What is a Chromebook?
A Chromebook is a computer that comes with Google’s Chrome OS operating system, instead of Microsoft’s Windows or Apple’s macOS. All Chromebooks comply with a specific set of specifications defined by Google and are designed with portability, long battery life and ease of use. Chromebooks tend to be less expensive than most Windows and Apple laptops, because Chrome OS requires less system memory (RAM) and internal storage space (SSD) than competing operating systems. Recently, however, several manufacturers have entered the mid- and high-end Chromebook market, offering devices with much higher specifications and feature sets and competitive prices.
What is Chrome OS?
Chrome OS is a lightweight operating system based on Linux and the Chrome browser. Google makes the majority of Chrome OS available for free through open source Chromium OS project. Unlike traditional desktop operating systems, Chrome OS was designed primarily to work with online web services, such as Google Drive, Google Docs and web-based email. Modern Chromebooks are also capable of running many Android apps from the Google Play Store. You can now use many of your favorite Android phone and tablet apps on your Chromebook. Google designed Chrome OS to be user friendly, mostly maintenance-free, automatic updating, virus-resilient and much like an appliance – so you can spend your time using your Chromebook instead of tackling annoying computer problems.
What you should know before you buy
A few years ago, Chrome OS was basically just the Chrome browser and some essential pre-installed applications. The minimalist design of Chromebooks works for many people who devote most of their daily work to Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer. Recently, Google has dramatically expanded the capabilities of Chrome OS, introducing the ability to run most Android apps and many Linux apps as well.
Play Store support (Android Apps)
Official support for Android apps from the Google Play Store is now available on many Chromebooks and reaches more models all the time. Google plans to support many older devices, and it seems logical that most new Chromebooks launched in the future will have support for Android. Productivity apps like Android versions of Microsoft Word, Powerpoint and Excel can now run on Chromebooks, along with games and other top apps. You can find Chromebooks and Chromeboxes compatible with the Play Store using the comparison tool above and checking the “Android apps” box.
Support for Linux applications
Starting with Chrome OS version 69, some Chrome devices can install Linux desktop applications (as do most server and command-line software for developers). Most future Chromebooks are expected to include this feature immediately, and some current and older devices can now run Linux applications. Select the “Linux Applications” checkbox in the comparison tool above to show supported devices. For all the latest news on this fast-changing feature, see the [Crostini Reddit group](https://www.reddit.com/r/Crostini/). Here is a video I created that shows the Linux applications on the Pixelbook in action.
It does not run Windows Apps!
Chromebooks do not run Windows programs. Ready to install, you can’t install the desktop version of Microsoft Office or your old favorite DOS game on a Chromebook. However, you can use the online equivalent of many popular desktop applications, such as Microsoft Office 365 or the Android versions of Microsoft Office applications.
Chromebooks are designed to use Google apps like Google Docs, Google Calendar, Gmail and Youtube. This does not mean that you are limited to these services, feel free to use the online services you want. If you really need to access Windows programs, you can always connect to a remote Windows computer with the help of Chrome Remote Desktop or Chrome RDP.
On Chromebooks with Intel processor and Play Store support, you can try installing Windows apps with the help of CrossOver Chrome OS. However, CrossOver is still in beta, can be quite slow and has limited application support. As our video on running Microsoft Office 2016 on a Chromebook shows, it is possible, but not necessarily a great experience.
You will need a Google Account
Virtually everything about a Chromebook revolves around your Google account. You will need a Google account to sign in to the Chromebook. Your account is used to sync your settings between Chromebooks (as well as Chrome on other operating systems), connect it to your Google Drive (where you probably want to store a lot of documents) and automatically sign in to another Google service. A guest mode is available, but it’s designed to allow friends and family easy access to your Chromebook, not for everyday use.
If you already do most of your work online and can find alternatives online, Android or Linux for the Windows applications you use, you are an excellent candidate for a Chromebook! Even if you sometimes need a more powerful Windows or macOS workstation and applications to get the job done, you can still enjoy a Chromebook available for browsing the web, watching Netflix and checking email on the go or on the couch.
When comparing Chromebooks, you can see that many models are very similar. Since Chromebooks need to meet a set of specifications that Google makes for manufacturers, there are often similarities in the specifications of different manufacturers’ models. While they may look the same on the surface, you’ll find subtle differences that make each Chromebook unique. Here’s what you need to look for when choosing your perfect Chromebook.
Different types of Chrome devices
Traditionally, Chromebooks have a standard notebook format, but there are other types of Chrome OS devices on the market. There are Chromeboxes that are small desktop computers, Chromebits that are tiny stick-like computers, convertible notebooks with hinges that allow you to rotate the screen and use your Chromebook as a tablet, and more recently, Chromebooks with detachable screens and Chromebook tablets.
