Since the first Chromebooks appeared in 2011, these lightweight, browser-based laptops have become much more appealing to the average user. Once something of a joke compared with Windows or Mac machines, they're now genuinely viable alternatives for someone looking for a budget notebook.
So what's changed along the way? Here we'll outline the benefits of Chrome OS and Chromebooks for you - from improved offline support to automatic security protection - and explain why you might want to make your next laptop a Chromebook.
They don't slow down
At first glance, the idea of a laptop that essentially just runs a browser seems like a hard sell; at second glance, this minimalist approach is actually a benefit rather than a drawback. With only one app running locally, updates happen invisibly in the background, and you won't find your laptop slowly becoming sluggish and unresponsive over time: all the heavy lifting is done on the web with your Chromebook kept fresh and tidy.
You could make the same point about files as well - we're not used to storing all of our data in the cloud because that's not the way personal computers have worked over the past couple of decades, but it does mean that you don't end up with a hard drive packed full of useless and badly organised material that you're never going to get around to sorting out.
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You don't need any extra software
Once upon a time, setting up a new computer meant going through a process of installing browsers, email clients, photo editing tools, anti-virus programs and more besides - it probably only took a few hours but it felt like weeks. On a Chromebook, all the software you need is already online, so you don't have to install or update anything except the browser itself.
What's more, you don't need to remove anything your laptop maker has decided to force on you, like a security software subscription or an intrusive 'maintenance' tool. Open up the box, power up the Chromebook, and you're ready to go. While it's true that web apps aren't as powerful as their desktop equivalents, not having to go through the rigmarole of installing spyware and virus protection again is worth the trade.
Everything is backed up
Back to the file storage point we made earlier: another advantage of keeping everything in Google Drive (or Dropbox or OneDrive) is that it's all automatically backed up - you're not going to lose all of your precious holiday photos just because you spilt coffee over your keyboard or dropped your Chromebook in a lake.
And switching between 'computers' is easy too. If you're at relatives for Christmas and they have Chrome installed on their computer then you can access everything you need and get out of another round of charades by pretending you've got important work to do. Or, if you have a Chromebook at home and a Chromebox in the office, you can jump between them seamlessly.
Offline support is improving - and Wi-Fi is everywhere
Another aspect of buying Chromebooks that makes people anxious is their reliance on a working internet connection to get anything done. Well, first of all, offline support is improving all the time - you can now use Gmail and Google Drive offline (for example) to get some work done without the internet. Obviously the likes of Netflix and Facebook become out-of-bounds, but it's a start.
Secondly, Wi-Fi is becoming more and more ubiquitous. How many places do you actually go to where there isn't an internet connection available? It's probably fewer than you think thanks to the networks now available on trains and in hotels, coffee shops and fast food outlets (though maybe you wouldn't want to take your Chromebook to McDonald's).
There are a range of models
From the cheap and chunky (but very durable) Dell Chromebook 11 to the finely polished (and very expensive) Chromebook Pixel, these lightweight laptops now come at a range of price points and in a variety of sizes. Whether you're into movie-watching at home or word processing on the go you should be able to find a Chromebook to match.
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There are more models coming out all the time too, thanks to the plethora of manufacturers who've jumped aboard the Chromebook bandwagon and Google's ongoing promotion of its browser-based operating system. Even if you don't end up buying a Chromebook as your next laptop, it's still well worth adding a couple to your shortlist.
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