Chromebook vs. laptop: Which is right for me?

You're looking for a thin and light PC and have narrowed it down to buying either a laptop or a Chromebook. So, which system is best for you?

Will the laptop's overall versatility make it the better option? Or will the Chromebook's minimalistic operating system (OS) and web-based usability be more suited to your needs?

We’re here to give you the information needed for determining which is better for you. Understand the differences between a Chromebook versus a standard laptop, the advantages presented by each, and consider the overall value each device type would add to your day-to-day.

What's the Difference between a Chromebook and a Laptop?

While laptops and Chromebooks are both portable PCs intended to be used anywhere a computer is needed – say, at the office, on the couch, or traveling en route to your next destination – there many differences between the two devices, some of which are critical in making a decision to buy.

Differences between Chromebooks and traditional laptops:

  • Laptop:

    Controlled by the Windows 10 OS with built-in "desktop" workspace where you can save files or launch programs, a traditional laptop is already very different from a Chromebook. On a laptop, internal storage is provided either by a spinning hard disk or a solid-state drive (SSD). Laptops also have added features such as optical drives (i.e. DVD, CD), and multiple ports to connect external devices and laptop accessories.

    Without getting too technical, laptops are configured with the end-user in mind. For instance, the Lenovo Legion laptops have been engineered to be the ultimate gaming machine. The Lenovo ThinkPad series caters to a broader audience, though, enterprise and professional users find this line of PCs to be most valuable. The world of laptops offer many different options and various factors, tech specs, and criteria that can make the buying decision seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, the simplicity of shopping for a Chromebook will come as a breath of fresh air, compared to the overwhelming options and all the ins-and-outs to consider in a new laptop.

  • Chromebook:

    Unlike laptops that experience slow-downs when running low on memory or having to call on physical storage components to perform simple functions like launching applications or saving files, Chromebooks operate somewhat differently:

    Chrome OS

    Chromebooks are powered by Google Chrome OS, which uses the Chrome web browser as the primary UI and comes pre-loaded on all devices. Everything is done within the Chrome browser interface online or via the cloud, improving system speed and efficiency across the board.

    Browser-based web apps

    Chromebooks are built for web-based applications. Web-based apps can be accessed anytime, anywhere from any internet browser. Need to use a new program? Forget the hassle of downloading a file like, “Setup.exe,” with the infamous “README.txt” docs we all ignore. Simply enter the URL of the web-based tool, and start being productive!

    Memory and cloud storage

    Rather than having programs saved to your computer’s hard drive, web apps can be accessed directly from the browser, without adding demands on memory. Your documents, photos, music, and other files reside on the cloud, with convenient auto-sync features for syncing and storing data across devices (Ex. Chromebook + tablet + smartphone). While there is some local storage, the storage space offered pales in comparison to that of the everyday laptop PC.

  • Many features have been purposely omitted from the Chromebook design, such as the latest, fastest CPU or processor, advanced graphics cards, and large hard drive storage. These features are known to attribute to a heavier laptop and bulkier system, and are kept to a minimum to ensure a lightweight, streamlined device (meaning a faster experience for you!).

    Also outside of the status quo, Chromebooks aren’t made for customization or to provide multiple different options – there’s a certain feature set that a Chromebook offers, and that’s that. So, we’re really comparing general functionality, versus having to drill down to specific tech specs.

    Learn more about Chromebooks: What is a Chromebook?

Some of the points mentioned above are not exclusive to one system or another. Laptops can make equal use of cloud storage and web applications, and Chromebooks do have multiple ports and USBs, just fewer of them. The essential difference between Chromebook vs. Laptops will always be around the fact that Chromebooks run on Chrome OS, and the impact that has on how the device operates.

How are Laptops and Chromebooks similar?

There are several categories where Chromebooks and laptops score roughly equally:

1. Battery life: Laptop battery life has improved over the years, with models like ThinkPad Yoga that can last up to 15 hours unplugged! Despite its smaller size, which means less room for batteries as large as the ones in laptops, a Chromebook gets more out of its battery, thanks to the intentionally minimalistic OS. Some Chromebooks have up to 13 hours of useable battery life.

2. Portability: All Chromebooks are designed to be extremely thin and light. Laptops have a far wider range of size and weight, but you can easily find a Chromebook-sized laptop. Lenovo Ideapad has many options that compare to the ultraportable Chromebook.

3. Durability: Laptops with sturdy frames and keyboards have long been popular for military and heavy-duty industrial use. Chromebooks are catching up, and with fewer moving parts and features like rubber bumpers to absorb any rough bumps on-the-go, reinforced ports to last longer, and stronger corners for the accidental drop.