The Chromebook screen is one of the most important things to consider when making your purchase. After all, it is on the screen that you spend most of your time looking and interacting. Here are some considerations when choosing a Chromebook screen.
Chromebooks come in a variety of screen sizes, ranging from 10.1 inches to 15.6 inches. The most popular sizes are 11.6 “, 13.3” and 15.6 “. They all have a 16: 9 widescreen aspect ratio (like an HD TV) and generally 1366×768 or 1920×1080 resolution. Some Chromebooks have sizes and different screen resolutions, such as the ASUS Chromebook Flip which has a 10.1 ”screen with a 16:10 aspect ratio and 1280×800 resolution. Of google Pixelbook and the Samsung Chromebook Pro it has a unique screen size of 12.3 ”with a 3: 2 aspect ratio and a very high resolution of 2400×1600.
For those looking for an extremely portable, low-cost computer, consider choosing an 11.6 ”model. If you want a little more screen space while keeping things portable, consider a 13.3 ”Chromebook. If you like having a big screen and don’t mind an extra volume, a 15.6-inch version may be just what you need. If you want a sharp, high-resolution screen, check out the Pixelbook or Samsung Chromebook Pro or Plus.
The screen resolution refers to the number of pixels on a monitor. The common screen resolutions found on Chromebooks are 1366×768 (720p, half HD) and 1920×1080 (1080p, full HD). For smaller screens, 1366×768 is generally suitable. For screens 13 inches and above, a 1920×1080 full HD screen is recommended. A higher resolution screen offers more “space” for working with documents, but it can also make it difficult to read text without zooming in on web pages. If you plan on watching a lot of HD movies on your Chromebook, you’ll certainly want a 1920 x 1080 screen so you can watch videos at full resolution.
Some Chromebooks have ultra-high definition screens (similar to Apple’s “Retina” displays). These monitors produce beautiful images and smooth fonts. To find a Chromebook with this type of screen, use the comparison tool at the top of this page and select the “High DPI” option for your screen resolution.
More and more models of the Chromebook come with support for multiple taps. Chrome OS can handle multi-touch input, two-finger zoom, touch scroll and on-screen keyboards. If you find touch screens on other laptops useful or if you like tablets, you can spend the extra money on a Chromebook with touchscreen. Some newer Chromebooks, like the Acer Chromebook R 11 and the ASUS Chromebook Flip are designed with touch screens for use in tablet mode. Since many Android apps are designed specifically for touch screens, touch support is essential if you plan on using many Android apps.
Screen quality varies significantly between Chromebooks. Many lower-priced Chromebooks come with traditional LCD screens, sometimes called “TN”. They are inexpensive screens that do not have the best brightness, suffer from lower viewing angles and have faded colors. IPS screens are more expensive, but they also have much more vibrant colors, a clearer image and excellent viewing angles. Although the cheapest TN screens are decent for indoor use, you will probably find extra value for purchasing a Chromebook with an IPS screen (or better) if you plan to use the Chromebook for long periods of time or if you plan to use it outdoors.
It’s also important to consider the type of finish on your Chromebook’s screen. Some models, such as the Acer C720 Chromebook, come with a matte anti-glare screen. These screens help to prevent light from reflecting off the screen. Other models, like the Toshiba Chromebook 2, have a very shiny finish that reflects light. These reflections can cause distraction when sunlight or sunlight reflects off the screen. Bright screens can cause a mirror effect that makes it difficult to see what’s on your screen.
Pens, pens and pencils
Last year, the Samsung Chromebook Pro, Samsung Chromebook Plus and Google Pixelbook featured pen-like devices similar to those that come with some Samsung tablets and smartphones. Some future Chromebooks aimed at the educational market even have screens that can be recorded with a regular pencil. Using pen input devices is a relatively new feature on Chromebooks and is most useful for interacting with various Android apps and taking notes on Google Keep.
The processor or CPU is arguably the most crucial part of any computer. Chromebooks come with several different types of processors, including some that you may never have heard of before. Here’s what you need to know about processors when buying a Chromebook.
Intel vs. Processors ARM
There are two basic types of processors found on Chromebooks. Intel processors and ARM-based processors. You have probably heard of Intel processors since they have dominated the desktop and notebook market for decades, but you may not have heard of ARM processors. ARM architecture Market-based processors have been around for more than 30 years, but have recently become popular as the main processors for mobile phones and tablets. Some of these ARM processors are extremely powerful and also very energy efficient. Chrome OS can run on ARM and Intel architectures, and this creates opportunities for manufacturers to develop attractive new Chromebooks, with the processor they feel, offering the best combination of speed, battery life and price.
