Chromebook vs laptop: buying tips and recommendations

Should I buy a Chromebook or a Windows laptop? This is a common question, whether asked by parents who are evaluating the best computer option for their children or by people who just want a cheap computer for themselves. We will help you choose the right one.

Our latest update includes more answers to questions you might be asking yourself: For example, how slow (and inexpensive) can a Chromebook be before it stops being usable? What does Windows 11 mean for laptops? Read on for the answers, plus our updated buying guide for July 2021 and more.

Who should buy a Windows laptop?

A laptop or notebook computer powered by Microsoft Windows offers several advantages. Windows offers the greatest flexibility to run just about any application, your choice of any browser, and configure antivirus options, utilities, and more. You can modify and configure your PC as you like.

Windows laptops for the budget buyer

This convenience requires more computing power and often a higher price tag compared to most Chromebooks. Prices can run into the thousands of dollars, and if you need a powerful PC for gaming or video editing, Chromebooks can’t compete, and they don’t try to. But you’ll find great deals on our top Windows picks at more affordable prices. See our buying guide for the best laptops for even more options.

Who should buy a Chromebook?

A Chromebook powered by Google’s Chrome OS is a simpler and more optimized affair. Essentially, it helps to think of a Chromebook as a dedicated Chrome browser running on secure hardware. It can also be hundreds of dollars cheaper than a comparable Windows PC, even with the same processor inside! Many American classrooms have switched to Chromebooks for in-person and distance learning, and it can be a great idea to have a low-cost Chromebook for the home.

Now, however, Chromebooks are doing a lot more, including Android apps and cloud gaming, making them entertainment and productivity devices. Google is also adding more features to Chromebooks to make them as useful as Windows devices. Amazon’s list of “best-selling laptops”Is often dominated by Chromebooks, see for yourself! Be careful during holidays or peak sales periods like Prime Day when prices may drop really low – about $ 100 or more. Just make sure you’re not buying a Chromebook that fallen out of support window. (We’ll discuss this in more detail below.)

Updates happen behind the scenes, so you can just open the lid and go. Google also handles all security, now with better upstream biometric options. The internet provides much of what you need, whether it’s working in web apps or using Chrome plugins. But it’s the workarounds and the little annoyances that can annoy you.

Two more points: For years there were simple clamshell Chromebooks and … not much else. (Chromeboxes, a niche class of standalone cubes on Chrome OS that don’t have a display, are nearly obsolete.) There are now convertibles on Chrome OS like the HP Chromebook x360 12b (currently $ 360 on Adorama), as well as tablets under Chrome OS such as the Lenovo Chromebook Duo (currently $ 300 at Best Buy). In fact, it looks like a lot of Chromebooks are now 360-degree convertibles, available to flip over and use as a thick tablet for Android apps.

Google also has to have a reference to that it will support Windows applications on Chromebooks, creating a version of Parallels in Chrome OS. (Parallels can be used to provide remote access to Windows applications.) This time has now arrived, although you will need a very specific enterprise Chromebook to take advantage of it.

Read on to learn more about the differences between the Chrome OS and Windows platforms, along with some recommendations on what to buy. Just be aware that the conversation will focus on inexpensive machines that can perform basic tasks. Chromebooks can’t hold the candle to $ 2,000 worth of gaming PCs, although some cloud gaming services may eventually allow them to do so.

chrome windows reflection 2 Marc Hachman

Chrome OS or Windows? The choice is yours.

What’s the difference between a Chromebook and a Windows PC?

While you probably already know what makes a Windows PC different from a Chromebook, here’s a quick reminder: Windows PCs run Microsoft Windows 10 (and soon, Windows 11), the dominant operating system for traditional PCs for over 25 years. They run Windows apps, from Microsoft titles to a host of third-party software. Windows PCs are available as desktop and laptop and can be configured in endless ways to meet basic productivity needs at resource-intensive workstations.

Windows 10 start menu Preston Gralla / IDG

The Start menu is the command center for Windows 10. (Click the image for a larger view.)

