Chromebook vs. MacBook

Discover which laptop suits you better

About the only thing Chromebooks and MacBooks have in common is they're both laptops. After that it gets pretty divergent.

Chromebooks tend to be underpowered and limited to web-based app, but they are really quite affordable. MacBooks on the other hand are far more powerful and more capable but pretty expensive. It really comes down to your needs for the machine.

Chromebook vs MacBook

Overall Findings

Chromebook
  • Wide range of products.

  • Variety of manufacturers.

  • Cloud-based apps and storage.

  • Option to run Android apps.

  • Advanced option to run Linux.

  • Most apps are web-based.

  • Requires an internet connection for most functionality.

Macbook
  • Limited range of products.

  • Semi-yearly model updates.

  • Cloud storage through iCloud.

  • More powerful than most Chromebooks.

  • Runs all macOS apps.

  • Apps and storage are local, so internet is optional.

  • Tends to be more lightweight and stylish than Chromebooks.

It's a bit difficult to compare Chromebooks and MacBooks, because they come from such different directions and don't necessarily target the same audience. Chrome OS is an operating system any manufacturer can use, and dozens of manufacturers make their own Chromebooks to their own specifications. MacBooks, on the other hand, are only available from Apple.

Because Chromebooks can be made by nearly any manufacturer, the quality, configurations, and price of these machines can vary wildly. MacBooks can only come from Apple, so the quality is generally quite good, but the price is far higher. Also, the operation systems on Chromebooks and MacBooks come from Google and Apple (respectively) only.

The biggest differences are Chrome OS is web-based and far more basic than macOS, and Chromebooks are highly focused on web apps like Google Docs. In comparison, MacBooks are capable of running all macOS apps and don't require an internet connection to perform vital functions.

If you live only in a world of web browsers, email, and Google Docs, Chromebooks are likely what you are looking for. On the other hand, if you do the above and more, well, MacBooks are, of the two, is a better choice. You pay a literal price for that capability, however.

Performance and Productivity: MacBooks Beat Most Chromebooks

Chromebook
  • Runs on Linux-based Chrome OS.

  • Most Chromebook hardware is underpowered.

  • Some premium Chromebooks are significantly more powerful.

  • Focused on Google Docs.

  • Some Chromebooks can run Android apps in some capacity.

  • Power users can access a full Linux desktop environment.

  • Wide variety of screen sizes and resolutions, keyboard styles, and other design choices that impact creativity.

MacBook
  • Runs on Unix-based macOS.

  • Outperforms most Chromebooks.

  • Similar performance to high-end Chromebooks.

  • Runs all of your macOS productivity apps.

  • Works out of the box without any need for modifications or booting into another environment.

  • Advanced users can dual boot macOS and Windows for access to Windows-only programs.

  • Uniformly high quality screens, keyboards, and other elements that have an effect on productivity.

Performance is a category which will vary widely depending on what kind of Chromebook you're looking at, and there's also a pretty big gulf between something like a lower-end MacBook Air and a high-end MacBook Pro that's meant to function as a desktop replacement.

On balance, MacBooks tend to have more powerful hardware and corresponding better performance than Chromebooks, if only because low-end budget Chromebooks weigh down the average. You can find Chromebooks that come with impressive hardware under the hood, but they're quite expensive and not exactly the norm.

Chromebooks are great if you're deep in the Google ecosystem and don't really need anything but Google Docs and other web apps, but a MacBook is just the better choice if you need to do any heavy lifting. For example, if you want to do tasks like video and photo editing on your laptop, you're going to have a better experience on a MacBook.

It's worth noting that power users can get a lot more out of a Chromebook, with the option to install Android apps or switch to a full Linux desktop environment. The catch is that you're still limited to Linux apps, so that's only a good option if the apps you require are available for Linux.

Design and Portability: Low-End Chromebooks are Heavy and Chunky

Chromebook
  • Low end units tend to be heavy and bulky.

  • More expensive units can rival the MacBook Air for portability.

  • Cloud-based design can be an issue if the files you need haven't been backed up locally.

  • Some units come with built-in wireless internet, but most require you to look for a hotspot.

  • Battery life varies depending on manufacturer and model.

MacBook
  • MacBook Air is exceptionally light and thin.

  • Some options, like large-screened MacBook Pros, are less portable.

  • Work wherever you are without the need for an internet connection.

  • Great battery life.

  • Sleek attractive design aesthetics.

  • Innovative design touches like magnetic charging cables.

MacBooks run away with this category, with hardware that's both super portable and nice to look at. Some of the higher-end Chromebooks, like the Google Pixelbook and Samsung Galaxy Chromebook are beautifully designed and solid enough to stand up to daily use, but most Chromebooks fall on the utilitarian end of things. They tend to be thicker and heavier than comparable Apple products, with chunkier bezels and shorter battery lives.

Since Chromebooks are largely cloud-based, portability depends on your access to the internet. Your files being in the cloud is very convenient on the whole, but it's extremely inconvenient if you find yourself in a dead zone for internet access and don't have the necessary files synced to your hard drive. And since Chromebooks tend to have smaller hard drives, you're likely to have to pick and choose which files to sync.

MacBooks don't rely on internet access, which makes them more useful in more situations. However, lower-end models can have disappointingly small hard drives, so keep that in mind if you have a lot of big files you need to carry around.

Cost: No Budget Options From Apple

Chromebook
  • Wide variety of models for all budgets.

  • Low-end units offer an inexpensive alterntive to both MacBooks and Windows laptops.

  • High end Chromebooks can rival MacBooks in price.

MacBook
  • No options for people working with budgets, other than to buy an older model.

  • Tends to be more expensive than other laptops with similar hardware.

  • More expensive than all but the highest-end Chromebooks.

Apple doesn't really offer any low-cost MacBooks, so anyone looking for an entry-level or budget-priced option has no choice but to buy an older, used model. Chromebooks, on the other hand, have options for every budget. The cheapest Chromebooks tend to be a bit cheaper than even the most affordable Windows laptops when you look at devices with comparable hardware.

If you're looking for a budget-priced laptop, then your money will go a lot further with a Chromebook than a MacBook. While the most affordable MacBooks are a bit cheaper than the most expensive Chromebooks, Apple makes no attempt to compete cost-wise with budget and entry-level models.

If your budget is on the high end, then you have more of a choice. While some of the high-end Chromebooks, like the Google Pixelbook, have great hardware and beautiful design, most people will be more satisfied with a MacBook at that price point.

Final Verdict: Why Do You Need a Laptop?

Chromebooks and MacBooks don't really compete for the same market segment, so it's pretty easy to decide which one you need. If you're working on a tight budget, or your requirements are quite basic and undemanding, then an affordable Chromebook model is exactly what you're looking for. If you have a higher budget, and you're looking for a laptop that can get more intensive work done wherever you are, a MacBook is the better choice.

There are exceptions, and power users can get a whole lot of extra value out of Chromebooks by running Android and Linux apps, but Chromebooks are more aimed at people who are just looking to surf the web, send email, stream music, and work in Google Documents. MacBooks can do all that, but they also run all macOS apps right out of the box.