“Should I buy a Chromebook?” is a question that is asked with increasing frequency by individuals, businesses, parents and students looking to reduce their computing costs or work more collaboratively in the cloud. This Chromebook review explores the pros and cons of using Chromebooks and other Chrome OS-based computers, helps you answer that question and highlights a few Chromebooks that you might want to consider using.
Because of the nature of the work I do, and the times we live in, I seem to have ended up using a LOT of different devices.
Depending on where I’m working, I switch between an iMac, a Windows laptop, an iPhone and an iPad — but one thing I’ve noticed about all these devices is that most of what I’m doing on them is now being done in the Chrome browser.
Increasingly, I seem to be neglecting installed productivity apps like Microsoft Word, Outlook and Excel in favour of online, cloud-based equivalents (mainly Google products) that run happily in Chrome.
And all the ecommerce, SEO and web design apps that I use for my business — for example BigCommerce, Wix, Semrush, Shopify and Squarespace among others — are all browser-based too.
This observation, coupled with some adverts featuring shiny computers popping up on Facebook, got me wondering about Chromebooks…and whether I should buy one.
And this, of course, led to me buying a cheap Chromebook, testing it out and writing a blog post about the whole experience! Hopefully it will help you decide whether a Chromebook is right for you.
(My colleague Matt Walsh has also recently produced a video about all the pros and cons of Chromebooks, which is well worth a watch — you’ll find this below. To get the best understanding of Chromebooks, we suggest watching the video and reading this post in full).
OK, so let’s start with a look at what a Chromebook actually IS.
What is a Chromebook?
A Chromebook is a laptop that you use mainly when you are online, and one that you don’t, generally speaking, save files onto. With Chromebooks, nearly everything — word processing, spreadsheet editing, website building, note-taking etc. — is done on the web via Google’s Chrome browser, with your work being saved ‘in the cloud.’
This means that Chromebooks don’t usually come with much storage, and don’t need a very fast processor.
This in turn makes them quite cheap by comparison to ‘normal’ computers — i.e., those running Windows or Mac OS. (That said, there are more expensive, high-end Chromebooks available — more on these shortly).
Instead of using Windows, which you’ll normally find installed on cheap laptops, Chromebooks run Chrome OS, a stripped-back, Linux-based OS which is focussed around the Chrome browser.
In recent years, Chromebooks have become a very popular computing choice — 88.7 million of them being shipped to customers over the past three years, with a particular spike in sales being observed during the pandemic (source: Statista).
(This spike was presumably fuelled in no small part by the demand for devices that facilitated home learning).
As a result of these high sales volumes, a large community of users has grown around Chromebooks, alongside a correspondingly large ecosystem of apps.
Now, there are some really great things about Chromebooks — and some not so great.
Let’s take a look at the good stuff first.
The pros of using Chromebooks
Chromebooks can significantly lower your hardware and IT costs
Chromebooks have the potential to lower your information technology (IT) costs in several different ways.
First —and for the reasons discussed above — they are much cheaper to buy than ‘normal’ computers.
To illustrate this point, it’s worth mentioning that I wrote this Chromebook review on a machine that cost me just $175.
My mid-range Windows laptop cost me four times as much as this without — at least when it comes to using Chrome and cloud-based software — being four times as good.
(Ok, I picked my Chromebook up in a sale, but you can definitely buy a perfectly usable one up for less than $300, as the Chromebook pricing screenshot above highlights).
So whether you’re an individual or a business, there are potentially significant cost savings to be made by using Chromebooks.
In particular, if you apply these sort of cost differentials across a large team’s computing requirements, you’re talking about saving a lot of money (savings that can make Chromebooks a particularly attractive option for anyone starting a business).
Second, because Chromebooks don’t particularly rely on locally-run applications, there is less of a need for an IT department to install software. Or update it. Or support it.
This is because by default, any updates to your Chromebook and the Google software you use on it are carried out regularly and automatically by Google.
And, if you’re a Google Workspace customer, you have access to a 24/7 Google helpdesk too.
Third, because there are no moving parts in them, Chromebooks are much less prone to developing mechanical faults —which means that Chromebook users generally enjoy greater reliability and longevity, and a lack of repair bills.
