A Chromebook is significantly cheaper than a Windows laptop. This guide shows why, what devices with Chrome OS can do and what they cost.
A small laptop that is ready to go in just a few seconds? It doesn't always have to be a Windows laptop. Google's Chrome OS devices are a cheap and secure alternative to Microsoft's operating system.
At first glance, a Chromebook looks like a normal laptop (theme world). The difference is in the software. A Chromebook runs Google's Chrome OS operating system, a Linux distribution. The operating system boots up quickly – usually in just under 5 to 7 seconds. Security is also taken care of: Chrome OS installs system and security updates inconspicuously and regularly in the background, applications run in a sandbox. Viruses in Chrome OS have hardly ever occurred.
However, there are some peculiarities and limitations compared to a Windows device to be aware of. We explain what is important in a Chromebook (theme world) and how much money buyers should invest.
Why are Chromebooks so cheap?
The Chrome OS operating system is slimmer and simpler than the all-rounder Windows. It runs perfectly on simple hardware with less fast CPUs. Chrome OS license fees do not apply to buyers. A Chromebook is designed to work online. That's why the manufacturers do without larger and more expensive hard drives, and less RAM is sufficient for Chrome OS.
For this reason, laptops with simple hardware and even a 14-inch display are available from 145 euros. Users usually have to do without a touchscreen or Full HD in the particularly cheap models.
What are the disadvantages of Chromebooks?
Software for Windows cannot be used with Chrome OS. The focus of the system is the Chrome browser including all extensions from the Chrome Web Store and Google services such as Google Drive, Gmail or Google Docs. If there is no internet connection, offline functionalities in Google Drive, Gmail or Google Docs should make work easier. However, there is usually significantly less internal memory available than with a Windows PC.
In addition, Chrome OS offers access to numerous Android apps from the Google Play Store, which is familiar from smartphones. These then run inside a container. As a result, they may not be as fast and fluid as with an Android system. However, it should be noted that many Android apps are optimized for small displays and touch inputs. It is therefore advisable to buy a device with a touchscreen right away. There are apps that are optimized for tablets and Chromebooks, such as all Google applications or Microsoft Office.
In addition, it is possible to use software for Linux on newer devices with Chrome OS. For this purpose, Google has integrated a Linux VM based on Debian Stretch. Experienced users then install Linux software such as Gimp, Thunderbird or LibreOffice via a terminal. By default, Linux is disabled on Chrome OS.
If you already do a lot on the PC using the Chrome browser, you will quickly feel at home with a Chromebook. However, anyone who relies on special Windows software for which there is no Android alternative will be less fortunate.
Design and displays
At first glance, a Chromebook can hardly be distinguished from a Windows laptop. The design follows the proven, collapsible clamshell form (English for shell) with display, keyboard and touchpad. The smallest models offer a display diagonal of 11.6 inches. There are also variants with a larger screen of up to 15.6 inches. The range of devices with 14 inches is now the largest, followed by 11.6 and 13.3 inches.
The majority of the devices offer a touch screen – apart from the particularly cheap models from 120 euros, which have to do without a touch-sensitive screen. Almost half of all Chromebooks are so-called convertible PCs (theme world). With these devices, you fold the display completely to the other side and then use it as a touchscreen like a tablet. This not only makes it a potential PC alternative, but also a competitor for tablets (theme world) thanks to the Google Play Store.
Most displays offer a maximum brightness of 250 cd/m², which is also common on Windows laptops. If you want to work a lot with the Chromebook outdoors, you should choose a device with a brightness of at least 300 cd/m², so that the display remains legible even in sunshine. This is also possible from as little as 200 euros.
Features and battery life
The hardware of a Chromebook is usually kept quite simple because the devices are designed for services from the web and require little power. A wide range of CPUs can be found. Inexpensive devices rely on simple processors from the Intel Celeron and Pentium Silver, AMD A6-9220C or AMD 3015Ce series. In addition, ARM-based chips are used, as can also be found in smartphones. These are particularly energy-efficient and inexpensive. But there are also stronger CPUs, as known from Windows notebooks, such as Intel Core m, Core i3, i5 and i7, AMD Athlon and Ryzen 3, 5 and 7.
Since most tasks run via web services, you can largely do without stronger processors with Chrome OS – unless you need enough power for more complex applications or games from the Google Playstore. However, there are no strong GPUs. Graphics chips such as the Intel UHD or Iris Xe as well as the integrated GPUs of the ARM CPUs from Qualcomm and Mediatek dominate. An alternative for gamers with Chrome OS is therefore cloud gaming (guide). With services like Nvidia Geforce Now or Google Stadia, your own hardware plays a subordinate role. Games are rendered in the cloud and then streamed directly to the Chromebook over the internet connection.
