Thinking of getting a new computer? The Chromebook vs laptop dilemma probably has you wondering whether a Chrome OS device is a good fit for you. We can’t blame you, a Chromebook will perform and look good for the fraction of the cost of a PC with a traditional OS.
There are a few caveats to the lighter operating system, though. Likewise, the potential of a traditional OS like Windows, Mac OS, or Linux is very enticing, but they are plagued with downsides of their own.
Which one should you go for? We are here to tell you the pros and cons for each option. Stick around and let us help you in your quest for the right computer.
Chromebook vs laptop: Apps
Amazing hardware suffers when your software isn’t equally great. It doesn’t matter how well built an operating system is, it serves no purpose without a good selection of apps.
Windows, Mac OS, and Linux will definitely have the upper hand here. These operating systems have been around for a long time and come with a wide selection of software. Pretty much everything is available for these more complex operating systems, especially if you go with Windows or Mac OS.
As for Chrome OS? Well, it has long been seen as a glorified browser with a PC user interface. And though that continues to be somewhat true, things have changed since the introduction of the Google Play Store to Chrome OS. Yes, this means you can install Android apps on your Chromebook, instantly taking software availability to a whole other level.
Nothing is perfect and there are a few issues with Android apps on Chromebooks, though. For starters, not all Chromebooks support the Google Play Store (see the list of supported devices here), and not all Android apps are available for Chrome OS. Over a million of the total 3.5 million apps in the Google Play Store can be used with a Chromebook.
That is still an awesome amount of apps, but there is something else to keep in mind. Even if your Chromebook supports Android apps, and the apps you want work with Chrome OS, that doesn’t mean you will get the best experience. Keep in mind these applications are built with mobility in mind. They are optimized for tablets and smartphones, which can often make for a wonky experience when transferred to a laptop.
Available apps are usually not as featured-heavy as their desktop counterparts. Take Adobe Photoshop Lightroom as an example; the Android app is not nearly as complex as the Windows or Mac OS ones. Some of you may be able to get through with the simplified Android apps, but I know many of us can’t (me included).
Chromebook vs Laptop: Performance
This may be an unfair battle. Remember Chrome OS is a bit of a glorified browser. This super light OS needs very little power to run efficiently. Even high-end laptops may not catch up with it when running casual tasks.
Most Chromebooks will boot in a few seconds and rarely stutter, unless you start running some heavy Android apps. Regardless, in order to get similar performance from a non-Chrome machine you will have to really pay up.
Chromebook vs laptop: Storage
Because Chromebooks are made to be light and affordable, most come with SSD storage. This makes the computer much faster, but the technology is also more expensive. The higher price is alleviated by lower storage capacity. Most Chromebooks have 16, 32, or 64GB of internal storage. That could be enough for your needs, but it is certainly something to keep in mind. This minimal amount of storage is made up for in a few ways, cloud storage and SD card slots are common solutions.
You do get 100GB of Google Drive storage with most Chromebook purchases. Keep in mind that making the switch to a Chromebook will mean mostly living in the cloud. Chrome OS has very tight integration with Google Drive, so you could have as much storage as you want to purchase from them.
Those who prefer storing all their files locally will probably prefer going with another type of machine. HDDs are currently very cheap, and it’s very common to find laptops sporting 1TB of storage (even the affordable ones). We do advise that you go with an SSD, though, which will be much faster. And even if you do pick a laptop with an SSD, chances are you will get much more than 32GB of storage.
Chromebook vs Laptop: Display
Once again, Chromebooks are meant to be affordable. This means you often have to make sacrifices, and the screen is a very common one. Chrome OS computers tend to have lower resolution 720p displays. There are some exceptions, like the Toshiba Chromebook 2’s 1,080p panel and the Chromebook Pixel’s 2,560 x 1,700p display, which is one of the best (and most expensive) ones in the market.
Traditional computers vary in screen quality. It’s not hard to find laptops with 4K displays. Others enjoy QHD. And finding Full HD panels is very common. It just depends on what you get and how much you are willing to pay. What we do see more often in Windows machines is touch screens, a feature that is usually a luxury in Chromebooks. That’s something else to keep in mind: the lack of a touchscreen will affect your usage of Android apps on a Chromebook. Can you play that game with a trackpad and keyboard?
Chromebook vs laptop: Gaming
If you want to game, go with Windows. There is no doubt these laptops have the widest title availability. We would advise you get a powerful machine, though, as games eat up a lot of resources. And even if you have a more affordable Windows computer, there are plenty of light games around.
Chromebook vs laptop: Battery life
Chromebooks used to win this round easily, but the introduction of more resourceful processors and other newer technology has changed this. Windows and Mac OS machines with 12-16 hours of battery life are becoming more common, such as the Dell XPS 13, Lenovo Thinkpad X270, and Macbook. Those are not cheap laptops, though. They cost much more than the usual Chromebooks, which usually last anywhere between 8-12 hours.
Chromebook vs laptop: Price
Chrome OS machines are much more affordable. They don’t need that much power to run well. You can buy an entry level Chromebook for about $129, a good Chromebook for about $169. Then you can get more powerful units like the Dell Chromebook 13, starting at $429, with an Intel Core i3 model, available with up to 8GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space, all the way up to that $999 Chromebook Pixel from Google.
Chromebook vs laptop: Which should you get?
The question is simple. The answer, not so much. As it goes with anything else, it depends on your needs. Those who are very dependent on certain software (Office, Photoshop, games, etc.) are better off going with a more traditional laptop running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. But if you can replace these with cloud alternatives (and Android apps), you will find plenty of benefits to going with a Chromebook. These are faster, lighter, simpler to use, and much more affordable. Not to mention they work seamlessly with Google Drive, making it a breeze to recover files if anything happens.
Also consider the level of freedom you get from Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux operating systems. These machines allow you to customize your experience to your liking, and you can play around with a bunch of tweaks. Chrome OS is for those who want something that is much simpler, intuitive, and… just works.
The truth is Chromebooks are getting much better at adapting to our daily needs. The fact that I wrote this whole article from one is a testament of this. I do have to revert back to my other computers for editing images, gaming and more serious work though.