With every passing iteration of technology more and more of the things we use most move to the cloud. Google knows this, which is why it created products such as G Suite, which allow users to create, edit, and store documents online.
Chrome, Google's market-dominating web browser, has turned into an operating system that's unique to Google-powered laptops called Chromebooks. These budget devices run Chrome OS and are cloud-powered bargains that can help everyone get work done for a fraction of the cost of a MacBook or Windows laptop.
Chromebooks are very different from when they first appeared in 2011. If your business needs easily deployable, flexible, and secure laptops to issue to employees, Chromebooks are worth a second look, especially if you haven't used one in a while.
TechRepublic's cheat sheet about Chromebooks is a quick introduction to these laptops, as well as a "living" guide that will be updated periodically as new models and features are released.
SEE: Hardware purchasing task list (Tech Pro Research)
- What are Chromebooks? Chromebooks are laptops powered by Google's Chrome OS, an operating system based on the Chrome browser. Chromebooks are very affordable and are built around G Suite, Google's online cloud services. Chromebooks are also able to run Android apps, making cross-platform work easier.
- Why do Chromebooks matter? Cheap laptops running Chrome OS can be easily deployed to students or employees, making the machines very valuable to enterprises. Since most Chromebook work is done in the cloud, the devices are a much lower security risk than typical laptops.
- What enterprise features do Chromebooks offer, and how do Chromebooks compare to the new iPad? Chromebooks might be a good option for anyone who relies on the cloud or web apps for most of their work, as well as Android users looking for a laptop that's an extension of their ecosystem. Plus, Chromebooks are safe by default, thanks to Chrome OS having built-in security functions. Chrome OS and Chromebook hardware designs make the devices an attractive alternative to an Apple iPad.
- What changes have made Chromebooks more practical? Chrome OS has undergone a number of changes since it first launched, such as easier access to offline storage, Android app compatibility, and a number of quality-of-life changes to make them feel more like full-fledged laptops.
- Where can I buy a Chromebook? Chromebooks can be purchased directly from Google and at stores like BestBuy; enterprise solutions are also available.
- Which Chromebooks are ideal for business users? There are a number of different Chromebook models with a range of prices to choose from, each suited to different roles. TechRepublic's sister site CNET lists the best Chromebooks for 2018.
What are Chromebooks?
Chromebooks are any laptop that, under license from Google, runs the Linux kernel-based Chrome OS. Chrome OS is incredibly lightweight, drawing almost all of its interface from the Chrome browser. It also supports Chrome apps, and as of late 2016 will be the only platform to get new Chrome apps.
Chromebooks are manufactured by a variety of vendors, including Google, HP, Acer, Samsung, Dell, and others. They range in price from the mid $100 range to over $1,200 for the Google Pixel. Educational pricing is available as well.
Android apps are now available for Chromebooks, but not all machines are capable of running them. If you're curious whether a Chromebook model can access Google Play and run Android apps, check Google's Chromebook store filtered for Google Play-accessible devices. The Chromium Projects website also has a full list of Chromebooks that can run Android apps.
- HP's first Chromebook detachable offers lightweight option for business travelers (TechRepublic)
- One of Acer's new Chromebooks has military-grade durability and optional 4G LTE (TechRepublic)
- 10 tips to help you become a Google Chromebook power user (TechRepublic)
- Chromebooks: Tips and tricks to make offline use practical (TechRepublic)
- 10 apps that make Chromebooks feel like a real desktop (TechRepublic)
- How to multitask with Google Keep in iOS, Android, and Chrome OS (TechRepublic)
Why do Chromebooks matter?
Chrome OS is incredibly lightweight, and so are the machines that run it. Those machines can be updated easily, wiped with minimal effort, and are inexpensive enough to be easily replaceable.
Many schools and businesses are using Chromebooks because the devices are low maintenance. Businesses that use G Suite can get even more use out of Chromebooks—integration is simple and users log in with the same Google account they use for work. Chromebooks also make doing work on an Android device and a laptop more practical since many of these devices now run Android apps capable of sharing data between both devices.
As Chrome OS continues to evolve and be more practical for everyday use, Chromebooks will matter more and more. Chromebooks have the potential to be cloud-based thin client laptops, potentially disrupting portable computing as we know it.
- 10 reasons why Chromebooks make good sense for business (TechRepublic)
- Leaving Windows: How the Pixelbook replaced my Surface Pro 4, no regrets (ZDNet)
- Android and Chromebooks: A one-two punch for business (TechRepublic)
- Chromebooks are the new "it just works" platform (ZDNet)
What enterprise features do Chromebooks offer, and how do Chromebooks compare to the new iPad?
Chromebooks overtook MacBooks in total sales in 2016, signaling a shift in computing priorities: The cloud is king, and the machine is just a terminal. If you use your work laptop primarily for word processing, responding to emails, working with spreadsheets, and performing other basic office tasks, there's no reason to spend $2,000 on a MacBook when you can accomplish the same tasks on a Chromebook that costs a fraction of the price.
