As a Chromebook user for over two years I find it odd that there are still so many people unaware of what they actually are and what they do. People may have seen the television adverts, but are still unsure of whether they are ‘proper’ computers, or just think no one buys them and they are a passing fad.
But the fact remains that Chromebooks are stronger than ever, constantly in the top selling laptops categories on Amazon, and continuously becoming more popular within business and education.
So here’s my attempt at explaining the damn things, and hopefully if you’re thinking about buying one but are unsure - this will help you make the right choice either way.
What are Chromebooks?
Laptop computers running Chrome OS
The very basics here: an operating system (OS) is what allows a user to interact with a computer - the most popular of which being Mac OS and Windows. Chromebooks are running a relatively new operating system created by Google called Chrome OS.
Chrome OS is based on Google Chrome; the popular web browser you’re probably already familiar with. Yet Chrome is much more refined and lightweight than most operating systems - i.e. it doesn’t take a lot of computing power to run it.
In The Cloud
As mentioned, Chrome OS is based on the Google Chrome web browser, and therefore is designed to be connected to the internet at all times. You sign into a Chromebook using your Google account, and Google services like Gmail and Drive integrate naturally into the whole operating system.
This means the laptop itself doesn't have any programs installed on it, instead you use the same 'web apps' available to you on the Chrome web store.
People get confused about Chromebooks, thinking that without an internet connection they are useless, but that's simply not the case.
This doesn’t mean you can’t do stuff offline though. There are plenty of apps that automatically work well without an internet connection including documents, spreadsheets, Gmail offline, Wunderlist and more. You can also mark files in your Google Drive as ‘available offline’ so you can still access important PDFs or images for instance, just like on Drive on a mobile device.
This is an area where people get confused about Chromebooks, thinking that without an internet connection they are useless. That's simply not the case. And let's face it, these days how often do you really find yourself without an internet connection?
Chromebooks are extremely affordable. In fact, I’ve seen Chromebooks for as little as £139 brand new, which is quite frankly ridiculously good value. The more expensive models tend to have larger and better screens, but even they are very affordable, often well under £300.
Because the Chrome operating system runs apps ‘in the cloud’ this makes it extremely fast in general, and most apps do not require much processing power - hence the amazing value for money and low price points of most the machines.
What’s more, the way the operating system is built means it only gets faster with time, automatically updating in the background regularly.
After two years of having my Samsung Chromebook, it has become considerably faster and more useful than when I got it. This is contrary to most operating systems that just seem to slow down over time with updates.
Virus Free & Secure
Because the operating system runs on cloud apps and nothing is ever really installed, you don't need to worry about viruses. Gmail also has a two step authentication security feature too, which means you have the option of enabling this to make your account extra secure.
What are their ideal uses?
As a second computer
Because of their low price points Chromebooks are an excellent option for a secondary device that’s extremely portable. In fact, most the 11.6 inch models are the same weight as a small Macbook Air, making them very easy to carry around. They are also just built very well - you’re not going to get an all aluminium construction for £200, but you will get a laptop that’s sturdy and feels great to use. I have no worries when putting my Chromebook in a bag without a case, and it has held up well so far.
For everyday use
Chromebooks are great for everyday tasks like taking notes, browsing the web, writing emails, social media and writing documents.
I find a strong point for Chrome OS is its simplicity; the lack of a cumbersome operating system with many programmes installed with associated updates in the way (particularly if you’re a Windows user) means you can grab a Chromebook and get stuff done with little distraction. There’s no Java updates popping up every 5 minutes, just a bunch of apps that launch when you press the button.
Who are they for?
Chromebooks are becoming increasingly popular with educational systems in the US with many school districts rolling out a Chrome OS device to each student. And they make perfect sense for education.
Each student can log in with their Gmail account saving slow IT admin, and the devices can be wiped (powerwashed) and used good as new when they are finished for the year.
Collaboration options through Google Education allows students to work with peers and their teachers on projects, get reactive, quick feedback, keep up to date with school news, calendars and more. Not to mention the costs of the devices are so low that insurance is also more affordable.
As mentioned above, Chromebooks make a great second computer, and this is certainly the case for using Chrome OS in the workplace. Inexpensive and very portable makes them great for catching up on email and typing up documents and notes whilst out the office, and using Google Apps for Work is a hassle free solution for IT user management.
The less IT savvy
Because of the simplicity of the operating system - no messing about installing programmes, needing updates, constantly responding to system pop-ups etc - Chromebooks are perfect for the less IT savvy. They run very well and require almost no maintenance or set up at all.
Perhaps this may be an elderly relative who just wants to browse the web and catch up on Facebook; a Chrome device is the perfect solution with a price they will agree on.
It sounds corny, but the advert ‘For Everyone’ that Google are pushing is kind of true.
These machines aren’t trying to promote status over others, they aren’t trying to be the fastest or look the best, they are simply trying to give everyone something to learn, search, play and collaborate with; and the price point means this is achievable.
What are they not good for?
Of course, Chromebooks are not good for users that require a lot of processing power or need to install large pieces of specialist software.
You’re not about to go and make a movie, design award winning graphics or create a musical masterpiece with a Chromebook. Those tasks are reserved for devices that cost over 4x the price of these.
Your main device
I’m going to go ahead and say that if you are a working professional you probably won’t want to use a Chromebook as your main computer. The people mentioned previously can get all their work done fine on a Chromebook, but if you’re a career type, there will eventually be a point where you’ll need Windows or Mac OS to sort something out.
A perfect example is when I need to format something using company styles and fonts for a client. My Chromebook simply cannot handle this. I can draft out work absolutely fine, but when I need to format it properly and turn it into a presentable PDF, I’ve got to use my Windows machine.
This is an obvious one, but I’ll mention it. If you absolutely must use Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook etc, then a Chromebook isn’t for you. Yes you can now fully edit Microsoft Office files on Google Drive, but there are still formatting issues here and there that may be a problem.
Those who don’t like change
This is more of a mention for those who are buying for others - a Chromebook is not a device for people who aren’t inquisitive when it comes to technology. You’ll have encountered these people in the past; they see a software update with new features as a bad thing, because it changes what they already know and means they have to learn more to use it. Don’t go there.
So that about wraps it up, and I hope it's been useful. You can probably tell I'm slightly biased towards these machines, but I do beleive this is the way computers should be built - to get better with time not worse.
I'd love to hear your experiences with Chromebooks and Chrome OS, hate it or like it, give me a shout on Twitter or join the unnoficial Chromebook Community on Google Plus.