And finally, because Chromebook users generally work ‘in the cloud,’ you don’t need to spend as much money on physical storage to handle networking or backups.
(That said, investing in a third-party cloud backup service — like Spanning, Backupify etc. — for key apps is definitely a good idea).
Chromebooks can lower your software costs
For many individuals and businesses, Google Workspace — Google’s suite of productivity apps —is now capable of handling core computing needs — word processing, spreadsheets, email and diary management — perfectly well, and fairly cheaply too (Google Workspace starts at $6 per user per month).
And if you don’t want to use Google Workspace as your productivity suite, there are cheap or even free browser-based alternatives available to you (including a free version of Microsoft Office).
Have you seen our Microsoft 365 vs Google Workspace video?
Subscribe to our YouTube channel | Read our full Microsoft 365 vs Workspace comparison
You can also use the entry-level Microsoft 365 plan on a Chromebook — this runs happily in Chrome and provides you with an email account and cloud storage for just a few dollars per month.
It also gives you access to the browser-based versions of key productivity apps like Word, Excel and Powerpoint.
(Note that Microsoft Access can’t be used on a Chromebook, however.)
Top tip: for a detailed overview of when and why you might want to use Google Workspace or 365, check out our Microsoft 365 versus Google Workspace comparison.
Chromebooks are much less vulnerable to viruses
Because of the emphasis on cloud-based working, using a Chromebook doesn’t tend to involve much installation of software. This means thatit’s pretty difficult to get a virus on one.
(Note however that you can still get ‘phished’on a Chromebook, which is something different).
And, on top of that, Chromebooks are viewed as one of the more robust options available from a virus protection point of view — the automatic updates, ‘sandboxing‘ and ‘verified boots‘ used by Chrome OS help prevent infection (you can find out more about what all these terms mean on Google’s Chromebook Security help page).
All this means that if you are using a Chromebook, you can generally forget the costs associated with virus and malware protection software — or paying IT professionals to clear up the mess you made on the network after you opened that dodgy attachment!
The bottom line on security is this: it’s still very important to take general cyber security precautions when using a Chromebook — but Chrome OS is definitely one of the safer operating systems out there.
Chromebooks can encourage collaboration and improve productivity
With Chromebooks, the focus is not on installing standalone pieces of software on your computer — it’s on cloud-based working.
This means that Chromebook users are often ‘nudged’ in the direction of using web applications that allow multiple users to access and edit files together in real time.
This opens up a lot of collaborative possibilities — and new ways of working.
Additionally, with a Chromebook, less seems to get in the way of actually doing work.
This is because — so long as you are using browser-based applications — Chrome OS is clutter-free, stable, and free of the ‘bloat’ or ‘lag’ that you often get with other operating systems.
Chromebooks also boot up extremely quickly (in just 5 to 10 seconds) and are ‘instant-on’ from sleep. Any operating system that’s fast and comes with a lack of distractions, delays and crashes has good implications for productivity.
You’re dealing with a robust platform
Whether we’re talking about email apps like Gmail, CRM tools like Salesforce, e-newsletter solutions such as Mailchimp, dropshipping tools like DSers or helpdesks such as Zendesk, these business apps all have two things in common:
- They are examples of software titles used by millions of individuals and businesses all over the world.
- They are all SaaS (software as a service) applications that run in a web browser.
So, if your team accesses all its key tools in a web browser, why not provide it with system that is designed explicitly for doing that? Even fairly basic Chromebooks can provide a fast and stable environment for using browser-based applications.
The same goes for using a Chromebook for personal entertainment. If the main reason you want to get a laptop is to watch Netflix or Amazon Prime shows on the move, there is little point in splashing out on an expensive Apple product or a high-end Windows device when you can access video content perfectly well via the Chrome browser (including, in many cases, while you’re offline).
Chromebooks are ideal for a workforce that moves around a lot
If you travel a lot, a Chromebooks can be a good option for you.
They are generally lighter and thinner than traditional laptops (due to the lack of moving parts) — and this makes them easier to transport.
The lack of moving parts also means that their battery life is usually excellent.
