Chromebooks: Sometimes less is more

Chromebooks: Sometimes less is more

Summary: When it comes to mobile tech, it's not always best to go big if a lesser option makes more sense.

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(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

A couple of articles have appeared on the web recently that dictate the philosophy that it makes no sense to buy a Chromebook, when for roughly the same price you can get a Windows system. One article by ZDNet's Larry Seltzer makes the statement in the headline that there's no good reason to buy a Chromebook. Another by Winsupersite's Paul Thurrott takes it further by stating in the sub-headline that Chromebooks are a joke. Both of those articles carry a strong message that overlook one little factor: sometimes less is more in mobile tech.

I'm not going to explain why Chromebooks are good options for some people, as I've done that many times in the past. I've also explained why some people, Seltzer and Thurrott are obviously in that group, don't understand what makes a Chromebook a good option for some folks. 

See also: The misunderstood Chromebook: Why few get itWhy there's no good reason to buy a Chromebook | Why I've all but given up on Windows | Why there are at least two great reasons to buy a Chromebook

What I will do instead is apply the logic expressed in those two articles to other areas of mobile tech. This will point out how it's not a good idea to dismiss Chromebooks for all users.

Small Windows tablets are starting to appear and they look pretty nice.  Paul Thurrott reviewed one such small tablet, the Dell Venue 8, and finds a lot to like about it. It's a nice 8-inch tablet in a world of larger slates.

Chromebooks are the same for some folks. They don't require a full PC to do what they need so it would be a mistake to take on the overhead and complexity of one.

Thurrott doesn't address a big problem with the Venue 8 that is worth pointing out. The small display makes no sense. For roughly the same price of the Venue 8 buyers can get a Windows tablet with at least a 10-inch screen. A larger screen is easier to see and displays more stuff at once. Thus there's no reason to buy Windows tablets with smaller screens.

The same applies to the iPad mini. Other than cost, why on earth would anyone buy the mini when the larger screen of the iPad Air is available? A bigger screen is obviously better than a smaller one so it's logical that no one should buy the iPad mini.

That doesn't make sense, does it? It's not very prudent to dictate that larger tablets are the better device for everyone simply because they display more than smaller ones. The highly portable nature of small tablets is exactly what makes them the better fit for some users, and the reason they choose them over bigger models. For those buyers, less really is more and meets their needs better.

The same can be said for those who find that using an Android tablet or iPad better meets their needs than a laptop. Those tablets do exactly what they need and not a bit more, so a MacBook or Windows laptop would be overkill. It works for them and that makes it the better choice.

Chromebooks are the same for some folks. They don't require a full PC to do what they need so it would be a mistake to take on the overhead and complexity of one. The focussed nature of the Chromebook is ideal for what some find preferable to other options so it's the perfect choice for them.

To dismiss a segment of mobile devices, no matter what it might be, is not prudent. Everyone's needs are not the same for hardware and software so choice is a good thing. For those who want a mobile device that can do everything, MacBooks and Windows PCs are the best option. For others who have simpler needs other platforms and devices are the proper way to go.

I respect both Seltzer and Thurrott and follow their work religiously, but I think they don't get the draw of the Chromebook for some. I also think that to dismiss any segment of mobile tech for everyone is not prudent. People should use whatever works for them and more importantly, what they want to use. Not what someone else tells them they should.

Special thanks to ZDNet's Mary Branscombe (@marypcbuk) for the "less is more" thought on Twitter that triggered this article).

Chromebook coverage: 

Topics: Mobility, Google, iPad, Laptops, Tablets, Windows 8

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74 comments
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  • People thought the same of netbooks...

    But the compromises were too great, and they were superseded by tablet devices which offer better performance. Chromebooks are no different. The Compromises are too great. It's a bonafide browser. I can't think of one person I support that lives completely inside of one. They all require different apps, and there's no point in justifying a Chromebook, when they still force you to carry another device to fulfill your requirements.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • In other words...

      They're an imaginary solution in search of a real problem that'll never exist.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • there's a real problem.

