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Chromebooks have changed a hell of a lot since they first arrived on the market in 2011. Back then, they were a rival to the netbook – a class of low-cost, low-power Windows laptops that soared and nosedived in popularity like an X-Factor winner. Now, Chromebooks come in an enormous range of prices and configurations, but people still have that mental image of a cheapo laptop fixed in their brains. Here, then, are the 7 biggest Chromebook myths in 2019.
1. They’re useless without an internet connection
Back in the days when the Chromebook was little more than a web browser, there was a grain of truth to this. Nowadays, that’s not the case. Almost all of the Chromebooks sold in the past year or so now offer support for Android apps, many of which are happy to work offline.
You can download Netflix movies and watch them on the plane. You can edit your photos in Adobe Lightroom. Even Google’s browser-based apps, such as Gmail, Docs and Sheets have offline modes.
Are Chromebooks better with an internet connection? Of course. But they’re not broken without one, either.
2. The hardware is cheap and ugly
I’m typing this on a Google Pixelbook, a £1,000 Chromebook that’s as thin as a MacBook, as beautifully designed and with a 2,400 x 1,600 12.3in display that’s as sharp, bright and detailed as anything Apple can knock out.
My colleague Tim has just reviewed the Lenovo Yoga Chromebook C630, a £650 device that has a chassis to match Lenovo’s Windows laptops and a screen that puts “more expensive laptops to shame”.
Yes, at the bottom end of the market, you’ll find brittle plastic chassis, with leaden keyboards and insipid displays – just like you will in the Windows laptop market. But the notion that Chromebooks are all low-budget hardware is outdated.
3. Chromebooks are underpowered
Let’s go back to the £999 Pixelbook specs:
|Processor||Intel 7th Generation Core i5|
|Memory||8GB of RAM|
|Storage||128GB NVMe SSD|
The £1,699 model boosts that to:
|Processor||Intel 7th Generation Core i7|
|Memory||16GB of RAM|
|Storage||512GB NVMe SSD|
These specs (which are now a year or so old, by the way) are comparable to anything you’ll find inside a Windows or Mac laptops of a similar price.
It’s certainly true that most Chromebooks run on pretty mediocre hardware, but as with any computer, you get what you pay for.
4. You can’t play games on Chromebooks
I’ve just played (and lost, dammit) a round of Hearthstone on the Pixelbook. I’ve played Fortnite on the Pixelbook. I’d happily while away a month playing Football Manager Touch on the Pixelbook.
Access to the Google Play Store gives you access to a vast library of games, many of which can be played offline while you’re travelling.
Admittedly, even on the punchily priced Pixelbook, the graphics aren’t as smooth and judder-free as they are on my similarly priced iPad Pro – the Intel integrated graphics and the Android emulation do hamper graphic performance. Performance will be worse on more modestly specced Chromebooks, but to say they can’t play games is categorically untrue.
5. You can’t access domain email from a Chromebook
This one comes via a Big Tech Question reader, who saw Tim’s Lenovo Chromebook review and claimed you couldn’t use a Chromebook to pick up messages from email sent to your own domain name (ie. email@example.com). Sorry, Mike, not true.
For starters, you can use many of the Android apps – such as the excellent Microsoft Outlook – to read and reply to mail from your own domain.
In our Twitter correspondence, Mike pointed out that the latest version of the Outlook app was taking a bit of a pasting in the user reviews, although I’ve not experienced any great problems with it.
Nevertheless, you can also pick up your own domain mail from within Gmail. Go to your Gmail account (or set up one specifically to collect your domain mail), click on the Settings cog, select Forwarding and POP/IMAP and follow the instructions there. You will need to collect the mail server settings provided by your domain provider.
6. They’re only for schools
It’s certainly true that one of the biggest markets for Chromebooks is education and that largely boils down to how easy they are to manage.
Chromebooks are not a massive target for viruses, they can be wiped clean in minutes, they update themselves, and (if you disable the ability to install Android apps), there’s not much the kids can download on them that will scare the chickens.
But those very same advantages are why a Chromebook can make a good family computer. The kids can go online and do their homework without much fear that your laptop is going to turn into an adware-festooned piece of junk the moment you turn your back.
7. They can replace your Windows PC/Mac for work
Lest anyone think this is some kind of Google-paid advertorial, not all the Chromebook myths are in the Chromebook’s favour. For example, I’ve often seen lazy comments that a Chromebook can do everything a Windows PC/MAC can, and that’s definitely not true.
It’s certainly fair to say that if your work is largely performed in a web browser or word processor, you’ll rub along just fine with a Chromebook.
Yet, there are all manner of professions where a Chromebook just won’t cut it. They haven’t got the chops for video editing, photo editing, design, accountancy (Sheets is OK, but no Excel), architecture… all manner of other professions that rely on dedicated software that I can’t recall off the top of my head.
That’s not to say Chromebooks don’t have a place in the professional world. They make an excellent companion device, for example. But it is a myth to suggest a Chromebook – even the fabulously expensive ones – can do everything a Windows/Mac can, and that largely boils down to the software available for those more mainstream operating systems.