Any time there's a discussion about Chromebooks, you'll find people saying how they replaced their last laptop with one. You'll also find people saying they could never replace their laptop with one. Both answers are right, but it always leads to one more question — can I replace my current MacBook or Windows laptop with a Chromebook?
The answer is easy, yet complicated. "What do you want to do with it?"
Chromebooks are great for getting on the internet easily and safely
Even your applications are tied to your Google account, and any local data they need to store is only accessible when you're securely signed in. That also means you can pick up any Chromebook, sign in, and things will be exactly the same, with the same online data and the same applications in the same places. To round all this out, when you try to visit a web site that has known security issues, you're warned before you get there because Google keeps track of them for you through the Chrome browser. For people who want to stay safe online without the hassle of doing it themselves, Chrome is great.
If getting on the internet easily and safely, while still having a great experience is what you're looking for, chances are a Chromebook is the best way to do it.
Doing more than web surfing
Of course, plenty of us do more than surf the internet with a laptop. The Chrome store has a lot of great applications that can do a lot of things — entertainment, business and productivity are all well covered — but they can't do everything as well as a MacBook or a good (good being the key word here) Windows laptop. And some things they really can't do at all.
Business users have free or paid access to Google Docs — a web-based platform that includes a word processor, spreadsheet application and presentation app among other things, included as much secure online storage as you're willing to pay for if the free 15GB per user isn't enough. And these services are done well — Google Docs powers Mobile Nations as well as plenty of other companies both big and small. It's easy to create, share and collaborate with any size team, and Chromebooks are able to work with Docs while you're offline and synchronize things when you get a connection. But there are often compatibility issues with the proprietary document formats used with Microsoft Office. You can import a Microsoft Office document into Google Docs and chances are everything will work just fine, but when you're collaborating with other users of a shared file and they're using Office, things usually don't work nearly as well. Google Docs are a great way for any size team to get some work done, as is Microsoft Office — but they don't play together perfectly.
Microsoft sees the value of bringing Office applications to Chromebooks. For now, you'll either need to only work online or have another computer with Microsoft Office installed to use them, but it's a great start. This is an area where we see plenty of support from the folks in Redmond, and we hope to see a version of Office apps that you can buy and use on your Chromebook that does away with the current requirements.
Media production is another place where Chromebooks can be lacking. There are plenty of tools available for editing photos, video and audio, but nothing suitable for people who need to produce content that they expect to be paid for. You can import a good image — one that requires just a little adjustment to make it "pretty" — and won't have any issues, but if you need to process a big batch of pictures or do a lot of touch-up with RAW files you'll find there's no real offline substitute for Photoshop or Lightroom in the Chrome store, though Adobe has a program where Creative Cloud applications are streamed to qualified educators and students.
The same goes for video and audio files. There are applications to do basic minor editing, but creating music or a broadcast track or building a video from multiple clips with "proper" cuts and edits is difficult to say the least. There are Chromebooks out there with the processing power to do all of this, but as of right now, there is no software available that's robust enough. Editing something to share with your friends using apps from the Chrome Store or online services is easy enough, but none of them compare to expensive and powerful applications built for other platforms. This is something I hope Google is thinking about.
But if you want to write code and compile it, your options are pretty slim. There are web-based services that allows you to do this, but it's not the same. Again, it's a matter of software. There are Chromebooks capable of software compilation (though most don't quite have the horsepower to do it well) but nobody is building an IDE that lets you manage, write and build files filled with code.
Kingdom Rush Frontiers is really fun, but it's not BattleBorn.
The biggest issue for many is when it comes to gaming. Now I'm not saying that any laptop — even the new models built specifically for gaming — are great at playing all the latest AAA titles. Especially if that laptop has an glowing apple on the back. But any high-end laptop is going to be better at gaming than even the best Chromebook is.
This includes VR support, too. There are rumors that HP is building a monster of a Chromebook with gaming and VR support, and I'll be excited if it happens, but plenty of software changes will need to be made to support the advanced graphical instructions and functions that you need for a great gaming experience. And the people making games would need to get on board, too — ask any Linux gamer about that.
You can get a lot of really fun games from the Chrome Store, and there are a lot of cool browser based games out there. But the experience falls short of what you'll get when you install Steam on a Windows or Apple laptop. Old titles that play great on a laptop — think Diablo II or the Age of Empires series — won't play on your Chromebook. While casual games can be a lot of fun to play, gamers should look elsewhere.
I didn't forget you. Most mid-range Chromebooks will fill your needs once you visit the Crouton Git and start installing . You can have a "real" Linux environment beside Chrome OS, and do everything you already do provided your hardware is up to snuff.
In fact, the Pixel makes one of the nicest Linux Ultrabooks you'll ever use.
They're not for everyone
As you can see, a Chromebook isn't the one machine that can suit everyone. Even Google doesn't try to make that claim, because for power-users — even part time power-users — they can't do it all.
I love my Chromebook. I use it any time I can while I'm away from my desk, and that includes work-related stuff. I wrote this blog post with it, edited the images I needed to edit with it, and went through our system of building the blog page and the virtual paperwork needed to keep track of it all. But I can't do that all of the time. Sometimes I have to use my MacBook.
I still think a Chromebook is the best computer for most of us, because most of us aren't doing the things it doesn't do well. But most doesn't mean all, and there are some really valid reasons why a Chromebook might not work for you.
And this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Google produces Chromebooks so that people who want a great experience on the web can get just that without much of a hassle. Open the lid, turn it on, sign in and go — there's a lot to be said for that simple experience because it works so well. When you start adding anything to it, you have to be very careful that the experience most people want stays great. Maybe one day we can do all this stuff on a Chromebook, or maybe not. The important part is that the things we can do on a Chromebook are done well.