Windows laptops remind me exactly why I love Chromebooks so much

Acer Aspire 5 vs Lenovo ThinkPad C13
Acer Aspire 5 vs Lenovo ThinkPad C13 (Image credit: Ara Wagoner)

I have used Chromebooks since 2014 and used them full-time for four years. Some of my Chromebooks have been premium and luxurious, like the Google Pixelbook and the Acer Chromebook Spin 713, but the ones I've used longest are 11.6-inch budget-minded models like the Lenovo C340 and C330. Many tech enthusiasts revile Chromebooks as "fake laptops," thinking they can't "do anything" because they don't support classic computer applications like Windows and Mac.

Well, I'm back on my first new Windows laptop in a decade, the Acer Aspire 5 that I will be reviewing in the coming days. It's been a serious adjustment, coming back here after all these years on a Chromebook, and as I remember all the arguments people make about why a "cheap" Windows laptop beats a cheap Chromebook, they're just all falling flat for me.

Chromebooks are not just cheap, disposable laptops

Acer Spin 713 Chromebook

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Let's start with the definition of "cheap" in each category. A "cheap" Chromebook is $200-$400 depending on the size and specs, while a "cheap" or "budget" Windows laptop can still run you $550-$800. For laptops under $400, you are 100% better off buying a Chromebook because Chrome is designed to run on budget-minded hardware; you'll see better initial and long-term performance and less lag as you add more apps to the machine.

For $550, your money will still go much farther with a Chromebook. Touchscreens are far more plentiful in this price range for Chromebooks, and the performance gap we mentioned above will still be significant enough to notice between the Chromebook and Windows laptop.

Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

For example, the best Chromebook today is the $400 Lenovo Flex 5, which gives you a 10th Gen i3, a 13.3-inch touchscreen, front-facing speakers, a backlit keyboard, and all-day battery life. The Acer Spin 713 regularly drops to $530 for basically the same specs as the $550 Aspire 5 — 10th Gen i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD — and it comes with a beautiful 2K touchscreen and a much better battery life than the washed-out non-touch display and mediocre battery life on the Aspire 5.

While the Chromebooks sell in the highest volume are the $200-$400 "cheap" Chromebooks, this doesn't mean high-end Chromebooks don't exist. After all, from Google to Samsung to ASUS to Lenovo, there are premium, high-powered Chromebooks to be had if you're after that perfectly simplified Chrome experience but still want a truly great laptop.

Chromebooks are not just a browser

Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Speaking of a simplified experience, just because Chrome OS is a lightweight system doesn't mean it's incapable of running anything but the Chrome Browser. Chromebooks can run Progressive Web Apps just like Windows 10, can install and run Android apps via the Google Play Store, and can install Linux apps, too.

Yes, I spend a great deal of time in the Google Chrome browser — that's where my work is! — but I also use Android apps a couple of times a day alongside PWAs. The most-used Android app on my Chromebook is actually a Microsoft app: Microsoft Solitaire Collection, which I believe actually has a better layout on Android with less wasted space.

Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Best of all, the PWAs and Android apps all sync between my machines. When I set up a Chromebook to review it, I log into my Google account, and by the time I finish with the rest of the initial setup, my apps are installed and ready to go. This is in stark contrast to the Windows laptops I've used so far, where I've had to go hunt down my legacy apps and get them re-installed from their various websites: Chrome, Audacity, et cetera. Yes, apps from the Microsoft Store are all in one place to re-download and re-install, but it's not an automatic process.

On the topic of apps, especially in the lower-end segment, it's amazing how many apps come pre-loaded on these Windows machines. Lenovo didn't go overboard with pre-loaded apps like Acer did — seriously, Acer, two dozen pre-installed apps?? — but instead, Lenovo completely covered the taskbar with pinned apps and toolbars. I know that there are ways to get Windows laptops without all the bloat, but not a single Chromebook comes with this nonsense on it!

And, of course, all of these services are trials. You'll still need to pay for Office 365, you'll have to shell out for whatever security suite is pre-installed — assuming you don't just strip them off and install something better — and OneDrive only has 5GB of free storage rather than the 15GB of free storage offered by Google Drive.

Chromebooks are easy to manage and share

Ara And Mom At Epcot

Source: Ara Wagoner (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner)

My mother came to visit a couple of weeks ago. She didn't bring a laptop with her — she was here on vacation, after all — so when she wanted to check email and get a little work done, I just grabbed one of my charged Chromebooks off the pile and handed it over. She could choose if she wanted to sign in as a second user on the Chromebook, and everything she did was sandboxed away from my apps and work data.

God bless Guest mode and sandboxed users.

If all I had were Windows laptops, I'd've had to go into Account Settings first and add them as a second user — or just let her use my sign-in and hope she didn't stumble on anything.

