Chromebook vs. laptop: Which is right for me?

Decisions, decisions. A traditional Laptop or a Chromebook? You want a thin and light PC, but which of these portable systems is best for you?

Does a laptop's overall versatility make it the better option? Or is a Chromebook's minimalistic operating system (OS) and web-based usability more suited to your needs? Keep reading to learn the differences between a Chromebook and a standard laptop, the relative advantages of each device, and which one will serve your needs with the most overall value.

What's the difference between a Chromebook and a laptop?

While both laptops and Chromebooks are portable PCs intended to be used anywhere a computer is needed – say, at a desk, on the couch, or while traveling – there are many differences between the two devices, some of which may be critical to your buying decision.

Differences between Chromebooks and traditional laptops

Technically, both standard laptops and Chromebooks are “laptops,” in that each device is portable and can be operated while resting on your lap. There’s more to it, of course. Here’s a quick look at how laptops and Chromebooks differ:

  • Laptops

    Most users are already familiar with laptops. A laptop is controlled by a PC operating system such as Microsoft Windows 10 that provides the familiar "desktop" workspace where you launch programs, write documents, save files, and so on. Hundreds of gigabytes (at least) of internal storage are provided either by a spinning hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD). Laptops may also have added features such as optical drives (i.e., DVD, CD, etc.), and multiple ports to connect external devices and accessories.

    For instance, Lenovo Legion laptops are engineered to be the ultimate gaming machines. The Lenovo ThinkPad series caters more to enterprise and professional users. In fact, there are so many different kinds of laptops that for some buyers, shopping for a simple-but-powerful Chromebook will seem like a breath of fresh air.

  • Chromebooks

    Unlike laptops that can slow-down when low on memory or accessing internal storage components, Chromebooks operate somewhat differently:

    • Chrome OS: Chromebooks are powered by the lightweight (compared to Windows) Google Chrome OS, which uses the Chrome web browser as the primary user interface (UI). Nearly everything is done online within the Chrome browser or via the cloud – improving system speed and efficiency across the board.
    • Browser-based web apps: Chromebooks are built to use web-based applications rather than software you load into local storage. Web-based apps can be accessed anytime, anywhere. Simply enter the URL of the web-based tool and start being productive.
    • Memory and cloud storage: Another advantage of web-based apps is that they typically reduce demands on your RAM. And while there is some local storage on a Chromebook, users typically save their documents, photos, music, and other files on the cloud, with convenient features for syncing and storing data across devices (e.g., your Chromebook, tablet, and smartphone).
  • Chromebooks rarely sport the latest, fastest processors because they don’t need them. And many features are intentionally absent, such as advanced graphics cards, large storage drives, and so on – all to make Chromebooks more lightweight and streamlined compared to regular laptops.

    Of course, Chromebooks are less customizable than laptops. They offer a certain feature set, and that’s that. (To learn more about Chromebooks, visit “What is a Chromebook?”)

How are laptops and Chromebooks similar?

Some of the points mentioned here are not exclusive to one system or another. Laptops can use cloud storage and web applications, just like laptops. Chromebooks have multiple ports and USBs, just fewer of them than many laptops.

The essential difference between Chromebooks and standard laptops will always be the Chrome OS and how it impacts operations. Still, there are several categories where Chromebooks and laptops score roughly equally:

  • Battery life: Laptop battery life has improved over the years, partly because designers have found ways to add more and bigger batteries without making them too heavy. Chromebooks have less room for big batteries but get more out them, thanks to their lightweight OS.
  • Portability: All Chromebooks are designed to be extremely thin and light. Laptops have a far wider range of sizes and weights, but you can easily find a Chromebook-sized laptop. Lenovo’s Ideapad series has many options that compare to the ultraportable Chromebook.
  • Durability: Laptops with sturdy frames and keyboards have long been popular for military and heavy-duty industrial use. Chromebooks are catching up, with fewer moving parts and features like rubber bumpers, reinforced ports, and stronger corners to limit damage from accidental drops.

Plus, 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 the way the Chrome OS does. And you can obtain more apps on the Microsoft Store, just as you can get them from the Chrome Web Store and Google Play.

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