Once in a generation or so, there comes a disrupter of the status quo: something that radically changes our understanding of things and forces us all (at the same time) to reimagine and redefine reality, as we currently know and understand it.
At the turn of the millennium (for instance), this disrupter was eBooks and we all watched with awe as it took on traditional print – spurring debates about the relevance of the good old ‘hardcopy’, in the face of ‘superior’ electronic versions and even having the discuss extend to cover the traditional publishing route as against the (newer) self-publishing route that eBooks ushered in.
To put this into context, 1971 was the year the first eBook was ever published; however, it was not until the turn of the millennium that things took off and really began challenging the status quo – as was understood and appreciated before then.
Then there was Steve Jobs and his iconic iPhone. Launched in 2007, Steve Jobs’ Apple iPhone challenged everything we knew and enjoyed in the smartphone, generally: from a hand-touch (as against stylus) display that took the entire face of the phone; to a keyboard that was neatly integrated into the display and hidden away when not in use (as against a static option that was there when used or not); the use of apps and almost everything else. The iPhone truly redefined things in the smart/mobile phone world.
That wasn’t all: Paypal did the same thing to the banking system and completely redefined what it meant to send and receive money when in 1998, it brought out a genius-inspired system of sending money electronically. All that was needed was one’s email address and viola, money was sent! Before this, the financial world had seen nothing of this sort!
The list is endless; however, a recent one worth noting is the introduction of Bitcoin in 2009 and subsequently, other forms of alt. coins which, with the rapid adoption and use, are certainly threatening the use of fiat (paper, government-issued money) and will likely usher in a regime when and where money will truly be universal, without the need for currency conversions and border restrictions.
This is the exact effect the Chromebook (launched in mid-2011 and taking off properly during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown of 2020) has on the PC world of today. It has clearly re-defined what a PC means and has ultimately forced us all to look beyond the Mac OS and Windows definitions when thinking and discussing computers and computer Operating Systems.
It has also ushered in a new and very interesting debate, the laptop vs Chromebook debate I’ll be handling here today. Like the other ‘disrupters’ shared above, all the other major Operating Systems have had to make changes, in response to what the Chrome OS threw at them and it is clear, the shock is still in their systems.
So, if you’re shopping today, which should you consider? A Chromebook or a traditional laptop?
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What A Chromebook Is
A Chromebook is a light, powerfully efficient computer built around the Chrome browser and running an ‘operating system’ called ChromeOS. By design, the Chromebook is a system that works primarily with the internet and the cloud. It is thus, cloud-focused and usually, has little need for the gargantuan storage allocations that traditional computers must have to function normally.
Built around the Chrome browser, the concept behind the Chromebook design and overall architecture is that, most users do not need all the weight of a traditional PC since almost all what they do online revolves around browsers, in this case, the Chome browser (BTW, who doesn’t have a Gmail account or haven’t used Google lately?)
A fundamental misconception about Chromebooks and the ChromeOS on which they are built and run is that, while the default setting defers to the internet and a cloud reality, in the absence of the internet or poor (internet) connection for that matter, the Chromebook is still very much usable and work can and will be carried on with it as it is with a traditional computer.
The only challenge will remain that files that have been stored in the cloud (without an option of offline access) will cease to be available during the time of internet unavailability. Also, apps that rely on the internet to work may not work as intended and importantly, work done on the Chromebook during such a period will only sync up to the cloud when the internet connectivity issue is resolved.
That work may be slower or less than ideal without an internet connection is thus true for the Chromebook. However, that it won’t take place at all is NOT true. It is also worth noting that besides the cloud storage option and the internal memory of the Chromebook, an option for SD card storage is always standard and for most users, this suffices.
With this hyper-focus, the Chromebook can afford to be lightweight, lightning-fast, and devilishly price-efficient since all the bogus features at the back end of both the hardware and OS that you don’t need are scrapped off in favor of simplicity and efficiency.
What A Traditional Laptop Is
Of course, a traditional laptop needs no introduction: we all have used them in the past or at least, have seen or been with a person who used them in the past. It is exceptionally difficult to pass through modern life and not come across these types of computers, at least, right up until now.
The most common of these is Windows, however. Powered by Microsoft and with enough bloatware to last you a lifetime, these computers have a distinguishing trait of having trial offers for almost anything online from anti-virus to word processing and everything else in between. This particular system is also clearly distinguished by the long time it takes for a full cold boot and more agonizingly, the efforts and data it needs to keep itself up to date.