This is by design: Chromebooks are partially designed for schools and businesses, two markets where you need to easily add extra accounts and need ways for other people to use a machine without full access — and without mucking up the machine for other users. Google still offers a standing $150,000 reward for anyone who finds an exploit that can consistently hack a Chromebook from Guest mode, and it's been years since anyone's done it.

Chrome OS Child Setup Options

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

While schools rely on G Suite for Education and much more robust tools for managing what their students can or can't do, Chromebooks have gotten easier and easier for parents to manage for their kids, especially in the last 18 months. Contrast this with Windows, where there are ways to enable parental controls through Windows Security, but they're incomplete and confusing to navigate for less tech-savvy parents.

And of course, because of the way users are completely sandboxed from each other in Chrome OS and nothing anyone installed touches the core system, you don't have to worry about your kid bricking the family computer for everyone by installing something they shouldn't. If you've had to take a kid's computer to the repair shop more than twice this year, it may be time to swap them to a Chromebook until they learn to take care of it.

Chromebook keyboards are not weird, they're wonderful

Keyboards on the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 and Aspire 5

Microsoft allows manufacturers to set all manner of custom function buttons and Function keys on the laptops they sell, meaning that when you put a Windows laptop and a Chromebook side by side, the Chromebook keyboard looks plain and incomplete. Or at least, you would until you start trying to use F1-12 and end up launching a half-dozen utility apps and menus.

I'm sorry, but I don't need a million keys for things like the display mode, the calculator, and airplane mode — how do you give three buttons to those and none to media control?! — I just need an actual F5 key to refresh things with one finger, and a consistently-placed key to change the screen brightness. Because Windows doesn't codify these things, manufacturers go with whatever configuration strikes their fancy and fits in the chassis.

By contrast, Chromebooks all have the same layout, same functions, and the same shortcuts. There are dozens of awesome Chrome OS shortcuts, and you can remap certain keys to get back your Caps Lock or to make better use of the Windows key on the mechanical keyboard you plug in at your desk.

Chromebooks are getting better every month

Phone Hub on the Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

While Windows is prepping a major update later this month, Windows only gets feature updates twice a year. Chrome OS, on the other hand, gets feature updates every 4-6 weeks alongside its security patched, including a major update back in March with Phone Hub, Tote, and Nearby Share when Chrome OS turned 10 years old.

Now that Chome OS has a decade of use and improvement under its belt, the system is secure, stable, and more than ready to hold its own against Windows. If you're looking for a better laptop for yourself or your family members on Prime Day or further into the summer, I beg you, give a Chromebook a shot! You'll be surprised how capable the best Chromebooks are these days.

And in the meantime, I'll be digging deeper into the divide between Windows and Chrome OS, so stay tuned for more detailed analysis on this front.

Other notes from a working weekend in June:

  • I finally had to jump back to the Galaxy S21 after just under three weeks of Android 12 Beta 1 the Pixel 4a. I'll keep playing with it — especially once the new Material You color-theming comes along — but the battery drain and the bugs in apps like Twitter are a definite reminder that this is not finished software.
  • Google Photos free backups are gone, but I already pay for Google One, and Photos remains one of the best photo services on the net, so I'm sticking with it. I'll just set some quarterly reminders to delete old photos now.
  • One dark spot on my otherwise sunny experience with Chromebooks is the frustrating half-year search I've been on to find a docking station that works with all of my Chromebooks. The good news is that the Dell USB-C monitor with hub I have in for review seems to actually be working with my current slate of Chromebooks! Now, let's knock on wood and hope it stays like that.
  • The advertising ID opt-out for Android is going to make things easier for users, and I'm happy for it, but let's remember that the reason you see ads in so many apps is that developers need to eat, too. If an app you use regularly has a paid version to eliminate ads, please support it!
  • Amazon Prime Day is coming later this month, and my only hope is that we see actual Chromebook sales after last year's complete dearth of deals. Last fall, we were still in a Chromebook shortage, but that's largely been resolved, so let the deals commence.

And remember that Father's Day is next weekend, so call your dad!