Chromebooks are much simpler. They run Chrome OS, basically a Chrome web browser, and often cost several hundred dollars less than a Windows PC. The newer Chromebooks do come with a bonus though: the ability to run certain Android apps (we’ll talk about that later: Android apps are also coming to Windows 11.). Another advantage: the ability to run Linux– not something that most users will be interested in, but a useful niche addition. (Windows 10 users can run Linux too.) Chromebooks might be cheap, but they’re surprisingly flexible.

Desktop Chromebook Mark Hachman / IDG

In a Chromebook, many applications reside below the task bar.

Physically, a Chromebook looks a lot like a laptop running Windows, with a keyboard, display, front camera for video conferencing, and more. But there are a few key differences: Chromebooks typically include a dedicated search keyboard key, while Windows emphasizes the Windows key. With Windows, you’ll have plenty of hardware choices, including a typical clamshell laptop, convertibles with 360-degree hinges; 2-in-1 Windows tablets with removable keyboards or pure Windows tablets.

Most Chromebooks are flip flops, but we’re seeing a lot more convertibles now that Android apps are supported. Since Chrome OS and Android are now together, one of the main reasons for choosing a Chrome OS tablet over a flip-flop depends on how often you will be using Android apps. Android apps work acceptably in a laptop form factor, but they are arguably more convenient when used as a tablet and held in your hand. Keep in mind that most 360-degree / 2-in-1 convertibles move the keyboard away, essentially turning the Chromebook into a large, bulky tablet. We prefer this approach.

cortana on windows Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft Cortana runs on Windows, but the Google Assistant is only available in Google Pixelbook devices.

Inside, the only real differences are the processor. Windows PCs are powered by a wide range of microprocessors, typically AMD and Intel chips, or more recently a Qualcomm Snapdragon.

Chromebooks generally favor less efficient Intel Atom chips (Pentium or Celeron brand), Snapdragons or lesser-known processors such as Mediatek or Rockchip, adapted to the lighter requirements of Chrome OS. But AMD has taken aggressive and recent steps to integrate its powerful Ryzen chips into Chromebooks, and the 11th generation of Intel Tiger Lake Core chips are also heading to Chromebooks. Look for processor buying tips in the next section.

More recently, we’ve seen more expensive enterprise and luxury Chromebooks include Intel Core processors, including the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook– but the jury is still out on who will pay more than $ 1,000 for a Chromebook. (We do not recommend you.)

The functionality of the Chromebook and Windows PCs also overlaps a lot. While you’ll find that many cheap Chromebooks and laptops have a similar HD (1366×768) or Full HD (1920×1080) display, Windows typically requires a bit more memory and storage. A Chromebook and laptop can perform acceptably on 4GB of memory, but 8GB is better for Windows laptops.

Windows laptops also typically include more local storage for the Windows operating system and related applications: 128GB or 256GB is okay, although there really isn’t an upper limit. Chromebooks, on the other hand, don’t need much more than around 16GB, assuming Google-oriented users take advantage of Drive online storage or store Android apps on an SD card. Less storage means less costs; many Chromebooks also use inexpensive eMMC flash storage to save even more. Chromebooks and Windows tablets allow external storage.

chromebook file explorer Mark Hachman / IDG

While the Chrome OS Files app in Chromebooks is a bit cruder than Windows, it’s been built with cloud storage (in Google Drive) from the start.

The only Chromebook that supports Google Assistant to date is the Google Pixelbook. Instead, Google’s built-in intelligence is mostly used in Chrome OS’s “launcher”. Like the Chrome browser, you type a search question into the launcher and Google will return answers. The characteristic is deployment now on Chrome OS 90.

google launcher Google

It’s not quite the Google Assistant, but it does.

Microsoft’s own digital assistant, Cortana, is supported on all Windows PCs that include a microphone, which is pretty much all. Now, however, Amazon Alexa has also been added as a Cortana partner app or “skill,” which means Windows users get two assistants for the price of one. (However, the Cortana app in the Windows 10 May 2020 Update does not support Alexa.) Cortana is also now an app on Windows PCs and doesn’t play as much of a role as before.

And for work? Keep reading to see how Windows and Chrome PCs stack up against each other.

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