All the way back in 2011, Google and a handful of third-party manufacturers dropped a variety of new laptops that we now call Chromebooks. These were essentially budget laptops with a twist: they used little bits of high-end hardware here and there whilst running a “lite” OS that was based off of the Google Chrome browser. As a result, they were very fast and adept at using web applications, such as Google Drive and Google Docs. Initially, the reception was relatively weak, as people found no need for an OS that could not run many crucial productivity applications, such as Microsoft Word. However, over the course of a year, many schools began to pick up on the idea of having students use Chromebooks – after all, it is very well suited for a student’s needs. Now, in 2017, with the introduction of Android apps to Chrome OS, Chromebooks are looking to be the ultimate union of portability, power, and price. But are they really? Let’s find out.
Portability. Looking around in the Google Store (store.google.com) and various laptop manufacturer’s websites reveal that Chromebooks are available in a variety of sizes, the smallest being only 10.1 inches, while the largest boasts a 15 inch screen. This variety means that you are bound to find what you need in a laptop; however, what is slightly bothering is the design-to-price correlation. The smaller or cheaper a Chromebook gets, the more ridiculous it looks. The cheaper Chromebooks (~$200) are thick and sport ugly plastic bodies, which means lower build quality. I have an Acer C720 Chromebook, which sports a full-body plastic housing. I attempted to use it at school – however, 2 months in, the plastic screen cracked, and the corners of the chassis had already ta some serious banging. If you’re looking for a Chromebook to travel with you, do not buy the plastic ones. In terms of portability, the industry is only semi-ready.
Power. Chrome OS, being based on the Chrome browser, requires very little horsepower to run. Thus, many Chromebooks come with Intel Celerons and Pentiums, 2GBs or 4GBs of RAM, and low capacity (16 or 32 GBs) PCI-e SSDs. However, there are Chromebooks out there with higher-end hardware, such as the HP Chromebook G1, which sports an Intel Core m3 and 4GB of RAM. The spectrum of available performance is very vast within the world of Chromebooks, and, to be fair, because of the OS, you don’t need high-end hardware to have a fast machine. 2GBs of RAM is as equally usable as 4GBs of RAM. The Celeron N3150 will perform the same as an m3-6Y30, even with 10+ tabs and multiple windows open. So do you need the high-end hardware? No. But if you really want an overkill, futureproof Chromebook, sure, then go for it.
Price. Obviously, Chromebooks are budget laptops. When I say budget, I mean really budget. There are sub $200 Chromebooks available to buy, and they’re not used laptops. In the low-end market, Chromebooks dominate. Not only is it because the prices are well-matched to the respective hardware, but also because Chrome OS is a better experience on lower-end hardware than Windows 10 is. In all honesty, there isn’t much to say here. They have easily taken over the $100-$200, the $200-$400, and the $400-$600 price brackets. If you’re buying a Chromebook, the bang-for-buck will definitely be higher than a similarly priced Windows machine.
Conclusion. Over the course of 6 years, Chromebooks have gone quite far. Some Chromebooks now support Android apps, closing the gap between Chrome OS and Windows or MacOS. Google definitely hit a sweet spot in the laptop industry with this type of device. The Chromebook has matured properly and still faces the (correct) direction that it launched with.