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Chromebooks aren't for everyone, and that's OK

Pixelbook Go
Pixelbook Go (Image credit: Android Central)

I read an interesting editorial by Android Police's Editor-in-Chief, David Ruddock, about Chrome dying on the vine and becoming stale. You should read it yourself, but the general vibe is that development on Chrome OS has all but stopped, and that makes even the best Chromebook a poor choice for anyone who wants a laptop.

He's right, in a way. He's also wrong in a way. But most of all, I think he doesn't account for the simple fact that everyone wants something different from every single piece of tech they buy.

That's an easy trap to fall into when you write about all that tech for a living day in and day out. I do it often and so does every other tech writer, at least once in a while. It's especially easy once you venture outside the world of smartphones.

Pixelbook dev machine

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

David makes this mistake for the same reason we all do — he bases his opinion on his opinion, then turns it into a conclusion. His reasons are mostly spot-on: plenty of Android apps suck on anything except a phone; PWA (Progressive Web App) development seems to have all but stalled; and there are things that a Chromebook is not the right tool to use if you want to do them. I blame Google's abandonment of tablets as the reason, though it never seemed to really care about them in the first place.

Google hasn't been a good shepherd for apps on Chrome OS.

But those things, or thelack of them, are not the only reasons to choose a Chromebook. They ignore the hard work Google's Chrome team has done in plenty of other areas and, more importantly, ignore that not every user cares about apps or isn't able to nerd out and solve all the problems using a Linux package. Like I said earlier, there is more than one type of Chromebook user.

A Chromebook does the things that plenty of people want it to do better and faster than any other laptop, regardless of price. A Chromebook is the most secure portal to the web that has ever been built because of super-fast updates and sandboxing. A Chromebook can pair with your Android phone and be used for messaging and video calling. A Chromebook is perfect for anyone who wants to grab a laptop, sign in, and spend an afternoon watching Netflix or shopping online.

Google Play on Chrome

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

A Chromebook is also the perfect work machine for any company invested in the Google Apps ecosystem, and there are plenty of those. This is why your school district probably uses them if you live in the United States. Cheap + easy + multi-user = a school board's easy decision. You can certainly lament a Chromebook's poor Microsoft Office experience if you're stuck without an internet connection, but the reverse is also true — that fancy Surface Pro isn't very great when trying to use Google Sheets without Wi-Fi.

Chromebooks are the very best laptops for a lot of tasks, and not good at all for some others. All tech works this way.

Chromebooks also have nerd-powers in the form of Linux applications. Linux apps are not hard to enable and install on your Chromebook, and they work very well since they are all written for generic desktop or laptop form factors. But finding them and using them is not nearly as easy. This is another "thing" that I'm sure Google is working on and one day in a far-away future we'll see an integrated package manager (think: Appstore) for Linux on Chromebooks. Until then, it's a solution for things like pro audio and video workstations.

Linux programs are a solution and not hard to install but they can be a pain to use.

The thing is, you really don't want to try and turn a Chromebook into a pro audio or video workstation. Trust me, because I've tried. You also do not want to try and turn an iPad or Surface Go into one either, and those are the Chromebook's true competitors. You can use a $3,500 MacBook Pro or Mac Pro as a proper 4K video editing machine. You can also spend that much on a Windows machine and have the same decent experience. Maybe one day we will see a $3,500 Chromebook with the thermal capacity to do it and can use Linux software from Industrial Light and Magic to build 3D models and render high-end HDR10 video with Dolby sound. Today is not that day.

Pitivi for Linux

Source: Pitivi.org (Image credit: Source: Pitivi.org)

You can install Linux apps like Darktable to replace Lightroom, GIMP to replace Photoshop, and Pitivi to replace iMovie. But you'll hate using those apps because the focus is on functionality, not user interface. Linux really makes a Chromebook a powerful machine (I even run Windows 7 through a VM on my Pixelbook using Linux) but it's not a consumer-friendly solution. But for users like me it's a great solution, just not one I would turn from a personal opinion into one to be taken seriously by others.

I don't fault David for "forgetting" these things because he didn't forget them. He just doesn't place the same emphasis on them that I and millions of others do. Like I said at the top of this article, there are different types of Chromebook users with different types of needs. I use my Chromebook for everything except playing AAA games and have zero issues, but I'm not you.

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.

