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Chromebook vs. Android tablet: Which is best?

Mobile means more than just phones. Since the first Android tablet back in 2011, plenty of us have found that things, like watching videos or playing a game, can be better on a bigger display and there are some great tablet options to choose from, both cheap and expensive. Ask anyone with a Galaxy Tab S3 and they'll tell you about the incredible display and how thin and light it is. Or talk to people who are still using the trusty Shield Tablet and they'll let you know it's dependable, great for gaming, and NVIDIA just keeps updating it and updating it.

The Best Android Tablet

But there is another way to have Android apps — the same apps as you would find on your phone or tablet — on a big screen. Google has doubled down on Chromebooks and after a sluggish start, pretty much every Chromebook you can buy new today will be able to install Android apps through Google Play. This makes a Chromebook a lot more attractive for many of us.

The Best Chromebook

But which should you choose if you want the big-screen experience from the apps you use now and the apps you'll want to use? Form factor plays a part in your choice, but there are some other considerations, too.

Convertibles can feel clunky, but so are tablet keyboards

Soon some company will make a Chromebook with a detachable keyboard; it has to happen. In the meantime, most Chromebooks have a hinge system that allows you to fold the keyboard back under the display and use it as you would a tablet.

This works and also lets you stand your Chromebook like an easel for watching a video or sharing a presentation. But it's not the most svelte-feeling experience you'll ever find. Even the Pixelbook, which is paper thin and still nice and light when in "tablet mode" leaves you with an exposed keyboard on the back. A Chromebook will shut down the keyboard so you're not pressing keys willy-nilly, but it doesn't compare to a tablet when you're holding it in your hands. And unless a case company gets really creative, it never will.

At the other end of the experience, using a tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard can often be frustrating. You have one more thing to charge, Bluetooth can be finicky and connection issues are common, and if you're a fast typist you'll quickly notice the intermittent input lag. The keys themselves won't have the "action" of a laptop keyboard and there's no trackpad. It's obvious from the start that even the best tablet keyboard is an accessory, not part of the experience.

How you want to use your big-screen Android makes a lot of difference here. If you want something you can hold in your hands that's super-thin and will be using it this way most of the time, a tablet might be a better choice. That's how they are designed to be used, and a good keyboard folio or case will be there for the odd times when you need to do a lot of typing.

Android and Chrome is a software masterpiece

Android itself is mostly the same on a tablet and a Chromebook. Android apps designed for the home screen or the interface being the exception; icon packs, widgets, wallpaper apps, and the like aren't available for a Chromebook because they won't have anything to do. But you can find themes from the Chrome Store to spiffy up the desktop.

You'll also run across apps that won't work with your particular model because of hardware or software version. That goes for both tablets and Chromebooks and with well over a million apps in one place they will always be there. Other than these differences, apps look, work, and feel mostly the same.

A huge advantage for a Chromebook though is the web browser. Chrome OS has a fantastic desktop web browser. Even better than Chrome on Windows or a Mac. It's fast, efficient, and there are thousands and thousands of extensions and apps that can plug into it.

It's also completely siloed from any other app, which means there's no way for an Android app from Google Play to get to the private data — passwords, credit card info, or anything else — you have stored in Chrome. Android apps run natively on a Chromebook, but they are in what's called a "container" that can run independently from other parts of the software. This does have one drawback because for now, Android apps don't have access to SD card data. that's a solvable issue and we're pretty sure Google is working on a way to securely share the SD card with Android apps. Once that happens, you'll also be able to use an external hard drive or networked hard drive as SD storage for almost unlimited space.

So ask yourself, how important is the browser? If being on the web — and that includes things like the full interface for Facebook, YouTube, or Reddit — is important, the Chromebook is clearly superior when it comes to the software. You'll be able to play the same games, use the same social apps or work apps, and have the whole web available instead of the mobile-optimized web. Until the internet catches up and optimizes everything for mobile, that's a pretty big difference.

It's all about how you use it

Android isn't perfect on a big screen, and companies like Samsung have done what they can to make it better for their tablets, but for the most part, Android on a Chromebook gives you a better software experience than Android on a tablet.