— Ara

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

  • I'm very glad you enjoy your Chromebooks so much, I'm into all things Google so I tried a Chromebook and not a low end model an HP Chromebook with an i3, 1080p touchscreen and 8 gb of ram.
    I'll give you that you normally have to pay a little more for a decent windows laptop after a year I traded my Chromebook for an Acer aspire 5 slim w/ ryzen 3200 and a 15.6 inch screen for $364.00 in Feb 21.
    It only came with 4gb of ram so I spent $80 and upgraded to a dual channel 16gb kit. So $440 total which was like $100 less than my Chromebook. It doesn't have a touchscreen but I myself have never liked touchscreens on a laptop, the constantly oily and smuggy screen drives me nuts. Then comes the software itself. Chromebooks may have many options for apps but android apps often don't look great and aren't designed for the desktop.
    I was excited about Linux app compatibility but a good percentage of apps take ages to load, I'm looking at you Firefox. Not to mention when you use chrome apps, android apps and Linux apps your file structure is a mess and your constantly copying files back and for so chrome can access Linux data or vice versa. For people with modest software requirements, a Chromebook can be great. But an IT guy like me needs a lot more software wise and android apps and slow Linux apps are a poor replacement for a windows laptop or just installing Linux.
    I dual boot Linux and windows on my Acer aspire 5.
  • decent chromebook can be more expensive than a windows laptop (you can find an entry level win laptop for 200-300 if you are willing to use an older cpu generation). you can't use windows apps on chromebook, which basically limits them as a web browsing machine unless you want to use them for android apps. i have an android phone for that. chromebooks stop receiving updates after an established date while on windows you can upgrade to the new version. i truly don't understand why would someone want a chromebook
  • Because the cruft that Windows accumulates over time means that $200-$300 Windows laptop will turn into molasses after about a year of full-time use (yes, there are ways to clearing it out, but most users don't know/use them) but the Chromebook will keep on keeping on? Because it's a nice easy machine to just pick up and use instantly whether I've been on it for two years or this is my first time logging into it? And an AUE date of 2028-2029 that we're seeing on most of the newly released Chromebooks means that the hardware will probably fail before the software support ends.
  • "Windows laptop will turn into molasses after about a year of full-time use" lol.. when was the last time you used Windows? XP? What an absurd bunch of nonsense.
  • Saying that Chromebooks are just browsing machines tells us you really don't know much about Chrome OS and cloud computing
    A $200-$300 Windows Laptop? Are you serious? I can get the lawn mowed and take a shower by the time that thing boots up let alone running tasks.
    And yes you can use Windows Apps on a Chromebook
    Your criticism seems very 2012ish
  • Can you add a USB laser printer to a Chromebook as easily as with a Windows laptop? That's the one thing that put me of a Chromebook was this. I use a windows 10 laptop for sporting events tethered to my cell phone and a laser connected via USB for result printing.
  • Printer support has improved on Chrome OS (it had to after Google killed Google Cloud Print), so if your printer is compatible, it should be easy to get it set up once you plug it in and hit Ctrl + P.
  • It's funny, but these days my Chromebooks print more reliably to my wi-fi connected laser printers than my Windows desktop does. I have a HP color laser and a Brother monochrome. I never tried the USB connection.
  • For my use case scenarios, Chromebooks don't cut it, not even close. If I needed something to browse the web while on the potty, then fine.
    Where's my Handbrake (the one thing I use a lot...
  • How often do you rip DVDs for Handbrake to be that important??
  • Thanks, I'll stick with my Dell XPS. I tried a Chromebook and found it good for games.
  • What games were you playing on yours? Just curious.
  • I'm glad a Chromebook works for you. It wouldn't do for me.
    I already realize that I'm in a weird demographic. I spend about equal time in Google Docs and Sheets (for writing and tracking productions), Internet browsing, and running Davici Resolve (for video editing and production). For the former two, a Chromebook would be absolutely workable. For the later one, not at all. My laptop, which I use from a variety of locations, is a beast. (10th Gen i9, dual screens, built-in RTX 2060, ...)
    I wouldn't mind the nearly instant on, long battery life, and some of the other distinctives of Chromebooks, but my power-user needs trump all of that.
    I actually use my phone for some of the simple stuff that you can also do on a Chromebook. At this point a Chromebook (or a tablet) wouldn't be worth the added expense and lugging requirements.
  • Yeah, high-end audio/visual use cases and PC gaming are two areas where you need Windows. While Steam could maybe bring a semi-good gaming experience to Chrome OS, Windows and its ability to let you customize key inputs, customize your keyboards, your mice, etc, will still help it come out on top.
  • Indeed. There's never really a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. That said, I'll agree with the subtext of your article that a lot of folks could use a Chromebook for whatever they do if they don't just dismiss it before taking a serious look.
    One aside: This sort of conversation goes back further than you might think. The variables in criteria are more than a little reminiscent of the arguments between distributed and local computing back in the days of big-iron. I've actually changed my stance on this somewhat over time. I used to be a local-only proponent because of the unreliability of on-line connections. Now that (at least for me) the Internet is fast and reliable, I'm perfectly happy with using the Google suite for Word Processing and Spreadsheet needs. I'm even using Google's scripting language to automate the recurring and rote aspects of my production tracking spreadsheets.
