This comparison reviews the features of Chromebooks vs other laptops to help you choose the best option.
From the classroom to the office, everything’s connected. You need to stay that way, too. But when it’s time to upgrade your tech or start fresh, should you buy a Chromebook or a laptop? Typically, Chromebooks are more budget-friendly than laptops are, but they do differ in some major ways.
This guide shows you the pros and cons of each so you can make the best decision for your wallet and your lifestyle.
- Operating system (OS)
- Chromebook vs laptop: sizes available
- General performance
- Memory cards and ports
- Build quality between Chromebooks and laptops
- Apps and software
- Storage on Chromebooks vs laptops
- Chromebook vs laptop battery life
- Usage advantage
- Built-in features
Operating systems (OS)
Chromebooks run on Google’s own operating system, Chrome, as opposed to standard laptops, which usually feature the Windows, Mac or Linux OSs.
Chromebook’s operating system
Google-centric Chromebooks operate on Chrome OS, which is a lot like the company’s basic browser but with a few extra features. Rather than dishing up a powerful processor or heaps of RAM, Chrome OS relies heavily on the cloud and Google’s own services, like Drive, Docs and Gmail. Chromebooks don’t come with a lot of storage and struggle to run programs like Microsoft Office unless you modify them, which means they’re not always the most practical choice. They are fast, though, from startup to update installations.
Laptop operating systems
You have a lot of options when you’re buying a laptop. Windows is still very common, but Mac continues to grow rapidly—and you can even buy a laptop with a Linux OS. Each of those has its own features, but central to all of them are highly capable processors, enough RAM to run bulky programs (like MS Office, Photoshop and others) and plenty of storage. The downside is that, particularly with Windows, startup can be slow and updates can be pretty time-consuming.
Chromebooks at a glance:
- Mostly cloud-based
- Relies heavily on Google’s apps and services
- No significant storage
- Low RAM
- Exceptionally fast startup and updates
Standard laptops at a glance:
- Several OS choices
- Powerful processors
- Significant RAM
- More storage
- Slower startup and update installation
Chromebook vs laptop: sizes available
Not all portable computers are created equal in the size department—they generally range from about 12 inches to upwards of 17 inches, with the average Chromebook falling on the low end of the spectrum, while laptops typically measure 13 to 15 inches.
It’s worth noting that Chromebooks tend to be much lighter, and they may be a bit more portable than similarly-sized standard laptops are.
The specs between Chromebooks and laptops vary widely by manufacturer, so it’s best to begin by identifying the kind of software you’ll want to run on the machine. For lighter and easier work, Chromebooks can do the trick. For more demanding tasks, such as video editing or graphic design work, you’ll probably want to lean towards a laptop. Here are the two key specs to look out for:
Chromebook processing power
Most Chromebooks feature Intel Celeron processors (usually dual-core) that fall at or below 2.0GHz. In a laptop, you will find processors in that range or go much faster. A lot of standard laptops feature four processor cores clocking in at 2.7GHz or above.
Chromebook memory (RAM)
The average Chromebook gives you between 2GB and 4GB of RAM, which is enough for surfing the internet or working in the cloud. Laptops are usually a lot more generous, featuring up to 16GB.
Because they’re light on power and hard-hitting tech, Chromebooks are fast. Usually, you can start working right after you turn it on. Unlike most laptops, there isn’t much bogging down your startup in the way of onboard programs or apps. The downside of Chromebooks is they’re not the best at multitasking. The more you try to do at once, the less you actually get done. Opening several browser tabs, playing games or trying to run heavy-duty programs can slow everything down considerably.
Most laptops boot up slowly; however, once that’s done, they typically have enough RAM to let you surf, run resource-sucking programs and perform other tasks all at once. Keep in mind that even a high-memory laptop can get bogged down with too many tasks.
Memory cards and ports
Chromebooks and laptops both offer ports for memory cards, drives and HDMI cables, but most Chromebooks offer fewer. You’ll almost certainly find USB, HDMI and headphone jacks in both.
Build quality between Chromebooks and laptops
Build quality varies by manufacturer across the spectrum, whether you’re choosing a Chromebook or a standard laptop. Your best bet? Read reviews from people who have already purchased one. (Check the blue stars right beneath the computer’s name: five is the best, and one is the lowest possible rating. You can click the number of reviews beside the stars to read what others have experienced.)
Apps and software
Because Chromebooks are built to integrate seamlessly with Google apps (think Gmail, Drive and Docs), they’re perfect for you if you already use those applications. They’re compatible with most Android apps, too; however, Chromebooks can’t deal with a significant amount of software unless it’s stored on an external device, due to the onboard storage limitations.
The types of apps you’re able to access with a standard laptop vary based on what’s available on that OS—you can use Apple’s App Store for Macs, a Linux repository or the Microsoft Store for your MS device. And because laptops have more processing speed and greater storage capacity, you’ll be able to use more of the software programs and games you need. They’ll run better, too!
If you intend to print from a Chromebook, you’ll need to use Google Cloud Print, which means you’ll need a wireless printer that can connect to the internet when you need it.
Laptops aren’t bound by those restrictions, and most feature ports to plug in printers or are compatible with Bluetooth or WiFi-connected printers.
Storage on Chromebooks vs laptops
Chromebooks use flash drives (instead of traditional hard drives), which typically offer capacity in the 16GB to 64GB range. That makes external storage a practical necessity if you’re not working in the cloud or streaming. You can attach a USB drive or use an SD card, but keep in mind that’s an added expense.
Many laptops, on the other hand, are packed with hard drive storage space and that means you don’t have to tote an external storage device when you’re on the go.
Chromebook vs laptop battery life
The average Chromebook battery is projected to last between 7 and 9 hours when in use. That’s a few hours less than what the average laptop battery is rated for. That said, newer Chromebooks are boasting longer battery life up to 12 hours. Battery life on either device depends on usage, but as a lightweight counterpart to a standard laptop, Chromebooks generally have a slight disadvantage.
As a general rule of thumb, Chromebooks are more affordable than laptops are. Bear in mind that with a Chromebook you may need to buy external storage and online subscriptions to services like Microsoft Office or Dropbox, depending on your intended use.
You’ll probably see more laptops than Chromebooks on college campuses and on work desks in shared offices. They’re better equipped for specialized software and can store more, but Chromebooks provide a definite advantage for plenty of applications since they feature a lean operating system, are lightweight and usually cost less. Here’s a breakdown of the best uses for each:
Best uses for Chromebooks
- Online shopping
- Web surfing
- Early education
Best uses for laptops
- Higher education
Chromebooks come with built-in features that can be tremendously helpful, including:
- Antivirus and malware protection
- Parental controls, including supervised accounts that track or limit online activity
- Automatic syncing with apps and passwords on other Chrome browsers
- Free Google Drive storage
Laptops vary when it comes to built-in features, but you can find models with:
- Microsoft Office pre-installed
- Parental controls
- Strong firewalls
- Antivirus protection
Generally, your intended use and your budget will determine whether a Chromebook or laptop is a better fit for you. Either way, you’ll find exactly what you need in our extensive selection of laptops and notebooks.