Tablets were designed to be held and used, while a Chromebook is a laptop with a keyboard attached. That makes a difference if you plan to keep it in your hands while you're doing your thing. The best Android tablet makers have some nice keyboards you can pair, but they don't offer the seamless experience a laptop will. And folding the screen over the keyboard can make a Chromebook into a tablet, but it's usually thick, can be a little heavy, and you're holding on to the keyboard around the back.

Decide how you'll be using it and what you want to do with it, and the answer becomes obvious.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

38 Comments
  • Why not re-release the Pixel C as with Chrome. That would be perfect!!!
  • Amen to this
  • Orrrrrrrrr just release an updated Pixel C with proper pen support, updated hardware, a kick-ass pixel c keyboard (like the one they have), and properly tweak Android apps to run natively.
  • Thermals. The Pixel C has an even hungrier and hotter NVIDIA processor than the Nexus 9 does, but new fabrication and better engineering mean it isn't the mess that the Nexus 9 turned into. But it's still not ready to run anything other than a mobile OS, designed for mobile board layouts and low power draw. There is at least one test device that has a sealed body and high-end ARM chip on a traditional low power board layout that was (maybe still is?) testing for Chrome. Fingers crossed for 2019, to be honest. FWIW, I have an NVIDIA Jetson 1 that uses the same SoC and RAM as the Pixel C but as a SBC with a fan. It runs Linux emulating Windows 10, Chromium, or Hackintosh like a champ. All anyone needs to do is figure out how to do it designed for a low power/fanless setup.
  • I've been using a Samsung Tab S2, while I can do a lot with it. I agree the major problem is actually typing and doing intensive work. The Bluetooth keyboards I've tried are Laggy and keep disconnecting. I've ordered for the Samsung Chromebook Pro and when that arrives I'll be able to give you all a detailed comparison of the 2.
  • I have the Chromebook Pro myself. It, and convertibles in general, really falls short when it comes to reading books, comics or doing pretty much anything where you're going to be holding the device up for long periods of time, as they're just too bulky for that kind of usage, and feeling the keyboard and trackpad clicking around while you're using your device can be distracting. The tablet mode interface definitely still needs some work, particularly in the app drawer. More specific to the Chromebook Pro, the keyboard is not good at all, the speakers lack volume, and the Core M3 can sometimes lag with Android applications. That said, I feel like these kinds of devices are the future. Pen support has been fantastic (I highly recommend installing Squid as soon as possible). All web browsing tasks are performed as well as you can expect. The display is top of the line, and the whole thing looks really classy with that jet black finish. My first paragraph probably sounded like I was pretty down on this thing, but I'm actually very satisfied with my purchase, and I feel like performance is only going to get better over the next couple of years.
  • Exactly, how about Chrome on a tablet.
  • I use a refurbished 10.1" Asus ZenPad that I purchased with cover for $150. It is serving me well, for the price.
  • Chromebooks really need to start coming with GPS so that dumb video streaming Android apps that absolutely, positively won't work without an accurate location work. Y'know, like YouTube TV!
  • Is this really true?
  • https://tv.youtube.com/
  • 'sigh' Google using Apple screens to demonstrate their product....
  • I signed up youtube tv from my mac which you know dont have a gps
  • GPS in the Chromebook would enable the use of Android navigation apps for the pilots, boaters, and hikers.
  • The only thing I miss on my Chromebook (compared to my old Android tablet) is the screensaver function. My tablet, when I wasn't actively using it, spent its spare time as my bedside alarm clock, using the Daydream function to show weather and time. I'd love for my Chromebook to do the same, but alas, without any sort of screensaver function, it simply doesn't work the way I'd like. I understand why a screensaver function was left off (battery), but having it as an option when plugged in would be nice.
  • until Android apps have proper window resizing on Chrome OS it'll be at best a half baked solution.
  • its there if you want it https://www.howtogeek.com/312046/how-to-resize-android-apps-on-chromebooks/
  • Chrome resizes perfectly on my Android (Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 w/4G LTE).
