Chromebook vs. Other Laptops

What sets Chromebook apart?

A laptop is a portable computer with functionality and input devices similar to a desktop computer. By that definition, Chromebook is a laptop that runs the Chrome OS operating system. So, how does Chromebook stack up against a MacBook or a laptop with Windows? Here's our review of Chromebook versus laptops to help you decide which is the right device for you.

Chromebook vs MacBook

Overall Findings

Chromebook
  • Larger display but lightweight.

  • Chromebook models are between $200 and $350.

  • Great performance for a low-cost laptop.

  • Small display sizes are a hallmark of Chromebook.

  • Chrome OS depends on the web, so Chromebook doesn't offer much storage space.

  • Runs Android and Google Chrome apps.

  • Battery life is comparable to other laptops.

Other Laptops
  • MacBook Air is light; most Windows-based laptops are heavier.

  • MacBook models tend to be higher priced; there's variation in Windows-based laptop pricing.

  • If you're willing to spend the money, MacBook and Windows-based laptops outperform a Chromebook.

  • More display size options and better screen resolutions.

  • Offer a variety of hard disk sizes, and most start at 64 gigabytes (GB).

  • Windows and macOS run the most used software in the world, including Microsoft Office.

  • Generally longer battery life, but there's variation.

If you want power, speed, and access to enterprise apps, you can't beat a traditional MacBook or Windows-based laptop. But if you don't want to spend a lot of money and use a web browser, the Chromebook may be worth a look, especially if you already use Android apps on your smartphone.

Size and Weight: The Edge Goes to Chromebook

Chromebook
  • Generally, the lightest laptops on the market.

  • Models with larger displays have a comparable footprint to the MacBook and Windows counterparts.

  • Many small-footprint models are available.

Other Laptops
  • More expensive laptops can be light but have a larger footprint than Chromebook.

  • The weight difference between most Chromebook models and MacBook Air is negligible.

  • MacBook and Windows-based laptops come in many form factors, with price ranges to match.

Chromebook models typically resemble slim laptops like the MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13, often with a smaller display and thinner form factor. For example, the MacBook Air, which kickstarted the lightweight laptop market, weighs in at 2.8 pounds compared with the 2.6 pounds of the popular Samsung 4 11.6-inch Chromebook. There are some exceptions, like the Acer Chromebook 15, which sports a 15.6-inch screen and retains a small price tag.

This is a somewhat personal preference because Chromebook models with larger displays are similar in size to other laptops with the same display size. However, Chromebook comes in a variety of smaller sizes.

Cost: A Tie at Lower Price Points

Chromebook
  • At lower price points, it's a tie between Chromebook and other laptops.

  • The average entry-level Chromebook costs around $300.

  • The highest-end Chromebook, the Google Pixelbook, costs more than a MacBook Air.

Other Laptops
  • Apple computers tend to have higher price tags.

  • The least expensive MacBook—the 13-inch MacBook Air—costs less than the most expensive Chromebook—the Google Pixelbook with Intel Core i7 processor.

  • There's significant variation in cost among Windows-based laptops.

A big reason Chromebook has become popular has more to do with the weight it takes off your wallet than the weight it puts on your lap. Price is a consideration for schools and companies that buy computers in bulk, and it's a factor for anyone who's buying a new laptop.

The price of a low-end Chromebook is similar to that of a low-performance Windows-based laptop. Most Chromebook models run in the $150 to $350 range. However, expensive Chromebooks do exist. For example, Google Pixelbook is a high-powered Chromebook with a high-powered price tag ($1,649 for the top-of-the-line model).

Windows-based laptops have more variety in price. The cheapest compete with a Chromebook, while the most expensive make the Pixelbook look cheap. On Apple's side, the cheapest MacBook is less expensive than a fully decked-out Pixelbook.

Performance: Chromebook Wins Among Low-Cost Laptops

Chromebook
  • The internet does the heavy lifting, enabling Chromebook to compete with other laptops.

  • The Pixelbook can complete with most MacBook and Windows-based consumer laptops.

  • Because Chromebook is internet-focused, it doesn't require a large hard drive.

Other Laptops
  • Other laptops outperform Chromebook models based on processing power.

  • Windows doesn't scale down well.

  • MacBook performs better than Chromebook but carries a larger price tag.

If you can buy a Windows-based laptop for the price of a Chromebook, why buy a Chromebook? The magic of the Chromebook resides in the operating system that powers it. Windows is designed more for the enterprise than for low-end laptops, and it doesn't scale down well. Windows and desktop apps require more hard drive space, more RAM, and more processing time.

In contrast, Chrome OS is built around the Chrome web browser and brings us back to the days of terminals and mainframes. Those dumb terminals depended on the mainframe but had one advantage. Those dumb terminals didn't need to perform well because the mainframe did the heavy lifting.

This is the same model that makes the Chromebook so popular. The internet does the heavy lifting, which means that a $250 Chromebook can perform as well as a more expensive laptop.

Chromebook easily wins the performance medal when it comes to low-cost laptops. If you're willing to drop the cash, a laptop can run circles around a Chromebook.

Display: Other Laptops Offer More Display Sizes and Better Screen Resolutions

Chromebook
  • Smaller displays with lower screen resolutions can't complete with laptops.

