Are there good reasons to buy a Chromebook?

Summary:Matt Miller and Larry Seltzer debate the pros and cons of these Chrome OS-based appliances.

Matthew Miller

Matthew Miller

Yes

or

No

Larry Seltzer

Larry Seltzer

Best Argument: Yes

61%
39%

Audience Favored: Yes (61%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Situations where it makes sense

Matthew Miller: I understand that Larry has some strong feelings about why there is no good reason to buy a Chromebook, but I believe there are indeed some situations where it makes sense to pick up a low cost Chromebook rather than a PC.

I bought my daughter a $249 Chromebook last year for Christmas and she uses it for school research, to check her grades and class assignments, to write papers, and to enjoy media via Hulu and Netflix. She calls it her computer and I have yet to perform any maintenance or troubleshooting in nearly a year.

As a daily 2 hour train commuter, I like to write while passing the time. With a Chromebook I am able to fly on the keyboard and crank out a stream of consciousness without being distracted by notifications , virus warnings, update requests, etc.

The special offers Google includes with a Chromebook purchase make a Chromebook nearly free for me. I enjoy their Google Drive offer and use GoGo in-flight service once or twice a month. These two offerings add up to about $269 so why not pick up a very capable writing machine for the cost you would pay for a couple services?

Chromebook? Why limit yourself so?

Larry Seltzer:  As I argued earlier this month , there's nothing a Chromebook can do that a more general-purpose — probably Windows — laptop can't. 

Buy a cheap Windows laptop and install Google Chrome: Instant Chromebook, plus it does a lot more. That's really the bulk of the argument.

Is a Chromebook simpler than a Windows laptop running Chrome, and is simplicity in this regard a virtue? This is only true if there are direct benefits from the simplicity. These perceived benefits must be balanced against clear and obvious advantages of a device that runs all Windows software. Incidentally, I'm not persuaded by these alleged benefits.

Many seem to think that they will save money by buying a Chromebook, and at the very low-end that may be true. Once you start going over $300 or so, the case is far less compelling, and there are Windows laptops available for under $300.

There is quite a bit you can do entirely in the Google ecosystem. If you're willing to limit yourself to these things then a
Chromebook can work for you. But why limit yourself?

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Hello again

    Welcome to this week's edition of the Great Debate. Larry Seltzer and Matt Miller have taken sides over the future of the Chromebook. It should be interested. Are the debaters ready?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Yes I am

    I'm ready -- to win, that is.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Yes

    I'm ready

    Let's get started.

    Larry Seltzer

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Are Chromebooks on the right track?

    Chromebooks have come a long way since the incomplete CR-48 first made its appearance in 2010. What do you see as the biggest difference between then and now?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    More than a cheap netbook

    Google has released many updates to Chrome OS and Chromebooks since the original release in June 2011. One of the biggest differences I see is the improved support for working offline when you do not have a connection available. With the offline apps, I have been able to write blog posts, edit photos, and more than what I ever thought possible with a "web browser."

    With the Chromebook Pixel we also see what is possible with Chromebooks, including extremely well-designed hardware, touch screen interaction, and more. At first we thought Chromebooks were just low-priced netbook alternatives that appealed to basic computer users, but with hardware like the Chromebook Pixel and improved applications we are seeing you can do so much more.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Yes

    Nothing special

    Obviously the Chrome platform does a lot more and is more polished. It still does nothing you can't do on Chrome on some other platform.

    On the other hand, it either can't do or is weak at other important things people do. At the top of the list is printing. You have two options: one is to connect a printer to a Windows PC or Mac and share it from there through the Google cloud. The second is to buy a Google Cloud-Ready printer. There are a lot of these now, but there are a lot of printers which aren't Google Cloud-Ready, probably including the one you own. So what will you do? Probably you'll have to ask a friend or relative who has a real computer to print for you.

    Larry Seltzer

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    ChromeOS and Android: Merge or stay separate?

    Despite indications from Google that ChromeOS and Android would eventually get more closely integrated, they still remain separate platforms. Is that a mistake or the right strategy?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Stay separate

    They still remain separate platforms and I honestly hope they stay that way. I am an Android smartphone user and like all that I can do with my Android phone that is not possible with Chrome OS. I shudder to think what a browser-based dialer and phone stack would look like.

    The third party applications on Android now compete well with iOS applications and we are seeing that third party apps are a major factor in why people purchase a specific smartphone.

