I’ve spent the last half of the decade reviewing the best laptops, from Windows to Apple computers. Google’s Chromebooks have always been looked down upon due to their less powerful hardware and ChromeOS’s heavy reliance on the internet. However, it’s these factors that help Chromebooks offer all-day battery life, smooth performance, and touchscreen displays at a fraction of the price of their Mac and Windows counterparts. So we put Chromebooks versus laptops in everyday testing to find the best-performing models and the respective strengths of each type of computer.
Take a look below at quick info on the best Chromebooks versus laptops from our testing, then scroll down for buying advice and in-depth reviews.
The Best Chromebooks and Laptops
Best Overall Chromebook: Acer Spin 713
Best 2-in-1 Chromebook: Lenovo Duet 5 OLED
Best Desktop Chromebook: HP Chromebase AIO
Best MacBook Laptop: Apple MacBook Pro
Best Windows Laptop: Microsoft Surface Pro 8
What is ChromeOS?
These battery, performance, and touchscreen feats are possible because Chromebooks are laptops and desktop computers that run on ChromeOS, which is a cloud-based operating system. This is the fancy way of saying that the software and services are powered by the internet on a Chromebook versus laptops which use local applications. Chromebooks stream tasks which frees up resources that tax computing power, onboard graphics, and battery. That leaves Chromebooks with a less-intense workload and plenty of onboard memory, which translates to a snappy, modern operating system that runs atop a version of Linux.
With that said, this speed sacrifices onboard power. The majority of ChromeOS software is made up of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) that rely on a constant internet connection. Just a handful of essentials like Google Drive, Polarr photo editor, and installed Android apps like games are available offline. Since most of a Chromebook’s power is externally tied up in the cloud, you can’t natively run powerful AAA games like you would on a Windows machine or render 4K footage edits on a MacBook without an internet connection.
Compared to well-established operating systems like Windows and MacOS, ChromeOS is a lightweight alternative that seamlessly switches between a laptop and mobile tablet experience. Each operating system has its own advantages and drawbacks, but while MacOS and Windows fail to stray from a traditional desktop experience, ChromeOS is only growing more relevant and appealing in this connected, mobile-centric world. In fact, ChromeOS devices outsold Apple’s MacBook lineup for the first time during the pandemic—taking the second-largest market share in the PC space behind Windows.
Chromebooks Make The Most of Limited Specs, But Laptops Are Still More Powerful
While ChromeOS devices may not come equipped with the most powerful internal components like a traditional laptop, connecting a Chromebook to the web unlocks a world of power. Chromebooks can access smooth cloud-based versions of suites like Adobe Creative, Microsoft Office, and Zoom, which brings their functionality in line with locally powered versions without needing the hardware to do so. Since they’re streaming from stronger hardware over the internet, Chromebooks get the latest versions and aren’t held back by hardware restraints over time. If you simply want to play the latest games, you can play AAA titles stably over the cloud using Google’s Stadia gaming platform or Xbox Game Pass. If you spend most of your time checking emails, surfing the web, and streaming Netflix online, a Chromebook provides the best bang for your buck. They receive updates for up to eight years after release, their lightweight SSDs boot into apps quickly, and Chrome is protected from malware. You won’t have to worry about replacing aging components or upgrading with Chromebook versus a laptop.
Even so, laptops are much more powerful than Chromebooks. You can download software directly to your laptop, which uses its stronger onboard hardware for processing tasks and graphics. Instead of depending on the internet for power, you can play the latest games at high settings and frame rates, use AI to edit photos and video effects, and work from anywhere. That’s been helpful as I’ve filmed multiple projects and edited them on site, worked aboard trains, and recorded podcasts from different settings without Wi-Fi over the years. Since laptops have to download and contain software, they come with much larger storage spaces versus Chromebooks, not to mention have better screens. Chromebooks are versatile since they can install the latest mobile Android apps or games natively for offline use, but these mobile versions of software like Photoshop Express are often inferior due to limited capabilities like AI enhancements in media editing suites or background blur during a Zoom call.
Prior to my time here I spent a few years reviewing computers and peripherals for Laptop Magazine. I know how all operating systems should work across a range of performance levels. I tapped into this hands-on testing experience, as well as my own personal use as a laptop owner, to determine which models were the most promising for testing. Then, after researching the highest reviewed Chromebooks and laptops by experts like RTings and Laptop, I cross-referenced potential choices with consumer reviews to finalize my selection.
I looked at five core competencies of the everyday laptop experience; performance, battery life, display, connectivity, and storage space. I had to get creative for setting performance benchmarks since Chromebook components can’t compete in standard processing testing areas like video rendering speeds or gaming frame rates. Instead, I ran Chromebook-centric tasks—I opened 15 live flash-heavy browser pages on Google Chrome. Each tab was loaded with constantly refreshing websites I use daily including a team project tracker, a YouTube Live Lo-Fi stream, and real-time headlines from Feedly. Next I downloaded Roblox, which is the most downloaded game across all app platforms (Google Play Store, Apple App Store, and Microsoft Store). Coincidentally this also happens to be the only 3D game with adjustable graphics levels I could get to run properly across all devices. I turned on Roblox’s in-game performance tracker to show component stress loads and usage while noting frame rate drops. Lastly I ran a basic webpage speed test that calculated the average load times into both a fresh Google tab and the image-heavy front page of Reddit, since you’ll primarily be working from a browser to gauge how quickly you can expect to be up and running between sites.
Gauging battery life relied on leaving each laptop on with all the processes above running until the battery died. We cranked each display down to 50 percent brightness and split into two eight-tab windows on a full screen for equal stress load and power draw. I also took note of ports on the laptops in addition to their ease of use and capabilities. For example, the Duet and Surface are a 2-in-1 format, which can break from a laptop down into tablets. This versatility gives them a better value over a standard clamshell laptop design.
Chromebooks run off of lightweight Chrome OS which is optimized to run fast even on underpowered components. They are easy to navigate using both peripheral and touch inputs, less prone to viruses, and offer Google Assistant smarts. Setup is a breeze; you simply connect the laptop to Wi-Fi and sign into your Google account. Within minutes all of your previously purchased Google Play apps are automatically installed with your Chrome browser activity. This syncs across all of your devices so you can pick up webpages from where you left off on your phone or desktop. Chromebooks are limited without Wi-Fi—one doesn’t buy a Chromebook if they plan to edit films, play heavy AAA games at max settings, or broadcast livestream content smoothly.