On the high(er) end of the traditional laptop spectrum, however, is Mac OS; a premium Operating System powering an equally premium set of laptops (read: computers generally). These computers generally have a super silk finish, a proportionately spaced keyboard, and a rich display that is as beautiful as it is capable of puncturing a deep hole into your pocket should you desire it.
However, despite sporting an array of features and prowess, especially when mated to the M1 processor that most Mac OS computers feature today, the Mac OS still loves its bloatware big…perhaps, beat only by Windows. Beyond this evil, however, the Mac is supremely capable, can take on truly big and resource-intensive tasks without as much as breaking a sweat and while at it, all with a grace that reflects on its display, keeping you going on and on, often, for longer than you originally desired or planned.
Chromebook vs Laptop: Price
Chromebooks are built from the ground up to be light – stripping away all that isn’t necessary for the bulk of everyday users like you and me. A corresponding reality is that, by so doing, they can conversely afford to be offered for a price that is likely to shock you, in the open market.
This reality is further made possible because their cloud-first reality makes them get away with phone-like memories. Slap on the fact that the Chrome OS, built from scratch to be an extension of the Chrome browser and super light in the process, can get away with comparatively light processors like the Intel Pentium Silver N5000, then, you have yourself a solid deal.
Traditional laptops are also built from scratch but sadly, because they focus on so many things, do not have speed as a core consideration, ab initio. They are built simply to perform the tasks that fit their bill and while at it, sustain things. The Mac OS, for instance, runs proprietary hard and software, ensuring that everything is under control and managed centrally by Apple.
While this brings out premium performance, it also pushes prices to the roof – as essentially, there’s no competition if you’re interested in the devices. It thus remains the most expensive of the lot (usually starting at over $1000), followed closely by Windows which occupies a middle position and usually starts at around $500.
With Chromebooks starting from just under $200 (with some truly cheap options costing way less) the Chromebook has established its position as being easy on the pocket and without a doubt, is the clear winner in this segment.
Price Winner = Chromebook.
Chromebook vs Laptop: Security
Security is one of the points taken super seriously by the Chrome OS development team and to a sweet, large extent, they have succeeded: Chromebooks are currently the only computer types, connecting to the internet that don’t need anti-virus.
This security is achieved by (light) periodic updates that happen in the background whilst you work, effectively protecting you even without your knowledge, sandboxing threats to the offending tabs (if they manage to get to the system) so that they do not spread and eliminating them immediately the tabs are closed and importantly, the verified boot system that checks to see, each time that you’re logged in, to ensure that the copy of your OS matches the one found on Google’s servers and if there’s a discrepancy, sort it out immediately even without any input from your end.
Windows on the other hand is a complete mess, security-wise. Though there are systems in place like the Microsoft Defender and Firewall, the system is still largely porous, heavily targeted, takes a ton of data to keep up, and generally, needs a very good anti-virus to make sense of any security situation. The Mac OS, because of the reality of being less popular than Windows is targeted less.
Together with its slightly superior security system consisting of XProtect, the Malware Removal Tool (MRT), and the Gatekeeper, you are reasonably protected, assuming you get your settings right via Apple’s Security and Privacy Settings and importantly keep them updated. It is however still very important to use an anti-virus and keep even that anti-virus up to date to get any reassuring measure of protection!
With Chromebooks having their own built-in security and that option being so badass that you don’t even need to consider a third-party anti-virus program at all, it beats traditional laptops by far – especially Windows. Chromebooks thus win, hands down, security-wise.
Security Winner = Chromebook.
Chromebook vs Laptop: Battery Life
As stated earlier on in the article, Chromebooks are designed from the ground up to be great, battery-wise. This is facilitated by the lighter OS, a reliance on the cloud as against physical memory that could be a drawback/battery drain, and importantly, a display that more often than not, is smaller and helps conserve power.
The HP x360 for instance, the Chromebook I use, has no challenges churning out 13-14 hours of battery service depending on what it is used for and the display setting at such a time. This is about the upper limit for Chromebooks currently with most options sporting slightly less battery juice ranging between nine (9) and twelve (12) hours.
Of late, however, Windows 10 (and its refresh, Windows 11) have been doing wonders with their offers. Supported by equally powerful and extremely power-efficient processors, these laptops now also offer battery life from 14 to 21 hours depending on the use case and display brightness.
