Chromebooks: are they any good?

Have you ever given thought to the amount of information flowing through the computer on your desk (or on your lap)? Or perhaps just the amount of sheer computing power that’s available in, when you do think about it, a surprisingly small device?


When you pause to think of how computers have advanced over the years, it’s really quite amazing. Even my phone is capable of doing things now that I could only dream of when I was younger.

What, though, if you don’t need a blisteringly fast processor and 3D graphics card to do the tasks you typically use your computer for? Browsing the web, for instance, reading and writing emails, or preparing documents; none of these are particularly intensive tasks for a computer. If your computer use fits into that bracket, Google’s Chromebooks are aimed at you.

Chromebooks are computers that, in effect, simply provide a means for you to get online. The Chrome browser sits at their heart and, while that might sound like you won’t be able to do very much, it’s surprising just how many things you can do with a web browser.

Documents, spreadsheets and presentations can be prepared using web applications like Google Drive / Docs, or the Microsoft Office web apps. Music can be streamed and movies watched via Google Play. If you’re after a gaming fix, HTML5 games can be installed right in the browser (again, via Google Play) or you can play a multitude of online games from sites like Kongregate.

So what can’t you do? Well, you can’t install software as such… you won’t be downloading Photoshop or Steam. You are pretty much limited to web applications but, honestly, the breadth of web applications available doesn’t make that as much of an issue as you might think. You can even find online graphics packages and photo editors if you need them.

It’s worth saying, too, that printing can be a bit tricky. Chromebooks can’t print straight to a USB printer, so you will need either a Google Cloud Print ready printer, or will need to use another computer running Chrome as a print server. It’s a bit of a pain if you are using an older printer and don’t want to shell out for a new Cloud-enabled one.

The big question to all this is, why would you choose to use a less powerful computer? I mean, it’s fair enough knowing that you won’t tax your computer very hard most of the time, but why would you choose to remove the ability to do more processor-intensive work when the need arises?

Well, the first answer is cost. Chromebooks are generally cheaper than laptops, starting around £180. The second is speed. Chromebooks boot up within seconds because they use solid-state drives and don’t have many startup items to load. The third is battery power. There are no fans or spinning drives, so the battery in my Toshiba chromebook lasts up to 9 hours! Perfect if you’re looking to work all day in a cafe where you aren’t allowed to plug in.

So, are Chromebooks actually any good? Yes – definitely – for certain tasks. Emails, browsing, movie watching, documents, and so on are perfect for using a Chromebook. In fact, I much prefer using it to booting up and waiting for the laptop. But if you’re doing movie editing, 3D graphics, or anything else a bit more intensive, a “proper” computer is still your best friend.

Have you tried a Chromebook? If so, what did you think? Would the prospect of a cheaper price, faster boot, and longer battery life tempt you to ditch your normal computer for a Chromebook? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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