More Than Good Enough: 3 Ways Chromebooks Beat Windows Laptops

Why my Chromebook continues to be a useful tool despite being surrounded by "far more capable" machines.

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Acer

No matter how good Chromebooks get, they’ll never get respect in some tech circles.

That much became clear this week when several tech writers, including Paul Thurrott and ZDNet’s Larry Seltzer, came out bashing Google’s browser-based operating system. They cannot understand why anyone would want one of these lightweight laptops, even as PC makers continue to release more of them.

One particular line of thinking from Thurrott is typical among Chromebook detractors:

To be perfectly clear, there is absolutely nothing that one can do with Chrome OS, the “operating system” that powers Chromebooks, that one couldn’t do—and in many ways do more efficiently—using a normal Windows laptop or Ultrabook. All you need to do is install the free Chrome web browser. (And since Windows PCs are otherwise far more capable than Chromebooks, the resulting machine would be far more useful and valuable.)

I’ve already seen some good responses from GigaOM’s Kevin Tofel and ZDNet’s James Kendrick, who both dispute the notion that more features always make for a better experience.

But I wanted to chime in with some specific examples of where Chromebooks actually excel over Windows laptops. These aren’t simply cases where a Chromebook is a “good enough” computer for cheap. These are areas where installing Chrome on a comprably priced Windows laptop results in a worse experience than a Chromebook:

Solid State by Default

If you’ve got a few minutes, try and find a sub-$300 Windows laptop with solid state storage on Best Buy or Amazon.

Actually, don’t bother, because you won’t find anything. Windows is a large operating system, gobbling up 16 GB of space, and that’s before PC vendors start piling on the bloatware. While ChromeOS can fit on a 16 GB solid state drive with plenty of room to spare for files and apps — yes, Chrome has apps now — Windows PC makers must choose between more expensive SSDs or cheaper hard disc drives. They almost always pick the latter.

Maybe a roomy hard drive is what you want. That’s cool. But if you prefer the speed and durability of solid state — and your bigger files are stashed on an external drive, another computer or a cloud storage service — it’s much easier to get solid state on a Chromebook than on a low-cost Windows laptop.

Faster Access to Web Apps

Much like the Windows desktop, Chromebooks have a taskbar where you can pin your favorite apps and switch between browser windows. But on a Chromebook, the taskbar is designed around web apps, and it works much better for this purpose than Chrome for Windows.

chromebooktaskbar

Google

Here’s an example: If you have Gmail pinned to your Chromebook’s taskbar, and it’s already open in a browser tab somewhere, clicking on the taskbar icon takes you straight to that open tab. It’s an elegant way to jump back to that app, even when it’s buried in another window.

The way Windows handles pinned Chrome apps is much, much worse. You can pin the Gmail app to the Windows taskbar, but clicking on it always opens Gmail in a new tab, rather than jumping to an existing Gmail tab. And on my Surface Pro 2, it also creates a separate blank tab in a new window, which I have to then close. The pinned app system in Windows is basically unusable. That means I can’t get to my favorite web apps in Windows as efficiently as I can on a Chromebook.

Purpose-Built Keyboards

I’ve mentioned this point in a previous Chromebook story, but Windows keyboards carry a lot of baggage. Most people don’t need Function keys and Caps Lock, but they remain a standard feature on Windows keyboards.

Chromebook Keys

Chromebook keyboards are designed for web browsing. There’s a search key in place of caps lock, and buttons for forward, back, reload and full screen where the Function keys would typically reside. No more baggage.

This may be hard to understand for power users like Thurrott, who have mastered every Windows keyboard shortcut, but for a novice user it’s harder to remember Windows Key + Q for search than it is to look at a keyboard and see the big fat search button. At least Microsoft’s Surface Type Cover and Touch Cover have some smarter shortcuts built-in, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

I could dive into other examples of where Chromebooks excel, like the lack of bloatware, or the fact that you don’t need routine anti-malware updates (or any anti-virus software at all). But those would fall into the “less is more” category that folks like Kendrick and Tofel have covered already. Instead I wanted to focus on a few features that make Chromebooks faster and more efficient than a Windows machine, not just less of a hassle.

That’s not to say everyone should use a Chromebook, or that all your computing needs can be served by one. I recently bought a Surface Pro 2 specifically for those scenarios where I need more than just a browser-based operating system. But for all the reasons listed above, my Chromebook continues to be a useful tool despite being surrounded by “far more capable” machines.

