The Chromebook in 2016: Pros, Cons -- Can it Replace a MacBook, Windows 10 Laptop?
I’ve been using a spanking-new 2016 Chromebook full time for more than a month now.
Here’s a brief guide that covers the good, bad, and indifferent.
Short answer: yes, it can replace your Windows 10 laptop or MacBook. (I use both Windows laptops and MacBooks). Longer answer: read on.
First, it’s a given that lots of Windows and Mac users will never switch — or even think about it. They won’t because they don’t see it solving anything for them. But it definitely does for me. It’s secure, stable, easy to use, and self-maintains. And Chrome OS is more like mobile operating systems such as Android and iOS — a refreshingly clean break from the creaky, 30-year-old DOS/Windows/Mac platforms.
For the uninitiated, Chromebooks are inexpensive laptops built around Google GOOGL -0.63%’s Chrome OS. Chrome OS at its core is the Chrome browser. But on a Chromebook it is presented as a “desktop” with icons and a settings app (the latter like the Control Panel in Windows or System Preferences in OS X). Most data resides in the cloud so you don’t need large hard drives (typically 32 GB). Google offers a growing stable of apps, including the mainstays: Google’s office suite, Autodesk's ADSK -2.86% Pixlr image editor, Photos, the Chrome Web Store, Play Music, Play Movies, and Hangouts.
Good - Price: Chromebooks are cheap and they have no software licensing fees. Pricing typically ranges from $199 to $399. Though higher end Chromebooks are now appearing that range from $500 to $800. The very un-Chromebook-like (i.e., very pricey) $1,299 Chromebook Pixel from Google has been discontinued (though we could see a new model soon).
Good - The Chromebook in 2016: My next laptop will be a Chromebook. Not Windows, not Mac. That’s how good the bang for the buck is. The new HP Chromebook 13 G1 I’ve been using starts at $499. That’s pricey for a Chromebook but you get a 13.3-inch 3,200-by-1800 “QHD+” display, a weight of only 2.84 pounds, and a very thin (0.5-inches) all-aluminum chassis. Those three things alone are very costly for a top-tier manufacturer to squeeze into a quality $500 laptop. Other specs are more Chromebook-like: an Intel INTC -1.96% Pentium 4405Y (1.5GHz) processor, 4GB RAM, and 32GB of storage. The highest end HP Chromebook 13 configurations use an Intel 6th Generation “Skylake” Core M5 processor and 8GB of RAM. That’s about $800.
Good - Chrome OS: I have come to really like the Chrome OS. It’s safe to say that 90 percent of what I need is there. The Chrome OS combined with Google Drive is stable, fast, and well designed. Besides, this is the World Wide Web so I can almost always find an app comparable to the Windows or Mac counterpart. When necessary (which, for me, is rare) I use Chrome Remote Desktop to access my MacBook or Windows laptop.
Bad - compatibility: it’s not a PC or Mac: If you’re wedded/committed to Windows or the Mac, the Chromebook won’t be a satisfying experience. For example, I’m a heavy Office 365 and OneDrive (Microsoft MSFT -1.47%’s online file hosting service) user. While the Chrome OS gives you access to the online version of Microsoft Office, many of the full Office features are missing. That said, I found that the Google office suite is a powerful replacement and I would be perfectly happy using it full time (as I’ve been doing).
Other items of note: The same unsatisfying experience applies to popular apps like Adobe Photoshop. While Adobe and Google are working on a streaming version of Adobe Photoshop, it’s not clear when that will become available. I’ve had issues with Webex (which didn’t work for me recently) and some other apps that aren’t yet supported on Chrome OS. Skype is only available as an inferior online “Beta” version. Of course, if you’re a PC gamer, you’ll be left high and dry too. But on a positive note, apps like Kindle Cloud Reader work well and there are lots of examples of Web-based apps that are perfectly usable.
Good - It’s not a PC: Windows laptops are unstable (for me): they invariably crash and too often drivers don’t work properly. This has happened so consistently over the years that I see it as simply part of the Windows experience. That isn’t gratuitous carping, it’s simply fact. On the contrary, my experience so far with HP’s Chromebook has been very positive on this score: it’s rock-solid stable, doesn’t crash, and (I’ll say it again), it’s fast.
Good - Performance: You don’t need fast Intel processors to make a Chromebook scream. The Intel M5-based HP Chromebook I have is anything but slow. Note that the M5 is a special Intel Core processor made for ultra-thin, fanless laptops like Apple’s 12-inch Retina MacBook. How fast is it? Instead of citing a bunch of benchmarks, I’ll just say that I use a collection of newer MacBooks and Windows laptops and the Chromebook 13 feels as fast as Core i5 and i7 Windows Skylake laptops. But if you need benchmarks, it’s one of the fastest Chromebooks out there at the moment. The only downside is that because the Chromebook 13 is fanless the chassis can sometimes get warm.
OK - Printing: Printing is not as cut-and-dried as it is on the Mac or Windows. For less sophisticated users, it can be a challenge, especially with older printers. That said, printing is done via Google Cloud Print. In my case, I downloaded HP Print for Chrome and installed my HP printer that way. And it works just like any other printer attached to Windows or a Mac.
OK - Build quality: A cheap Chromebook will be nothing like a MacBook Pro or Dell’s XPS laptop series. Just consider the fact that you could buy four, five, or even six Chromebooks for the same price as a MacBook Pro. That said, Chromebooks are getting better. While the HP Chromebook I’m using doesn’t match the build on the equally-thin/all aluminum $1,299 12-inch MacBook, it’s a high-quality build nonetheless.
OK - Image editors: the selection of image editors is limited (e.g., Pilxr, Polarr). And simply viewing images can be frustrating sometimes. But this is improving.
Why Chromebook? The question that always gets asked is, why do I need a Chromebook if I can just run the Chrome browser on my Windows PC or Mac? My response: true but why not consider an inexpensive 2016 Chromebook that’s fast, secure, manages/updates itself automatically, has good build quality, and has almost none of the clutter and overhead that Windows and OS X/MacOS have. Besides, the kind of OS that Google is offering is the future.
Image source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/brookecrothers/2016/09/25/the-chromebook-in-2016-pros-cons-can-it-replace-a-macbook-windows-10-laptop/#510f724160ef