The undisputed leader of this segment remains Samsung and Lenovo and currently, with offers such as the Samsung Galaxy Book Flex (20+ hours) and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (15+ hours), these remain the laptop manufacturers to beat so far as great battery power is concerned on a Windows-powered machine.
The Mac OS is a beast in terms of battery life too – and clearly shows itself, especially with the new M series processors. Lighter overall and capable of saving power in ways never thought possible before now, the system is nothing short of genius and returns, at least, 15 hours of solid use. Reports have been made however that 17-20 hours is nothing unusual with this beast, despite its super clear and surprisingly alive display.
The traditional laptops win here flat, especially if you’re interested in supreme ability and power while also not compromising battery life. You only need to have deep pockets (this bit is very important as these machines aren’t exactly cheap).
Battery Life Winner = Laptop.
Chromebook vs Laptop: Portability
The concept of notebooks and computing on the go has made portability one of the most sought-after features of a working machine, especially one that will need to be lifted and used from place to place; spending the day more on buses/trains and backpacks than on traditional desks.
Chromebooks have made great use of this reality and it has been the biggest selling point of the OS with dedicated Chromium OS models like the HP x360 Chromebook 14a capable of transforming to either tent or tablet mode on demand. Beyond this form transformation ability that Chromebooks are capable of, they also come in many shapes and sizes with some offering a display as portable as 10 inches!
Traditional laptops on the other start around 12-13 inches, display-wise with more of the options starting from 13- inches of the spectrum rather than the 12-inch spectrum. The reality, however, is that, most traditional laptops start from around 15 inches with even the 14-inch options being rather rare.
In raw thickness, however, they compete favorably, from Chromebook to Windows and Mac OS, especially since the adoption of solid state drives that dispensed of fans and the complete absence of optic drives across all options.
However, despite these advancements, Chromebooks still beat traditional laptops to the portability game, given their generally smaller sizes and the fact that they fit into almost any sort of hand-carry or bag. If portability is top on your list, you should start tilting towards Chromebooks now.
Portability Winner = Chromebook.
Chromebook vs Laptop: Ease Of Apps & Programs
Programs and apps are what make a computer worth its while; you need them to achieve any manner of task you desire the computer to undertake for you.
You want to type? You need one. Want to access the internet? You need one. Want to edit photos? You need one. Want to open PDFs or read eBooks? You need one. As a matter of fact, you cannot do anything worth its while without the corresponding app or program meant for such a task being first in place by way of installation.
For Chromebooks, they are paired with the Play Store of the Andriod fame. Here, most apps meant for smartphones and tablets can be downloaded and used for free. However, there’s a challenge: while most of these apps are free, they weren’t designed with the Chromebook in mind and many only respond to touch-sensitive devices.
If your Chromebook is one without a touch display, your preferred app may not work as intended. However, the good news is that you’ll always find a replacement or substitute from the sheer volume of apps open to the Andriod ecosystem that the Chrome OS can benefit from.
Traditional laptops don’t fare significantly better; Windows, powered by the Microsoft Store has the least amount of apps of all the three – and it is perhaps the least useful when analyzed critically. Most of the apps there are pretty basic and for the options that make sense, a fee is demanded, either as a once-off affair or on a subscription basis. For any serious users, this is a complete turn-off.
The Mac OS is a completely different ball game altogether. Powered by the Mac Store, there is never a shortage of apps to download and use for whatever challenge you have no matter how remote or obscure it may be. The best part of it is that a chunk of the apps there are focused on productivity and creatives, having been made by the same group of people. The only downside that can be seen is that most of these apps are premium or require a recurrent subscription. It is more of a story of lunch not being free even in Freetown.
The Chromebook via the Play Store offers an impressive array of apps for use. Unfortunately, many aren’t yet compatible with the Chrome OS and some will only work as intended if your Chromebook has a touch-sensitive display, like the HP x360 Chromebook 14a.
Windows is more for a show in this regard and has little to offer. However, if you truly want an endless sea of apps and programs for what you are working on (and of course, don’t mind paying for them), both the Chromebook and Windows systems do not compare to the Mac OS.
Ease Of Apps And Programs Winner = Laptop.