    If it wasn't for the video editing, I'd likely be sporting a Chromebook.
  • Nothing beats Windows Surface Pro machines. Fits in my padfolio, and runs Office 365. Android 365 Apps are pitiful in comparison. Plus all my financial softwares that are only still made for Windows.
  • I'll admit, a lot of more niche business software (especially in the financial and science sectors) are still Windows-only, but that's on the developers (and the major clients that don't push hard enough for alternative options).
  • For personal finances, my wife insisted on still using her old Money 2000. I finally convinced her to try Mint, the online finance site. Months later, she still raves about how much easier it is for her. It's usable from her Chromebook, Windows device, or phone. For my small business, I use Wave accounting on line site. I changed over from GnuCash.
  • I can see how Chromebooks offer lots of pros and cons. An informative article, thank you. It sounds like it's easier to use a Chromebook for people and more secure to share a Chromebook with others using an extra or guest account. Windows also has user accounts, though, and you can set it where they can't install most apps without permission. (Some apps like Chrome or Roblox can install without permission) The parental controls of Chromebook sounds very good. A limitation of Chromebook is some college students might be recommended to have windows laptop for their studies, like computer science students. But you can check with the college. Also Chromebooks can't run as many videogames as Windows, I believe. More so the PC exclusive video games. And another commenter mentioned Chromebooks have a limited software support timeline. If so, that stinks, because I find it a shame that old android phones lose support and become unsafe, and the same could happen to Chromebooks. Meanwhile Windows keeps updating as long as possible.
  • The Chromebooks that went on sale in 2019 have AUE dates around 2024-2026, which wasn't as long as I'd like, but the Chromebooks released last year mostly have 2028 AUE dates and the ones this year almost all have 2029 AUE dates. So we're getting better in that regard and hopefully, the work on LaCrOS to help separate the Chrome browser from Chrome OS so that it can be updated and used even after a Chromebook hits the AUE date would be very helpful.
  • Windows 7 reached end of life in January 2020 after 10 years of support. There was a period when you could upgrade to Win 10 for free though, if your hardware could support it. Meanwhile I had peripherals working under XP that stopped working under Win 7 due to incompatible drivers that the manufacturer never updated. It was complicated.
  • I've been using a Chromebook since I got the CR-48 (first Chromebook ever) back in 2010 and have been using a Chromebook full time for work for the last year and a half. I can do everything on it, from Workspace to O365, Citrix, and more. Most of our work apps are web based now anyway. It is also great for travel and entertainment.
  • 100% agree, people who "poo poo " chromebooks and Chrome OS really have never truly used one especially with a device like a Lenovo Flex 5 or the Acer Spin 713 or Pixelbook Go etc. They are just wonderful to use It's kind of like once you get the concept of Cloud Computing everything just falls into place. I thoroughly enjoy my Chromebook.
  • Windows laptops remind me exactly why I love Chromebooks so much Chromebooks remind me exactly why I love Windows laptops (Surface Pro X) so much. I find I need both. Most days ChromeOS is to limited, but travelling ChromeOS wins hands down. Love how ChromeOS just works, it's a much more modern mobile centric OS. Google "badly" need to update the Files app, much much to basic.
  • Why single out Windows? MacOS is just the same. Built in the same era and functions in much the same manner. MacOS isn't intuitive either.
  • If you feel ChromeOS is basic it just tells me you've not used ChromeOS.
  • If all you need is a browser they are fine. If you want to do anything else I would get a Windows machine (or Apple, if that's your thing).
  • Like what for example? Write a document? Work on a Spreadsheet? do some photo editing? emails? What exactly are you referring to?
    If it's large scale heavy video and photo editing, heavy lifting gaming? if so then a sub $800 Window's computer wouldn't be of any use to you either nor would someone who just spend a ton of money on camera want to see their work on a $400 Window's computer. So your point is moot.
    that's always been the crux, if you need a computer for heavy lifting no one has ever said buy a Chromebook over more spec'd out Window's or Mac but in the sub $800 range where people are buying computers to do regular computer things like I mentioned in the first line then a Chromebook is a superior choice due to speed, performance and build quality. Not to mention since the pandemic the speed rate of which cloud computing is and will be evolving sets up the Chromebook very nicely for applications that were once considered native to know be cloud/web based apps.
  • Chromebooks are great if you are in for being pimped by Google. Outside of that, they are nothing special. They are just an easy way for Google to get you tied into their system so they can mine and harvest every bit of information about you and sell it.
    Then they can control what you see by filtering your searches.
    Then they can control what you think.
    Its ingenious.
  • A $800 Windows laptop is not a budget laptop! You can buy premium Huawai laptops for $550. Under $400 absolutely but it's just false you can't get decent Windows laptops for $600.