such machines offer long battery life and responsive behavior.

The Samsung Chromebook 2 13.3-inch has the company’s own Exynos 5 CPU with 4GB of RAM under the hood. It provided solid performance but trailed Intel’s Celeron chip in Web page load time and graphics performance.

Nvidia also has its own chip — the Tegra K1 — which currently only powers the Acer Chromebook 13. This processor offers excellent graphics performance.

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, but expect to pay $250 or more.

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. Plus, with every Chromebook purchase, Google gives you 100GB of free Google Drive storage for two years. Spring for 32GB only if you plan to download and use many offline apps.

Screen

acer chromebook c720p g01

The size of the screen isn’t the only thing that matters. Lower-end Chromebooks sport 1366 x 768-pixel displays, which is 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.

Windows 8 laptops have popularized touch screens in laptops, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get the same functionality in a Chromebook. You just have to know which one to get — and expect to pay about a $100 premium. The $299 Lenovo IdeaPad N20P features a reversible screen like the ones you’ll find on some of the company’s Window’s Yoga machines. The $299 Acer Chromebook C720p also features a touch screen. However, there aren’t many apps that take full advantage of the touch capabilities.

Battery Life

One trait almost all Chromebooks have in common is exceptional battery life. Some last longer than others, but of the 13 Chromebooks we’ve reviewed in the last couple of years, we’ve seen an average of 8 hours and 13 minutes of endurance on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. On the top end, you’ll notice standouts like the Dell Chromebook 11’s runtime of 14:37. We recommend shooting for at least 7 hours of juice; check out our full reviews for battery test results.

Price: How Much Should You Spend?

There’s a pretty narrow price range for Chromebooks. At the low end, you can pick up the $199 Acer Chromebook C720P, which has an 11-inch HD display and 2GB of RAM. On the other end of the spectrum is the $329 Samsung Chromebook 2, which sports a larger 13-inch full-HD display with 4GB of RAM.

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 laptops like the HP Stream 11 and Stream 13, but if you’re looking for a simple way to get online and prefer Google’s services, you’ll be happy with a Chromebook.    

AUTHOR BIO
Anna Attkisson
Anna Attkisson
A lover of lists and deadlines, Anna Attkisson covers apps, social networking, tablets, chromebooks and accessories. She loves each of her devices equally, including the phablet, three tablets, three laptops and desktop. She joined the Laptop Mag staff in 2007, after working at Time Inc. Content Solutions where she created custom publications for companies from American Express to National Parks Foundation.
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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.

  22. Andrew Grey Says:

    You can buy any laptop you want, but as an alternative to google docs you can definitely try collate box !

  23. Grey Says:

    I really love the new world that is chromebook. The best way to describe it is that it’s basically a controller for a computer owned by Google that is accessed online. I think people have to wrap their head around this concept so they can get why they don’t need fancy hardware to have a great computing and web experience. No viruses, no money eating optimizers, no nonsense. So simple it is genius. Some people worry about their files being safe on Google servers, but I don’t think they take into account that they are much more secure than your own local drive when your computer is connected to the internet. And let’s face it, it almost always is online. Also, I don’t know why people think it is safer to hide their money in their mattress. The cloud is like a safety deposit box for your data. Keep valuables off site people, that’s not a new concept.

    PS, to the people who want better filtering control like I do for their email, get sanebox. It is a life changer. Yeah it costs money, but it’s so worth it imo.

  24. BBDS Says:

    You cannot video chat on ChromeBook except through G+. No Skype, No FB video chat. And if video chatting is important to you, then forger about the ChromeBook.

  25. Chromebook Owner Says:

    The Chrome book is a Smart Phone as a laptop but im not sure you can do as much.

  26. Contessa Says:

    I bought a Chromebook in January 2014 the sound is out I wasted money buying a flash drive to do a recovery mode with Google then was sent to Samsung CS who states I have to mail this in with my money and they will have it for up to 14 days even though I am an online student. If I take it locally it will void my warranty. The sound was always very low and you need ear buds but it is gone now!

  27. John Says:

    Being a owner of a Samsung Chromebook I can definitely say its got a lot of limitations. You basically buying the hardware with a browser installed. Don’t let the Google fanboy’s tell you different. You could install Chrome browser on a PC or Mac and get the same Chromebook experience. Probably better because you would have better hardware. The Chromebook is basically for places like schools who have a limited budget and the Chromebooks are cheap. They are also worthless on trade in because they have weak hardware to begin with and only really run Chrome OS. I think schools will have a big wake up call when their Chromebooks become outdated and weak very quickly and they won’t have any value left for trade. I’ve seen very few places who will offer any money for them. I would highly recommend people looking for a inexpensive laptop buy a Windows PC running the Bing version of Windows 8 which many start at around $250 for basically Chromebook like hardware but have a full Windows OS. You will find it much more flexible and you can always install Chrome browser if you want Google services and apps.

  28. Bob McKinney Says:

    Compatibility with your Router could be another reason to avoid Chromebook. We recently ran into this problem.

  29. Bob McKinney Says:

    Compatibility with your Router could be another reason to avoid Chromebook.

  30. Bob McKinney Says:

    Lack of compatibility with your Router could be another reason to avoid Chromebook.

  31. Terry Says:

    I just got an Acer C720 chromebook, I like down loading photos from on line, and also posting them on Houzz and….., but I am unable to do so.
    This Chrome book is really hard to operate for someone who has had many laptops, and been happy with them. Otherwise,I like this little Chrome.

  32. Rose Says:

    i love chromebook computers!!!! I’m just concerned about the noise it is making. Every time I click on something it makes a weird noise. Is that suppose to happen??????????

  33. Steve Jobs Says:

    I bought one and installed Kali Linux… 6 hours of pure hacking in a cheap and small footprint. 16GB is more than enough and still leaves 2.5GB free for anything else.

  34. REGGIE ANDREWS Says:

    my laptop is chromebook so called acer that look good but disappointed over camera is not much some not good why i have been trouble with this over i feel bit not buy a chromebook laptop again because of bit different control so i feel difficult for deaf ?
    hope next will be more future success

  35. Craig Says:

    If you want to take chrome os out for a test drive, you can download the os onto a flash drive for free, and boot from the flash drive. For macs, there is an extra step to get the flash drive made, but still easy.

    So if you have an existing computer, you can try it out to see how you like it before you buy it.

  36. i hate th samsung croombook Says:

    i hate the Samsung Chromebook

    hint GO BUY A APPLE MAC BOOK PRO OR AIR :):):):):):):):):(:(:(:(:):):):):):):):):):):):)

  37. i hate th samsung croombook Says:

    e=mc2
    2+2
    1+2
    1*4

  38. i bevel i can fly Says:

    if i can fly

  39. Lisbeth Bradley Says:

    I bought this idiotic chromebook….no “help” book, no way to get HELP, HELP!!!!! LB

  40. Jake Says:

    Do not get one. They hold no value at all. Save yourself

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