Should your next computer be a Chromebook?
Updated: Mar 4, 2020
When buying a new computer, you have three main options these days. You can go with a Windows PC, an Apple Macintosh, or a Chromebook. Everyone is familiar with the first two, but Chromebooks are relatively new in the PC space. They have several advantages over traditional laptops, but also some downsides. I'll break those down here so you can decide if your next laptop should be a Chromebook.
What is a Chromebook?
A Chromebook is a laptop or tablet style computer that runs ChromeOS as it's operating system instead of the more traditional Microsoft Windows or Mac OS. They first debuted in 2010, but they didn't go mainstream until around 2018. The easiest way to think of it is it's a computer that only runs the Google Chrome web browser and no other programs. This may sound limiting, but if you really think about it, you probably already spend the vast majority of your computer time in the web browser. There are online equivalents for just about every piece of traditional software, including webmail, photo editing and organization, word processing, spreadsheets, document storage, etc. You can even do audio editing and (very simple) video editing on the web. Now, if you're a power user and you need to have Adobe Photoshop or AutoCAD then a Chromebook is not for you. But for many people, they would get along just fine using just the web browser.
Take it for a test drive!
If you're not sure if you could live with those restrictions try it out for a couple days. It's easy, just don't open any programs on your computer except for Google Chrome and see if you can do everything you need using only that app.
What can I do with a Chromebook?
So, first and foremost, you can take advantage of Google's online Office Suite. You'll need a Google Account, but they are free. You can go to www.drive.google.com and create Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents in their apps called Docs, Sheets, and Slides respectively. You can also store arbitrary files in Google Drive. The free account gives you 20GB of storage. You can also upload your photos to Google Photos which gives you unlimited photo storage for free. Google Music lets you upload all your music to their cloud storage for free as well so you can stream it back to any device with an internet connection.
Microsoft also has online equivalents of their Office Suite that are very similar to the Microsoft Office software you may already be familiar with. You can go to www.office.com and sign up for a free Microsoft Account and start working on documents in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. Their online storage is called OneDrive and they also give you 20GB for free.
Of course email accounts are free at the major providers. You can sign up for an @outlook.com address from Microsoft, @gmail.com from Google, or any of the other email providers. If you already have an email address from your ISP, you can access your email from their website, typically www.att.net or mail.twc.com
You can stream videos from YouTube or Netflix, stream music from Pandora or Spotify, and on and on. The whole internet is available to you.
Which one should I buy?
Unfortunately I can't recommend any particular device because that advise would quickly be outdated. What I can do is recommend you check out sites such as thewirecutter.com and other sites. And I would recommend going to the store so you can put your hands on the devices. A lot of choosing a laptop is going to come down to personal preference. How large a screen do you want? Do you like the feel of the trackpad? How light do you need it to be? Also, don't buy the cheapest one you can find. You do still get what you pay for when it comes to laptops.