If you have stumbled upon this post, you are in the same shoes that I was in a few months ago. You are trying to decide whether you should buy a chromebook or laptop.
I put together this decision guide so you can pick the device that will work best for you and your specific situation.
Since this Web site is all about saving money and cutting expenses, if we can use a chromebook instead of a laptop and save money while doing it, then great!
Prior to purchasing, I probably read over twenty articles on how to decide between the two. I currently use a Dell Inspiron laptop as my primary computer and it is a pretty heavy piece of hardware with short battery life. I wanted to find something relatively inexpensive that had great battery duration that I could use while traveling. When I first started looking around, I thought that I would just purchase a smaller Windows laptop that had good battery life. I then thought about how much I live in the Google ecosystem and thought that a chromebook might be perfect for this task. Would I really need all of the software that I currently have on my primary laptop while traveling? Would I be able to save money on this travel computer that will probably take a pretty good beating?
If you are trying to decide between a chromebook or laptop, you need to realize one very important aspect before all others. The chromebook works best if you have an Internet connection!
Chromebook or Laptop Decision Making Steps
Step 1 – Think about where you will be using your computer. Will you usually have Internet access?
An easy way to think of a chromebook is a powerful online browser that allows you to install hundreds of applications. Chromebooks come with an operating system called Chrome OS which is designed by Google. Many of the applications that you will install are simply shortcuts that take you to the online version of the software. An example of this is when I click the GMail shortcut. The Chrome Browser opens and my GMail account loads in a tab. In short summary, the chromebook is a viable option if you are connected to the Internet at most times. This has never been a problem for me because when I am without wireless Internet access, I can connect to my mobile hotspot through my Samsung Galaxy phone.
Your next question is probably, “Can I use the chromebook if I’m not connected to the Internet?” The answer to that is yes and no. Some of the app developers have built their software so that it will work on the chromebook just fine without an Internet connection. Others, not so much.
Many die hard Google fans love their FREE Microsoft Office replacement in Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. The good news is that you can use each of these applications without an Internet connection on the chromebook. As of this writing, one of my favorite note taking apps, Evernote, does not provide an offline app for Chrome OS. Same is true with my task management app that I use, Asana. Again, for me, this isn’t a deal breaker since I am always carrying an Internet connection in my pocket through my phone’s hotspot (mobile wireless Internet connection).
So, when thinking about a chromebook or laptop, the first thing you need to think about is how regularly you will have access to a wireless Internet connection. If not very much, in my opinion this is a no-brainer and you will want to go with a laptop.
If you are confident that you will usually have Internet connection availability, proceed to Step 2.
Step 2 – Think about the software that you will want to use on this device. Remember that this is not your typical Windows or Mac operating system where you have the ability to install whatever software you would like. Again, you need to think of the chromebook as a powerful Internet browser.
Your next topic to think about is the software that you will require on this new computer. In other words, think long and hard about the software that you will need to use on this device. Maybe you are like me and you need a travel computer? Or, maybe you are looking at using this device as your primary business computer. Or, maybe you simply want a computer for your home that will allow you to administer basic computing tasks such as web browsing, email, social media, etc. Think about your current situation and assess what software you will need for this chromebook or computer.
Make a list of the software that you will require for this device.
If you can use most of the software on your list through a web browser, a chromebook is still a great option. I am referring to online programs such as GMail, Yahoo Mail, Google Calendar, WordPress, Evernote, Asana, Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
Nowadays, so many software developers are converting their software to a web-delivered application. When I think about the various software that I use on my primary computer, I can confidently say that over 80% of my time is through web-based software.
Keep in mind when you are thinking about this software, there are many free alternatives out there that you can access through a Web browser. One good example that I referenced last week in one of my posts is an alternative to Photoshop called Pixlr Editor. This is a free online program that allows you to do basic and advanced image editing tasks that you would find through high-end software. Sure, there are some things that Pixlr Editor can’t do that Photoshop would, but for me, I can live with those deficiencies while I am traveling. A simple Google search on the Internet will allow you to find free web-based alternatives for many of your current software applications.
If I wanted to search for a free online image editor, I would type into google the following search string – “free online image editor”. You will notice that the second option on that list is the free Pixlr Editor software that I am referring to above.
If you are expecting to use resource intensive programs on this chromebook or laptop such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere Pro, and you aren’t interested in some of the free online alternatives, a chromebook will not be for you.
If you feel that you can get by with mostly web-based programs, proceed to Step 3.
Step 3 – Will the hardware work for your specific tasks you have in mind?
When I refer to hardware, I am talking about how the chromebook or laptop is physically built. Does it have an HDMI port? How many USB ports does it have? Are you happy with the keyboard layout? Do you need a number pad? Do you like the trackpad/mouse that the device comes with?
One of my prerequisites was that my device must have an HDMI port. The reason that I wanted an HDMI port is because I hook my computer up to the televisions in hotels many times to either watch videos or extend my screen for more productivity.
One of the biggest problems that most people run into within the hardware section is trying to hook up a printer to a chromebook. This will not work but it is possible to setup a printer within your office or house as a Google Cloud Printer and you can print to that from your chromebook or Android tablet.
Be sure to think about what you will want to hook up to this device and whether or not it will be compatible with a chromebook. Keep in mind that some usb devices that you would like to hook up to a chromebook may not work. Again, just perform a search in Google to see if there will be any problems.
If you have passed the hardware test and the chromebook is still an option, proceed to Step 4.
Step 4 – Price of Chromebook versus a Laptop
If you have gotten to this step in this guide, the chromebook may still be an option. This is where you need to make a serious decision on whether or not the savings of a chromebook will be worth the possible shortcomings.
I ended up purchasing the Samsung Chromebook 2 11.6 Inch Laptop (Intel Celeron, 2 GB, 16 GB SSD, Silver) from Amazon and I absolutely love it. As of this writing it is selling for only $219 and it comes with some great specs.
You can also do a quick search by using the following link that will show you all of the chromebooks at Amazon.
Closing thoughts on the decision making process.
Last year, we purchased a nice Asus notebook for my wife and it cost approximately $800. After seeing what this $200 Samsung Chromebook 2 can do, I kick myself for not purchasing that instead. My wife only uses her computer for basic online tasks such as web surfing, email, and Facebook. A chromebook would have been the perfect option for her based on what she needed her computer to do.
I hope you enjoyed this step-by-step guide.
Please post in the comments any questions that you may still have regarding a chromebook. Or, please to tell us about your chromebook experiences that you may have had.