Note that as the Chrome OS evolves, more PC-like capabilities become available. For example, some Chromebooks now provide an optional Windows-style desktop. Likewise, PC operating systems are in some ways becoming more Chrome-like. Windows 10 runs its basic apps similar to how Chrome OS does, and you can buy more apps on the Microsoft Store. No, you’re not having déjà vu – Chromebooks have access to millions of apps via the Chrome Web Store and Google Play.

Comparing Chromebooks to Laptops

If you’re shopping for a new laptop and deciding between a traditional laptop and a Chromebook laptop, we’ve outlined the advantages of each for easy comparison.

Advantages of a Chromebook

Compared to a laptop, a Chromebook has these advantages:

  • Lower price: Affordable laptops under $300

    With lighter features like less internal memory and an OS with open source innovations, Chromebooks are a more economical option than regular laptops.

    The typical price range for a Chromebook is $150 - $300, though top-of-the-line models can be as high as $500. Laptops start at around $400, but “you get what you pay for” rings true when shopping the cheaper end of laptops (Don’t get dooped! See our trusted guide: Best Budget Laptops). When buying a laptop, the $1,200 price point is best for making a worry-free purchase. Chromebooks offer better security, faster boot times, and lower cost of ownership without getting into four-digit prices.

  • Faster boot times

    Chromebooks boot up faster than other PC systems, with boot times of under 10 seconds. Unlike traditional laptops, Chromebooks have less to load on startup.

  • Simplicity: Easier to use, more user-friendly interface

    If you’re a less tech-savvy user, or if you’ve ever been frustrated using a standard laptop OS, a Chromebook can be a great choice. Chrome OS is a simplistic system with less to learn, easier to navigate, and most tasks initiated directly from the Chrome browser.

  • Thin and light for better portability

    Generally, Chromebooks are thinner and lighter than standard laptops. Solid-state storage means not as many moving parts, and omitting bulky, heavy add-ons like DVD drives greatly reduces the size and weight. Though, it is possible to find a laptop that compares to a Chromebook, in terms of portability.

  • Unplugged lifestyle

    There's nothing like a Chromebook when it comes to embracing an unplugged lifestyle, i.e. Saving files to the cloud rather than a hard drive, streaming music rather than downloading it, and of course, being power cord-free for as long as 13 hours. Chromebooks eliminate the need for plugging in flash drives or searching for the nearest power outlet – an advantage that offers more freedom and mobility.

Advantages of a Traditional Laptop

Compared to a Chromebook, a laptop has these advantages:

  • More options and customization

    A laptop with a full PC operating system, optical drive, and multiple slots and ports will always be more flexible than a Chromebook, which has a relatively limited user interface, fewer port types, and relies more on remote applications and services (which can also be reached from a laptop).

  • Advanced softwareNearly every program – from photo editing software and PC games, to basic spreadsheet and word processors -- can run on a laptop. The same can’t be said for Chromebooks. Not all software companies have developed Chrome-compatible apps. Some newer Chromebooks can run Android app software, which could help close the gap in this category. For now, if you’re looking for an advanced gaming box, a high-performance machine like an Ideapad or the powerful multimedia Ideapad 700 laptops, etc., a traditional laptop is the way to go.
  • Faster processor speed

    Laptops typically have faster clock speeds than Chromebooks. Even the smaller models have frame designs that can contain (and cool) the latest processors, additional RAM, etc. Chromebooks aren't slow, by any means, but the additional processing power and memory allow you to use multiple applications simultaneously, at a lot faster speeds. If your browser has more open tabs than you can count, you’re bouncing between email and IMs, reading that report, and analyzing a spreadsheet all at once, a Chromebook might have trouble keeping up – laptops definitely have the advantage.

  • Trusted for business use, more versatile for work

    Most analysts and tech experts give laptops the edge for business, particularly those with multi-core, multi-thread CPUs for better multi-tasking. Business professionals who are veteran road warriors that rely on having a device that’s as portable as they are may find a Chromebook to be suitable, though the Lenovo ThinkPad X laptops have been revered as the business traveler’s “trusted companion.” All in all, for general office use, laptops for business are the preferred choice.

  • Offline time: Functionality without WiFi or Internet

    On a laptop, you can stay productive even without being connected to WiFi or broadband network. The “connected for everything” nature of a Chromebook can make getting things done in offline mode, without access to the Internet difficult.

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