If you watch TV, you’ve probably seen an ad campaign for a laptop called the Chromebook. This is not the name of a manufacturer, but that of a category of PC that has existed since 2011 and is part of the catalog of manufacturers such as Acer, Asus, HP or Lenovo.
These machines have one thing in common: their operating system. No Windows on these PCs, but Google’s Chrome OS. This Linux-like system is derived from the open source Chromium OS version and initially uses the Chrome browser as the user interface. It was originally designed to use web applications and data stored in the cloud. But, as of 2016, it was also able to run Android apps directly.
Promises and limits
With this simple software architecture, manufacturers promise machines that start quickly and offer great autonomy. This is true in most cases, but you have to be careful about the hardware configuration, especially on the processor / RAM / storage trio.
For example, some models use MediaTek processors which are very power hungry, while others use Intel’s Pentium or Core processors. 4 GB RAM is a minimum required, but 8 GB is recommended for programs to perform optimally.
On the storage side, don’t count on 512 GB or 1 TB hard drives or SSDs. Chromebooks tend to play the economy card with 32 to 128 GB Flash memory. Fortunately, many models accept keys. USB and microSD memory cards. Note the presence of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi interfaces, as on a traditional laptop PC.
What about the applications?
The Chromebook comes with a few basic programs, for example the Chrome browser, a file manager, and a media player. It provides access to the Google Play Store, which allows you to download Android apps. But don’t expect to use your usual Windows programs.
New habits to take
Windows laptop users might be a bit confused when using the Chromebook’s touchpad, MacBook users much less. Indeed, there are no left and right buttons. For example, right-clicking is done by pressing, or tapping, the touchpad with two fingers. It will therefore be necessary to learn some new manipulations, but that does not pose any particular problem.
Touch screen or non-touch screen?
Regarding the screen, you will have the choice of the size (13, 14 or 15 inches) depending on the model, and, sometimes, the definition: 1366 x 768 pixels or 1920 x 1080 pixels, the latter offering a better display precision. Another element can increase the bill: the presence of a touch screen.
Its use is questionable for a classic laptop use (positioning the screen vertically), but manufacturers also offer convertible Chromebooks, which also serve as a tablet with a screen that rotates 360 degrees.
A limited lifespan?
To make life easier for users, the Chromebook is designed to perform automatic updates to its Chrome OS operating system. This operation makes it possible to correct bugs, improve security, and even offer new functions. However, these updates are not available forever. Google sets a limit of 5 to 6 years from the time the Chromebook is put on the market (8 years for very rare models).
Must therefore be careful and don’t buy an old model if we want to benefit from updates as long as possible. The list of update deadlines is available on the google site. Note that the Chromebook will continue to work after its deadline, but will no longer receive updates from Chrome OS.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive laptop for surfing the web, watching videos, taking notes, and doing office work online (for example with Google tools), the Chromebook is for you. Its compatibility with Android apps is a plus.
However, do not buy a Chomebook if:
- You need a powerful machine.
- You are looking for a laptop PC to play hard.
- You plan to use Windows or macOS software.
- You need a lot of storage.