A Chromebook is a laptop that runs Google’s Chrome operating system (ChromeOS). It offers pretty much the same experience as using the popular Chrome web browser, which you might well already use on a Windows PC or laptop, but with a few extra features added to the mix.
An internet connection is central to how a Chromebook functions. Nearly all its apps and services are online and don’t run locally. There are a few exceptions to this, with Google’s own Document and Spreadsheet apps capable of working offline and then seamlessly syncing any work you’ve done to the cloud once you’re back on Wi-Fi.
This simplicity allows Chromebooks to use less powerful hardware than many Windows laptops, without it affecting the overall performance. You won’t find capacious hard drives, high-end processors or large 15.6in screens on Chromebooks. Instead, Google offers 100GB of online storage with every machine, mobile processors are the order of the day (negating the need for noisy fans), and the usual screen size is around the 11.6in. One of the most notable benefits of such modest accoutrements is that prices for Chromebooks tend to be below £300, with many selling for nearer £200.
There are many similarities across the available models, with a generally standard keyboard layout and screen resolution, and fast bootup times, but those with specific needs should still be able find a machine to suit them.
Best Chromebooks: buyer’s guide
Compared to a couple of years ago, there’s a much wider choice in 2016/2017. The range of screen sizes spans 10-14in and not only are there certain models with touchscreens, but some have hinges that allow the screen to fold right back flat against the underside so you can use it like a tablet.
There’s also a rugged option now: Dell’s Chromebook 11 is designed for use in schools, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t also be great for home use, especially if you’re buying one for the kids to share.
Another recent development is the Chromebook-on-a-stick. Asus’ Chromebit, for example, take the crucial hardware, shrinks it down to dongle size and lets you turn any HDMI-equipped display or even TV into a Chromebook – you just need to provide a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to control it.