Ask Jeff Graham: Chromebooks vs. laptops – USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES — Jay from Matthews, N.C., asks: Are “the Google Chromebooks worth it? Can they replace a laptop?”
Short answer: Certainly. Long answer: Well, there’s a learning curve involved, but you do get a computer for unheard of prices — as low as $199 to $299.
But there’s a catch: You pretty much have to be online to use it, and live without some of your favorite software. You can’t install applications on the Chromebook unless they come from the Google App store. You can’t install heavy-duty software favored in the Windows and Apple world, such as Microsoft Word or pro tools like Photoshop and Final Cut Pro.
However, there are many, many Chrome apps out there. Most are free and pretty good. You can simulate what you can do on full-service PCs, and many now work offline as well — way more than I expected when I started researching to answer the question.
Another important point: We’ve been talking a lot here recently about security vulnerabilities from older Microsoft PCs with Windows XP software, which no longer will be updated as of April 8th. Google, which says the Chromebook is the safest machine you can buy, actually dares hackers to try and break into its Chrome browser, saying it can’t be done.
A Chromebook is great for you if you’re the classic light user who opens a PC to check e-mail, surf the Web and do little less. If you’re weaned on Microsoft Office at work, you won’t be able to use those programs, but that’s OK — Google Docs is a great free alternative for writing, spreadsheets and presentation.
I’m a photographer, so I want Photoshop or some other full-service photo editor; ditto for video editing with Final Cut. I did find a Photoshop lite program for Chromebooks called BeFunky, and it was fine for light edits, and could be used online and offline. For video, the choices were We Video and Magisto, and neither met my needs. Too basic and automatic.
Chromebook knows your concerns about working offline, and has come up with several solutions. First of all, some models offer 10 free airline online sessions with online provider GoGo. And some models come with 4G cell service, like a tablet — but you’ll have to pay a monthly fee for that.
So again, to your question: You get a major deal with a great PC for a killer low price. There are more apps available than I ever dreamed, and many are great. Can the Chromebook replace a laptop? No question.
Folks, I’m answering your tech questions here every week. Look for me on Twitter, where I’m @jeffersongraham and please use the hashtag #askjefftech so I can find you.