Can You Use a Chromebook as Your Main Computer?

Yes, you can. But while they're great for some reasons, they're awful for others

Chromebooks are inexpensive, ultraportable laptops that run Google's Chrome OS. Chromebooks are great for travelers, students, and anyone who needs a laptop for accessing the web and using browser-based programs like Google Docs. However, they have some major limitations compared to budget laptops.

Information in this article applies to laptops that run the Chrome OS operating system.

HP Chromebook

Chromebooks and Laptops

Just about every major laptop manufacturer has released its own version of the Chromebook. Their low price tag and the growing number of features they support make Chromebooks an attractive option, but they do not support many of the programs available for Windows and macOS. If you use special software for school or work, it probably won't be compatible with a Chromebook. If you primarily work with web-based tools, then a Chromebook could be adequate.

Benefits of Chromebooks

There are a few advantages to using a Chromebook over most laptop computers:

  • Portability: Most Chromebooks, such as the HP Chromebook 11 and the Acer C720, have 11.6-inch displays. Larger screens measure 15 inches diagonally, which is still small by laptop standards. Chromebooks also have thinner profiles, which makes them lighter and more compact.
  • Long battery life: Chromebook batteries last a minimum of eight hours, which is longer than most laptops. A Chromebook can be used intermittently without a charge for a week if you leave it in sleep mode while not in use. 
  • Instant startup: Chromebooks start up in seconds and shut down just as fast. This time-saving feature comes in handy when you're running from meeting to meeting, or if you need to make last-minute edits to a presentation.
  • Access to Android apps: Chromebooks made in 2017 or later support Android apps available in the Google Play Store. This feature allows Chromebook owners to use limited versions of programs.

Limitations of Chromebooks

Most professionals probably can't replace their main computer with a Chromebook for a few reasons:

  • Limited software support: The biggest downside by far is the type of programs that Chrome OS supports. Chromebooks aren't powerful enough to run graphics editing programs or other complex software you might need in an office.
  • Duller displays: High-end Chromebooks like the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (13.3-inch, 1920x1080 display) and the Chromebook Pixel (13-inch, 2560x1700 display) boast impressive screens. The ASUS Chromebook and others like it claim to have an HD display, but the resolution is only 1366 by 768 pixels. The difference is notable and disappointing if you're used to full HD.
  • Keyboard Issues: Most Chromebooks use special keyboard layouts with a dedicated search key instead of a caps lock key. They also feature a row of shortcut keys for navigating your browser. You may miss your old Windows shortcuts, but there are also keyboard shortcuts for Chrome OS.
  • Limited peripheral support: Chromebooks support accessories like SD cards and USB drives. You cannot watch movies from an external DVD drive, so you must rely on services like Netflix or Google Play for streaming media. 

Final Verdict

How much work can you do in just the Chrome browser? That's a pretty good gauge for whether a Chromebook could be your main laptop. If your work requires software for which there is no online equivalent, a Chromebook might still make a good backup or travel laptop.

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