Chromebooks naturally have less memory than PCs – cloud services such as Google Drive are primarily available for storing data. Flash memory with 32 or 64 GB (eMMC) is used as standard, less frequently SSDs with up to 256 GB. Most models usually have 4 GB or 8 GB of RAM, which is sufficient for most tasks. 16 GB RAM is rather rare. A Chromebook with 128 GB of storage, 8 GB of RAM and a full HD touchscreen is available from 270 euros.
One of the greatest strengths of Chromebooks is the relatively long battery life compared to classic notebooks. Ultimately, there are two reasons for this: the operating system runs very efficiently and, with simpler hardware, it saves energy. With newer devices, runtimes of 8 to 12 hours with Intel CPUs and even 10 to 16 hours with ARM chips are conceivable, depending on usage. At the end of the day, however, it depends on the type of use.
Touch: Chrome OS convertibles
A Chromebook as a convertible PC is particularly practical because it brings two worlds together: laptop and tablet. The device is used for writing like a classic clamshell notebook – for the couch you fold the display onto the back of the device and operate it via the touchscreen.
The convertible design does not necessarily have to be expensive. With the Chromebook Spin 311, Acer offers an inexpensive and compact entry-level device with an 11.6-inch display and ARM processor starting at 165 euros. The Lenovo Ideapad Flex 3 Chromebook from 190 euros is comparable to the model.
Acer Chromebook Spin 513
Acer Chromebook Spin 513 reviewed by TechStage
Among other things, we tested the Acer Chromebook Spin 513 (test report). The convertible PC uses the ARM chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c and is available from Saturn as an LTE version with 8 GB RAM and 128 GB memory from 500 euros. There are also cheaper variants with the slimmed-down Snapdragon 7c Lite from 277 euros. In the test, the device convinced us with a good keyboard and long battery life. The touch display has a resolution of 1980×1080 (Full HD). Only the CPU didn't exactly prove to be a driving force.
We also took a closer look at the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook. Our test device offers a 13.3-inch display with Full HD resolution, 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD, which is generous for a Chromebook, and uses the powerful Intel Core i5 processor. Lenovo charges around 599 euros for this. For 499 euros you get the IdeaPad Flex 5 for about 499 euros. The version with the more leisurely Intel Pentium Gold is available from 299 euros.
Choosing a convertible is an obvious choice for a Chromebook because it only costs slightly more than a classic clamshell device. If you don't just work with the computer at your desk, but would like to use the device on the couch as an alternative to a tablet, you've come to the right place.
Lenovo Ideapad 5 Flex Chromebook
Lenovo Ideapad 5 Flex Chromebook
A special variant is a detachable. Here you remove the display field from the keyboard and then use the Chromebook like a tablet. An example of this is the Lenovo Ideapad Duet Chromebook (price comparison) from 252 euros at Amazon with an ARM CPU from Mediatek and a 10-inch display in full HD. The top model of the series is the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook with 13.3-inch OLED and Snapdragon 7c Gen 2 from 499 euros at Cyberport.
Handy and inexpensive: Chromebooks up to 11.6 inches
If you don't want it to be a convertible, there are a number of compact Chromebooks under 12 inches. The small laptops rarely weigh more than 1.3 kilograms and mostly have a touch display. These are ideal for anyone who often wants to take the device with them and work in a wide variety of places in the home office or on the go.
The Asus Chromebook CR1 and HP Chromebook 11a-na0025ng make the cheapest entry, but without touch, from 179 euros. You can get a Celeron processor from Asus from 200 euros. However, Full HD displays are not found in the small devices.
Laptop replacement: Chromebooks from 14 inches
If you frequently work with the Chromebook in the same place, you should use a device with at least 14 inches for reasons of comfort. Corresponding hardware is already available for less than 200 euros. 14-inch screens are the most popular here. Chromebooks from 15.6 inches start at 200 euros. The largest available Chromebooks even reach 17.3 inches. ARM chips are rare here, Intel Celeron and Pentium Silver dominate, and there are also a few Core i3 and i5.
Bigger doesn't necessarily mean more expensive. You can get the Lenovo Ideapad 3 Chromebook from Otto for as little as 170 euros. An Intel Celeron and Full-HD are on board, the memory is rather meager with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB eMMC, which weighs less heavily with Chrome OS. However, the IdeaPad 3 Chromebook does not have a touch display. The Asus Chromebook C423NA-BV0533 is even cheaper on Ebay from 145 euros, but only with HD resolution and an older Intel Celeron.
Chromebooks can be significantly cheaper than Windows laptops. Anyone who mainly surfs the Internet with the notebook and answers e-mails gets a cheap PC alternative for less than 200 euros with a Chromebook. It's worth grabbing a convertible device right away. These are only slightly more expensive and can also replace a tablet.
Other strengths of the Chromebook include fast booting and the relatively long battery life, and there are hardly any viruses. However, if you depend on Windows software and also work a lot offline, you can hardly avoid a Windows PC. Despite offline options, Chromebooks are extremely dependent on a good internet connection. For serious gamers, they are also only a limited option, apart from Android games, only cloud gaming remains an alternative.