Chromebooks and traditional laptops continue to square off. A lot of careful consideration should go into selecting a new computer before making a purchase. Chromebooks and Windows laptops share some visual similarities, but each has advantages and disadvantages.
Chromebooks are often considered less expensive, faster, and safer than laptops, for example, and can be a great, portable preference for day-to-day work and general office use. Meanwhile, modern laptops have more processing power and can run various business and entertainment applications.
In this article, we’ll compare the Chromebook and the laptop, highlighting key differences and offering advice from experts to help you make an informed choice.
What is Chromebook?
The Chromebook is a relatively new type of laptop that runs on the Linux-based Chrome OS operating system created by Google, and they were originally meant for online-only use. Since Chrome was created as an online-only device that does most of its work in the cloud, it fulfills its primary functions and is essentially mobile. With new updates, it can now be used offline.
It’s just a standard laptop with fewer extras. They’re quite light, much like Ultrabooks, and don’t need a powerful computer or a lot of memory. They rely heavily on the internet and Google’s apps and services instead; web apps help fill the gap left by offline ones. A Chromebook, in its simplest definition, is a cheap laptop that uses Google’s Chrome OS instead of Microsoft Windows or Mac OS.
What is Laptop?
A laptop is a smaller, more portable personal computer. It can be as powerful as a full-size desktop computer while being far more portable. It’s a computer with a built-in keyboard, touchpad/trackpad, sometimes a trackball (technically a mouse) and runs on a battery. In contrast to Chromebooks, laptops generally run Windows or MacOS, and can be configured to run Linux.
It can perform all the same tasks as a regular computer and utilize all the same programs. However, laptops of the same stature are more expensive than their desktop counterparts, generally. They are made to be energy efficient, and they can be powered by standard electrical outlets or rechargeable batteries (Li-ion, Ni-MH, etc.).
Differences between a Chromebook and a Laptop
Here are some basic and important differences between these two devices explained in detail:
If you’re familiar with Chrome, you’ll feel right at home with Chrome OS, the operating system that powers Chromebooks. In earlier Chromebook models, you had to be online to use the web apps, but this is no longer the case.
Since 2018, Chrome OS allows Android apps, Linux programs, and offline document editing, expanding the capabilities of Chromebooks even when they don’t have access to the internet. Since Chrome OS is a minimal operating system, it boots up quickly, so you can immediately begin using the internet and working on your next project.
On the other hand, laptops use Windows or Mac OS. They are used for every kind of work and support thousands of online and offline programs and apps. The latest Windows laptops and MacBooks are far more powerful than any Chromebook, and they’re generally used for resource-intensive tasks that a simple Chromebook cannot do.
For the same reason that they don’t have as many bulky, expensive parts, Chromebooks can be had for much less money (in the hundreds instead of the thousands) and can be carried around more easily. Since most K-12 and university students don’t require scorching technical specs to do most of their work, this has turned them into a popular choice for schools that provide laptops to students.
The exception to this is students majoring in design, film, or engineering who need intensive design, video editing, or CAD software. They can’t rely on Chromebooks, so laptops are their first choice. Laptops are more expensive than Chromebooks, and the reason is obvious (bigger storage devices, beefier processors, more RAM, etc.).
Most Chromebooks cost between $300 and $600, with decent options averaging around the $400 mark. Cheaper and more expensive Chromebooks do exist, but neither of those two extremes make sense. Traditional laptops are costlier, you should expect to pay at least $700 to get a good Windows laptop, and about $900 for a new MacBook Air. Though, both of those options would blow any Chromebook out the water.
The availability of software is another significant distinction between Chromebooks and conventional laptops. Each device has a vastly varied set of apps due to its operating system. Chromebooks can’t compete with Windows and macOS because of the extensive software ecosystems they support.
Make sure that the program you want (Photoshop, AutoCAD, Microsoft Office, etc.) is compatible with the operating system you intend to use before you buy it. If you don’t research, you can be let down by the device’s incompatibility with your preferred apps.
Chromebooks can be significantly more portable than traditional laptops due to their lightweight and small form factor. Because of this, they are a great option for people who routinely commute long distances or go on business trips away from home.
However, ultra-thin notebooks such as MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13 make even the smallest Chromebook seem cumbersome, given their under-the-hood power. A laptop computer is the most convenient choice if you frequently travel from place to place and you require to run heavy programs.
It’s important to put the performance in context. The specifications, workload, and other factors contribute to how well a system functions. Chromebooks always outperform Windows laptops and Macbooks when all three have identical specifications (at least for most tasks). Chrome OS is a very lightweight OS that doesn’t require a lot of resources to function normally.