Most of the time, Chromebooks with ARM and Intel processors behave identically. Unless you are very adventurous and want to install a Linux distribution on your Chromebook or install Windows apps via Crossover, you will never notice a difference between different types of processors. At the time of this writing, it appears that the current generation of Intel processors offers slightly better performance than the ARM competition, but this is always subject to change and depends on your specific needs.
Gigahertz, cores and threads
The processor speed is measured in Gigahertz (GHz). Generally speaking, the more GHz, the faster the Chromebook. Obviously, GHz is not the only thing to consider when choosing a processor. Modern processors also have multiple cores; think of it as multiple processors on the same chip. Chrome and Chrome OS are very good at taking advantage of multiple cores, especially if you often have a lot of tabs open on Chrome. Threads represent the number of simultaneous processes that can be handled by a processor. Generally, the number of cores and threads in a processor is the same, but Intel offers some high-end processors that use hyper-threading technology to divide a core into two segments. Hyperlinking can give you a little boost if you are running many tasks at the same time, but since you are splitting a core, you cannot double the performance of single-threaded processors.
As a general rule, it is better to have a quad-core processor than a dual-core processor, even if the speed (GHz) is slightly slower.
All current generation Chromebooks come with graphics processors (GPUs) integrated into the processor (CPU) or “System on a Chip” packages. This means that Chromebooks are limited to Intel or ARM-based graphics processors and do not have discrete or dedicated graphics cards. These processors are more than capable of handling the graphic tasks of a Chromebook, in addition to playing HD videos, and are good enough to play basic 3D games.
System memory (RAM)
The amount of RAM is another important thing to consider when searching for your perfect Chromebook. Many modern websites, such as Facebook, Google Docs and other web applications, require increasing amounts of memory, and with many sites open at the same time, you can run out of memory quickly. For many casual users, 2 GB is enough system memory, but if you have a lot of tabs open on Chrome, consider purchasing a Chromebook with 4 GB of RAM. As a general rule, the more RAM you have, the better!
Types of internal storage
Chromebooks come with internal eMMC or SSD solid state storage instead of traditional hard drives. These technologies are much faster than hard drives and allow Chromebooks to launch and load programs very quickly. Although the eMMC and SSD units are similar, they have differences, mainly because SSD drives are faster and of higher quality than eMMC drives.
Why so little storage space?
Most Chromebooks come with between 16 and 64 GB of internal storage, which helps keep prices low and even offers fast drives. Chrome OS is designed to work with cloud services, and Google assumes that you’ll store all of your documents, photos and files in Google Drive, rather than on your Chromebook’s internal drive. In fact, the only local storage folder provided by Chrome OS is the “Downloads” folder, intended for temporary storage of downloaded files. An advantage of saving your files to Google Drive is that your documents will automatically be available on all of your Chrome OS devices, on other devices where you’ve installed Google Drive (such as Windows and Mac computers and phones) and on Google Drive website.
SD and microSD cards
Almost all Chromebooks come with an SD or microSD memory card reader. Card readers are especially useful when uploading photos from your digital camera or smartphone. You can also use the SD or microSD card slot to expand your Chromebook’s storage capacity. You can purchase a class 10 (fast) SD card for just a few dollars at Amazon.com and easily double or even triple a Chromebook’s internal storage.
Chromebooks support USB flash drives and USB hard drives formatted on a variety of standard formats. You can read and write to USB hard drives on Windows computers, as well as read formatted drives on Mac. This simplifies sharing documents with other computers and makes expanding your Chromebook’s storage almost unlimited.
Many Chromebooks come with 100 GB of free Google Drive storage (see current offers on here) This is more than enough space for most users, mainly because Google introduced unlimited storage of photos and videos on Google Photos. If you need even more storage, you can always update your Google storage plan.
Google Drive alternatives
Of course, there are many competitors on Google Drive, like Dropbox, Microsoft OneDriveand Tresorit. All of these services can be accessed through their web interfaces on a Chromebook. Recently, some third-party developers have launched applications to integrate these services directly into the Chrome OS file manager. see the File system for the Dropbox app, and the File system for the OneDrive app.
Optical drives (CD and DVD)
Chromebooks do not come with a CD or DVD drive, but some USB DVD drives work to read files. Although you can read files from CDs and DVDs, you will not be able to play audio CDs or watch DVD videos. There is also no software included to write data to blank CD or DVD.