Chromebook vs Laptop: Durability
Nobody wants to change computers every year: the default time frame for this is at least 3 years minimum with a 5-year upper cap making the average time a solid 4 years. In these 4 years, the computer is expected to perform according to specification, need no maintenance at all and importantly, should not let one down by means of an unexpected breakdown.
This is where it is truly tricky to pick a clear winner since all the categories discussed here feature really great systems that all get better if you up your budget and are willing to pay more. This is a perfect case of you getting (exactly) what you pay for.
The above being said, a Windows is as durable as a Chromebook and both are also as durable as a Mac. What will differentiate these is the budget you have, the model you choose, and importantly, making certain that your choice was in fact designed to fit what you usually do when you fire up a computer.
Durability Winner = Tie.
Chromebook vs Laptop: Value For Money
With rising inflation all around the world and not just in the US alone, it has become more important than ever to make certain that the choices we make amount to money well spent and importantly, give us joy down the road. It is also important to ensure that purchases are made in such a manner that one avoids buyer’s remorse after the fact.
So, how does a Chromebook stack up against traditional laptop options?
The Chromebook is a cute little option that allows you to spend as little as possible on a laptop investment. This investment ensures that you don’t bother with another laptop or even Chromebook again for at least, four years from the purchase date, assuming you are a typical user and put the Chromebook to use in areas where its strengths are greatest.
However, as with all cheap or affordable things, there is always a trade-off. If you’re a casual user who does not need a working machine beyond the basics (read: typing, social media, blogging, and YouTube), you might not even notice same. However, dedicated or seasoned users will spot out the tradeoff right away: cheaper quality materials, lack of biometric login options (on most lower-end models), lower refresh rates resulting in a less ‘fluid’ experience, a touchpad that won’t be silky perfect, etc.
Windows, as in most cases, is in the middle here, and what you are prepared to spend largely dictates what you eventually wind up with – though it must be said that most Windows top-of-the-line, super premium laptops still leave so much to desire that one has no option but to wonder how such exorbitant price tags are justified in the first place. It is often a close case of Buyer, Beware.
The Mac OS on the other hand is clearly top-of-the-line and premium in every regard here and remains the only option that clearly justifies its price tag. This is largely due to the fact that the software and hardware are both handled by a company that makes certain that everything is in sync and works perfectly for the betterment of the end user: as it should be.
From the display resolution to the refresh rate, to the security/biometric login options, to the keyboard/trackpad right to the ports and battery life, you are likely more to be excited about the Mac OS than you are to be joyous about either a Windows-powered unit or Chrome OS Chromebook.
Value For Money Winner = Laptop.
Chromebook vs Laptop: Which Should You Buy?
It is normal to be confused about which option to go for: the newer Chromebooks or the traditional laptops. This is understandable, especially if you haven’t yet streamlined your needs in a working machine and clearly outlined what you need versus what you want.
The summary below will come to your rescue if this is your dilemma.
You Should Buy A Chromebook If…
Your basic needs in a computer revolve around browsing the internet, engaging in social media, and consuming content online, generally. The Chromebook is also a perfect fit for students, bloggers, writers, authors, and journalists, especially if budget is one of the principal factors you need to consider in order to decide.
It is also worth noting that, if the reality of remote work, especially as relates to life after COVID is important to you, you’ll be pleased to note that all Chromebooks ship ready for remote work capabilities. All you need to do is set things up and kick.
That said, the HP x360 14a Chromebook is the go-to option I recommend for almost all applications. However, if you’ll prefer something that is a bit more dedicated (as against being an all-rounder) and smaller, then, by all means, consider the Galaxy 2 Chromebook from Samsung.
You Should Buy A Windows Laptop If…
If your work is resource intensive and needs to make use of heavy programs that are simply outside the scheme of things as far as Chrome OS and Chromebooks are concerned this is where you be, by default: architectural designs, video editing, and all things RAM intensive.
It is also worth noting that this is a smart option to consider if you need to work with and share files with persons who are still locked in the old ways of doing things and prefer all their files to be or come in Windows-compliant formats. While it is possible to convert some files from either Chrome OS or Mac OS to Windows-acceptable formats, you need to understand that formatting may be lost and some native functionality might be missing at the end.
You Should Consider A Mac If…
You’re a creative person and appreciate the very best for your creative work. This notwithstanding, you should only consider this option if you have deep pockets and are willing to be effectively trapped in Apple’s ecosystem while being forced to pay exorbitant prices for products that could be got ‘open source’ for well cheaper or even free of any cost to start with.
