If you read any of the pre-launch media reports about the Chromebook, you would know that it was touted as the faster, lighter solution to portable internet devices. What's more, it would boot up in seconds, give you web access wherever you go, and you wouldn't have to worry about getting viruses on it; something Windows users will likely suffer from at some point.
This ultimate buyer's guide to Chromebooks contains everything you need to know about how Chromebooks work, the specifications of various Chromebooks on the market, how they differ from Windows laptops and MacBooks, the pros and cons of buying a Chromebook, and detailed information about the Google Chrome OS. It is necessary to start this ultimate guide by first looking at how the Chromebook was developed so we can talk about how it was improved over time.
Chromebook History and Development
Samsung and Acer were the first laptop manufacturers to enter the Chromebook market in the middle of 2011. Other big brands like HP, Lenovo, and even Google didn't begin developing their own versions of the Chromebook until the start of 2013. Working alongside these experienced hardware partners, Google insisted on advanced computer components to produce fast boot times and work seamlessly with the web-oriented aspects of their Google Chrome operating system.
The first Chromebook on the market was the Samsung Series 5. It arrived on June 15, 2011, and quickly underwhelmed Google fans eager to try out the new Chrome OS. People were disappointed to discover that the 12.1 inch screen, 2 GB of RAM, a 16 GB solid state drive, and Intel Atom N570 dual core CPU clocked at 1.66 GHz in the Samsung Series 5 offered little advancements from standard netbooks on the market at that time. Meanwhile, two USB 2.0 ports, SD card readers, SIM card slot, and headphone jack concluded the list of connectivity options, with the absence of support for Ethernet, Bluetooth, and digital video output connections angering many users. All in all, the first ever Chromebook wasn't exactly what people expected after months of hype from Google's marketing team.
Since the launch of the Samsung Series 5, Chromebooks have been getting better year on year, with enhancements in battery life, processing power, and memory; all without compromising on weight.
Chromebook Designs and Features
Although actual Chromebooks were initially designed and shipped by laptop manufacturers rather than Google themselves, the world's biggest search engine did demand that all Chromebooks retain a certain level of useful features and advanced specifications at a highly affordable price/performance ratio.
High on the list of Chromebook essentials is battery life. All Chromebooks boast exceptional battery life compared to that of traditional notebooks and perhaps even tablets and iPads. The average battery runtime is around 9 hours, meaning some more advanced models can give you even longer than this.
Another way some Chromebooks separate themselves from other in the pack is with their generous screen size of 15 inches; a rarity in the Chromebook world. The bigger screen means you don't have to squint your eyes when watching movies but won't produce any major impact on battery life. If you're looking at something more portable, you can buy 10 inch models that give you everything the bigger machines do while being easy on the wallet and comfortable to carry. Additionally, new features like touch-enabled screen capabilities and screen sizes, including 10 inch, 11 inch, 13 inch, and 14 inch displays, mean there are many more choices for potential consumers.
Like MacBooks, Chromebooks typically rely on Intel's family of Core CPU's for their performance and reliability attributes; although some Nvidia driven machines do exist. Chromebooks are equipped with SSD technology as standard but usually max out their capacities at 16 or 32 GB, relying on the free, introductory 100 GB of Google Drive cloud storage to satisfy this lack of on-board storage. Any upgrades in this level of computing power would end up being overkill for what you'd ultimately use a Chromebook for.
When it comes to plugging in your USB devices, most Chromebook makers don't see fit to add more than two USB ports; a decision also taken by Apple for its MacBook and MacBook Air models. Design-wise, the Chromebook range offers something special. While most Chromebooks do retain the standard laptop shell, some can provide the unique ability to turn the hinge connecting the keyboard and screen a full 360 degrees, allowing it to stand in a variety of angles you can't get from an ultrabook or MacBook. Chromebooks are also increasingly pushing more and more into the 2-in-1 detachable touchscreen/keyboard market.
Always New: The Chromebook
Is the Chromebook Like an Ultrabook?
You'll see Google and other Chromebook manufacturers focus on things like speedy boot up, app launch times, and internet resources within their marketing material. But if you keep up with news on all things tech, you may have seen adverts for Ultrabooks harping on about those exact features.
It could be said that a Chromebook is like a scaled down version of an Ultrabook. Ultrabooks do produce incredible Windows boot up and application launch times. They also have amazing battery life. But boasting next-gen Intel processors, fast SSDs, and heaps of RAM as their driving force, Ultrabooks are superior computing machines and have equally mammoth price tags to match.