However, there is something important to think about, and that’s what happens when there’s no Internet connection available.
Connection problems are less of an issue these days, with phone tethering and ever-improving Wi-Fi available, but it is still possible to hit a black spot (not least when travelling on a plane).
If you do find yourself lacking an Internet connection, there are offline working options available for some Chrome apps — including, importantly, the Google Workspace apps — but you will have to plan ahead to use them.
And speaking of Google Workspace…
The integration with Google Workspace is great
Millions of companies use Google Workspace now — and if your business is one of them, you will be hard-pressed to find a nicer, more reliable and tightly-integrated way to work with this suite of products than on a Chrome OS device.
You can actually install a lot of apps on Chromebooks
Although Chromebooks are designed mainly for online use —and chiefly via the Chrome browser — you can actually install a lot of apps on them too if you want, many of which can be used both online and offline.
The Google Play store is well stocked with Android apps that you can install on Chromebooks. These include popular entertainment apps like Netflix and Disney+; or social media apps like Twitter.
And, with a little bit of configuration, Linux apps can be installed fairly easily on them too, further extending the number of programs you can install on a Chromebook (and the functionality it offers you).
Are Chromebooks good for education?
For many of the same reasons that Chromebooks are a good option for a business, they are often a good choice in an educational setting too.
The hardware is cheap and many key pieces of software are free. And significantly, battery life is usually extremely good, meaning that students can usually avoid recharging their machines during the school day.
Additionally, Chromebooks work seamlessly with Google Classroom (a very useful tool for remote learning).
The main disadvantage of using Chromebooks for educations is that unlike with PCs and Macs, there are limits to the types of applications that you can install on them. This will rule the machines out for students who need to work on very specific, locally installed apps.
But for general browser-based learning, Chromebooks are an excellent, cost-effective and safe choice.
The cons of using a Chromebook
That all sounded great didn’t it?
But before you rush out and buy a Chromebook, you’ll need to consider their disadvantages too.
Let’s go through these.
You can’t install the full versions of Microsoft 365 apps on Chromebooks
If you are particularly attached to or reliant on Microsoft apps like Outlook, Word and Excel, you should note that you can’t install the full desktop versions of them on a Chromebook.
Accordingly, a lot of Chromebook users end up making a move to Google Workspace, which— being a Google product —works very well on Chromebooks.
- switching to Google Workspace will involve a learning curve if you’ve never used it before
- Google Workspace isn’t as feature rich as Microsoft 365
- even if you start using Google Workspace, you’ll probably still end up with a need to occasionally supply content to other people or organisations in Microsoft format.
The good news is that it is perfectly possible to create, save and edit Microsoft files using Google Workspace; the bad news is that if you’re dealing with more complex documents, you may occasionally encounter formatting problems when you save your files using the Workspace apps.
However, you can still use Microsoft products on a Chromebook in other ways — via the online versions of Microsoft 365 apps perhaps, or cut-down, Android versions of some of them.
You can install an Android version of Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel on a Chromebook, for example.
While not providing quite as comprehensive a set of tools as the desktop version of the Microsoft productivity suite, these alternative versions of 365 apps are getting increasingly good, and will enable you to access and edit most Word, Excel and Powerpoint files on a Chromebook.
(And, it has to be said, without some of the formatting headaches you can run into when you try to edit Microsoft files using Google Workspace).
So, all in all, if you want to work with Microsoft 365, not being able to install the full versions of the apps on your Chromebook doesn’t necessarily have to hold you back too much.
But if you are a ‘power user’ of Microsoft products, and you absolutely can’t live without the full desktop versions of Microsoft 365 apps, a Chromebook probably won’t be right for you.
Chromebooks are not ideal for working on multimedia projects
If your business is one that deals with a lot of audio or video related projects, you are usually better off working on a traditional desktop computer.
It’s not that there aren’t Chromebooks available that can handle this kind of work; it’s more that the software typically used for high-end multimedia projects — Photoshop, Illustrator, Pro Tools, Final Cut Pro etc. —is not currently browser-based.
