What is a Chromebook Laptop? Our Comprehensive Guide

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What is a Chromebook?

The name says it all. The thing that makes a Chromebook different from other laptop PCs is the Chrome operating system, which is designed to utilize online web applications and cloud storage, rather than programs and files loaded onto an internal hard drive. The result is a new category of laptop that is very thin, very light — and very popular.

Chromebooks started as a low price alternative to conventional laptops — you can find a variety of affordable Chromebook laptops for less than $200. As users have grown to appreciate the ultra-lightweight OS and highly mobile design, a wide range of Chromebooks has emerged, including models suitable for school use, work use, play, and advanced models with hi-res displays and lightning fast processors. Of course, these advanced models will range higher in price than your typical Chromebook model. To learn more about Chromebook pricing, read How Much is a Chromebook?

What Makes Chromebooks Different from other Laptops?

Chromebooks were pioneered by Google, the search engine company that has also introduced game-changing products in other areas, such as the Android operating system for mobile devices. The first Chromebooks hit the market in 2011 and since then, nearly every major PC manufacturer has teamed with Google to create branded lines of Chromebooks like the Lenovo Chromebook series.

The big innovation that the Chromebook brought to market was its elimination of the typical, multi-function PC operating system that did everything from boot the system and sort documents, to run programs and play DVDs. Instead, Chromebooks use Google's minimalistic Chrome OS, based on open source Linux. The Chrome OS, in turn, uses the Chrome web browser as its primary user interface, similar to the way other operating systems might launch programs from the so-called "desktop.”

As most actions start from the Chrome web browser, most activities performed on a Chromebook are conducted over the web as opposed to within programs on the system’s hard drive. These web-based activities include viewing movies or other popular content, using office software, saving files to cloud storage, and so on. Because most activity is conducted online, Chromebooks can cut costs and reduce weight and thickness by eliminating traditional optical devices (DVD, CD, etc.) and using comparatively small solid-state storage drives.

Advantages of a Chromebook Laptop

With less expensive hardware and software components, Chromebooks have quickly earned a spot in the PC marketplace for buyers seeking a low cost laptop that allows them to conduct most activities via the internet. With the popularity of Chromebooks growing beyond the budget-minded buyer alone, more advanced PC users are valuing Chromebooks for fast boot times, lightweight system, and overall mobility.

What are the advantages of a Chromebook?

Advantages of a Chromebook computer include:

  • Lightweight OS
  • Long battery life
  • Optimized for Google apps
  • Fast boot times
  • Browser-based simplicity
  • Extremely thin and light

Long battery life

The minimalistic Chrome OS and absence of a typical spinning hard drive means longer time unplugged.

Optimized for Google apps

If you already rely on Google's popular apps such as Calendar and Gmail, the Chrome OS is optimized for using these Google products conveniently.

Fast boot times

With an OS that's intentionally minimalistic and data stored on a solid-state drive, Chromebooks have less to accomplish when booting up, drastically reducing startup time. Chromebooks boot up in just 10 seconds!

Browser-based simplicity

If you can use a web browser, you can use a Chromebook. The user interface is the Chrome browser, a familiar platform to many.

Extremely thin and light

With fewer bulky internal components, Chromebooks are among the thinnest, lightest PC devices available today.

For more, refer to Chromebook vs. laptop: Which is right for me?

Are Chromebooks good for students?

Chromebooks for students may fit the needs of many looking looking for an everyday device for school, but perhaps not all. These laptops are extremely light and portable, among the least expensive systems available, and the Chrome OS is very easy to learn and use. However, since Chromebooks have less internal storage than comparable devices, and function mainly via remote cloud services and web apps, these laptops are best suited to users who are comfortable working that way – less so for those who prefer loading programs and saving multi-gigabyte files locally.

A Chromebook could be a good, cheap laptop for a student who will mostly read books, write papers, and conduct web research. Google has built a broad universe of useful word processing and other applications that Chromebooks come pre-optimized for, like Google Photos, Docs, Music, Drive and more. Outside of the Google universe, other software companies have released Chrome OS or cloud-based versions of popular programs, as well.

A Chromebook may be less well-suited for a student who will often work beyond the reach of a wireless internet signal (Did we mention? Chromebooks require connectivity for many of its functions.), who wants to spend off-study hours playing processor-intensive computer games, or whose course of study will require the use of advanced software programs that aren't available for Chrome OS. Plus, most Chromebooks have fewer ports to attach external devices for battery charging or direct data transfer when short- or long-range wireless options won't suffice.

Interested in learning more about school Chromebooks? Read our FAQ that pits Chromebook vs. laptop for college and school use.

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