So without putting them in the same league as Ultrabooks, the reason you could be attracted to Chromebooks is their dedication to handling all the everyday computing tasks you need to complete right away. That means sending that e-mail, making it on time for that web chat, and playing games when you have a spare minute or two. All of this is managed by Google's intelligent Chrome OS.
Google Chrome OS
The way Google's Chrome OS behaves is like a cross between an Android tablet, OS X, and Windows 10; albeit a much more minimalistic one. Anything you want to do on the Chromebook is done through an app. And Google's own family of apps are at the forefront of what you want to do. Simply log in to your Google account on boot up and you'll be connected to your YouTube, Gmail, Google Drive, Google Music, Maps, Docs, and all other Google service accounts. This means your personal setup is ready for you instantly, without having to log into each individual service. Other useful attributes of Chrome OS include:
Voice Search – A handy feature that lets you interact and control various actions just by speaking to your Chromebook. For example, you can perform a search on Chrome, schedule reminders in your calendar, and get directions on Google Maps. Android smartphone users may be used to this feature already.
Updates & Anti-virus – The Chromebook will download and install all available updates automatically, saving you time searching for and installing updates manually. What's more, because Chrome OS comes equipped with anti-virus software already preinstalled, you won't be bogged down by malware or resource draining anti-virus software.
Chrome Web Store – The Chrome Web Store is where you'll search and download any apps and games that take your fancy. Despite having a ton of apps to make up for the lack of preinstalled software applications, not many of them live up to expectations. Chromebook users grumble that most apps simply link out to web pages or promise lots of functionality that never translates into anything useful. That being said, there are still a few gems to be found.
Device Sync – Because you have to sign in to access your Chromebook, any actions you perform are saved in real time on Google's servers, meaning that whenever you access your account on your Android phone, tablet or Chromebook again, you'll be starting from your most recently saved actions.
Chromecast – If you have an HDMI port on your TV, you can plug in the Chromecast device and stream web pages, audio, and your favourite Netflix and Stan TV shows from your computer right onto your TV screen without any cables in sight. All the latest Chromebooks have native support for Chromecast, making it easier than ever to watch what you want on TV and avoid the annoyance of installing supplementary software.
Cloud Storage on the Chromebook
Chromebook customers are welcomed into the Google tribe with 100 GB of cloud storage on their Google Drive service. They also announce enticing offers now and then that could add up to an extra 1 TB of free storage space depending on the country of purchase. You will need to use this storage if you want to both keep your Chromebook running at its best and not fill up all the space on the low capacity internal drive.
To claim your free 100 GB of cloud storage on Google Drive, follow these steps:
Scroll down to Google Drive and click the button that says “Redeem offer“.
Click “Allow“ on the pop-up window to allow Google Drive to check that you are eligible for this offer.
When the check is complete, you will receive a message telling you that you now have 100 GB of cloud storage added to you Google Drive account.
Chromebooks vs Windows Laptops vs MacBooks
Windows laptops and MacBooks are sold as full service personal computers. In other words, you use them for more than just surfing the net and checking your e-mails. Google decided early on that the Chromebook would target the online enthusiast specifically and let rivals Microsoft and Apple cater to multimedia office applications, graphical editing software, and intense gaming.
That's not to say that the Chromebook can't do those things. But with space for expandable storage and memory upgrades on Windows laptops and advanced computing power built into MacBooks as standard, you'll be better off with Windows or OS X if you need to perform such tasks. If you think you can get by with using app versions of similar software and going online is more important to you, then a Chromebook may be right up your alley. Here's a list of pros and cons of the Chromebook versus Windows laptops and MacBooks.
Live Sync – Taking full advantage of Google's network of services, you can sync your files to all your Android devices. That means you no longer have to worry about or waste time transferring and backing up files between your computers and external storage devices. Instead, all your files will be protected and available on demand from Google's cloud servers from any device with an internet connection.
Anti-virus – While many people say the OS X doesn't attract anywhere near the number of virus attacks as Windows, you still need to install some form of anti-virus software to prevent attacks. If you opt for a Chromebook, on the other hand, you get virus protection already built in.
Instant On – Chromebooks are designed to get you working moments from the time you hit the power button to the time you open up your first app. Windows and Mac OS can't compete with these speeds, with the exception of an Ultrabook, perhaps.