  • I'm in a cafe right now, typing on an Anker BT keyboard connected to my Asus 3s 10 tablet. I agree that while a BT keyboard is superior than a virtual keyboard, it is still a pain to type on. I particularly complain about the right shift key being so small. It really messes with my touch typing. I am waiting for the release of a tablet (detachable) Chrome OS device. Except for AAA games, I am finding a tablet with keyboard adequate for 75% of my computing needs, which is expanding as time goes on. I first bought a tablet primarily to read magazines which is still a major use for me. My daughter is sitting across from me, working on her Lenovo 10" Yoga book running Android. She is a whiz typing on that virtual keyboard- way faster and more accurate than mine on this BT thing. She went from typing to drawing to typing again in the time it took me to write this. If only that thing was released with ChromeOS!
  • It all depends on what you want to do. Android in terms of features and what you can do is more feature rich and offers more freedom than chrome os, it's closer to a full desktop OS but with a touch interface, you can download software from a browser, install different browsers, customize your home screen pretty deeply and there's really good file managers. However chrome os is DEFINITELY better for a laptop form factor overall and I think it would serve better as a main computer due to the fact it runs a full desktop browser and the OS is designed with keyboard and mouse in mind and if you get a convertible Chromebook you can just flip it around and use Android apps/games that way. I've had no problems with Android games on my 2015 Asus flip, it's just as good as a android tablet in that regard. If you plan on using a Chromebook in tablet mode often then a smaller 10-11 inch screen would be good for that. At least on my 10.1 inch flip it's not bad to hold it in tablet mode when you consider the keyboard is still there.
  • I've used Android on Tablets (Samsung, Amazon, and Asus), they all left a lot to be desired through the years. I moved to a Windows Tablet a couple years ago because, I was sick of always having to use clunky workarounds like remote desktop to have real software. I bought a Surface Pro 3, and it was the best decision I could have made. The only thing that angers me is Google's unwritten intent to make Chrome underperform on other OS's. I could open the exact same sites in tabs of Chrome, and Edge, and guess which makes the fans rev up, and effect battery life and overall performance - Chrome. Which for the life of me, I can't figure out why it can run so smoothly on lesser hardware when Chrome OS is used. Maybe that's Windows fault, who knows, either way, I know which is better for battery life, and it's not Chrome on W10 Enter 2018, and now I'm using a Samsung galaxy S8, and it's awesome. Any android apps can be mirrored to my tablet, so I don't really need much else. I've been intrigued by Chrome OS laptops for a while now. I want to try one out, but I fear I'm going to have the same problem as I did when I was using Android tablets. Bigger screen, better software, only available on W10 (some of my software isn't even available on Mac OS), so I don't have much of a choice. In a perfect world, app stores would just go away, and Progressive Web Apps will take over...... But that's going to take years, if it even happens.
  • you forgot to mention chromeos software update advantage. chromeos will be updated for 6.5 years and android art will be updated for that period as well. which even beats a nexus tablet.
  • I have the Asus Chromebook C302 and I love it. As Jerrry said the Chromebook is a great browsing experience. The point I disagree with is using it in tablet mode. I love having the attached keyboard, because I use it as a stand on my lap. I do not have to hold it like my iPad, which now mostly sits in the draw.
  • I want an updated Note Pro 12.2 to replace my Note 10.1. One of the newer Tabs has nice internals and S-Pen integration, but a screen under 10". Just because Apple does it... Well, Apple has an iPad Pro with a 12" screen, get with it Samsung!
  • Yeah! I'm in absolute agreement with you!
  • I still prefer the standard tablet over a 2 in 1 that folds over itself. Thinner, lighter, and easier to hold when browsing on the couch.
  • Chrome OS doesn't require manufacturer and/or carrier approval of OS updates like android. Almost anything i can find using a android app is available using chrome OS. I like being able to use an ethernet adapter with my chromebook.
  • I'm still rocking my Nexus 9 in the bedroom with Bluetooth speakers & I still love it for YouTube, NETFLIX. Yes, it has lightbleed & is old but I just wouldn't give it up, regards Richard U.K
