If you're in the market for a new computer, you may be trying to weigh the respective merits of a laptop vs a Chromebook. Which one is going to be most appropriate for you will depend on a range of factors, and it isn't necessarily obvious immediately. Chromebooks tend to be very competitive in price, as well as more portable. While even some of the best budget laptops usually offer more versatility and grunt.
Laptop vs Chromebook is a bit like Batman vs Superman. Both do their jobs extremely well. One is (in theory at least) much more powerful than the other. And one has commitment issues (that last one might not work as an effective analogy).
We're here to break things down to help guide you to the right decision. We'll run you through the major differences between laptops and Chromebooks, as well as the key points you need to consider before making your final choice.
Laptop vs Chromebook: Main Differences
The first, and arguably most important thing to recognise, is the difference between the operating systems used on laptops and Chromebooks. Laptops will typically use Windows, while a Chromebook will use ChromeOS, a bespoke operating system designed by Google.
ChromeOS uses web apps such as Google Drive, rather than downloading and installing lots of programs on your hard drive. While you may feel that this is potentially limiting, there are apps available for just about every productivity need you can imagine.
Windows probably won't need much explanation. It's the OS that most of us have grown up with. A laptop can use apps, but can also download and install a wider range of software. They tend to be larger, have greater storage capacity, and as we said earlier, offer greater versatility.
What this means is that we aren't necessarily comparing like-for-like here. Chromebooks and laptops fill slightly different niches (albeit with some undoubted overlap). To answer the question of which one you should buy, there are several points to consider.
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Laptop vs Chromebook: Price
Perhaps predictably, the price may be a significant factor in your deliberations. And in this case, Chromebooks definitely have the advantage. Because Chromebooks generally require less powerful hardware, as well as being smaller, it usually translates to a lower price tag.
A half-decent Chromebook won't cost much more than $200, while a Windows laptop for this price will be hard to find. And if you do find one, it's almost certain to be as basic as they come. Of course, you can pay more to improve what you're getting.
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You may want faster performance or more features. But even a top-end Chromebook can be found for under $500. There are some that can run to over $1000. But the point is, you don't need to spend that much to get a top-end Chromebook.
Laptops, on the other hand, will generally cost more. Sure, there are some available at very low prices. But if you want something with decent performance, reasonable battery life, and won't need replacing within a couple of years? You're probably going to need to spend over $700.
And if you really want, you can really push the boat out and spend thousands on the very high-end devices. Think gaming laptops, which can easily set you back over $3000. But what accounts for the difference in price? Well, a lot comes down to the specifications of each device.
Laptop vs Chromebook: Specs
When it comes to specifications, this is one of the primary reasons for Chromebooks being cheaper than most laptops. Let's drill into some of the key differences.
As we mentioned earlier Chromebooks do almost everything using web apps. This means they typically have very small hard drives, starting from around 32GB of solid-state storage. That wouldn't even be enough to install Windows 11. As a result, many come with an SD card slot to help increase storage.
Laptops will generally start at around 128GB, but can easily go into the terabyte range, especially if you're willing to pay for it. They can also offer SSD instead of HDD, which can be significantly faster.
The lack of storage can offer some potential security benefits to a Chromebook. By backing everything up to the cloud, you don't need to worry if your specific Chromebook is lost, stolen or damaged beyond repair. You'd still be able to access all your important documents. The fact that almost nothing is stored directly on the Chromebook, may offer an advantage over a laptop. Although of course, laptops can still offer cloud storage options.
Laptops also tend to have more powerful processors. But this doesn't necessarily translate to faster performance. A Chromebook doesn't have a large hard drive draining resources from its key functions. They boot quickly and tend to run smoothly, even if they only have 4GB of RAM. A laptop will commonly have 8GB or 16GB of RAM, for comparison.
And then there's battery life. Once again, that lack of a hard drive can be very beneficial for a Chromebook. An "average" device might give you 10-12 hours of life on a single charge. While some laptops can offer extended battery life, an average might be somewhere between 5-10 hours.
Clearly, that's a lot to be thinking about. So let's try to break down the pros and cons of each device for you.
Laptop vs Chromebook: Pros and Cons
Talk of RAM, hard drive capacity and battery life may be useful, but may not fully resolve the question of why one device suits you more than the other. So here are some of the main advantages and disadvantages of each. Let's start with laptops.
- Laptops come in a wide range of flavours, to suit your purpose and budget. You can pick one up for a few hundred bucks, or if you need something all singing and dancing, several thousand.
- Laptops will offer greater versatility than Chromebooks in many cases. If, for example, you need to run a very specific piece of software for your job, you can easily install this on a laptop. On a Chromebook, niche software may not be available. And you may not have sufficient space on your hard drive to install something.
- You don't need to be online at all times.
- The larger hard drives on laptops mean you can install all sorts of software. But they can perform cloud-based tasks in the same way a Chromebook can.
- Screens are often much larger, typically going up to around 17".
- They are available in 'ultra mobile' forms. These typically weigh less than 2kgs/1lb, and are less than 2cm thick.
- Laptops do tend to be more expensive than Chromebooks, especially if you want something with higher specs.
- They are also bigger and bulkier (in most cases).
- Battery life can often be worse than that of a Chromebook.
- Much cheaper than many laptops.
- Smaller and more portable.
- Chromebooks often have superior battery life compared to a laptop.
- Chromebooks come with in-built virus protection.
- ChromeOS is simple, secure, and fast.
- Less versatile than a laptop, as you won't necessarily be able to run all the programs that you can on a laptop.
- Require an internet connection to perform at their best. Because almost everything is run through web apps, if you don't have an internet connection, you'll struggle to save, or even access, your content.
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Laptop vs Chromebook: Which One Should You Buy?
Hopefully, by now, you have a clearer idea of which one is going to be right for you. But we can summarise it as follows:
If you're a casual user, who will be going online, making use of Google Drive and maybe streaming films and movies, a Chromebook could be a great shout. Similarly, if you're on a tight budget, but need something for performing basic work functions, like a spreadsheet or a written document (like a student might, for example) then a Chromebook could fit the bill perfectly. As long as you have a reliable internet connection.
If however, you need something with more versatility, a CD drive, or the ability to run niche software, a Chromebook can't compete with a laptop. This is also the case if you are going to be using particularly resource-intensive programs such as photo and video editing software, then a laptop will be far more appropriate.
When it comes to gaming, a Chromebook can play lots of games, especially through services such as GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming. But a laptop will allow you to download and install games, so you won't be dependent upon an internet connection.
As we said earlier, there's a lot to weigh up, and there is undoubtedly overlap between the two devices. But by now, you should have a much clearer idea of which one is going to best fit your needs.