Read this before buying a Chromebook

Read this before buying a Chromebook

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Chromebooks have become more and more popular over the past 5 years and I have been using them for more than 2 years.

At first, I was surprised at how good they are and how simply you can set them up especially company-wise.

But with any long-term relationship, sooner or later you will also see the disadvantages.

What is a Chromebook?

A Chromebook is a very thin notebook, most of the time with a touchscreen, so one could say it's a mixture of a notebook and a tablet.

The operating system will always be "Chrome OS", which allows installing Android applications (later more on that)

For whom is the Chromebook?

Simply put, for those, who do not need any or only a few desktop applications with low CPU utilization.

Developers who only use remote development platforms (like GitHub CodeSpaces), can also use Chromebooks.

Startups that meet one of these requirements can provide their employees with a cost-effective work computer.

What's great about it

Upgrading Chromebooks is easy

It's easy to switch from one book to another. Your browser data is stored on your Google account. So when you change your device all of your bookmarks are transferred.

You can also make an easy backup from the Linux containers running on the device and then import it to your new one.

Long battery life

Due to the concept of running everything in the browser, Chromebooks don't need the best hardware.

It's normally very light and has a long battery life.

Easy management for organization admins

Another reason for Chromebooks is that it's easy to manage for company administrators, they just need to create a Google Account for their employees, apply some rules and they are good to go.

There is no action on the device required, besides logging in.

It might also be a great solution for internationally distributed companies since employees from all over the world could just buy a Chromebook in their hometown and then log in with their business Google account.

Why I hate it sometimes

Flexibility

If one employee spontaneously needs to install a desktop application, which takes lots of CPU usage, they would probably have to switch to another solution.

Sadly, from my experience, the virtual Linux machine is crashing often if you run more complex programs.

For example, I tried to use Visual Studio Code on it, but just resizing the window sometimes led the entire Chromebook to crash.

Furthermore web-based applications of originally desktop applications are shipped with a smaller feature scope. Eg the web version of Microsoft Office has fewer features than the desktop version.

Reduced App repertoire

Not all Android apps are available for Chromebooks and many are missing important features as seen in the previous example.

Switching to a different browser like Firefox is a great hustle. While you can install it from the Google PlayStore as a mobile app, it's just not the same as installing it like a desktop app: The DevTools are not available and can only be used via hacky workarounds.

The other way would be to install it on the virtual Linux machine, but (just like with VSCode) it won't nearly run as smoothly as you are used to. Speaking of stability...

Stability

Opening large files within the Linux machine leads sometimes to a crash of the entire Chromebook.

Exceeding memory or CPU might make the Chromebook crash too.

Reliability

But the greatest no-go, for me personally, is that Chrome OS requires you to update as soon as it recognizes there is a new update. The VM will be locked until the update is installed.

Imagine that you quickly want to access the files in your virtual machine, you're blocked from it and prompted to install it RIGHT NOW. You will have to reboot your Chromebook.

Conclusion

With these arguments, I've concluded that Chromebooks can be a good tablet replacement for people who can do all their work with browser-based applications.

But as soon as you need to do more complex work on your computer, you shouldn't rely on one.

There is a lot of room for improvement and Google is constantly releasing new updates. For this reason, I am very excited about the future of Chromebooks.