Chromebooks are a cheap, user-friendly brand of laptop from Google. They run Google’s own Chrome OS, a simple and sleek operating system that’s optimized for browsing the web. They're popular for education: A study found that in 2015, Chromebooks made up nearly half of all K-12 device sales. K-12 schools have deployed them en masse, but are they viable in college?

Pros:

The pros of a Chromebook are plentiful. In most use cases, a Chromebook can easily achieve most of what you need it to, and they're always improving. With a Chromebook, you get the latest that Google has to offer and support for a few years. You can find a list of Chromebook model support at Google's help page. Simply find your laptop maker, click the drop down, and find out when your Chromebook's support from Google ends (or has already ended). Now, on to the show!

  • Cheap (compared to most laptops)
  • Light
  • Battery life that can last up to two days
  • Google’s office productivity services (good for most uses and work offline)
  • Integration with Google’s services (Gmail, Google Photos, Google Drive)
  • Most models come with the standard laptop ports such as USB, HDMI and SD Card
  • Built-in media player for music and (most) videos
  • Good variety in size and build quality
  • Routine updates straight from Google
  • Good protection against viruses and malware
  • Installing Linux via Crouton is a breeze

Cons:

Despite the many positives, Chromebooks are not without their drawbacks. Weigh these carefully and see if Google's thin and light web devices will meet your needs.

  • Chrome OS is built around using web services ONLY, so you can’t install desktop applications (though progress is being made on Linux apps)
  • Google Docs can be slow with larger papers
  • Users who need powerful hardware won’t find it on a Chromebook
  • If Google makes any changes to Chrome that don't sit well with you, you're stuck with that browser as you can't install any others
  • Onboard storage is extremely limited and non-upgradeable (as are most parts of a Chromebook)
  • You are pushed toward using Google’s cloud services for everything
  • Most models lack Ethernet ports, so you’d have to buy a USB-to-ethernet adapter if the wireless is bad
  • Most devices need to be set up to be more privacy-respecting (follow the guide on our blog)

Conclusion:

Despite the drawbacks of Google’s take on laptops, for the vast majority of people, a Chromebook is going to get the job done (and then some). If you’re the type of person where a portable, cost-efficient laptop just doesn’t cut it, then that’s fair. But if you’re on a budget and have simple needs, get a Chromebook. Heck, get one for your parents and grandparents too, and you’ll never have to fix their junky old computer ever again.


JASON KELLER

is a recent graduate of UNC. He studied journalism and writing, with an emphasis in news and multimedia. He has a passion for marketing, technology and writing, and works in marketing research and writing. When he's not at work, he likes to listen to music, hike, read, study, ride his bike, write and spend time with friends.