Cheap Chromebooks. Here’s how they should’ve been marketed to consumers.

The modern ~$300 Chromebook with just 4GB RAM can be more productive than “real” laptops.

When Chromebooks were first announced, I have to admit that I thought they were kind of stupid — so you have a computer where all you can run is Chrome? Even if it’s cheap, what’s the point of that? Today, Chromebooks can do more than run Chrome.

When the marketing isn’t that great, people get the wrong first impressions. Here’s how I’d market cheap Chromebooks. Assuming that you are in the market for a decent web browsing/video watching device, I am going to sell you on getting a Chromebook. (Even if you’re not, just play along.)

Full disclosure: I will link to the recommended Chromebook using my Amazon affiliate link where I get a very small commission from Amazon, with no markups in the price. The product I recommend here, I have purchased myself.

First, 3 Chromebook features which solve first world problems

Built for Speed

0 seconds to load from sleep  — 10 seconds to boot up from ‘turned off’ — no forced restarts. It is designed to load websites quickly.

Run Android Apps

Run THREE phone apps side by side. Social media. Notes. Firefox. Whatever.

Hell yeah! 3 Android apps side x side x side

There is even a button on the keyboard to toggle between full-screen & phone screen size. **side note: the majority of productivity/music/video apps work, but some (e.g. the Alexa app) can’t be installed on Chromebooks.

Built with standard f***in’ ports!

Charges via USB-C + standard HDMI port + standard USB port so you have the option to hook it up to a real keyboard and monitor if needed without the use of f***in’ dongles. You don’t even need an adapter.

(Note: the ports varies from Chromebook to Chromebook, Google should have requirements to standardize this. But that’s just my opinion.)

… then, I’d set expectations

Before you ask yourself if you should get one, ask yourself what you’re going to use it for. 

I see this primarily as a consumption device (watching lectures / movies / listening to music) and secondly, a non-video-content creation device (i.e. blog posts/book editing). This is done with the use of web application or Android versions of photo/text editors.

It may not be that great for Android games or doing software development, though.

… and handle some common questions

Does it have MS Office? Yes*. And I’m not talking about the web version. Microsoft Office has Android apps that can be installed from the Play Store — it is like a lite weight desktop version, *but it requires an Office 365 subscription to edit/create documents. Even without an office 365 subscription, you can still use the web version which doesn’t work offline. There will not be any strange formatting errors when you switch between the full version and the lite versions of the Office applications.

Can it run Roblox? Yes it can. At least on the Chromebook I bought. Keep on reading, or open this in another tab to see what it is.

Features I would not talk about

If the page lists and explains too many features, the potential customer will get tired of reading. Here are things (though important) that should be left as footnotes because they are expected:

  • Synced documents/everything in the cloud  — In this day and age, consumers expect this already.
  • Battery life — Again, this is expected as all small laptops used for consuming content have a long battery life.
  • Security — Consumers expect security from Google, so this is not even on their minds. They want shit to work and expect it to be secure.

Which Chromebook should I get?

Marketing for Chromebooks is tricky as they have several different tiers, but this is not stated explicitly. This makes it confusing
for consumers when they are choosing what to get.

There are Chromebooks that are cheap as $100 (but are old, and may not have all the new features you need), they have Chromebooks that cost as much as a real computer. What can the expensive ones do that the cheap ones can’t? I don’t know… perhaps run Linux?

Soon, some Chromebooks will have official support to run Linux without putting it into developer mode, but most Chromebooks will not have this capability. When Chromebooks are advertised online, it is not clear which ones will have this capability.

The point is that even if you are thinking of getting a Chromebook, the researching will drive you nuts.

I’ve done my research and highly recommend the Lenovo Chromebook C330
(Amazon affiliate link) and it is the best bang for your buck.

(I managed to snag it for under $200 after taxes, but it is usually $250+tax (32 GB storage) and $300 (64 GB storage) at the time of writing.)

It has full HDMI and USB ports, it charges via USB-C, the trackpad is nice, it rarely requires “restart-to-update”, it loads webpages as fast as on my desktop, it boots up fast… it even runs Roblox!

Conclusion

  • Google is targeting the education market — and are quite successful. They are going for enterprise customers, and soon developers (Chromebooks with Linux support).
  • The average consumer is confused by the number of Chromebook devices that have such a huge price range. 
  • The Lenovo Chromebook C330 (released in late 2018) is the best bang for your buck. See if you can catch a good deal on Black Friday.

[appendix] Other Technical Details

This section is more for those who want to make the Chromebook do more than what it’s advertised for.

Re: sideloading applications, you’ll have to put your Chromebook into developer mode if you want to do this. This compromises security features built into the OS and it will perform a factory reset before it goes into developer mode. You’ll also have to press Ctrl+D to skip a warning message on boot up and may take extra time to boot up.

Re: linux — official support for Linux (without dual booting or going into developer mode to install Crouton) is coming to newer Chromebooks — search online for “Crostini supported devices”. With this, you could run VS Code as well as other Linux apps. The Lenovo C330 I’ve recommended might be supported. In the meantime, you can install Termux for a basic Linux shell.

Re: benchmarks — if you’re demoing a device at a store, head to browserbench.org and choose “Speedometer” to run the browser test. Here are some numbers for comparison.

Lenovo Chromebook C330 is the best bang for your buck.