22 comments
AndrewDaws
AndrewDaws

One word: Skype. The main use I can see for Chromebooks if for computer lightweights who want a really simple way to keep in touch with friends, check email, surf for flights and weather, and print the odd letter. But Microsoft won't let them have Skype, so it's a non-starter for many people.

nenadpavel
nenadpavel

The whole discussion went in wrong direction because Chromebook is more competing with tablets. it is a slightly more productive than tablet and that’s about it. I really don't get why people are reacting so much on weather it can be used instead of full Windows machine. It can't and it shouldn't. It is a lightweight option just as a tablet. For some people it's 30% of usage scenarios, for some it's 90%. Its so cheap that it totally makes sense to have it just so you don't get in the situation that just before your presentation windows drivers go south. You gonna get a windows laptop at work anyway...

theclivesinclair
theclivesinclair

Photoshop, Lightroom and many other media programs won't run on a Chromebook. I do own one, but to say they can be a replacement for a dedicated PC/Mac with a SSD/HDD is nonsense.


Sure most computers will nag if you lose you connection to the outside world, but if configured correctly, you can still use them. Chromebooks (even in offline mode) are much more restrictive to what you can do.


And yes, people do lose connection, or don't even have access if mobile.

teral
teral

The idea of net terminals is as old as modern computing, is until recent time that the concept looks more viable for mass adoption, however my biggest objection with chromebooks is not the concept itself (although clamshell laptops are so yesterday) but the fact that you need to open an account with the private NSA a.k.a. google to operate one.


BobFromDistrict9
BobFromDistrict9

As much as I blame Microsoft for much of what is wrong with computers today, I also see cloud computing as a return to the bad old days of mainframes and dumb terminals. 


Cloud apps have to be among the worst ideas of all time. What do you do when you don't have web access, which really does happen in the real world? The internet, for all the hype, really is slow compared to even a local network attached storage device, and slow indeed compared to an onboard hard drive. 


SSDs really are that fast, but that only gets you booted up. Everything else is faster off line. That plus, the most important point in my opinion, you are a captive audience when you use storage and software from one source. If Microsoft goes out of business, my Win XP will still be there. I was just playing with an old Win 98 based laptop last night. Will you be able to do that with Chrome is you can't connect with Google?

GeorgeSchwarz
GeorgeSchwarz

This is a stupid article. You choose a computer based on the use you plan for it. If you're going to do some Web-surfing and Web-based emailing, fine. But If I'm on the road on assignment and need to develop content, including video and photo what I have to edit and upload, I am going to choose a robust machine. Why do editors make reporters waste their time on this claptrap?

GarrettGregor-Splaver
GarrettGregor-Splaver

Although I do like chromebooks, calling their storage "SSD's" is down-right false.  Any modern SSD uses the SATA 6Gb/s standard-these 16 Gigabyte capacities are just NAND packages or embedded multi-media cards.  There's a huge difference-these have about 1/10th the bandwidth on average.  There's no comparison at all.  Other than that, the idea is a great one, but I'm still hard pressed to see why I need the one I bought.  I think we need to give the Chrome Web Store maybe another 6 months to a year before there's truly a replacement for almost everything you can get on the Windows Side.  Or at least alternatives to some of the things, because not everybody wants to use a crappy Office Application when somebody could port an open source suite.

MatthewFenner
MatthewFenner

Ok.. it sounds good and all, and I like the concept. However my family games. Both on and off line. Is the Chromebook ok with games. My son and wife both play MMO's and Minecraft. I myself play StarCraft. Would a Chromebook be good for browsing and these kind of games?  

SMP
SMP

"To be perfectly clear, there is absolutely nothing that one can do with Chrome OS, the “operating system” that powers Chromebooks, that one couldn’t do—and in many ways do more efficiently - using a normal Windows laptop or Ultrabook. All you need to do is install the free Chrome web browser. (And since Windows PCs are otherwise far more capable than Chromebooks, the resulting machine would be far more useful and valuable."

