Chrome­books

Chrome­books are in­ex­pen­sive lap­tops with a dif­fer­ence: they run Google’s Chrome OS in­stead of Win­dows. Mar­tyn Casserly rounds up six of the best

Tech Advisor - - CONTENTS -

AChrome­book is a lap­top that runs Google’s Chrome op­er­at­ing sys­tem (ChromeOS) rather than Win­dows or OS X. It of­fers pretty much the same ex­pe­ri­ence as us­ing the pop­u­lar Chrome web browser, which you might well al­ready use on a Win­dows PC or lap­top, but with a few ex­tra fea­tures added to the mix. An in­ter­net con­nec­tion is cen­tral to how a Chrome­book func­tions. Nearly all its apps and ser­vices are on­line and don’t run lo­cally. There are a few ex­cep­tions to this, with

Google’s own Doc­u­ment and Spread­sheet apps ca­pa­ble of work­ing off­line and then seam­lessly sync­ing any work you’ve done to the cloud once you’re back on Wi- Fi. This sim­plic­ity al­lows Chrome­books to use less pow­er­ful hard­ware than many Win­dows lap­tops, with­out it af­fect­ing the over­all per­for­mance. You won’t fifind ca­pa­cious hard drives, high- end pro­ces­sors or large 15.6in screens. In­stead, Google of­fers 100GB of on­line stor­age with ev­ery ma­chine, mo­bile pro­ces­sors are the or­der of the day ( negat­ing the need for noisy fans), and the usual screen size is around the 11.6in mark. One of the most no­table ben­e­fits of such mod­est ac­cou­trements is that prices for Chrome­books tend to be be­low £300, with many sell­ing for nearer £ 200. There are many sim­i­lar­i­ties across the avail­able mod­els, with a gen­er­ally stan­dard key­board lay­out and screen res­o­lu­tion, and fast bootup times, but those with spe­cific needs should still be able find a ma­chine to suit them.

What you can get

Com­pared to a cou­ple of years ago, there’s a much wider choice in 2016. The range of screen sizes spans 10- to 14in and not only are there cer­tain mod­els with touch­screens, but some have hinges that al­low the screen to fold right back flat against the un­der­side so you can use it like a tablet.

There’s even a rugged op­tion: Dell’s lat­est Chrome­book is de­signed for use in schools, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t also be great for home use, es­pe­cially if you’re buy­ing one for chil­dren to share.

An­other re­cent de­vel­op­ment is the Chrome­book-on-a-stick. Asus’ Chromebit, for ex­am­ple, take the cru­cial hard­ware, shrinks it down to don­gle size and lets you turn any HDMI-equipped dis­play or even TV into a Chrome­book – you just need to pro­vide a Blue­tooth key­board and mouse to con­trol it.

For most peo­ple who just want a lap­top­style com­puter for brows­ing the in­ter­net, cre­at­ing doc­u­ments and spread­sheets, stream­ing videos or giv­ing to the kids as an in­ex­pen­sive, virus-free home­work de­vice, a Chrome­book is an ex­cel­lent choice.

There are, of course, still very good rea­sons to buy a Win­dows ma­chine – they of­fer a far big­ger choice of soft­ware they can run and don’t rely so heav­ily on the in­ter­net, for starters – but Win­dows lap­tops at the low-end of the mar­ket, es­pe­cially in the price range that Chrome­books oc­cupy, tend to be un­der­pow­ered or cum­ber­some.

Re­ally, though, Chrome­books are in­tended as a sec­ond de­vice: you’ll still have a lap­top or PC in the house, but the Chrome­book is a por­ta­ble, light­weight al­ter­na­tive which is great for web brows­ing and email. You might think you’d pre­fer a tablet for th­ese and other tasks, but ChromeOS means you’re get­ting a very com­pat­i­ble web browser, so you shouldn’t hit the kinds of lim­i­ta­tions that you of­ten find with an iPad or An­droid tablet, and have to re­sort to us­ing a Win­dows lap­top. Gen­er­ally, that doesn’t hap­pen with a Chrome­book.

The Chrome­book lim­i­ta­tion

We’re not say­ing that Chrome­books are a per­fect so­lu­tion, as there are still lim­i­ta­tions. The most sig­nif­i­cant is that, un­like Win­dows ma­chines, Chrome­books can’t run most of the soft­ware you might be used to. So, no Pho­to­shop, no iTunes (and there­fore no iPhone com­pat­i­bil­ity) and next to no gam­ing.

Full ver­sions of Mi­crosoft Of­fice are also miss­ing, although you can use the web-based suite with re­duced func­tion­al­ity. Google’s own Docs suite is also a very good al­ter­na­tive if you don’t need Of­fice’s ad­vanced fea­tures, while its on­line col­lab­o­ra­tion is bet­ter than Mi­crosoft’s of­fer­ing.

The other main con­sid­er­a­tion is how far you’re will­ing to em­brace the cloud. Chrome­books gen­er­ally come with no more than 16GB of in­ter­nal stor­age, as the premise of Chrome OS is that you use the in­ter­net rather than your ma­chine to run pro­grams and store data. So if you live in an area with patchy broad­band, or don’t want to store your in­for­ma­tion on Google, Mi­crosoft or Drop­box servers, then a Win­dows ma­chine might be a bet­ter so­lu­tion.

Pe­riph­eral sup­port is also hit-and­miss, so if you need print­ers or other ex­ter­nal de­vices to get your work done, then it’s worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether your de­vices will work with a Chrome­book be­fore you buy one.

Photography by Do­minik To­maszewski

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