Some of the features that business users interested in Chromebooks should know about include:
- Automatic updating that prevents users from forgetting to install security patches;
- User data is encrypted and can't be accessed from other accounts on the device;
- Processes running on Chromebooks are all sandboxed, so hacking one won't grant access to another; and
- Bootup is verified by read-only code that checks writable code for malicious changes.
Apple has positioned its newest iPad as a direct competitor to Chromebooks, which raises the question of which one to buy. In sheer pricing terms, Chromebooks win out: Cheap models run around $300, whereas the new 9.7" iPad that Apple is pushing as a Chromebook competitor starts at $329 without a keyboard.
If you're on the fence about a Chromebook or an iPad with a keyboard, remember to consider the ecosystem; if you already use Android and other Google products, you'll get more use out of a Chromebook, whereas if you are invested in Apple products like Macs and iOS devices, you should probably go with the iPad.
If you want a tablet option, detachable Chromebooks like the HP Chromebook x2 can function just like a keyboardless iPad, though at a slightly higher price point of $600 compared to the iPad's $329.
Chromebooks have one more leg up on traditional laptops and even iOS devices: Security. Chromebooks are very secure—check out The Chromium Project's rundown of Chrome OS security features.
- Chromebooks surpass Macs in U.S. sales for the first time (ZDNet)
- Why your next laptop should be a Chromebook (ZDNet)
- Turn an old PC or Mac into a 'Chromebook' (ZDNet)
- How Chromebooks became the go-to laptops for security experts (CNET)
- Windows PCs gain share in K-12 in the US, but Chromebooks still dominate (ZDNet)
- Chromebook + Android apps = Trouble for Windows PCs (ZDNet)
What changes have made Chromebooks more practical?
Chromebooks have been on the market since 2011, but it's just in the past few years that they've gained momentum. School districts and enterprises are adopting them rapidly, and new features make them even more enticing.
One of the largest changes to Chromebooks since the devices launched is the addition of the Google Play store, which gives Chromebooks access to Android apps and other media hosted on Google's mobile OS store.
Android apps on Chromebooks can be run offline, which greatly extends their usefulness. While some Chrome web apps can be used offline and documents can be duplicated to local storage, Chrome OS hasn't made that a very practical option, but Android apps do.
However, Chromebooks still aren't full-fledged computers, and replacing your main machine with one may not be the right choice if you would use it to do more than use web applications and mobile apps. Anyone who needs real processing power or wants a work computer that doubles as a gaming machine should look elsewhere. For the average workday, though, Chromebooks can be a great fit.
- Dell brings the Chromebooks to the enterprise (TechRepublic)
- How to run Windows apps on your Chromebook (ZDNet)
- Make your Chromebook experience even more efficient with these tips (TechRepublic)
- The 5 stages of Chromebook acceptance (CNET)
- The future of computing has a name: Chromebook (TechRepublic)
Where can I buy Chromebooks?
Chromebooks are meant for people who already use Google's suite of applications. While G Suite use isn't a prerequisite for owning a Chromebook, it makes getting up and running much easier.
Chromebooks can be purchased at retailers such as Best Buy, or online directly from Google. Don't dive into a Chromebook before doing your research, though: The market is huge and features vary greatly. Google has a guide for finding the right Chromebook, and it's worth looking at it to find the one that will work best for you.
- Get the most out of your Chromebook battery (TechRepublic)
- Chromebooks in school: How to pick the best laptop for any student (ZDNet)
- Private school's Chromebook program explains why Google's laptops have captured nearly 20% of the educational market (TechRepublic)
- Chromebook Laptops Reviews (CNET)
Which Chromebooks are ideal for business users?
With Chromebooks ranging from around $300 to nearly a grand, it can be tough to figure out which one might be best for you or your company.
TechRepublic's sister site CNET has published a thorough list of the Best Chromebooks for 2018, and it covers nearly all possible users and applications. From the CNET reviews, here are three Chromebook standouts for business users.
Acer Chromebook R13: "A 2-in-1 with killer battery life." The Acer R13, CNET said, gets eight to 10 hours of battery life. It's a bit heavy, though, which is an obvious trade-off for an all-day battery. It runs around $400 to start.
Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook: "Lenovo's dead-serious ThinkPad goes Chromebook casual." If you want a Chromebook that looks like a traditional laptop, you can't get much more classic than a ThinkPad. The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is reported to have an all-day battery life and a really responsive keyboard. CNET said it's great for those that do a lot of writing, and costs $494.
Samsung Chromebook Pro: "The Chromebook for the Chromebook skeptic." At $529 the Samsung Chromebook Pro is inching into "too expensive" territory, but CNET's Dan Ackerman has a lot of good things to say about it. He said the Chromebook Pro is packed with a lot of features for its price, including a touch screen and stylus. If you want a Chromebook that won't feel like one, this may be the way to go.
- Chromebooks and Office 365 together will challenge Windows laptops (ZDNet)
- 10 tips to help you become a Google Chromebook power user (TechRepublic)
- Chromebooks still beat the iPad in one critical way (ZDNet)
- A mysterious Chrome OS commit could hint at a Chromebook that dual boots Windows (TechRepublic)
- Best 2-in-1 laptops, convertibles, and hybrid laptops for business 2018 (ZDNet)
Brandon Vigliarolo has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.