Actual performance, though, is something you won’t find in a Chromebook. Windows and macOS notebooks can be fully configured with all the required hardware to run any task you can throw at them. A standard laptop can deliver a lot more raw power if you’re ready to shell out more money. Furthermore, they work with sophisticated programs.
Chromebooks typically feature between 16 to 64GB of local storage capacity, less than most laptops. This is because Chromebooks rely less on local storage and more on cloud storage (specifically, Google Drive) than other laptops. ChromeOS doesn’t require a lot of space because most apps are web-based and not installed locally on the laptop.
Files such as text documents, images, and audio recordings are not kept locally but rather uploaded to the cloud storage service Google Drive. If your Chromebook gets lost or stolen, your data will still be protected in the cloud.
Alternatively, most laptops these days come with at least 256 GB of SSD capacity, and some even have as much as one terabyte as their starting option. There is the option to save files locally on the hard drive or to save them online in a cloud storage service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive, so you have the flexibility to choose, unlike on a Chromebook where you will most likely be limited to only the cloud.
Chromebooks excel in security because they come with in-built antivirus software, and the Chrome operating system is impervious to malware. Google has implemented many safeguards in ChromeOS, such as sandboxing, auto-updates, validated boot, and encryption keys. Thanks to these features, Chromebooks are among the most secure notebooks available.
Traditional laptops, particularly Windows laptops, are easy targets for hackers due to their greater vulnerability to malware and viruses. Therefore, keeping a Windows laptop free of malware and viruses requires periodically updating the antivirus software. MacBooks are generally considered much safer than Windows laptops, and Apple has had a history of limiting their software in order to enhance security, but it’s still not bulletproof.
Battery Life and Portability
Depending on their specifications, Chromebooks and laptops can have amazing battery life. The most advanced examples in either group can last for at least eight hours on a single charge, often much longer. Indeed, there remain distinctions. In terms of value, Chromebooks typically outperform other laptops regarding battery life.
Since ChromeOS requires fewer resources than Windows, a Chromebook can get by with slower technology that uses less energy. To maintain a respectable level of performance, Windows laptops need to use faster, more power-hungry hardware and due to the sheer pool of available hardware, optimization between the software and hardware isn’t the best.
With thousands of low-cost laptops and Chromebooks available, it isn’t easy to draw clear distinctions between them. In general, the battery life of inexpensive Chromebooks is between five and eight hours. Standard Windows laptops have a battery life of about 3–6 hours.
However, laptops catch up when looking at more expensive models, with the largest batteries offering 80 to 99 watt-hours of power. MacBooks, especially the new Apple silicon models, are often touted as the benchmark for battery life, since they’re performant laptops with excellent power efficiency. New-gen MacBooks easily last a day under moderate workload.
Compared to conventional laptops, Chromebooks are noticeably lighter and slimmer, making them more convenient to carry around. Again, putting less-intensive hardware leads to smaller sizes overall. That’s not to say Windows laptops or even MacBooks are always big and bulky, but in the larger scheme of things, you will always find a Chromebook to be more portable.
Another reason for that is screen sizes, which are also generally smaller on Chromebooks, since a lot of them are essentially glorified tablets. While the average MacBook and Windows laptop has a 13″ screen, the average Chromebook clocks in at around 11 inches, but there are models that go up to 15″ as well.
The pros and cons of laptops
If you’re still on the fence after hearing about the main advantages and disadvantages of Chromebooks compared to laptops, then perhaps a summary of the pros and cons of laptops would assist.
- The market offers a plethora of choices
- Often the best value is found among laptops
- Reliable, popular operating systems
- High-performance machines with desktop-class hardware
- Typically, better I/O than Chromebooks
- Equally efficient while working offline
- Usually better-built with nicer screens
- OS can be a bit hard to grasp for new users
- Usually cost more than Chromebooks
- Potentially overheat and degrade battery quicker due to excessive power
- Battery life often not as good
Pros and cons of Chromebooks
On the other hand, if the concept of Chromebook still perplex you, here are the reasons why a lot of people get one (and why a lot don’t):
- Generally more affordable
- Enough for light business/school use
- Simple and easy-to-understand OS
- Enhanced safety features simplify its deployment across an organization
- Safer than Windows, as Chrome OS often encounters fewer security flaws
- Usually has a shorter time to start up
- Native Android app support
- Lighter and more portable
- Its lack of processing power compared to a laptop may make it impractical.
- Requires mobile or compatible versions of important applications rather than the original versions
- Not properly manageable when offline
- There aren’t as many viable choices.
Both Chromebooks and traditional laptops have their merits and shortcomings, so ultimately, the decision should be based on what will serve your needs best. There is a device for everyone, whether you need maximum mobility, the fastest processing speeds, or a certain set of programs. At the end of the day, a laptop or Chromebook is just a tool with you being the real point of difference, not the device itself.