Chromebooks vs. Tablets on a Budget

A comparison of two low-cost laptop alternatives

If you can't afford a new laptop, a Chromebook or a smart tablet might be a suitable alternative. Chromebooks are suited to productive tasks, such as writing and editing, whereas tablets are mainly for mobile gaming and media consumption. We compared the pros and cons of tablets and Chromebooks to help you decide which meets your needs.

Information in this article applies broadly to a range of devices. Compare specific models for a better idea of the differences among devices.

Chromebook vs. Tablet

Overall Findings

  • Higher-quality display.

  • Longer battery life.

  • Better for browsing and playing media.

  • Apps run faster.

  • Smaller and lighter.

  • Better for typing.

  • More storage options.

  • Some models can run Chromebook and Android apps.

Chromebooks have the familiar clamshell design of a laptop but come with a lower price tag because they're designed for word processing and accessing the web. They're similar to netbooks, but they run the Google Chrome OS instead of a scaled-back version of Windows. They can't run most Windows and Mac programs, but you can install and run Linux on a Chromebook.

Tablets made by Apple run on iOS. Other tablets run on some version of Android, which is another Google property. Amazon Fire tablets use a modified version of Android called Fire OS. Tablets are ideal for reading, playing games, taking pictures, and watching videos on the go.

Size and Weight: Tablets Are More Portable

  • Fits in a purse, handbag, or large pocket.

  • Screen protectors are available to prevent cracks and scratches.

  • More durable design with a protected screen.

  • Requires a case or backpack to carry around.

Chromebooks are essentially laptops but with the same size and shape as a classic portable computer. This puts them at around 2.5 to 3 pounds with dimensions of 11 to 12 inches wide, 7.5 to 8 inches deep, and about .75 inches thick.

Even the iPad Pro 12.9-inch is thinner and lighter than the average Chromebook. In addition, some 7-inch tablets (measured diagonally) are half as thick and cost half as much as a Chromebook. Tablets are easier to carry, but they are also easier to break or lose.

Displays: Most Tablet Screens Look Better

  • Quality varies based on the price and model.

  • A wider color gamut.

  • A larger display.

  • Lower resolution.

Although they are larger than tablets, Chromebook displays are often inferior. Chromebooks typically feature 11-inch or larger displays with a standard 1366 x 768p resolution. The Google Pixelbook is an exception, but it costs about four times the price of a Chromebook.

Tablet resolutions depend on the price and size of the tablet. Most smaller tablets feature displays that are less than 1080p. Most premium tablets offer higher resolution displays. Tablets tend to use better IPS panels that offer superior viewing angles and color than Chromebook screens.

Battery Life: Tablets Have More Longevity

  • Requires a micro-USB or Thunderbolt charger.

  • Power-saving features extend battery life.

  • Requires a model-specific power cable.

  • Limited power conservation options.

Both Chromebooks and tablets are designed to be efficient. Both offer enough performance to deal with basic computing tasks on small batteries.

Even though Chromebooks are larger than tablets, the best Chromebooks tend to top out at about eight hours in video playback testing. Most models offer fewer because they have smaller batteries to keep costs down. Likewise, most small tablets can run for eight hours in the same video playback test. Tablets such as the Lenovo Yoga 10 can last up to 12 hours.

Input: Touchscreens vs. Keyboards

  • Entering passwords and filling out forms can be tedious.

  • Mouse and keyboard peripherals are available for extra costs.

  • Made for word processing.

  • More compact and fewer keys than traditional Macs and Windows computers.

Some Chromebooks feature touchscreens; however, most offer built-in keyboards and trackpads, like that of a traditional laptop. Tablets are designed with only a touchscreen in mind. This makes tablets easy to use for browsing the web and playing touch-based games.

The biggest downside to a tablet is that typing is problematic; the virtual keyboard is slow and takes up most of the screen. Every tablet has Bluetooth, which allows you to attach a wireless keyboard. However, this adds to the overall cost, and the smaller screens aren't designed for word processing.

Storage Capacity: Chromebooks Offer More Flexibility

  • Few options for external storage.

  • Built-in cloud storage support depends on the model.

  • Limited internal storage capacity compared to laptops.

  • Sync with your Google account to save files online.

Chromebooks and tablets generally rely on small solid-state drives that offer fast performance but limited space for data—typically, around 16 GB for Chromebooks, but up to 64 GB or so. Tablets range from 8 GB to 16 GB for the budget models; the newest models, however, offer storage in terms of terabytes, with price tags to go with them.

Chromebooks automatically store your files to Google Drive, a cloud storage system. This way, you can access your files from anywhere. Most tablets offer cloud-based storage options, but this depends on the brand, operating system, and your service subscriptions.

Chromebooks make it convenient to expand local storage with USB ports to which external drives can connect. Some models also feature SD card slots for flash memory cards. Many of the biggest tablets on the market lack these features, although some models do come with microSD slots.

Performance: It Depends on the Model

  • Runs fast, even with multiple apps open simultaneously.

  • Frequent operating system upgrades can cause compatibility issues with apps.

  • Faster than some laptops.

  • Slower than some tablets.

  • Receives reliable automatic updates from Google.

The hardware in Chromebooks and tablets can vary dramatically. For example, the Samsung Series 3 was the first Chromebook to use the ARM-based processor found in many tablets. Conversely, some tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, use an Intel Atom processor previously used in low-powered laptops.

On average, the two platforms are roughly equal in terms of raw number-crunching ability. It comes down to comparing specific models. Both platforms provide sufficient performance for basic computing tasks, but neither can compete with traditional laptops.

Software: Tablets Win Hands Down

  • Thousands of new apps are introduced every day.

  • Some apps aren't available for all mobile operating systems.

  • No support for desktop programs or PC games.

  • Only some models can run Android apps.

Google makes both Chrome OS and Android. However, the two operating systems were created for different purposes. Chrome OS is built around the Chrome browser and Drive applications such as Docs and Sheets. Android, on the other hand, is a mobile operating system that has applications built specifically for tablets. Although Chromebooks can run some Android apps, these programs tend to lag when running on Chrome OS.

Apple tablets run only apps made for iOS. Amazon Fire tablets are restricted to apps from the Amazon store by default, but you can root a Kindle Fire and install apps from the Google Play Store. Even with the limitations of Android and iOS, tablets support a greater variety of programs than Chromebooks.

Cost: Tablets Vary Widely

  • Depends largely on the size and screen quality.

  • Hundreds of options are available at various price points.

  • Depends mostly on the internal hardware specs.

  • High-end Google Pixelbooks are pricier than budget laptops.

Pricing among Chromebooks and tablets is competitive. At the entry level, tablets tend to be more affordable. Many Android tablets are available for less than $100, while most Chromebooks run closer to $200. Still, high-end iPads can easily cost twice that much. The difference between an expensive tablet and a cheap one usually reflects the quality of the screen, whereas most Chromebooks are more or less the same.

Final Verdict

If you want a cheap school laptop for writing papers and conducting research, a Chromebook could fit your needs. If you want a device for watching movies, playing games, and listening to music, then a tablet is the better investment. If you want to play multiplayer online games, save your money for a gaming PC.

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