Demystifying the Digital World – Part 5 – For a Chromebook?

The last part of this series ended by introducing two of the most popular options for getting rid of Microsoft Windows: the Google Chromebook and the Apple iPad. I hope you had a chance to watch the video “Is this a computer?” because it provides a brief humorous summary from an expert in the field.

First up is the Google Chromebook because it is probably the most cost effective and familiar option for people who have only used Windows in the past. A Chromebook works just like the name sounds, a notebook computer (aka laptop) that runs the Google Chrome browser as its primary operating system. This fact alone addresses many of the problems that face Windows users. The change is not as jarring because chances are you are reading this post using the Chrome browser (60% of people use it to access the internet). Also, Gmail users already have a Google account that stores bookmarks, contacts, calendars, etc. If this is the case, the switch is very easy and Google even provides a handy guide. To summarize the three steps:

  1. Sign into Chrome on your Windows computer (if you haven’t already). This synchs bookmarks, passwords, and settings.
  2. Back up your files, photos and music. The links associated with each of these will take you to the associated Google service.
  3. Sign in to your new Chromebook and open Google Drive. The files, photos, and music should magically appear.

In terms of software, a Chromebook can run 80%+ of the applications people use everyday including Photos, Music, YouTube, Google Docs (to replace Office), Skype, Dropbox, Netflix, etc. Chromebooks also update quickly and automatically, have built-in virus protection, long battery life, and typically cost a fraction of the price of a Windows laptop.

Does all of this sound too good to be true? Well of course it does! Google wants to make the switch seem as easy and painless as possible or nobody would do it. What are some of the downsides of the Chromebook? First and foremost, you have to trust storing your files in “the cloud.” Google has an excellent track record for storing users’ files, but not having files stored locally makes some people uncomfortable. Related to this is the fact that storing files online means that you have to (mostly) be connected to the Internet to use a Chromebook effectively. In fact, most Chromebook’s only have 32 GB of storage compared to most modern laptops that have upwards of 256 GB. There are ways to enable offline use, but these require a bit of extra effort to setup and maintain. Finally, printing can be a hassle because Chromebooks require “Google Cloud Print” instead of the more traditional USB or WiFi connection.

Despite these drawbacks, Chromebooks still have a lot to offer at a very compelling price, which is why so many K-12 schools have adopted them for use in the classroom. (As an added bonus, this means that tech support is as close as the nearest 11 year old!)

The Apple iPad will be explored in the next post in this series. Is the best option yet to come? Maybe, but if you’re already sold on the Chromebook after reading this post, make sure to get one from a store with a 30 day return policy because despite the higher price, the iPad also offers a lot to switchers, especially considering the popularity of iOS and the iPhone.