The Curse of Chromebooks: Too Techy for Normals, Too Underpowered for Enthusiasts

It took me some time to try out my first Chromebook. The primary reason was I was so ingrained in the Windows operating system that I didn’t see the benefit of deviating. When I did finally dive in to see what Chromebooks were all about, I started with something simple. My first Chromebook was an 11 inch HP that I got from Best Buy for under $150. I quickly was drawn to the simplicity. Here was a sub-$200 device that did normal tasks better than many $500 devices. And that’s exactly what Chromebooks are best at.

Ultimately, I returned my HP Chromebook. It was plagued with a small, low resolution non-touch screen, which was a problem considering that Google had been teasing Android apps on Chromebooks for some time. Eventually, I picked up a similarly priced ThinkPad, with a higher resolution screen and a keyboard worthy of the ThinkPad name. I looked up guides online on how to install Linux, which allowed me to access applications otherwise inaccessible to the sandbox ecosystem of ChromeOS. While I was pleased with the performance of such a low cost device, it still was not a go-to device for me considering I have many other options.

The benefit of Chromebooks is a benefit that I can’t readily realize. Since I have many computers with more powerful processors, I never have problems with doing the simple things quickly: browsing the internet, sending emails, watching TV and movies, so on. While installing Linux onto a Chromebook is a good way to unlock the potential of an otherwise limited device, it is not the same experience of using a high end Windows or Mac computer. Personally, I frequently use Microsoft Office applications and several IDEs that are not available or difficult to use on ChromeOS or Linux.

So who is a Chromebook for?

Google has been making big waves in the educational space, targeting Chromebooks as low-cost options for school districts. But outside of this relatively large market, there aren’t a lot of people who would choose a Chromebook over a Mac or a PC.

Ironically, it’s exactly what the average person needs.

Two Christmases ago, I gave my mom a $300 Dell Laptop. She was ecstatic, since it was replacing the 6 or 7 year old laptop that I had left behind for her when leaving for college. When I came back home and checked to see how it was fairing for her, she had fallen back to using a combination of the Dell, my old Surface RT, her phone, and her Kindle Fire tablet from 2013. I tried my best not to cringe.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. The fact is, tablets and phones, even from a couple years ago, still work faster than many modern low cost laptops – especially if they use hard drives rather than SSDs.

Are Chromebooks for you? You just have to evaluate your computer usage. I think Chromebooks are a great option for anyone who spends most of their time on their computer in a browser. ChromeOS continues to grow in functionality, especially with the access to the Google Play Store.

Now that Christmastime is approaching again, I have been considering two options: give my mom a Chromebook, that will be simpler and faster than her Dell, or double down on the Dell, and install an SSD for a easy upgrade. Knowing myself, I will probably do both. I just hope that I don’t come back next summer to find my mom using her Kindle Fire or Surface RT again.


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