    Chrome OS is good for many things, but I don't think it is what we need on phones and I think keeping the two separate is a good thing. I could see Chrome OS coming to tablets and replacing Android tablets since we haven't seen an extensive Android tablet application focus and the things people do with tablets (browsing, reading, consuming media), can be done on a Chromebook nearly as well.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Yes

    Stay separate

    It's a problem, but there's really nothing they can do about it. The platforms are too different to merge.

    Is it a big problem? It means that you'll need to get two devices to get the benefits of each. You might want that anyway. Microsoft would argue that, on the other hand, a hybrid device like the Surface gives you a real tablet and a real Windows laptop that can do everything a Chromebook can do. I tend to agree with Microsoft, but it's too early to say if, in the aggregate, consumers care.

    Larry Seltzer

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Chromebooks and ChromeOS: A match?

    Android tablet apps could certainly have a natural place on ChromeOS, especially on touchscreen laptops like the Chromebook Pixel. Do view that move as inevitable, and will it give Chromebooks a big boost?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    More advanced ChromeOS

    I still don't think there are many "killer" Android tablet apps and many of the tablet-optimized Android apps I have experienced come from tablet manufacturers like Samsung and LG. I would actually like to see a Chrome OS-powered tablet or maybe even a hybrid that docks with a keyboard.

    Android hybrids (Asus Transformer, for example) already offer and Android touchscreen laptop option and are compelling machines. I don't think getting Android tablets on Chromebooks solves anything and actually then leads to people screaming that Chromebooks are now prone to viruses and other malicious Android attacks.

    I would rather see more advanced Chrome OS apps that take advantage of touchscreen devices.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Yes

    Seems clumsy

    The way they would have to do this is with an Android container running in the Chrome browser. I guess this could work. It seems clumsy to me, in the same way that Windows 8 apps on a conventional laptop seems clumsy. Many of the features that Android apps expect, like an accelerometer, won't likely be in the Chromebook.

    Larry Seltzer

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Packaged apps

    Speaking of apps, one of the big things Google is betting on to make Chromebooks more functional and desktop-like is "Packaged apps." Will this succeed?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    This is exactly what we need

    Yes, I think this is exactly what we need to convince people that Chromebooks are much more than simply advanced web browsing machines.

    I have played some great games, read offline articles, editing photos, and created documents using apps from the Chrome Web Store. It is great to use some of these apps on a PC at work and then have that same experience and functionality extend to a Chromebook at home.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Yes

    Tough competition

    They're certainly necessary for the Chromebook to be at all usable. Otherwise there's no offline model. Apps need to be enabled for offline and a lot of them aren't.

    Will Chrome apps be successful? Google faces a bigger version of the problem Microsoft faces with Windows 8: If you're a developer looking to where you want to put your efforts, Chrome apps have to be pretty far down the list, The development model doesn't resemble iOS or Android at all. Conceptually it actually has more in common with Windows 8 app development, but that won't help you a whole lot.

    Larry Seltzer

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Speaking of Chromebook's best features

    The people who are sold on Chromebooks talk about how fast it boots, how it never gets "bit rot," and how it seamlessly transitions from Wi-Fi to LTE Mobile Broadband. Is that enough to attract more mainstream users?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    A cheer for LTE

    We see very few Windows 8.1 devices with integrated LTE and with LTE-enabled Chromebooks including some free wireless data each month I think this is a functionality that Google needs to advertise even more. With a LTE-enabled Chromebook you can do just about anything at any time.

    I don't think the fast boot means much today when people are using Macbooks, Windows 8.1 computers, tablets, and phones that all boot up in seconds. This is a carry over from the days of XP and not indicative of today's modern mobile technology.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Yes

    Nothing new

    Indirect swipes such these at Windows systems are largely based in memory of Windows XP. A Windows 8.1, or even Windows 7 system, starts up quickly, even from a cold boot, and I don't see any bit rot. And excuse me, but do Windows systems (or any others) not transition between Wi-Fi and mobile broadband seamlessly? News to me. (Unless you don't want the system automatically to switch on the mobile broadband, which many users might not.)

    Larry Seltzer

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Home basics

    With most home users interested in email, surfing the web, and Facebook -- and most business apps now being delivered in the web browser (even if they are hosted internally), does it pave the way for Chromebook adoption?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    A home run

    Absolutely, I have let many people use my Chromebook and they appreciate the simplicity and ability to conduct 90 percent of what they regularly do on a computer without worrying about viruses, regular updates (although there has been more Chrome OS updates lately), or other preconceived worries they have through issues with their work PCs.

