Of late, there has been considerable buzz about Google’s Chromebooks. The latest Chrome OS 56 version now rolling out for Chromebooks adds touch-ups for the Material Design interface, a new version of ChromeVox screen reader for those with visual impairments, and updates the Play Store to add support for Android apps to run on these computing devices. Productivity will improve rapidly as more Chromebooks get access to the wide library of Android apps.
Google’s Chrome OS is based on the Chrome browser but manages to bolt on a variety of apps. Its basic premise is the connectivity to Google cloud services. With Samsung and Asus talking of more powerful devices with touch screens this year, the platform seems set to enter the mainstream as a viable alternative to Windows laptops and MacBooks. Should you be considering investing in one, however? We attempt to answer some of the most common queries about Chromebooks.
What are Chromebooks?
To put it simply, Chromebooks are laptops that are designed to run on Chrome OS. They are usually lightweight (less than 1.5kg), and though they may not have the most cutting-edge hardware, they are affordable, fast and easy to use. They run the Google Chrome OS, an operating system based on the Google Chrome browser that many of us already use on our PCs. So when you start a Chromebook, you actually end up with what looks a lot like a Chrome browser interface, with tabs in which you can open websites and applications.
How is the Chrome OS different from the Windows and Mac OS?
Working on a Chromebook is, in many ways, like working inside a Chrome browser window, be it for documents, browsing the Web or using an app. If you have used Chrome on Mac OS or Windows, you will find yourself right at home.
What is so special about Chromebooks?
The Chrome OS does not need the kind of hardware that a computer running, say, a Windows or a Mac OS does. So there are no powerful processors or graphics cards; most Chromebooks do not even come with a lot of on-board storage (most stick to 16 GB or 32 GB). Even a Chromebook running on the relatively less powerful Intel Atom processor with 2 GB RAM can boot up and shut down in a few seconds. This also means that Chromebooks have excellent battery lives—you will be able to clock as many as a dozen hours on a single charge. Finally, the costs too are relatively lower.
Can a Chromebook do everything that a Windows laptop can?
The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. You can use Google Docs for tasks like word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. You can also use Chromebook apps (which are basically like browser extensions and add-ons), and play some casual games. But you cannot use applications like Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office that you can run on the Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X platform. And, of course, you cannot run high-end games on them.
Don’t Chromebooks run Android apps?
Yes, slowly and steadily, more and more Android apps are being made compatible with Chrome OS as well. So you will be able to run applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard and Instagram, and play games like Cut The Rope, Angry Birds and the Asphalt series on your Chromebook. Since these applications have been designed generally for phones rather than notebooks, developers will have to spend some time reconfiguring them for computing devices that may not have a touch screen.
Do you always need to be connected to the Internet?
This is a myth. Chromebooks have an offline mode that allows you to work on some applications and access some functions even when you do not have an Internet connection. But yes, some functions, like browsing the Web, obviously need an Internet connection, as with any laptop.
Are there any drawbacks?
Chances are, anyone shifting from a traditional Windows PC will have to deal with a learning curve. The biggest being the fact that most apps you may use on Windows, such as Photoshop or Word or PowerPoint, will not work on Chrome OS. So you’ll need to get used to alternative apps for almost everything. Second, given the low-resolution displays, limited storage and low-performance processors, they aren’t powerhouses.
Finally, should you consider purchasing a Chromebook?
If you need a machine for basic office tasks (like spreadsheets, word processing and notes) and are comfortable storing documents on the cloud, a Chromebook should be right up your digital alley.The fact that Chromebooks have excellent battery life and are very portable means they are useful for professionals and travellers who tend to be out and about a lot.
However, if you are into using heavy-duty apps and games, then perhaps you can give the Chromebook a miss for the moment. As of now, we would say they are tailor-made for students, writers and business users, but not for “power” users.
The best on offer
Acer Chromebook 11
The 11.6-inch screen size ensures the Chromebook 11 has a compact footprint. It is also just 0.7-inches thick, and weighs a mere 1kg. Buy this for the 100 GB Google Drive space that is bundled with it, and a battery life of around 8 hours.
Asus Chromebook Flip
The biggest advantage of the Chromebook Flip is that like most Windows hybrid computers, the display can be pushed all the way back. You will be able to use this as a tablet too. The 9-hour battery life comes as the proverbial cherry on the cake.
Acer Chromebook 13
This is the more conventional Chromebook, with a 13.3-inch display. You also have the optional touch screen on some variants. It has a bigger battery, which means it can last as much as 12 hours on a single charge.
*Prices may vary