        Everytime I visit my mom I have to troubleshoot at least one issue on her windows desktop. A chromebook would be enough for her and it would not bug/crash all the time.

        netbooks ran windows, so you would get all of windows problems.
        Jean-Pierre-
        • Agenda

          James, on one day it’s how you can't recommend Windows Tablet anymore and the other is how much you like Chrombooks. I see a pattern here. Have you joined the SVJN army ?
          gbouchard99@...
        • "Windows problems"?

          There's always problems. That's why tech support exists. However, you'll be trading "Windows problems" for "Google problems." If Google suffers from a networking issue, or if the Internet goes down, on top of potential file incompatibilities, missing de facto apps, etc, you'll be suffering more than just "Windows problems."

          As Microsoft would say, you're left "Scroogled." There's nothing attractive here with these at all. They're just too limited.
          The one and only, Cylon Centurion
          • windows problems

            Yes windows problems! Yesterday I spent most of my day at work troubleshooting a bluetooth problem on an hp elitepad 900. Freaking waste of time. It's F-ing bluetooth! It's an old technology! It should just work. When is the last time you had bluetooth problem with android/iOS?

            I'll keep my windows PC, but for people with lighter use a chromebook is more than enough. And less pain for me.

            You are just a fanboy, but maybe one day you'll grow up and see that all those devices windows, iOS, android, etc. all have their strong points. If you keep being a biased zealot attitude you just end up giving bad advices to your friends and family.
            Jean-Pierre-
          • umm no

            How hard can Bluetooth be on a phone, a simple droid phone? Everyday I deal with Bluetooth issues on Droids, and a 'master' reset fixes it.

            However, do remember, I am the last line of defense before a handset gets exchanged. I deal with a very small majority of cell users. But the idea that non-windows devices just 'work' is silly. I can tell your not in IT, I can tell you are that person who thinks they know everything. Sorry there exists a world outside of your moms. Not to mention like the user below me puts it. What the hell is your mom doing?

            I have had windows xp-8.1, never had to 'fix' anything other than a driver here or there from manufactures. Or a device from win98 not playing nice with win8.

            I to have that break it mom, however, it is because dad keeps trying to watch movies online and downloads everything with the ok button. It does not corrupt the pc, but rather I have to clean out spyware/malware etc. This is not a pc issue only either. I do it on droids all day, I do it on macs all day.
            elitewolverine
        • Ha. Here we go again.

          "Everytime I visit my mom I have to troubleshoot at least one issue on her windows desktop"

          Well, what the heck is it good old Mom seems to be doing that always causes these issues to come up?

          Really?

          Cant you tell Mom to just stop doing whatever ridiculous things she seems to do to cause these problems? How is it that millions of Windows PC's around the world just seem to go on truckin' along for years, yet someone here at ZDNet always seems to have a Mom or Aunty or Granddad who cant keep their Windows computer running right, even with someone in the family who is in IT.

          Amazing. From the sounds of these like minded posts that say these things, once we get away from Windows, we can kiss goodbye the IT staff as these non-Windows computers apparently don't need IT expertise to keep running. Only Windows does.

          Its with stark amazement that we apparently live in a world where cost cutting CEO's cannot seem to understand their Windows computers are always letting them down and costing them a fortune as a result, and on top of it, it cost them a fortune in IT wages, yet there are people in IT related positions who are working hard apparently at convincing the world, and presumably these poor lost CEO's, that the world would be better of without Windows, and trying to hence put themselves out of a job in IT.

          Yes its a strange strange world we live in, it seems its all exactly backwards of what would make sense.

          Oh well.
          Cayble
          • i'd give you more votes, but I only allowed on

            so here is the balance: +99
            ForeverSPb
          • Mom

            "Cant you tell Mom to just stop doing whatever ridiculous things she seems to do to cause these problems? How is it that millions of Windows PC's around the world just seem to go on truckin' along for years, yet someone here at ZDNet always seems to have a Mom or Aunty or Granddad who cant keep their Windows computer running right, even with someone in the family who is in IT."

            I wholeheartedly agree with this comment. This is my mom too. I say the same things to her. My father, arguably less computer savvy, does not have these problems....ON VISTA no less!