That said, basic image editing and graphic design on a Chromebook shouldn’t pose any problems. There are plenty of simple online image editors available, and some popular graphic design tools, like Canva (pictured below) provide very usable apps that can be installed on Chromebooks too.
Similarly, Android apps and/or web-based video editors can provide some good workarounds for editing video on a Chromebook.
Chromebooks are not best suited to gaming
If you’re into gaming — or at least playing the very latest computer games — then a Chromebook probably won’t be the best option for you,because many Chromebooks aren’t powerful enough to cope with the graphical and computational demands of modern games.
That said, because many Chromebooks allow you to run Android apps, you do have some options when it comes to Android games; you can access these in the Google Play store (pictured below).
(You should note however that if you’re using a budget Chromebook, you may encounter ‘lag’ on a lot of them — as your kids will discover if they try to play Roblox on a medium-specced device.)
Chromebooks are not as functional offline
Because of the focus they place working in the cloud, Chromebooks are — unsurprisingly — less useful offline than online.
That said, you can still use them to access and edit Google Drive files when you’re not connected to the internet, and you can use Gmail in offline mode too.
An increasing number of other apps that work offline are being made available for Chrome OS too.
So, as long as you plan things in advance and make sure you save the right files onto your Chromebook before you go offline, you should still be able to get work done even if you’re not connected to the Internet.
There’s an ‘end of life’ date to worry about (Auto Update Expiration)
Chromebooks receive automatic updates to provide users with the latest features and keep their devices secure — but not indefinitely.
Each Chromebook comes with an Auto Update Expiration (AUE) date, after which updates will no longer be supplied for that device, and it may not be advisable to use it (chiefly for security reasons).
(You can find a Chromebook’s AUE date in your Google Admin console).
Now to be fair to Chromebooks, this isn’t entirely dissimilar to what happens with other types of devices. For example, Apple won’t always roll out the latest version of its OS to older computers.
(That said, Apple and Microsoft have a habit of supporting older operating systems for very long periods —my 2012 iMac is still going strong, for example).
And you could argue that knowing exactly how long your device will last for lets you manage future hardware purchasing plans better.
But — and as you’ll see from the reader comments below —AUE dates are definitely not popular with a lot of Chromebook users.
How to turn a laptop into a Chromebook
Interestingly, you don’t necessarily to buy a Chromebook to get one!
If you have an old laptop that’s struggling to run the latest version of Microsoft Windows or Mac OS, you might find that repurposing it as a Chromebook gives it a new lease of life and turns it back into a useful machine.
This can be done by downloading Chromium OS — an open-source product that is related to (and extremely similar to) Chrome OS — and installing it on your old machine.
Chromium OS makes much lighter demands on your computer than traditional desktop operating systems — and it can turn a sluggish computer into one that boots up quickly and works perfectly fine as a tool for web browsing, consuming entertainment content or working in the cloud.
If this sounds interesting, you should check out Android Central’s guide on how to install Chromium OS on a Windows computer, or 9 to 5 Mac’s guide to bringing an old Mac back to life by installing Chrome OS on it.
So what about Chromeboxes, Chromebases and Chromebits?
Chromeboxes are essentially desktop versions of Chromebooks —compact boxes that run Chrome OS. They look a bit like Mac Minis or Apple TV boxes (see picture below).
You usually have to sort yourself out with a keyboard, mouse, and monitor when buying one — but even so, purchasing a Chromebox generally works out cheaper than investing in a Mac or Windows-based desktop computer.
Chromebases are ‘all in one’ computers that run Chrome OS; they look quite like iMacs.
Pretty funky stuff!
The pros and cons of using a Chromebook discussed earlier generally apply to using any of the above Chrome OS devices — assuming Chrome OS meets your personal or business needs, it’s simply a case of making a call on the appropriate form factor.
And speaking of pros and cons…
Pros and cons of Chromebooks — a summary
To sum up, and help you make a final decision on that “Should I buy a Chromebook?” question, here’s a summary of the main pros and cons of using one:
Pros of Chromebooks
Chromebooks (and other Chrome OS devices) are cheap by comparison to laptop and desktop computers that run Windows or Mac OS.
- The operating system used on Chromebooks, Chrome OS, is fast and stable.
