Should Your Next Laptop Be a Chromebook?

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Chromebooks

I am jealous of my son.

He just started middle school, you see, and with entrance into the 6th grade comes entrance into the school’s computer program.

My original plan was to send him with a hand-me-down Windows 7 laptop I’d abandoned about a year ago. It seemed perfect, but two days after school began, he reported that “the laptop is broken.” Sure enough, whenever we powered it on, all we got was this cryptic error: “No bootable device — insert boot disc and press any key.”

It had been fine days before, and for years before that. Alas, no amount of troubleshooting (and I did a lot) could remedy this issue. It wasn’t hardware, either; I could boot Linux from a flash drive, and I even went as far as to install it on the hard drive. That worked just fine — but Linux is weird and overly complicated for a middle-schooler. (What’s with all the “keyring passwords” it keeps requesting?)

Plan B: Give him the Asus Windows RT tablet I’d recently picked up on the cheap. It had a keyboard dock, touchscreen and Windows 8 interface. It was also fairly thin and light. Perfect choice, right?

Wrong. The one requirement the school has is that the computer be able to run Google Chrome. Windows RT cannot run Google Chrome. Sigh.

I needed a solution, and I needed it quick. My boy told me some kids have Chromebooks, an idea I’d initially rejected. Why buy a cheap, plasticky, sorta-computer when a few dollars more would get you a full-blown Windows laptop?

Here’s why: Chromebooks don’t run Windows. I could end the argument right there, because I believe Windows no longer makes sense for everyday computing. It certainly makes no sense for students, who need a Web browser, a word processor and little more. Why subject them to performance that degrades over time, seemingly inevitable Blue Screens of Death, constant virus and malware threats, slow boot times, and, in the case of Windows RT, software incompatibilities?

Samsung Series 5 ChromebookI was also under the false impression (based on the few I’ve seen and most I’ve read about) that all Chromebooks are cheap and plasticky. Some are, yes, but the used, mint-condition Samsung Series 5 I grabbed on eBay for $125 felt as solid and substantial as the laptop it replaced. And it’s nearly as responsive as a tablet. Flip the lid, it comes on; close the lid, it’s in standby. No booting, no shutdown, none of that nonsense.

Needless to say, I’m happy with this purchase. Overjoyed, in fact. My son will never come to me and say, “I think my computer has a virus,” because it’s acting funny or running slow. Instead, it will quickly and effectively get him to Google Docs, which is what he needs for school. Oh, and it will keep him clear of Minecraft, something he definitely doesn’t need for school.

All this begs the question: Should your next laptop be a Chromebook? For a home user, someone who doesn’t require specific work-related software or utilities, I think the product line deserves a serious look.

Me, I can’t. My work requires me to use a VPN client that won’t run on a Chromebook. I also need to install and write about Windows software, so that’s an issue as well — though I could certainly use a testbed system for that and rely on the Chromebook for everything else.

One thing is certain: Even if a Chromebook isn’t that much less expensive than a Windows laptop, there’s a chance it will afford you a much easier, much more hassle-free computing experience. And isn’t that what we all want?

Photo credits: Google, Samsung

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