While Chromebooks can perform many tasks while not connected to the Internet (like editing documents, watching videos, etc.), Chrome OS works best when connected to the Internet all the time.
Chromebooks come with Wi-Fi as a standard issue. Almost all models are compatible with 802.11n, and many have 802.11ac, MIMO antennas and 2.4 and 5 GHz dual-band Wi-Fi. All this to say that Chromebooks have fast Wi-Fi radios that support all your web browsing and video streaming needs.
If you need to connect your Chromebook to a traditional wired Ethernet network, you can purchase a USB Ethernet adapter as this model from Plugable.
Some Chromebook models come with mobile broadband modems and offer 3G, 4G or LTE connections. These devices are often quite expensive and also require a mobile broadband contract with a provider such as AT&T or T-Mobile (although some older models have provided very limited free mobile Internet). Personally, I would recommend getting a mobile hotspot from Ting which can be used to connect multiple devices to the Internet instead of getting a broadband-enabled mobile device.
All Chrome devices come with Bluetooth radios. Bluetooth can be useful for playing audio over wireless speakers, connecting Bluetooth mice and keyboards, and even unlocking your Chromebook with your Android smartphone.
Good battery life is essential for Chromebook users on the go. Most Chromebooks come with low-power processors that, when combined with a good-sized battery, can keep you working for hours. Chromebooks often come with multiple cells Lithium ion batteries with capacities measured in Watt-hours (Wh) or Hours in milliamps (mAh). While comparing these numbers can be useful, it’s the combination of battery performance and hardware that determines a Chromebook’s battery life. You can compare manufacturing battery life numbers with our Chromebook comparison app (at the top of this page), but for more real-life information, you’ll probably also want to watch some youtube reviews.
The quality of the webcams built into Chromebooks varies widely. Many older models and some low-end models have very low quality cameras with very low resolutions. If you plan on using your Chromebook to make video calls, take photos or record videos, look for a Chromebook with at least 720p HD or 1280×720 resolution.
Cooling – Fan or without fan
Like all electronic equipment, Chromebooks produce a certain amount of heat. Some modern mobile processors are so energy efficient that they create much less heat than traditional processors. These new processors, when combined with the proper design of the notebook, can allow Chromebooks without a fan to be essentially silent. Since Chromebooks also use solid state drives instead of traditional rotating hard drives, fanless models are completely solid state, meaning they have no moving parts. I recommend choosing a fanless Chromebook.
Chromebook keyboards are very similar to standard notebook keyboards, with a few exceptions. The most notable difference is that Chromebooks do not have a “Caps Lock” key. In place of caps lock, you’ll find a “search” button that will display the main search menu and the app launcher on Chrome OS. The functionality of the search button is similar to that of the Windows key, which brings us to the next difference: there is also no “Windows button” or super key on Chromebooks. In addition, there are no traditional “F” or “Function” keys at the top of the keyboard. Instead, you’ll find dedicated buttons for items like speaker volume and screen brightness, plus several unique keys specific to Chrome OS.
Apple really popularized the backlit keyboard on its Macbook computers and you can even find some Chromebooks with backlit keyboards.
External monitors and projectors
If you want to connect your Chromebook to an external monitor or use it to present with a projector, use the built-in HDMI port. Almost all Chromebooks come with HDMI ports, but some have Display Display or USB-C ports that require an HDMI adapter. You can also purchase HDMI to VGA connectors if you need to connect to an old projector.
Like all modern computers, Chromebooks come standard with USB ports for connecting peripheral devices. Most Chromebooks have USB 2.0 ports and faster USB 3.0 ports. Some models have yellow USB charging ports that provide extra power for charging mobile devices. Many newer Chromebooks come with USB-C connectors; these are a more modern type of USB, which provides various functions, such as power charging and external monitor support.
Chromebooks are generally not upgradeable because they’re designed to be as cheap and portable as possible. Chromebooks are primarily intended for a type of user who just wants to buy a computer and use it, not the type of user who likes to tinker and update their own laptops. However, some Chromebooks can be upgraded and repairers have discovered all sorts of fun things with low-cost Chromebooks.
Almost all Chromebooks do not have upgradeable RAM. To save money and space, Chromebook manufacturers often solder RAM directly to the system’s motherboard to keep costs low.
For those who want to update their storage space, there are some Chromebooks with upgradeable SSD drives.
The Chromebook market has matured dramatically since Google launched the first Chromebook in 2011. Chrome OS functionality has greatly improved, especially with the introduction of support for Android applications. Chrome devices are now available in a number of different formats and styles, with differing features. There has never been a better time to purchase a Chromebook. So spend some time comparing Chromebooks on this page and find the best Chromebook for you!
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