Professional Software Suites – Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite are the de facto industry standards for professional document and image editing among amateur to expert users. To manage the demands of such software, a computer needs a powerful processor, an advanced GPU, and heaps of memory; things the Chromebook can't give you.
Offline Use – While Google make a big fuss about instant access to your files across all of your devices, what happens when you can't access the internet? Chrome OS does have an offline mode but it can't hold all of your files in local storage due to the limitations of its smaller capacity drive.
Compatibility – Since Google want you to use their services, and only their services, Chromebooks aren't compatible with several popular applications such as Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and Skype and have limited support for some media formats like PDF and FLV. Experienced operating system developers Microsoft and Apple are less likely to let users down in these areas.
Chromebooks vs iPads and Tablets
Both Chromebooks and Tablets are designed for consuming media. They also have similar price points, small dimensions and weight for extreme portability, and ability to return to working mode instantly with the press of a button. The distinction between the two is that one comes with a keyboard and track pad to perform tasks while the other has no keyboard attached but does let you control everything with a tap of your finger.
Pitting a Chromebook with touchscreen technology against a tablet is a whole different story, however. The Asus Chromebook Flip, HP Chromebook 14, and Chromebook Pixel 2015 all offer touchscreen displays, with the Google Chromebook Pixel 2015 sporting the best resolution of the bunch, which, at a respectable 2560 x 1700, is close to the 2048 x 1536 pixel Retina display of the iPad. Here's a list of pros and cons of the Chromebook versus iPads and tablets:
Keyboard – iPads and tablets are generally used for going online, watching videos, and playing games. When you want to take down notes or have a text chat with friends or colleagues, though, the touch type can quickly become tiresome. An integrated keyboard feels way more comfortable, lets you type faster, and you can use shortcut keys much easier.
Battery – iPad and tablet users have to live with the fact that their device needs to be charged on an almost daily basis. They also take a few hours to fully recharge each time compared to the average two hour timeframe needed to charge a Chromebook.
Display – One of the features tablet users care about most is the quality of the display. If you're going to be using it for media consumption then you don't want something optimised for your eyes as well as something that renders all details within games and videos. This is one area the Chromebook lets itself down.
Apps – The Chrome Web Store falls well short on the sheer number and quality of apps that are available on the App Store, Google Play, and the Windows Store.
Accessories for the Chromebook
Google takes a simplistic approach to the Chromebook to make it cheaper for users who spend most of their time on the internet to buy a portable computer. This means compromising on some components and peripherals that laptop and desktop users take for granted. If you want to find out what can and can't be used with a Chromebook, here are a few accessories to make your computing time easier and more efficient.
It's important to remember that Chromebooks usually lack in connectivity options but they will work with any USB mouse. By plugging in a mouse, though, you take up one of only two available USB ports on the computer. And if you're thinking that you can connect via Bluetooth to keep your USB options open, think again because not all Chromebooks have Bluetooth as standard.
In the VGA port, you can plug a quality VGA webcam such as the Logitech C920 to enjoy Google Hangout chats with friends and shoot full HD 1080p video for uploading to YouTube. Plus, a dedicated headset can bypass the limitations of using the built-in microphone and speakers when chatting online or even when dictating text on a speech to text app.
An external hard drive is an essential accessory if you want to keep a physical backup of your important documents and media files. And if you want to run the media files from the drive, an external SSD offer faster file access speeds as well as superior protection from bumps and jolts than traditional hard drives.
Tips on Buying a Chromebook
Major technology retailers like PC World, Currys, and Amazon all sell an extensive range of Chromebooks. Not only do they advertise a good mix of display sizes to suit your budget, they also offer Chromebooks in a variety of styles and colours to suit your style. And if you're savvy enough, you may be able to grab one with cool accessories like a Chromebook bag to carry your new device around and keep it from getting scratched or damaged. Chromebook manufacturers including Dell and HP do sell their Chromebook versions direct to your door from their official websites.
One of the best times to buy a Chromebook is when Google advertises a new promotion. These can happen at any time of the year so you need to keep an eye out for them. But you can end up with offers like terabytes of free Google Drive storage, free music downloads, and other goodies. Outside of these promotions, other promotion periods like Christmas and Black Friday/Cyber Monday will usually produce some healthy discounts on Chromebooks and accessories.
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