Low-Cost Windows Alternatives
There are plenty of laptops available, but what do you buy when pretty much everything you do is online, you don’t need much in the way of software support, and you want to spend around $300, rather than thousands? A chromebook could be your answer. These inexpensive laptops may not offer a full Windows experience, but their web-centric operation and ultralow prices make them perfect for light-usage social media and web-based productivity. If you spend more than 90 percent of your computer time in a web browser, you should have no trouble using a chromebook as your primary PC.
Chromebooks typically don’t pack impressive hardware, but they also rarely require it. Because you’ll be visiting websites and running programs all from Chrome OS, which is basically a souped-up version of the lean-running Chrome web browser, the technical barrier to entry is low. This also means you don’t have to deal with downloading and installing traditional software; if you can’t do something on a standard webpage, chances are you will be able to from one of the thousands of apps and extensions available to Chrome OS users. With just a few clicks, your chromebook can have almost as much functionality as a budget Windows laptop.
One primary benefit of running exclusively web software is security: For all intents and purposes, you’re immune to the viruses and other malware that so often plague vulnerable Windows systems. Chrome OS updates also take just seconds to complete, rather than the minutes or hours you may have to wait on macOS and Windows. And although easy access to an always-on Internet connection is a must for chromebooks, you’re able to perform most standard tasks offline and sync up later on so you don’t have to slow or stop your work if there’s an internet hiccup.
Chromebooks Are Evolving
The newest chromebooks have stepped up from being basic systems running Chrome OS to being elegant computers that offer surprisingly rich capabilities. Some sport carbon fiber or use a lightweight magnesium alloy frame with a glossy white plastic exterior. Others add a bright In-Plane Switching (IPS) display, which offers sharp images and wide viewing angles, or up the standard 16GB of solid-state storage to 32GB or even 64GB. Some even have premium styling that even high-end laptop owners would envy.
Over the last few years, the chromebook category has matured beyond basic functionality, and the real competition is now based on features. We’re seeing more options that previously were only available on Windows laptops. For instance, some chromebooks have touch displays. Various screen sizes are available, too, from 10 inches to 15 inches. Other models sport convertible designs that let you fold the chromebook into several modes, and even use it as a tablet, just as you can with other 2-in-1 laptops. Internal components have also improved, with more powerful Intel Core processors supplanting the low-power, low-performance chips from just a couple of years ago. The result is that these days, a budget laptop and a similarly priced chromebook can look more alike than you might expect.
See How We Test Laptops
Chrome’s capabilities are set to expand even more this year. Google recently announced that every new Chromebook will be able to run Android apps. This development could be a game-changer that obliterates the already-blurring line between laptops and dedicated mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. For more, check out our review of the Samsung Chromebook Plus, the first chromebook we’ve tested that supports Android apps out of the box.
Whether you’re a Facebook addict or you just need a machine for checking email and working in Google apps, chromebooks are easy to use, convenient to take on the go, and inexpensive. If you think a Chrome OS laptop is right for you, check out the reviews below for the top-rated chromebooks on we’ve tested. It you absolutely need Windows and don’t have an unlimited budget, our list of the best cheap laptops and the best laptops for college students are worth a look. For more general buying advice, check out our buying guide with the top laptop picks regardless of price.
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