    For those who perform heavy photo editing or video editing, there is still a need for regular computers at home and Chromebooks can't fill every need. However, they are priced quite low to meet the majority of people's basic online needs.

    Google needs to continue to show how Chromebooks can connect to business apps for some users, but the majority of home users likely prefer to get away from work when they are home and have an enjoyable and personal computing experience.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Yes

    PCs can do it all -- and better

    They're interested in those things, and PCs do them well, but that's not all they're interested in. They play games on their computers that don't run on Chrome, they connect to devices like scanners and printers that Chrome can't support, and they run other programs, like Quicken, that ChromeOS doesn't have. (And by the way, the 'QuickBooks' app in the Chrome Store is just a link to QuickBooks online, i.e. the toy version.)

    So what it paves the way for is disappointed users. By the same token, you have to wonder why people in retail would want to push Chromebooks on customers when they're cheap and don't do anything the customer can't do with the Windows notebooks a few feet away.

    Larry Seltzer

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Issues

    What are the most important issues that are still holding back Chromebooks for consumers?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    The middle ground

    Quality between the low cost Chromebooks and the Pixel. I think the low cost models are great for students and others who want a cheap computing experience, but I personally need something with better quality. The Pixel is outrageously priced for what it offers and the touchscreen isn't really a necessity at this time.

    That said, I would love to have a $500 to $600 Chromebook with a display similar to the Pixel without a touchscreen. Give me a high quality machine that is more reasonably priced and it will be my new commuting machine.

    I also think there is still more work to do on advertising these Chromebooks to the general public. It looked like the new HP Chromebook 11 was going to be a hit, until it was pulled from the stores for power charging issues.



    Matthew Miller

    I am for Yes

    Value and compatibility

    Two things: Value proposition and compatibility. Too many people either don't want to or can't abandon their existing software. There are hardware devices, like scanners, which ChromeOS can't handle or (as with printers) handles badly.

    The value proposition is tough case. Why buy something that does less?

    Larry Seltzer

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Professional users

    What are the most important issues that are still holding back Chromebooks for professional users?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Never an option

    I don't think Chromebooks will ever fill the need for professionals and for that matter I am not a subscriber of the "post-PC" era either. As a professional engineer, a Windows PC is essential for me to do my job and nothing but a Windows PC will run the advanced analysis software I use. There are thousands of custom PC applications that make businesses run and Chromebooks will never be able to fill those needs.

    Even though many business are moving to a paper-free office, printing is still needed and Chromebooks don't do this very well. In addition to just printing, there are advanced layout and design software applications that are needed that go beyond what a Chromebook can do.

    Chromebooks are much more compelling as home computers and I honestly don't think they will ever be a viable enterprise device.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Yes

    Software

    Unquestionably it's software compatibility. Lots of businesses are reliant on older software which is Windows only. Even much of the web-based software won't run on Chrome. It probably won't print on the office printer. For that matter, it won't connect to the office network, so IT can't manage it in anyway.

    Larry Seltzer

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Chromebooks vs. low-cost Windows systems

    Chromebooks from HP, Samsung, and Acer are all excellent bargains under $300. How well do these compete with low-cost Windows systems?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Trust factor

    There are some decent low-priced PCs today, particularly Atom-based Windows 8.1 devices, that let people do everything a Chromebook does and a lot more. Then again, I wouldn't trust these low-priced PCs to be updated for long and in my experience their performance degrades rather quickly over time.

    Chromebooks are well made and with Chrome OS powering them you can trust that they will be updated for years. Chromebooks are pretty worry free, quiet, and usually have fairly long lasting batteries compared to cheap PCs.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Yes

    Pluses and minuses

    There are many Windows systems in that price range (arbitrary example: the ASUS VivoBook X200CA-DB01T). For that much money you won't get top-end stuff. I suspect it will perform about as well as a cheap Chromebook, but the battery life won't be as good and it probably won't wake from sleep quite as fast, since it will have a physical hard drive.

    On the other hand, there's a whole lot more you can do with it.

    Larry Seltzer

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Would you recommend a Chromebook?

