Chromebook vs. laptop: Buying advice and recommendations

While it’s easy to focus on what you’re going to do with either a Chromebook or a Windows PC—web browsing! games!—it’s easy to lose sight of the little things.

One of the best features of a Chromebook that’s easily overlooked is Google’s approach to updates and security. Everything takes place behind the scenes. Windows downloads updates for antivirus and other programs in the background, but others require a reboot. If you don’t have Windows properly configured, those reboots can even occur while you’re using the PC, which can be hugely annoying. While Chromebooks occasionally need to be rebooted to apply updates, the process is quicker and less intrusive, as Google reloads the pages you were on quite quickly. 

In fact, “quick” is one of the best features of a Chromebook. While they’re less full-featured than a Windows PC, booting and resuming them just generally feels more efficient than it does on Windows. Part of that is the simplicity: Google takes care of most of the mundane tasks of powering a PC, like security and driver updates. “Blue screens of death” occur on Windows; Chromebooks rarely crash—a fact Google emphasizes in commercials.

Still, some of those more mundane tasks can be irritating to Chromebook users, too: such as printing, file management, and utilities: This is where the differences between the two platforms can become abrasive, especially if you’re used to doing things in a certain way. For example, Google is trying to add diagnostics to the ChromeOS platform, but it’s still doing it its own way. 

Take printing, for example. The world’s printers were designed from the ground up for Windows and Macs, and can print either over a wireless network or from a USB cable. Chromebooks, on the other hand, have struggled with direct printing or using the more advanced features of certain printers. Google Cloud Print was the company’s workaround, requiring a Wi-Fi enabled printer; however, this feature was phased out by the end of 2020. 

Certain tasks also require a different way of doing things on a Chromebook versus a Windows PC. Sure, there are the ChromeOS keyboard shortcuts, where taking a screenshot or a portion of one requires knowing to press the Ctrl + “switcher” key. When you take that screenshot, you’ll see it saved inside a folder—but you won’t be able to rename that file without opening it. Windows allows you to right-click a file and perform any number of operations on it; ChromeOS does not.

Even accessing those files on ChromeOS requires clicking the “home” circle in the lower-left corner, then either swiping or clicking the exposed up arrow to access the ChromeOS apps, some of which can be stored in the taskbar dock for easy access.

The same goes for alternative input modalities. While Chromebooks allow for inking—you’ll generally need to supply your own stylus or use your finger—and can record audio, don’t expect a Chromebook to include pen input that’s translatable into text. Windows exclusively provides this. However, Chromebook pens will soon support NFC wireless charging, rather than forcing you to search out a AAAA battery or charge them with a cable.

To be fair, Windows 11 looks a lot more like a Chromebook than it did before. The Windows 11 Taskbar (for now) can only be oriented at the bottom of the screen, where apps pop up from a Start menu that looks somewhat like the ChromeOS launcher.

Our colleagues over at Computerworld include a Chromebook cheat sheet that you may find useful with more details on the ins and outs of Chromebooks.

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