What is the difference between a laptop and a Chromebook?
A Chromebook is a laptop running on Google's ChromeOS instead of Microsoft Windows or Apple's MacOS. This means Windows or Mac software cannot be directly installed and run on a Chromebook. Instead, Chromebooks are designed to use web apps (like those for Microsoft Office 365), Android apps and Linux software. Because ChromeOS is built for efficiency and to take advantage of web or cloud services, the operating system runs well with less expensive hardware. However, while Chromebooks come in various sizes and designs, options are more plentiful with Windows laptops or Apple MacBooks, especially if you need to run demanding software. Again, ChromeOS is what really makes a laptop a Chromebook but there are some other differences to consider before you buy.
What OS does a Chromebook use?
Chromebooks run on Google's minimalist Chrome operating system, or ChromeOS. When ChromeOS launched more than a decade ago, it was essentially Google's Chrome web browser. It has grown vastly in capabilities over the years but remains a simple, lightweight and secure operating system that can run briskly on even low-end components. And, even though ChromeOS can do much more today, quite a lot can be done entirely on the web these days. Take stock of everything you do on a daily basis and you may find there's nothing you can't accomplish with ChromeOS.
What are the pros and cons of a Chromebook?
There are several pros to a Chromebook but one big con will instantly rule out buying one. Chromebooks are not natively compatible with Windows or Mac software. If you need to run a specific Windows or MacOS program, you cannot do so directly from a Chromebook. That said, there are ways around it, including finding a substitute web or Android app, or a Linux equivalent.
Also, if you need advanced photo- and video-editing capabilities, you'll want a Windows, Mac or Linux laptop. Basic photo and video editing are fine, but Chromebooks typically don't offer the graphics performance you need for demanding tasks or, again, the option to install Windows or Mac software and games. At least not directly on a Chromebook. Services like Adobe Photoshop on the web and Adobe Express make it possible to do more graphically demanding tasks.
One other potential negative is the Auto Update Expiration date, or AUE. Currently, non-Google hardware is only supported for so long before it stops receiving ChromeOS and browser updates, including those for security. For models released now, the date is roughly eight to 10 years from the initial release of the device, but that's not always the case. Google maintains a list of AUE dates for all models, and you should check it before you buy a Chromebook, new or used.
There are many pros to a Chromebook, but the biggest is the price. While premium models start at around $500, you can find excellent options for everyday use for $200 to $300. The Lenovo Duet Chromebook, for example, is a two-in-one Chromebook with a detachable keyboard cover so it can be used as a tablet or a laptop and starts under $300. Like other laptops, though, a higher-end Chromebook generally means a better experience.
Also, some of the same reasons Chromebooks are popular for schools and businesses make them excellent family computers. Everyone in the family can have separate Google accounts, and signing in gives them access to only their stuff and not yours. Accounts for kids can be managed with Google Family Link. It's nearly impossible for Chromebooks to be corrupted with viruses or other malware. And if it isn't running quite right, you can reset it with Chrome's Powerwash feature and in a couple of minutes, the system is clean and fresh. Just sign into your Google account and the Chromebook is completely restored.
Read more: How to Reset a Chromebook in Under a Minute
Can I use any USB-C charger for my Chromebook?
Yes and no. Since 2017, new Chromebooks all charge via their USB-C ports. Chromebooks typically need either a 45- or 65-watt power adapter. You'll need to check the specs for your specific model to find its power needs, typically found on the bottom of the Chromebook or on the manufacturer's site. (If it's given in volts and amps, you can get watts by multiplying the two together e.g. 15 volts x 3 amps equals 45 watts.) Using a charger that doesn't meet the power demands of the Chromebook may still charge it but at a slower rate. Also, if you're using the Chromebook while using a low-power charger, it will take even longer to charge fully. On the upside, Chromebooks will display a notification if the USB-C cable you're using won't support the necessary performance.