But it is a lot LESS efficient with Windows - the hot, heavy, noisy hardware, the bloated operating system and overpriced/slow hardware, the high overhead associated with using and maintaining Windows.

time2spare
time2spare

I used Macs while in college, and Windows at work since.  I bought a Chromebook about a year ago and love it.  It's very affordable, it's light weight, it turns on extremely fast (Windows is agonizing, especially if you just want to quickly check traffic before running out the door), and it doesn't freeze up on me.  It's better for just about everything I do at home than a Windows computer and it costs significantly less.  The one issue I had was with cover letters and a resume for my job search.  I can create and edit these documents in Google Docs and save them as Microsoft Word docs, but sometimes it changes the formula.  The solution is either to do this on another computer, or save them as PDFs.  After all, if you apply for a job, they just need to read the documents, not edit them, so a pdf works fine.

tonycl
tonycl

My own feeling about why Chromebooks are making such slow progress in invading the massive market duopoly of Macs and Windows machines is not a lot to do with their quality (which is very high) and capabilities (excellent for the great majority of laptop users) but the resistance there is bound to be amongst PC store owners and IT departments throughout Industry and Universities. For PC stores the Chromebook takes away their profits - no ongoing add-on products to market - and the profits on Chromebooks can't be enormous, their cost is so low. IT departments, with their concentration on hardware, installing upgrades and security layers would be (in the extreme case) redundant if Chromebooks were adopted. Perhaps a reason why employers haven't adopted them is that they take advice from their IT departments - or maybe its listening to the anti-Chromebook rhetoric of the majority of reviewers ( oh my, maybe they would lose their raison d'etre too if Chromebooks became the norm). Since I bought a Chromebook I've been totally converted to the rationale of cloud computing and use it everywhere I go, so perhaps I have the zealotry of the converted. However if that's the case its not out of my own self-interest.

cbordeman
cbordeman

Personally, I'd rather just have my trusty ultrabook with its SSD than both devices.  It's super light and costs less than either device, much less than both combined.  But then, I'm not a tech writer. :)  I've never seen the point of a Surface Pro since it's more expensive than many ultrabooks with a more difficult to use keyboard and form factor.  Likewise, tablets are great for personal use, but I can do anything on an ultrabook, including play games that are more interesting and involving than Angry Birds.

FedFanForever
FedFanForever

@AndrewDaws  One word - Hangouts. People are infinitely adaptable to new things. Learn to ditch Microsoft technologies forever, free yourself from the tyranny.

nenadpavel
nenadpavel

In fact I would like a stationary windows machine with a big screen so I could work comfortable and without hickups.

FrankBlank
FrankBlank

@teral Chromebooks, and cloud apps/storage, are made for a generation that believes there is no such thing as privacy. 

marshall.staxx
marshall.staxx

@tonycl

"...resistance there is bound to be amongst PC store owners and IT departments..."

I agree. I'd add to that the self-described "consultants," "analysts," and "I.T. professionals" such as Paul Thurrott and Larry Seltzer. If you look at their credentials, they are nebulous at best, and in Thurrott's case, all Microsoft Windows-related. Of course he will lean toward conventional PCs.

I'm formerly of Windows-centric I.T. myself. We were "engineers," "consultants," and "certified professionals,"  but those were vendor-bestowed titles. The "engineers" were factory-trained technicians, not actual engineers. The "consultants" were vendor trained salespeople. 

There isn't much these bloggers write that leads me to think they're more than hobbyists. 

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@tonycl Interesting point. A Chromebook definitely makes Geek Squad scare tactics obsolete. I do think there is some built-in resistance among PC owners as well. I've written about this before, but there is a certain leap of faith involved in ditching some of the desktop programs you might be used to for web-based alternatives, and dealing with Google Cloud Print instead of just plugging in your printer. But those concerns aren't as great for cheap, secondary machines.

cac1031
cac1031

@cbordeman  Which ultrabook is that? I'd really like to know.  One that has Windows installed but is faster and cheaper than a Chromebook?  I've always understood that when you go cheap on Windows devices you sacrifice a lot in performance (and gain in troubleshooting time) because the huge OS complicates everything.

jonpbarron
jonpbarron

@FedFanForever @BobFromDistrict9  Yeah, soon that argument will sound a bit like saying computers are pointless as when there's a power cut and there's no electricity, it's just a brick. Seriously fast, ubiquitous internet access is obviously the near future. 

tonycl
tonycl

@newmanjb @tonycl Hi, Do you mean this is an 'interesting point' as in 'damning with faint praise' ? 

Most commercial laser printers these days are cloud-enabled - no problem at all. As for moving from programs resident in the PC to web-based alternatives there is a chicken and egg situation - if the demand is there the programmes will be created. It is building the demand that's the problem and a good place to start is in schools where, from what I read, Chromebooks' abilities and low ongoing costs are becoming much appreciated by staff and students. 

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@tonycl @newmanjb No, I think it is a legitimately interesting point.

As for the other matter, while cloud printing is possible and a lot of the web-based programs are already in place, the issue I think is more mental--getting people to change their ways and try different things. The mentality that you need MS Office, rather than Google Docs, for instance, is a hard one to break.