  • Patiently waiting for a detachable chrome tablet and Android apps being properly optimize to run on Chrome OS. That'll be the perfect tablet. I purchased so many games and some apps over the years specifically for my tablet to just totally abandon Android tablets.
  • I am still on my Nexus 9 and would have upgrade to another Google tablet if they released one. We need a Pixel Tablet.
  • Extremely well-written article in my opinion. One of the few, if not only, to address the "sandboxing" of the Android container on chromebooks. That is a major impediment to seamlessly using Android apps on a chromebook. There's also the confusion between deciding on the use of an Android app or its ChromeOS counterpart (when both are available). On the flipside, I've found that the using the online version of MS Office on my chromebook to be a superior experience than using the Android or iOS versions of Office. Perhaps one thing to add to the mix in deciding, is the unknown/forgotten gem called the Lenovo Yoga Book (Android version). This is primarily an Android tablet with a wacom digitizer that doubles as a touch keyboard and comes with a Pen capable of palm-rejection and pressure sensitivity. Even though it is a fraction of the price of my iPad Pro + Smart keyboard + Pencil (the YB is now under $300 new) , it has easily replaced the iPad Pro for my daily use. Choosing either a Chromebook or Android tablet one really can't go wrong.
  • Hi Jerry, I'm still using my Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 w/4G LTE. Even though it's nearly four years old, it's still a monstrous (extra-large) wonderfully functioning tablet which is fairly light, thin, and immensely powerful. Coupled with the Swype keyboard and built in S Pen it not only outpowers and outperforms almost all competitors but till Samsung comes out with a replacement, it will be impossible to get me to abandon it till they pry it from my cold, dead hands. To start with, I'm a musician. Not only does it have all that screen real estate for handling screen displays for my music, i'm able to edit my music at will, with my S Pen, but there's no danger of damaging a keyboard, or of having it being in the way. Multitasking and multiwindowing are a dream. My vote is that my tablet is the best of all possible worlds, much better than a Chromebook, Oh, and by the way, you can get a refurbished one on eBay for cheap. Also for those who don't know, Chrome runs just fine on Android, along with just about any other browser you might need.
  • Still using a Note Pro 12.2 as well. Recently I did have to replace the battery, which was surprisingly easy. I'll keep using it as long as I can. I love the 12.2" screen. Hoping Samsung will come out with another big Note tablet one of these days.
  • Me too my friend!
  • yeah. I love the pixelbook, but rarely use it as a tablet . it's nice like 2% of the time in a situation or two but I even use the tent mode more than tablet. and even the mode, keyboard face down and then like a standing tablet. but holding as a tablet is just not that comfortable to me. still the best Android tablet I've owned though. lol. Nexus 7 was my last. that thing was amazing.
  • I have an ASUS Chromebook flip, and I flipped it into tablet mode maybe a dozen times within the first two or three weeks I had it. Since then, I haven't really even thought of flipping it. It simply doesn't add anything to the experience. I have had two tablets before my Chromebook, a Samsung Tab4 10.1 and the Tab A 9.7 with S pen. Both of them were pieces of $h!t. Took forever for things to load, and watching videos - especially on Formula 1's website - was useless. Rarely could I ever finish watching a video before it simply stops playback, usually 2/3 to 3/4 through. I'll tell you what, though. If you ever get super pissed off at a tablet for not performing the way it most obviously should, I highly recommend field-goal-kicking it across a room a few times until sweeping it up is your only option. Great stress relief!
  • So...I primarily need a device for reading my college books and doing some light document editing on the go. Primary purpose is an e-reader since the 13.5 inch screen on the Surface Book I own is too ridiculous for reading. So...tablet? Or should I get an Intel Atom Windows tablet?
  • The Pixelbook is vastly supperior to any Android tablet I've owned. I had the Nexus 7 (2nd Generation) which ended up crashing into the wall opposite where I was sitting at home, and the Nexus 9 which I let die a battery death. Neither device, though nicely-sized, kept up with the expectation of providing the performance expected for a tablet device. When browsing the web one should not have to put up with system stuttering, lags and stoppages in a device that was supposed to make web browsing easier. The Pixelbook eliminated all of these problems. I will never buy another Android tablet.