The Chromebook can make for an awesome alternative to the laptop. They are super affordable, gorgeous, slim devices that last beautifully. But they aren’t for everyone. Here’s three key things you need to know… and our recommendation.
One – they are much, much more affordable than a laptop. They are 30% to 50% cheaper than your standard laptop. Which means here in SA, you can pick up a quality, refurbished Chromebook for R2,500 to R4,000 at the top end.
Two – they run on Google’s Chrome operating system (OS). This has some positives and some negatives.
On the positives:
- They start-up super quickly, almost instantly.
- Any application that is web-based: Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, etc are all accessible on Chrome.
- Updates happen in the background – you won’t even know they’ve happened. With a laptop, you have to reboot your machine for the updates to take effect.
- It is nearly impossible for a Chromebook to get corrupted by viruses, unlike a Windows PC where virus protection is essential.
On the negatives:
- You can’t install Microsoft Office on a Chromebook, although you can use the online version of the tool. We’ll cover this in more detail below (see Microsoft Office and Chromebooks) because it is super important for many users.
- You can’t play the latest PC games on a Chromebook, although you can use streaming services like Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now.
- Basic tasks like printing can be fiddly because most printers are set up to work with either Macs or Windows PCs.
Three – you need to be connected to the internet to use the full suite of Chromebook functionality.
Microsoft Office and Chromebooks – you can’t install Microsoft Office on a Chromebook. This is a pretty big negative for those of us who use MS Office as our primary day-to-day working tool. But there is now a way of dealing with this. Microsoft has created what is called a Progressive Web App (PWA). A PWA basically allows you to save a webpage as an app. This means that you can download a link to Microsoft’s online version of office (Microsoft 365) onto a Chromebook. Clicking the icon on your desktop will take you to the online version of Microsoft 365 which has nearly all the same functionality as the standard MS Office package for Windows machines. There remain 2 downsides of using the Office PWA on a Chromebook:
- First – you have to be online to use the full suite of tools.
- Second – your files are all saved in the cloud, not on your device. And so you must access your files through the Microsoft 365 online browser.
If you are happy using Google’s office suite (Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, etc) instead of Microsoft Office then a Chromebook is a great option! The best. Google Docs Editors is a very powerful set of applications that arguably does most of what MS Office offers. You may have some frustrations using printers, which is worth knowing in advance.
A Chromebook is not a good option if:
- You use Microsoft Office extensively and it doesn’t make sense to switch to Google Docs Editors.
- You are a big gamer that plays the latest PC games.
- You are a creative that uses Adobe Creative Cloud software like InDesign and Photoshop, which are not well supported by Chrome.
A last word on longevity
How long do laptops and Chromebooks last? Here it is important to distinguish between hardware and software.
In terms of hardware, PCs and Chromebooks both last a long time. Chromebooks arguably last longer and are less likely to fail because they are simpler and have fewer moving parts.
Software is typically what limits the longevity of a device. Laptops stop working when they are no longer supported by the latest operating system. In the case of Windows you can’t really tell how long a device will be supported. Windows 11, for example, has cut off PCs that were roughly produced before 2017 from upgrades. In the case of Chromebooks, it is a lot easier to tell because Google tells you how long they are will to support devices. In the beginning, Google only supported devices for 5 years after the original production date. More recently, though, they have begun extending the length of time for which they support devices, up to 8-years for some devices.