            The reason seems to be that my mother is being preyed on. She shops online and is still not aware of the difference between a legit retailer and a less reputable one. Heck, some of the legit retailers serve up junk. Despite my best efforts, I still cannot make her understand that there is nothing out there for 'free' and anonymous people on the web should not be trusted by default. My father could not care less about shopping online, never watch a minute of HSN and generally sticks to email, FB and informational web surfing. He also has a good BS radar so is not likely to click on ads or pop-ups.

            Kids also get preyed on due to their gullibility. In fact, of all of the Windows computers I know of, I only routinely have to fix the mom computer and the sister's kid's computers.......and that pal who might occasionally get bit because he was "not surfing porn...I swear!"
            djmik
          • Vista worked

            Vista worked better than Millennium in fact, however people just hated it. It was a resource pig also.
            Altotus
      • A Chromebook is better than a netbook

        Most Chromebooks are cheap. But that's not the only appeal.

        There is something elegant about the Chromebook.

        I've got every form factor... smartphone, tablets, netbooks, desktop towers with lots of rendering grunt. Each has its use (except the netbook).

        But I like to carry the Chromebook when I need to type. It has a full sized screen and keyboard, but feels so light. It feels nice to type on. No fans. No hard drive. No moving parts. It's just elegant.

        As I said, I've got my desktop machines, but I don't always need that. I like to travel light.
        Vbitrate
        • chromebooks

          Amen. I too own all the various form factors and have been looking at Chromebooks. Why - cause I need a replacement for my netbook. I loved the little laptop because it was very portable and I could watch DVDs, surf the web and do lite work when I am traveling. I still carry it when I travel. Sure I have a powerhouse laptop, and it weighs 6 lbs. My various tablets are good but I watch DVDs too. Not everyone's needs or wants are the same.
          Geekygirl68
          • But you can't watch "DVDs" on chromebook

            unless you convert and transfer them to USB storage first. That pretty much just like any tablet...
            If you need a light laptop, why don't just get a real laptop with Atom processor? Atom comes a long way you know....
            Samic
        • I have a different experience

          For me, I carry an ASUS EeePC901 running Ubuntu Netbook ReMix 10.04 on the integrated 4GB SSD. The added 8GB SSD is my /home directory.

          I admit I'm onto my second one of these machines. The first one got rained on and promptly stopped working properly.

          I looked into a chromebook, but for what I do, the chromebooks I've seen simply wouldn't do the job. I'd need to wipe out Chrome o/s and install some version of full linux to do what I need to do. So while there is a very small market for the real netbook users, there's still a market.

          But for my spouse, I've considered getting her a chromebook. It's all she really needs.
          mheartwood
    • Maybe it isn't all compromise

      I actually own a Chromebook and I have found very little that I cannot do with it, and I have done a lot with it. Yes, you won't get all the 'premium' capabilities of a traditional PC or Mac, but you still can get a lot out of it, more than you would expect.

      And, the very few times I have not been able to accomplish something (besides any kind of hardcore gaming), I could just remote into my central workstation to finish the job.
      ndguardian
    • my gawd

      you can't think of one person. well then, that puts a lid on it doesn't it?
      tell us, how many is that? dozen? hundred? what is this magic number that has decided that no more needs said?
      oneleft
  • tech religion

    There's been a lot of tech religion preached from the pulpits of this site in the last two years.

    "I also think that to dismiss any segment of mobile tech for everyone is not prudent. People should use whatever works for them and more importantly, what they want to use. Not what someone else tells them they should."

    Kendrick's first two commandments:
    Thou shalt not dismiss any segment of mobile tech.
    Thor shalt not tell others what to use or not use.

    As such there have been a lot of sins committed. Here's to doing better.
    greywolf7
  • I wonder why this never applies to Windows phone.

    Authors on this site continuously dismissed the WP for years.

    Why there are were no articles like this for WP.
    Why less(apps) is not more for WP?

    Why same does not apply Windows RT?
    He criticized RT on daily basis. Why chromebooks are any different?

    If the chromebooks are made by Microsoft, then entire tech. community criticized them to death.

    But what we are seeing here is excuses.
    sri_tech
    • Yup

      I said the same in another thread. Chromebooks is "oh, and it doesn't run Windows programs but that's OK, mobile users don't need all that stuff" but with Windows RT it's "IT SUCKS BECAUSE IT DOESN'T RUN WINDOWS PROGRAMS!!!!"
      fawlty70