13 Comments
  • Yep, yep, and yep. Wouldn't trade my Pixelbook for anything.
  • That original whiney article was pointless and frankly, just clickbait. I've been reading other articles talking about how big Chrome OS will become this decade. In the end, we'll see - these tech prediction articles rarely have a long shelf life. I consider myself a power user, and I spend the majority of my time now(outside of work) on a Chromebook. It's fine for the vast majority of computing tasks on a personal level, AAA gaming aside, and even that might be affected by whatever Stadia evolves into.
  • Definitely agree. For anyone who is not willing to spend at least $650 on a Windows laptop, save the headache and get a Chromebook. Unless you Need windows for some particular reason.
  • Yes, it depends on what you want in a laptop. My professional life happens in Windows. I need several MS Word add-ins to do my job effectively. They only run on Windows. So I will always own a Windows laptop (and probably a desktop too). But for personal use, a Chromebook is ideal. In my personal world, I mostly need a speedy and reliable web browser plus the occasional ability to run Microsoft apps. Both the Android and web versions of Word and PowerPoint work well enough for me on the Chromebook. I also notice the speed advantage of Chrome OS. My sub-$400 HP Chromebook x360 with a Core i3 feels speedier when browsing the web than my Thinkpad T490 Windows laptop with 16 GB of RAM, a Core i7, and a 512 GB SSD.
  • Hah! My work issued me a X380 Yoga i5 8GB RAM. Recently got a pixel slate/keyboard - been using it more for work bc of speed. Though the office apps aren't as efficient, 90 percent of what I do is in Chrome anyway.
  • > A Chromebook is /also/ the perfect work machine for any company invested in the Google Apps ecosystem I would strengthen that /also/ to /only/ -- a lot of things outside of the Google service ecosystem are not available on the Chromebook *even if the Android app exists for the phone*. Generally speaking, Android app compatibility is that of the tablet if not worse -- do not expect to be able to use everything you have on your Android phone. The "Google way or the highway" attitude rears its ugly head in, for example, in OpenVPN configuration -- unless you are willing to turn on user ID/password authentication on the server, you will have to write JSON configuration file. I have picked up Chromebook over the holiday sales to see if it is a viable replacement for the aging Windows laptops I have handed over to a few remotely-located senior family members. To my dismay, remote access requires someone in front of the said Chromebook, immediately scraping that idea -- most of my remote activity is limited to the hours when said seniors are asleep. So, yes -- Chromebooks aren't for everyone (myself included) and that's OK.
  • I used to think ChromeOS and Chromebooks weren't for me. That changed when Samsung launched their business class Chromebook. While I did pass on it, I almost converted then. The Acer Spin 13 got me and I've been using it since the summer. I'm all in on ChromeOS.
  • "David makes this mistake for the same reason we all do — he bases his opinion on his opinion, then turns it into a conclusion." - this is the most concise, profound, and perfectly pointed summary of my entire beef with tech journalism in general. As one who was eagerly awaiting the advent of the Pixel 4XL, and have been deeply enjoying mine for about a month and a half now, following the news cycle was a withering, frustrating, aggravating exercise in pro and anti hyperbole. Everyone in near absolute unanimity on the brute facts, but loudly proclaiming wildly divergent and polarizing proclamations about how this was either the best phone ever that was gonna revolutionize telephony as we know it, or was so disastrously bad that anyone who even had relatives who were even remotely considering one should maybe just go ahead and consider seppuku (okay, I made that up, but that's not too far off). I am absolutely sick to death of tech I'm interested either being the absolute best or absolute worst thing in the world depending on who's writing the article. It was that way with the Nintendo Switch, the Pixel 2XL, Pixel 4 XL, and now, Chromebooks. Your article, Jerry, is one of the best, most refreshing things I've read in tech journalism in a very long time! What a wonderful panacea to all the hyper headlines that are so exhausting. And David's article (which I also read) was a hallmark example of just that kind of journalism that is pinching my nerves, and ruining my posture. Thank you for providing us all with the antidote. :-) As for the subject at hand, the Android situation on Chrome is miles away from perfect, and it's made even more "how much do we need it" when we have an Android phone in our pocket or on the table next to it. But it's nice to not have to disrupt workflow to switch between devices, and some Android apps have made it into my regular rotation on the Chromebook, such as Spotify. I even successfully recorded all my speaking moments for about 10hrs of content on Nerd Noise Radio recently using my AT2020 mic, MobilePre USB device, and Audio Evolution (an Android app) on my wimpy, cheapie little Lenovo N22 - something I previously would've felt I had to maroon myself to a dark, dingy basement to spend hours doing through GarageBand on my Mac. It was very liberating to be doing it up above ground, where the sun shine and the people are, on the Chromebook, and getting about the same quality results. Even in its very imperfect state, the addition of Android apps was still a game changer for me, opening wide a range of possibilities turning my previously simple "internet derper" from a mere toy into something beginning to approach being a serious tool. Then, with Linux coming later, the "sorta serious tool" became an actual viable thing for all of my laptoping needs, providing me all the "power user" that I would ever need in a portable computing unit. Plus, with the containered nature of all of it, if I want to simply internet derp, I can just not use any Android or Linux stuff and surf the net at light speed. All of these add up to why I think I'm committed enough to the idea of Chrome OS to invest in a high end one at tax time, over against a dedicated "full fat" Linux distro I was weighing it against (as I'm trying to gradually migrate away from Mac and Windows). But there is one thing in David's criticism of the platform that I can't help but begrudgingly acknowledge as a serious problem, and that's the siloed nature of Chrome and Android and Linux causing file sharing between them to be an absolute nightmare. That aspect of Chrome OS actually does super suck, and is certainly one that I hope will improve in the future. Cheers!
  • > What a wonderful panacea to all the hyper headlines that are so exhausting. Yeah... "Something for almost everyone" headline is super refreshing.
  • I wasn't sure about Chromebooks, but I decided to buy one, and I absolutely love it. Aside from being able to run most Android apps, you can turn any website into a virtual app. And now, thanks to this article, I've discovered Darktable. Looks like I'm going to have to learn Linux now, but the link in the article was enough to get me to install it. This just made my Chromebook MUCH more useful! No, they're not for everyone, but it more than meets my requirements.
  • Well if their using playprotect ive read alot about it not being on par with 3rd party solutions
  • i know a couple of people who have Chromebooks, they love them, because they do what they need.
    while I like the idea of a machine that is just basic, the problem I have with chromebooks is the cloud base. I myself would prefer a linux based machine,
  • When did Android Central become just another clickbait site?