Are Chromebooks relevant in 2018?

The first image the enters your head when we talk of laptops is surely a Windows Laptop. Windows has dominated the PC market for a really long time and for good reason. They can do everything from work to play. The next thing that probably pops into your head would be the Mac OS. The Mac OS is very Windowsesque with applications at the forefront. Chromebooks meanwhile are a different breed of laptops and the reason for their existence is simple.

Google, as we know, is primarily a software company with huge investments and market position in the smartphone operating system market (Android), search and advertising (Google search), Email and Office (Gmail, Drive and Office Suite), Mapping (Google Maps), Browser (Google Chrome) and Video content (Youtube). If you look carefully most of these are services we use irrespective of the platform. We watch Youtube videos on a phone, tablet, and laptop. Gmail is a must-have for work or personal use and who doesn’t use Google search.

So if you are using most of Google’s software it does make sense to use a laptop that’s tailored for Google services. Given Google’s habit of dappling into the hardware market with their Nexus series and their Motorola adventure, making a Chromebook wasn’t that difficult for Google. But Google launched the hotly anticipated Chrome OS with many of their partners like Samsung, Asus, Acer, and HP and later on launched their own Pixelbook which was highly praised for its gorgeous display and top-notch hardware.   

Why Chromebooks make sense

Developed to make laptops easier to use, Chromebooks offer a great advantage to users and facilitate many activities, such as surfing the web, streaming videos and working on documents on a laptop.

While initial Chromebooks were pretty bad with very little RAM, average specifications and a serious lack of applications. Over time, the use of Chromebooks has not only become better but has also improved the overall user experience.

The primary benefit of using a Chromebook is that you have direct access to the whole internet and to the entire suite of Google applications. You have Google’s superb Chrome browser at the forefront of the operating system, which basically means the instant you turn on a Chromebook you are ready to access the internet. This can be particularly helpful for productivity as accessing Google Docs, Sheets and Slides is very easy. Offering you the basic functionality, Chromebooks allow you to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations on the web. Since these features work more like web apps their functionality is limited and may not be as comprehensive as similar offerings from Microsoft or Apple.  However, do note that the Google office suite is completely free to use and having office applications that can be accessed by you from anywhere in the world does have its own charm and utility. This is after all the era of cloud computing and cloud storage besides who carries documents on a pen drive anymore?

But hold on a second, what if there is a network outage? Or you are in an area with poor or no connectivity? Does that make your Chromebook a glorified paperweight? No, it doesn’t. While it is the general notion that Chromebooks are literally worthless without any internet connection, Chromebooks can in fact function without internet access as well. Depending on the apps you use, you can program them to save content offline on to the Chromebook’s flash storage. Gmail offline helps you manage your emails without any hassles and come with a unique feature when pre-written emails are sent the moment you have an internet connection. Other than this, Google Keep can also be used in the offline mode to create notes, lists, and checklists for future use. Once the internet is restored all of your data is automatically available on your Google account, making it easy for you to access whatever you need from wherever you need it.

One of the biggest issues with the Chromebook has been that you can’t do any type of content creation or editing. While basic photo editing has always been possible there is a limit to what most web apps can do. But with Google recently adding Android App support to Chromebooks you now have access to some of the best apps from Android as well.  This means you can use Adobe Photoshop, Pixlr or Polarr to create and edit an image to your heart’s content.

It’s not just photo editing that they can handle but, Chromebooks of today are capable of handling just about anything you throw at them (well anything except high-end games, 3D modelling and video editing). Coding apps such as Zed Code Editor can also be used on these notebooks. Chromebooks come loaded with Google’s very own instant messaging app, Hangouts. Apart from this, the machine is compatible with other instant messaging apps such as Telegram and Skype. Also, the Multi Messenger on the Google Chrome helps you make use of all of your instant messaging apps in one single app. These apps give you some of the best functionality found on most phones but with the luxury of a large screen and a keyboard.

Also the fact that most of the important apps are on the cloud, Chromebooks can do away with the use of bulky and heavy hard disk drives in favour of flash storage and SSDs. Storage is just one of the things that make Chromebooks very light. Chromebooks make use of memory and sandbox operations as a security precaution and actually consume far less memory while doing this. This makes Google Chrome run more efficiently on the Chromebook than on Windows where it is known to be a memory hog.

Something more productive like accessing a remote desktop is also possible with the help of the Chrome Remote Desktop or the famous Teamviewer app, which is available with offline functionality. Speaking of apps, for all those who enjoy using Microsoft Office on their computers, they can do so on their Chromebooks as well. With the help of the online Microsoft Office Suite, you can make use of all of the office apps without any hiccups. However, their functionality is quite limited.

Android for long has had a bad reputation when it comes to security and software updates. That is a debate for another day, but with the Chromebook, Google was very clear from the start. The security and updates of the Chrome OS were paramount and would be handled much better than on Android. Every Chromebook is programmed to download the latest update on its own, which is released once every month. The process of downloading is seamless, you won’t even notice it. This doesn’t just solve the issue of software updates but also gives you more security. Furthermore, Chrome OS comes with a verified boot which checks the operating system for faults if any are found then the system automatically loads the previously saved file to avoid damage.

Where do they lag behind?

Nothing in this world is perfect and Chromebooks are far from perfection. While regular updates, cloud storage, and prompt security are appealing, Chromebooks simply do not have the same amount of processing power as Microsoft and Apple computers. So tasks like video rendering, 3D modelling, and high-end gaming are not possible even on the high-end Chromebooks. Even games such as Minecraft are not supported. Considering the fact that Chromebooks were developed to make the lives of light laptop users easy, the result is not surprising.

Then there is the issue with storage space. We know we just said that smaller storage is a good thing as it makes you device lighter but what if you have a huge collection of movies and music that you need to carry around – it can be an issue. Streaming on Netflix isn’t always a possibility. Most Chromebooks come with 16GB internal storage, which is sufficient for the laptop to work. In some latest models, you may find a Chromebook with 64GB storage, but that’s about it. If you are up to date on current technology trends then you’d know that even a smartphone has more storage than a Chromebook.

Except for the Pixelbooks, almost all of the Chromebooks are fitted with pretty average displays, unlike their more superior Windows and Mac counterparts which boast of HDR, 4K and 120Hz displays. Hence even with Netflix, you may not be able to enjoy the experience as much as you would have on a device with a better screen.

Chromebooks don’t currently have any fancy face scanning and fingerprint unlock features like Windows Hello or Apple Face iD. These are only a few issues there are more which include the keyboard layout, file accessing, support file formats and many more. But the biggest reason one should not pick a Chromebook is the price, despite being under specced than windows laptops they are priced mostly on par or often higher than them which sort of defeats the whole purpose of a lightweight cheap laptop. All these combined make Chrome OS suited for people who want to use the laptop for very little stuff and don’t mind paying a premium.

So are they still relevant?

It’s easy. The answer lies in your use. Chromebooks were essentially made for people who don’t have much use of high-end features and don’t usually use half of the features on their regular laptops. For such people, the simplicity and web-based nature of the Chrome OS can be very appealing and useful.

Over time, Chromebooks are improving and they are becoming even more popular with people who have a limited use of laptops. But if you need more power, better gaming, better displays then you are better off with a Windows or a Mac machine.

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