  • Images and video on Chromebook models aren't as sharp as on true laptops.

  • Need a high-end Chromebook to get graphic and video quality that's comparable to a laptop.

Other Laptops
  • Range of display sizes and outstanding screen resolutions.

  • Robust graphics processing architecture means better gaming experiences.

  • MacBook and Windows-based laptops tend to have better graphics cards.

This is a category where you get what you pay for. Chromebook models are known for smaller displays—typically 10.5 to 12 inches (measured diagonally)—although there are Chromebooks with a 15-inch display. Laptops are typically in the 12- to 15-inch range, with some higher-end laptops sporting 17-inch displays.

Display size isn't the only factor. Screen resolution determines how crisp images and videos are. This is where many mid-range and high-performing laptops pull away from the pack. The 10.5- and 12-inch Chromebook models typically have lower screen resolutions than laptops. Those laptops that are the same price as a Chromebook laptop often have a display that is similar to a Chromebook.

You have to move to a higher-end Chromebook to approach what a laptop is capable of in terms of display size and resolution.

Storage Capacity: Other Laptops Win Hands Down

Chromebook
  • Chromebook is powered by the web, so it doesn't need as much storage space.

  • Get the most from a Chromebook by using online storage, such as Box or Microsoft OneDrive.

  • Higher-end Chromebook models can have hard drives comparable to MacBook or Windows-based laptops.

Other Laptops
  • Other laptops need larger hard disks because the operating system takes up more room.

  • MacBook and higher-end Windows-based laptops have solid-state drives standard or optional.

  • The enterprise-class software that Apple and Windows-based laptops runs, such as Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Office, require more storage space.

You won't get much in terms of hard disk space when you buy a Chromebook. The good news is that you don't need as much. Chromebook is powered by the web, and this includes using cloud-based storage and streaming websites like Pandora, Spotify, Hulu, and Netflix to reduce the need for extra gigabytes of storage for your laptop. The average Chromebook comes with a 32 GB hard disk, although higher-end models can have 64 GB or 128 GB disks.

The storage capacity of a Windows-based laptop tends to start at 64 GB and go up from there, but this may be misleading. Windows 10 requires about 20 GB of storage (64 bit) compared with the 4 GB to 5 GB that Chrome OS takes up. Similarly, software for Windows and macOS takes up more space than the average app for Chrome OS. Simply put, Windows and macOS need more storage than Chrome OS.

The advantage of the Chromebook is that it doesn't need as much storage. Still, with Chromebook supporting Android apps in the near future, you may want more storage.

Software: Other Laptops for the Win

Chromebook
  • Runs Chrome apps and Android apps.

  • Some Chromebook models can use web-based productivity tools, such as Microsoft 365, in addition to Google Docs.

Other Laptops
  • Wide selection of app options for Windows and macOS.

  • Fully installable versions of software such as Microsoft Office means you can work and play even when there's no internet connection.

  • Unleash your creativity with design apps such as Adobe Illustrator that require significant processing power.

The biggest and best feature of Windows and macOS is the software. Windows and macOS have more software support and more sophisticated software options. These laptops run full versions of Microsoft Office, games that rival consoles, and a host of other software, from a music studio to drafting architectural plans and designing 3D animations.

At the start, Chromebook relied on the apps built for the Chrome browser and web apps. But now, Chromebooks have access to Android apps from the Google Play Store.

Battery Life: Other Laptops by a Nose

Chromebook
  • The battery in Chromebook models doesn't always last as long as the batteries in the average laptop.

  • Because Chromebook relies on the internet rather than installed apps, the rate of battery depletion is more predictable.

  • Battery technology in Chromebook devices is improving.

Other Laptops
  • Battery life depends on settings, whether the apps are graphics-intensive, and so on.

  • The rate at which the battery is depleted depends on the app that's running on the device.

  • Laptops like MacBook Air that are built for mobility have a battery life that can't be matched.

The average laptop tends to have a longer battery life than a Chromebook. However, the newest Chromebook models are catching up. Laptops have about 10 to 12 hours of battery life, but the actual results may vary.

The battery in a laptop isn't used at a specific rate. How quickly a laptop burns through its battery depends on how much power the laptop uses, which in turn depends on how hard the CPU and graphics card work. A laptop may have about 12 hours of battery life, but you won't get 12 hours if you play Call of Duty at the highest settings.

Chromebook is designed to shift the heavy lifting to the web, which makes its eight to 10 hours of battery life a bit more predictable. High-performing software uses up a laptop's battery, but under the same conditions, laptop batteries tend to last longer.

Final Verdict: It Depends on Why You Want a Laptop

Chromebook is perfect if you primarily surf the web, browse Facebook, catch up on email, stream music (even from an iTunes library) and movies, create documents in Google Docs, and balance your checkbook in Microsoft Excel for Microsoft 365.

Windows-based laptops and MacBook models are for people who need to leave the browser for installed apps and are willing to pay the price to do so. Cheaper laptops in the Chromebook range tend to be too slow to be worth it, and a decent laptop easily doubles or triples the price of a Chromebook. If you need specific software or higher-end performance, traditional laptops are worth the extra price.

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