Welcome to the first of a recurring series here on my Making Technology Simpler blog: “Is It For Me?” I’ll explain a product or technology, then help you figure out if it meets your needs. This week’s subject is the Google Chromebook.
Google Chromebooks are a series of inexpensive laptops with great battery life, strong integration with Google, and little maintenance needed.
Chromebooks use an operating system created by Google called Chrome OS…the whole operating system is basically the Chrome Internet browser that many people use on Windows and Mac computers. The computer hardware is made by companies like Acer and HP.
Here’s another thing that makes Chromebooks unique among laptops: the whole operating system is designed to be used with Internet access, and the hard drive in the computer is tiny.
Google intended for these computers to be used in conjunction with Google’s cloud storage, so photos will need to be stored in Google+ and documents stored in Google Drive. (I wrote about cloud storage here.) With everything stored in the cloud, there’s no need for a big hard drive. The benefit of this is the computer will boot up very quickly.
This reliance on cloud storage has a couple other ramifications. On the positive side, no data backups are needed, since almost everything is in Google’s cloud. And once the computer needs to be replaced, you can sign into your next Chromebook with your Google account, and all your emails, documents, etc. will be available immediately. No file transferring necessary.
On the flip side, you will be limited in what your Chromebook can do without Internet access. You can do some document creation, for example, and the document will save to Google Drive when you connect to the Internet again. Internet access is becoming more widespread, however, and some Chromebooks will allow you to also connect to a 4G network through a carrier like T-Mobile.
Because almost everything you do on a Chromebook involves Internet access, the speed of the computer itself will be heavily influenced by the speed of your Internet connection. If you regularly use a slow connection, be prepared to pay for faster speeds to really enjoy a speedy Chromebook experience.
The other main limitation of Chromebooks is that you can’t install PC or Mac programs on it. So if you really need the full version of Microsoft Office or some specialized accounting program for your work, a Chromebook isn’t for you (unless it’s as a secondary computer). You’re limited to using Google’s apps and others available through the Chrome web store.
Ease of use
Chromebooks are low maintenance devices, partly because they update automatically and Google says they’re very secure and have no need for antivirus software.
Setup is also easy, to the degree that you’re already part of Google’s services. If you already use Google for email, documents, photos, and music, your new Chromebook will be ready to go as soon as you open it and sign in with your Google account.
If you use iTunes for your music and store documents or photos on your current computer, you’ll want to transfer all of it to Google’s appropriate online service before you make the switch to a Chromebook. (And if you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod, know that they won’t sync with music on your Chromebook.)
Remember, third-party apps like iTunes or Microsoft Office can’t be installed on a Chromebook. So you’ll need to use a Google service or a third-party service that can be accessed online (such as Pandora for music streaming or the online version of Microsoft Office).
Is it for me?
A Chromebook might be great for you, if:
- You use Google for all of your email, documents, photos, media, and calendar (or are willing to move all those things to Google)
- You have Internet access almost all the time
- You need a very portable computer with a battery that lasts all day
- A low up-front cost is important to you
You should probably stay away from a Chromebook, if:
- You need an application that only runs on a PC or Mac, like Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft Office, or iTunes
- You prefer to store your documents, photos, or media locally (i.e. on your computer’s hard drive)
- Your computer needs to handle intense tasks, like games or video editing
Have you seen or heard about another device or technology that’s made you ask, “Is it for me?” Let me know below, and I’ll write about it soon.