A guide to buying a Chromebook
Laptops are still a popular gadget despite the rise of smartphones and the threat of tablets. They're a mainstay of our tech life even though we may not be using them as much.
If you're looking to replace your laptop, you have three main options; an Apple MacBook, a Windows computer or a Chromebook.
Apple's laptops are high-quality and its MacOS operating system is easy to use, however, they are typically more expensive than the other options.
Laptops powered by Microsoft's Windows are mixed when it comes to price and quality. You can easily find something that suits your needs and budget but you're still stuck with Windows, which is the clunkiest of the three operating systems.
That leaves Chromebooks, which are powered by Google. They're affordable and easy to use though they do have some downsides. They're becoming increasingly popular, including in schools where Google is making a big push.
Here's some advice to consider if you're thinking about buying a Chromebook.
How they work
The key difference between Chromebooks and other laptops is that they are designed to be used primarily while connected to the internet, with most apps and documents relying on the cloud. That means most of what you do is stored on Google's computers rather than on your hard drive.
The advantage of this is that you need fewer components so they're cheaper as there's no need for large hard drives or lots of memory. They run on ChromeOS, which will be easy to use if you've ever used any Google products. This is also partly why they're so cheap, as it's so much cheaper than Windows.
Their other key advantage is they are simple, there is none of the bloatware (unwanted software) found on Windows. Other bonuses include fast boot-up times, light design and longer battery life.
What they can do
Many people are familiar with Google products in their computing life. This includes Gmail for emails, Chrome for web browsing, Drive for storing and organising documents, Docs (similar to Word) and Sheets (similar to Excel).
They're all user-friendly and they also work well together. They let you easily do most of the digital tasks people require, such as browsing online, sending emails and creating documents.
Chromebooks typically only come with about 16GB or 32GB of built-in storage so you need to factor in the cost of online storage. With Google Drive, you get 15GB free and then it costs $2.99 a month for 100GB.
One advantage of using online storage is that everything is backed up automatically so if your computer dies everything is still available.
Also, Google does security updates for Chromebooks automatically so there's no need for the ongoing expense of virus software and your computer will be more secure.
While Chromebooks are great for average use, they can fall short for more demanding users. This is especially the case if you edit photos and videos. You can't use Adobe products such as Photoshop or Premiere. You also can't download other popular editing software.
However, if your Chromebook has access to Google Play (most of the latest ones do) you can download some good editing apps such as PowerDirector and WeVideo for movies and Polarr Photo Editor for images. While Docs and Sheets are just as good, some people may need Microsoft Office, which can't be used on Chromebooks.
The other downside is that you need to be online to get the best performance. Most apps have an offline mode so you can easily manage short periods of being disconnected but ideally, you want to have easy access to wi-fi.
If you are looking for a Chromebook, there are several available ranging from $400 to $900. Make sure it works with Google Play to get the best options for software.
The HP Chromebook 14 is a great multi-tasking tool that has the advantage of a long-lasting battery. It's also affordable ($525) and comes with 32GB of internal storage.
If you want something smaller, take a look at the Acer R11. It's made of plastic but its low price $520 and small size (11-inch screen) make it a great portable option.
For a more high-end option, consider the Asus Chromebook Flip C302A ($900) which has a premium design, great trackpad and bright screen.