Chromebooks are typically light, compact and easy to transport.
They have excellent battery life.
Viruses and malware pose less of a risk to Chromebooks than to other types of computer.
Chromebooks can reduce reliance on IT professionals and accordingly, can lower software expenses.
They integrate very neatly with Google Workspace.
They’re a good option if you chiefly use browser-based SaaS apps for work or entertainment.
- You can install an increasingly wide range of Android and Linux apps on them.
Cons of Chromebooks
While you can use Microsoft 365 on a Chromebook (via the online version or using Android apps), some features will not be available.
Although you can technically edit images and video on Chromebooks, they are usually not the best computing option for multimedia applications.
Working offline on a Chromebook arguably requires a bit more advance planning than using a Windows or Mac OS-based laptop.
They’re not all that good for gaming.
If you are extremely dependent on a piece of software that does not run in a browser or in Chrome OS, Chromebooks are not for you.
2023 Chromebooks to consider
Below you’ll find some popular Chromebooks to take a look at.
Entry level Chromebooks
Acer typically does well in the entry level Chromebook market — the Acer Chromebook 315 for example balances features against price nicely.
If you are on a very low budget, the HP Chromebook 11 or 11A might be for you — this typically retails at under $150. (However, you can expect pretty basic performance on a Chromebook this cheap).
For a relatively affordable tablet / laptop crossover device, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet might be for you.
In the mid-range department, the Lenovo IdeaPad models are worth investigating; as is the Acer Chromebook Spin 514.
If you’re looking for a powerful Chromebook, then some of the Samsung Galaxy Chromebooks are worth a look, as are the Dell Latitude Enterprise and HP Elite Chromebook ranges.
However, high-end Chromebooks tend to be similar in price to high-end laptops, thus losing a key advantage over them — namely, a low purchase cost.
A powerful laptop can do everything a Chromebook can —and is able to run more software too; personally, if I was going to spend $1,200+ on a laptop, I’d go straight for an M2 MacBook Air over any Chromebook.
So, if you’re considering purchasing an expensive Chromebook, make sure you pay extra attention to the ‘cons’ associated with the devices. For me, the real value of a Chromebook lies in a favorable price to feature ratio —if that’s not there, other machines become much more attractive.
Chromebook review FAQ
What’s the difference between a Chromebook and a laptop?
Technically speaking, a Chromebook is a laptop, but one that runs Chrome OS rather than Windows or MacOS. Chrome OS is a browser-based operating system that is designed mainly for users who are always online. By contrast, Windows and MacOs devices are geared more towards users who mix online and offline work, and let you install more software locally on your machine.
Can I use Microsoft 365 on a Chromebook?
Yes. You can use either the browser-based version, or install the Android Microsoft 365 apps (cut-down versions of Word, Excel etc. for use on mobile devices). You can’t install the desktop apps, however.
Are Chromebooks safe?
Chromebooks are arguably safer than a lot of other types of personal computer. This is because you don’t typically install much software on them; and thanks to automatic updates, ‘sandboxing’ and ‘verified boots’ of Chrome OS, virus infections are minimized too.
What are the advantages of Chromebooks?
They are cheap, have great battery life and are less prone to viruses than other types of computers. They also work particularly well with other Google products.
What are the disadvantages of Chromebooks?
Many popular business apps won’t run on them, and they are considerably less functional if you don’t have access to a wifi connection.
How we test products and why you can trust this review
We test products via independent research and, more importantly, hands-on experience of them. Accordingly, this Chromebook review is based on extensive first-hand experience of using Chromebooks, along with detailed research into the ecosystem of apps and services relating to them.
We also adhere to a strict honesty policy.