    All things considered, are there enough good reasons for you to recommend Chromebooks to many users? Why or why not?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Yes, but not for everyone

    I have recommended Chromebooks to many people and those that primary surf the Internet, check out Facebooks posts, play a few games, and upload a few photos have been more than happy with their purchase. My daughter received one for Christmas last year and has no idea her $249 Chromebook is not a full computer. As kids grow up online, devices like the Chromebook can easily meet their needs and give me time for other things instead of troubleshooting issues.

    My wife can't stand using a Windows PC, now she last used an XP machine, and likes her Mac. Apple computers are pretty expensive to just get your foot in the door, but I honestly think I could have given her a Chromebook and she would be perfectly happy since she doesn't use a PC for much more than browsing, basic document creation, and some basic photo management.

    I love Chromebooks for their distraction free work environment and think they are great for students to stay focused on the task at hand. There are indeed limitations with Chromebooks, but I still believe that the majority of people won't even notice these while using them as home computers.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Yes

    No way

    I can't imagine recommending one to anybody. If you're willing to spend more than $300, and especially if you're willing to go a lot closer to $1000, you get so much more from a Windows laptop and basically no advantages from a Chromebook. At the very low end, if you've got less than $300 to spend the difference may not be as profound, but it's still pretty clear. The Chromebook does less. You're very likely going to run into circumstances where the Windows system would have worked and the Chromebook doesn't.

    Larry Seltzer

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thanks for joining us

    And thanks to Matt and Larry for doing a great job. The debaters will submit their closing arguments on Wednesday and, due to the US Thanksgiving holiday, my final verdict will also be posted on Wednesday at 2pm ET. In the meantime, please read the comments, add yours, and vote for your favorite.

    Posted by Jason Hiner

Closing Statements

Chromebooks are a no-brainer

Matthew Miller

Thanks to Larry for the lively debate and to Jason for hosting the event. If I put on my enterprise hat, then I agree with much of what Larry stated and still carry my Surface Pro as a way to work on the go without any real compromise.

That said, I find Chromebook usage to be refreshing and energizing. I don't worry about viruses or malware, never think about updates, and am able to just open up the display and enjoy the pure Chrome experience. I know it may sound strange, but when I use a Chromebook my thoughts seem to flow more freely and it seems easier to write.

The Chromebook special offers personally appeal to me and make purchasing a Chromebook almost a no-brainer for those who would have purchased these services without a Chromebook.

I fly at least once a month and purchase GoGo WiFi so getting 12 passes with a Chromebook is awesome. I also prefer Google Drive for my cloud storage solution and Chromebooks come with at least 100GB of storage for a couple of years (Pixel owners get 1TB for 3 years). I am a Google Play All Access Music subscriber and with a Chromebook you get two free months. That's a total of about $290 in services when you pay $199 to $350 for a Chromebook.

In short, hassle-free web experiences and value-added services make them a no-brainer.

All the value is in novelty

Larry Seltzer

Like a lot of new technologies, Chromebooks have novelty value. It's kind of cool that a browser could be the whole device. That doesn't make it a good buy.

The kindest thing I can say about Chromebooks is that it may be too soon to tell on them. Perhaps Google will convince enough developers to write packaged apps, especially ones that work offline, that it will be a more useful system. Perhaps some way will develop to support hardware and software that is currently unavailable. Perhaps.

This debate has forced me to think a lot about the value proposition for Chromebooks, and I feel more strongly than ever that they're a bad deal. If you compare Chromebooks to what you can get in a *real* computer today at today's prices, there's just no reason to settle for less.

Some limitations but plenty of positives

Jason Hiner

The Chromebook issue boils down to capability versus simplicity. If you still rely on any installed apps--that don't have online equivalents--to get your work done then you're going to need a Windows laptop. Or, in some cases, you can get away with a Mac. End of story. However, if you're already spending 99% of your time in a web browser, then using a Chromebook can save you some headaches. It doesn't have all the virus and malware worries of a Windows machine. It isn't constantly updating apps. And, it doesn't slow down over time because of bit rot. It also automatically transitions between Wi-Fi and LTE Mobile Broadband far better than Mac or Windows, which still use clunky connection managers. 

For now, Chromebooks are doing better job of getting the technology out of the way than either Windows or Mac. In that way, they are more like tablets. But, along the same lines, Chromebooks have limitations that make them a show-stopper for many professionals. Nevertheless, as Matt noted about his commuting time, Chromebooks can still serve as a viable second PC for many business folks. That makes the verdict for this one pretty easy: There are plenty of good reasons to buy a Chromebook.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

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