However, if the exorbitant price tags and the exclusive ecosystem that effectively seeks to trap users therein aren’t of any concern to you, and importantly, you truly want the very best for your work, then a Mac should fly.
If you’re an upwardly mobile person, then, the MacBook Air would be a perfect fit. However, if you only work from either the office or home and do not have any desire to take your work with you on the road, then, the MacBook Pro should be what you should be looking at (better power, larger screen, etc).
It is very important to note that the iPhone is the fulcrum of the Mac world. It makes sense to also have one (if you don’t already), should you choose to go this route.
Chromebook vs Laptop FAQ
With the article above effectively ended, there are still some loose ends that need to be tidied up, especially as regards Chromebooks. These affordable, very effective, little pieces of tech haven’t been around for as long as the others. Accordingly, there are some misconceptions (and questions) surrounding it that certainly need clarification.
Can A Chromebook Replace A Laptop?
Certainly. A Chromebook can replace a laptop with you not ever missing either your old Window machine or Mac for as long as you have the strength and memory to use the computer.
However, this is dependent on what you do with a computer in the first place or need one for.
If, for instance, you are a writer or blogger, then, a Chromebook is actually all you need and this need will be served awesomely by the small little ‘PC’ while also saving you serious money by the side while at it.
On the other hand, if you happen to be a web developer or graphic artist, a Chromebook might not be able to completely replace your laptop (at least, not yet). It will however be a brilliant option in support capacity.
Why Is A Chromebook Better Than A Laptop?
A Chromebook is generally considered better than a laptop because of its superior security, better battery life (for the price), and importantly, bargain-level prices for truly awesome pieces of tech. However, that said, it is important to also understand and admit that laptops are generally more powerful and are served by a wider array of programs, apps, and options (generally) than the typical Chromebook.
Can I Use Microsoft Word On A Chromebook?
Yes. Microsoft Word files can easily be opened with Google Docs or converted in such a manner that they can be opened or worked upon on a Chromebook.
Conversely, the cloud-based word processor offered by Google for Chromebooks, Google Docs, can easily save files in Microsoft Word .doc or .docx format for onward processing on a Windows PC if there is a need for such.
However, it is instructive to note that there is also the Office 360 Suite of programs, offered as a cloud-based subscription model (by Microsoft and contains all of the company’s popular programs, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint). This cloud suite works on Chromebooks or any other OS for that matter.
However, my experience has been that, as a writer, the Google Docs option is better than the cloud-based Office 360 and the original, regular Word, combined. As a result of this discovery, I haven’t used any of Microsoft’s products (or any other product for that matter) for word processing since I switched over to a Chromebook.
Can You Use A Chromebook Without The Internet?
Yes, this is possible. However, since the entire reality of a Chromebook is based on an online first protocol and internet connectivity, you’ll need to prepare some of the apps and files you think you might need to work on when you’re offline. That said, all files, work, and changes made or effected during the offline process are uploaded to the cloud immediately after connectivity to the internet is restored. Nothing is lost.
What Can’t You Do On A Chromebook?
Nothing much. Chromebooks are becoming more powerful by the day and their abilities, especially the high-end ones, are becoming quite exponential. That said, the most powerful Chromebook is still, at this point in time, not comparable to the most powerful laptop, be it a Windows or Mac. If your work is heavy on videos, graphics, or photos and you have dedicated programs that must be used to get the best, a Chromebook may not be your best bet (at least, for now).
What Are The Disadvantages Of A Chromebook?
Chromebooks are light naturally and aren’t designed to handle ‘heavy-duty work’. They also offer an internet-first reality that may not work for everyone, especially one who constantly needs to work offline or a person who lives where there is practically no internet connectivity. Coupled with limited storage, it is best to first off, check if the device type will serve you before choosing to adopt it.
Which Is Better? A Chromebook Or A Laptop
This is the most important FAQ and the mother of them all: the simple answer here is: none is superior to the other or better than the other for that matter. It all boils down to what you want to use a computer for, your budget, and what features are very important to you.
For instance, if you’re a writer (as I am) and appreciate the cloud (for storage) and security (for peace of mind), a Chromebook is a natural and better choice. For a content creator or a web developer, that answer will certainly tilt to laptops, most likely, the Mac OS.
This is simply the way it is.