Working offline on a Chromebook arguably requires a bit more advance planning than using a Windows or Mac OS-based laptop. They're not all that good for gaming. If you are extremely dependent on a piece of software that does not run in a browser or in Chrome OS, Chromebooks are not for you.What is the downside to a Chromebook? ›
Working offline on a Chromebook arguably requires a bit more advance planning than using a Windows or Mac OS-based laptop. They're not all that good for gaming. If you are extremely dependent on a piece of software that does not run in a browser or in Chrome OS, Chromebooks are not for you.What is Chromebook not good for? ›
Chromebook simply aren't powerful enough to deal with audio or video projects. So if you are a media or communications student, it's probably not a great idea to grab a cheap Chromebook for school projects. You will have to wait until they are browser-based and hope that they work better than MS Office.Can a Chromebook do everything a laptop can? ›
However, Chromebooks may not do everything that a laptop can do, as they tend to have limited storage space and processing power compared to most laptops. As such, if you need your computer for resource-intensive tasks or you simply want more storage space, a laptop may be a better option for you.How many years are Chromebooks good for? ›
Generally speaking, the lifespan of most Chromebooks is between five and eight years. A Chromebook will receive a full Chrome OS update about every four weeks for at least five years from the date of release.Do Chromebooks need antivirus? ›
So although Chromebooks are protected fairly well from some viruses, this doesn't mean you're safe online just because you use a Chromebook. You should also get a solid browser extension (most of the items on this list offer free ones). To sum up: you need a good antivirus to protect your Chromebook in 2023.Why should I get a Chromebook instead of a laptop? ›
A Chromebook powered by Google's ChromeOS is a simpler, cheaper, more optimized device. Essentially, it's useful to think of a Chromebook as a dedicated Chrome browser running on top of secure hardware. It can also be hundreds of dollars cheaper than a comparable Windows PC, even with the same processor inside!Can you watch Netflix on a Chromebook? ›
Subtitles & alternate audio
Select the "Audio and Subtitles" icon to choose an alternate language track or turn on subtitles if available. You can watch Netflix on your Chromebook or Chromebox computer through the Netflix website or the Netflix app from the Google Play Store.
To access Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and OneDrive, do the following: Open the browser on your Chromebook and go to www.office.com. For quick access, create a shortcut, or bookmark the URL in your browser. Sign in with your personal Microsoft Account or any account associated with your Microsoft 365 subscription.Is Chromebook safe for banking? ›
Is a Chromebook safe for online banking? The long and short of whether a Chromebook's safe for online banking is yes; these minimalistic devices are as secure and reliable as other systems running the Chrome browser.
Most professionals probably can't replace their main computer with a Chromebook for a few reasons: Limited software support: The biggest downside by far is the type of programs that Chrome OS supports.Can you use a Chromebook like a regular computer? ›
You can't install the full Windows or MacOS desktop versions of Office software on a Chromebook, but you can use Office 365 online and install the Office progressive web apps. PWAs act just like mobile apps, so you can use them offline, get notifications and pin them to the taskbar.Is it worth getting a Chromebook? ›
Chromebooks are ideal for students and kids, but they're also worth considering if you spend most of your computer time in a web browser, if you're on a tight budget, or if you already have a decent desktop PC.How often should you turn off your Chromebook? ›
Chromebooks should be shut down when not in use to conserve battery life. Close the Chromebook carefully from the top center of the LCD screen (do not slam it shut).Why do Chromebooks expire? ›
Chromebooks have a built-in expiration date after which Google will no longer support the software. These expiration dates are based on the certification of a given model, not the purchase date. (You can look up the expiration date for your device here.)Do Chromebooks slow down over time? ›
Chromebooks rarely slow down over time, but if your Chrome OS device is not performing well, don't worry. There are several ways you can try to improve a Chromebook's performance and fix the issue.What is the difference between a Chromebook and a laptop? ›
What is the difference between a Chromebook and a laptop? A Chromebook is a portable computer running ChromeOS. They tend to have lower-powered processors, less RAM, and less local storage than their laptop counterparts. There are, however, some high-end Chromebooks that outstrip the specs of most contemporary laptops.Can I use Word on a Chromebook? ›
On your Chromebook, you can open, edit, download, and convert many Microsoft® Office files, such as Word, PowerPoint, or Excel files. Important: Before you edit Office files, check that your Chromebook software is up to date.Are Chromebooks worth it? ›
Chromebooks can do almost anything that regular laptops can do, using browser-based software and services instead of Windows or macOS apps. A great $500 Chromebook can feel faster to use—and can be lighter and more compact—than a similarly priced Windows laptop.