As a Chromebook user for the past three years, I can say that the Chromebook can be a great investment if you need a new laptop that won’t make you sweat when you check your bank account. Although I‘ll likely stick to the Chromebook for years to come, it’s hard for me to suggest it to people because it can be a very different experience than most are used to or willing to compromise to. This article should help you understand what makes a Chromebook so different beyond just being a cheap laptop.
The Most Important Chromebook Factor
Unfortunately, a lot of people buy Chromebooks and feel like they’ve been led astray, swindled and bamboozled when they realize it’s nothing like the Mac or Windows devices they’re used to.
Unlike Windows laptops and MacBooks, Chromebooks don’t run programs (anything with a .exe or .app file extension). This can be the biggest adjustment for anyone switching over to a Chromebook.
It’s common for people to turn on their new Chromebook and instantly start searching for the apps or programs they’re used to running, only to realize they’re out of luck on the Chromebook.
Chromebooks, unlike other options, are cloud-based devices that essentially run as powerful Chrome browsers. This means that you won’t be able to download the apps or programs you had on your Macbooks or Windows laptops.
This can immediately take the Chromebook out of contention for many people. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a different experience than you’re used to.
Takeaway: Chromebooks hold little to no data on the actual device. Instead, it’s intended for users who mostly use cloud-based services.
While this may seem like bad news for some, it’s great news for others because for many of the tasks some use their laptops for, there are excellent cloud-based alternatives.
What’s the Cloud and How Do Chromebooks Use It?
The “cloud” can seem like a mysterious concept for many people. This is a simple explanation of it for you to digest.
All “cloud-based” means is that the information is stored on a service that can be accessed anywhere as long as there is an internet connection.
Cloud-based services have this as a unique advantage because you’re technically never without access to your data as long as you can access the internet. Here’s a quick scenario you might be familiar with:
You put together a Powerpoint presentation or write an important document. You don’t want to walk around with your laptop all day so you put the presentation/document on a flash drive for use later that day. It’s finally time to present and you realize you left the flash drive home. You’re now stuck with no presentation or document.
Cloud-based data storage helps you avoid simple issues like this because while you may not have access to your computer, your information is never more than a username and password away.
While Chromebooks may not allow for much device storage besides photos, videos, and files, it’s targeted to those who are interested in or already adjusted to using cloud-based storage like Google Drive.
As an internet-based browsing platform, Chromebooks are at their best with an active internet connection. This does not mean they’re useless without the internet. Chromebooks, with the use of Chrome extensions, can save your work offline until you have a connection, at which point they’ll sync your work to the cloud.
What to Do Without Your Usual Programs
Without access to your usual programs, it can feel like the Chromebook is lackin’ in its mackin’. Here’s a quick way to figure out if there’s a cloud-based alternative to the programs you’re used to running.
One of the first things people get used to with Windows-based devices is the Microsoft Suite of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.
Chromebooks can access light versions of these online, but for a more robust experience, you’d probably be better off going with Google Docs for Word, Google Sheets for Excel and Google Slides for PowerPoint. These Google versions get the job done just as well as the Microsoft products, and your work is available to you from anywhere you can sign into your Google account.
Oh, and they’re also free, unlike the Microsoft Suite I can’t believe people still pay for.
When I was podcasting, for example of switching from programs to cloud, I thought I was out of luck with the Chromebook because I couldn’t load a recording program like a could on a Windows laptop or MacBook. Then I looked up cloud-based recording services, at which point I found SoundTrap, an online music studio.
If you’re considering switching over to a Chromebook, use Google to your advantage and search for the cloud-based versions of [insert app/program here] and see what comes up, if you like it, and if you’d be willing to use that instead of the program or app you’re already using.
A bit of good news is that newer Chromebooks have access to Android apps, which can be more powerful — depending on what you’re looking for — than a cloud-based alternative.
Not All Chromebooks are Created Equally
Chromebooks can be very cheap and, like everything that is cheap, you often get exactly what you pay for.
Shopping for a Chromebook is a task. You have to know exactly what you want, what will work for you, and what you prefer. Everything I mentioned prior is pretty standard. So the cost of a Chromebook can come down to build quality, RAM capacity, and what physical perks it might come with like a good sound system, for example.
Don’t expect to buy a Chromebook under $200 that can compare with a MacBook. Don’t expect to buy a Chromebook under $200 and expect the same satisfaction as a person who bought a top of the line Chromebook like the Pixelbook.
What helped me make a decision on a good Chromebook was to first decide what my price range was based on the available options and searching for pros-and-cons videos and comparisons of each one on my list on YouTube, where tons of companies and tech-savvy people make videos just for people like you who aren’t sure which will work best for them.
The other thing I would advise anyone to do since Chromebooks have such great variance in everything from sound to screen quality is to go view them in person. A ton of Chromebooks are available at Best Buy for you to play with. That’s where I went shopping for mine.
Are Chromebooks Worth It?
Chromebooks aren’t for everyone. I think a Chromebook is best suited for people like me who predominantly use cloud-based services to work. Damn near everything I use to work on is accessible with a sign-in. This makes the money-saving Chromebook a valuable laptop for me.
If you’re a program-heavy user with no cloud-based alternatives, you’ll probably be disappointed by the Chromebook experience.
The best thing you can do before switching to a Chromebook is to research, research, and research.
You’ll probably get the most value from watching videos of unboxing and use of the options you’re considering.
Chromebooks are a great option for those who often work with cloud-based services they can access from anywhere with an internet connection. They’re light, user-friendly, and inexpensive. As long as you’re okay with having to find alternatives to common programs, the Chromebook might be a great option for you and your wallet alike.