Best for: affordability and ease of use
A Chromebook is a laptop running the Google Chrome OS operating system, which is designed to use cloud computing to do many things that you do on a traditional laptop without using as many resources or requiring powerful hardware to run. This helps keep the cost of the device down, but it comes at the cost of slightly less functionality than a traditional laptop
- Very affordable
- Good battery life
- Simple to use
- A growing ecosystem of large applications
- Poor hardware
- It may not have your favorite apps
- Generally made of cheaper materials
Best for: functionality and performance
While a Chromebook is also a laptop, when we talk about laptops, we almost always mean a Windows or macOS device. These devices will run all (or at least most) of your favorite apps, and thanks to much more powerful hardware, laptop apps are sturdier and more functional than most of what you’ll find on a Chromebook.
The best laptops
- A more reliable operating system
- Fully functional
- Perfect for gaming and creative work
- A wide range of prices
- Generally more expensive
- Requires more powerful hardware
- Full use can be complicated
Each new school year presents parents and older students with the all-important decision of whether to buy a Chromebook or a more traditional laptop. Chromebooks have only been around for a decade, which means many parents have little or no experience with them, and may even be confused by the difference between them and a laptop.
However, in order to figure out what are the best laptops for students or the best thin and light laptops, it is important to understand the differences between a Chromebook and a laptop in the first place. We’ve spent years reviewing computers and with our unique knowledge, we’re able to find the best laptop on the market.
If you need help figuring out what to look for when comparing the best Chromebook to the best Windows laptop, this guide will explain the differences between the two and then help you decide what best suits your needs.
What is a Chromebook?
Chromebook Pros and Cons
Good battery life
Easy to use
It may feel/look cheap
Not very durable
The first thing is the first. You probably already know what a laptop is. However, before you delve into the rabbit hole between Chromebooks and laptops, you must first understand what a Chromebook is and how it differs from a traditional laptop. So let’s start with that.
A Chromebook is a laptop running Google Chrome OS, a lightweight operating system that relies heavily on the Chrome browser as its main user interface. This means anything you can do on Chrome, you can do on a Chromebook.
This does not mean that the Chromebook can only be used when there is an internet connection. Google designed Chrome OS to be able to run apps from Chrome Web Store or Google Play Store where there are thousands to choose from to cover all the basics – from word processing and spreadsheets to quick photo editing and light gaming. Many of these apps work even when your Chromebook isn’t connected to the internet.
What is the difference between Chromebooks and laptops?
To the untrained eye, a Chromebook and a laptop may look the same. After all, a Chromebook is technically a laptop, just with a different operating system. Both are notebooks with a keyboard, camera, built-in screen and trackpad. And like laptops, many Chromebooks are clamshells, while quite a few others advertise touchscreens and a 2-in-1 form factor.
However, internally, the two things couldn’t be more different. If you compare Chromebooks with laptops in terms of power, laptops are powerful. That’s because they typically have more powerful microprocessors – usually from Intel or AMD – and more powerful integrated or discrete graphics to power them.
On the other hand, Chromebooks tend to have less powerful chips and graphics, although a few premium Chromebooks are known to run on Intel Core chips. The reason for this is two-fold: Chrome OS is so lightweight that it doesn’t really need a powerful chip to run, and it keeps the cost of Chromebooks down.
Traditional laptops run on the much more reliable Windows 11, macOS and Linux, an open source operating system. The best Windows laptops and the best MacBooks and Macs tend to require high-power CPUs and GPUs, as well as faster memory, which means they tend to cost more. On the plus side, students can use the same computer to both write their term paper and play the best PC games when they’re done and need a break after doing homework.
Windows laptops tend to have plenty of local storage, ranging from 128GB at the lowest end – after all, these apps and files take up a lot more space. Chromebooks typically have much less storage, sometimes as little as 32GB. This is because Chrome OS and the apps it runs don’t require as much space as Windows and are designed to save documents in the cloud.
Chromebooks vs Laptops: Which is Better for School Work?
Laptop pros and cons
A wide range of models for every budget
A Chromebook is a good choice for a student who uses the computer primarily for web browsing, word processing, or video and audio streaming. Storage isn’t an issue if Google-focused students can store their files in Drive. They can also use SD cards and USB drives to store their documents.
The Chromebook is also a great low-cost option, with prices dropping to $100 / £120 / AU$140 over the holiday season for low-end models. However, the price of a Chromebook can skyrocket to $1,000 / £1,000 / AU$1,400 if you go for an enterprise or luxury option like the Google Pixelbook.
For school work, the Chromebook is a winner because it has so few features. With no extra games or multiple apps, the Chromebook becomes a powerful homework tool, allowing students to access online lessons without distraction.
Students can write their work in Google Docs and share it with a teacher or parent directly from a Chromebook, no need to print. Microsoft Office is also available online, so students can create Word documents with ease.
A Chromebook is also a hard-to-break device. If a student is prone to installing programs that contain viruses, the Chromebook can be easily cleaned and reset. If your child isn’t particularly tech-savvy, there are a few confusing features: A Chromebook is a plug-and-play device. Some of the newer Chromebooks are a bit more fragile physically, but most can tip over because many parts are plastic.
As for a Windows laptop, it’s more of an investment, but it offers plenty of versatility and convenience. You have the ability to create almost anything on a laptop and store files on it.
The laptop also has many disadvantages of having a full-fledged computer. It will take some time to boot up, require updates, and you may even experience a “blue screen of death” from time to time. Chromebooks very rarely fail, and if they do, a simple restart is an easy fix.
However, there are tasks that are just easier on a Windows device. Chromebooks traditionally struggled with direct printing, while laptops printed documents quickly. Accessing and organizing files can be a bit of a pain on a Chromebook, but there are workarounds.
However, in a way, the versatility of a Windows laptop is a weakness as hackers have more features at their disposal to attack the laptop. Computers require regular maintenance to keep them safe, even if it’s just keeping to scheduled software updates.
Chromebooks require much less maintenance, and Google designed Chromebooks with safety and security in mind, and there are defenses behind the scenes to keep you safe while you browse the web.
How should you decide?
One way to determine the right option is to test your Chromebook. You can try using Google Chrome solely as a desktop browser for a few days and determine if the student needs more features than the browser can provide. Only use Chrome extensions and web apps like Google Docs.
However, Windows offers a much more complete computing experience, but Google’s operating system is a much cheaper, scaled-down alternative that may be exactly what a student needs in the classroom.
Whether you know which one you want or not, you can always check out the latest school sales happening right now to better assess your options if you decide now is the time to buy.