Take a Chromebook instead of an Apple to your teacher

Take a Chromebook instead of an Apple to your teacher

Summary: If your school has Wi-Fi, an inexpensive Chromebook may be your best computer choice. Indeed, some schools have already decided that Chromebooks are the best laptops for their students.

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After using Chromebooks from their beginnings, I decided to put my Chromebook Pixel, the Porsche of the Chromebook line, to the ultimate test. I used it as my only computer at a major technology tradeshow: OScon.

Chromebooks
Chromebooks can work well for students. Indeed, some schools are now requiring them.

If a device that relies as much on Wi-Fi as a Chromebook does can work at a convention with 1,000+ Wi-Fi users beating the heck out of the network, it can work anywhere. It not only worked, it worked extraordinarily well.

I was able to write stories, take notes, keep expense accounts in spreadsheets, and watch, not one, but two live-streaming videos at the same time in a situation where most Wi-Fi equipped laptops are having fits just getting an Internet Protocol (IP) address.

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While I love my $1,450 Chromebook Pixel, you don't need its extraordinary screen or 4G LTE to have a great, inexpensive computer for school—or anywhere else for that matter.

Leaving aside the luxury model Pixel, Chromebook prices range from under $200 to around $500. Each of them runs the latest version of Chrome OS, which is a Linux-based operating system that uses the Chrome Web browser for its primary interface.

This combination of inexpensive ARM and Intel-based laptops brings to all users many useful features. These include automatic operating system updates, fast boot and shutdown, and far better security than its Windows or Mac rivals for a close to unbeatable price.

For schools and students in particular, Chromebooks bring other advantages as well. Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) LA Schools, a non-profit charter school operator  best known from the Oscar-nominated documentary Waiting for Superman, decided to give Chromebooks a try. They worked extraordinarily well.

According to Matthew Peskay, Director of IT for KIPP LA, "Chromebooks are it. The Holy Grail of IT (PDF link) in any organization is the ability to minimize admin. With the Google devices, set-up and maintenance are a breeze. There’s no need for antivirus software; updates are done automatically; they don’t freeze-up; and should anything happen, you simply reboot and you’re off and running." Just the simple fact that we won’t need to constantly update software is itself huge, let alone the lower support and maintenance costs with Chromebooks."

Other school districts have also moved to Chromebooks. One school district in Illinois, for example, now requires high-school students to buy Chromebooks. They have numerous additional reasons for this move including: easy access to e-textbooks; Google Apps for Education integration; and, last but never least for a school, almost all work is automatically saved to the cloud-based Google Drive, meaning the dog ate my homework excuse will no longer work.

With school budgets under constant pressure everywhere, the combination of an inexpensive device with a low cost of administration has got to be attractive.

Joshua Koen, the District Coordinator of Technology for Passaic Public Schools in Passaic, NJ, had additional reasons for moving its 4,700 of its middle and high school students to Chromebooks.

Koen said that the schools are moving to the Samsung 550 Chromebook for its students because, "We have felt for years that we needed to prepare our students with the necessary 21st century workforce skills to be prepared for success after school, in college and career. A one-to-one learning environment can uniquely provide teachers and students with the tools needed to collaborate, research and engage in activities to think critically and problem solve beyond rote-memory tasks (Not asking ‘Google-able’ questions). The impending implementation of both the new Common Core Standards, which address these 21st century workforce skills and on-line high-stakes testing--Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced, generated the momentum necessary to identify the necessary resources."

Of course, Chromebooks aren't perfect for every situation. If your school requires a specific Windows or Mac program, you're out of luck. That said, any Web-based elearning program should work with a Chromebook.

If you just want to buy a Chromebook for your own work, any model should do well for you. My recommendations are, for the most cost-conscious, look to the Acer C710. It's not fast, but at prices that can reach below $200, it's about as affordable as any Chromebook on the market today.

For the most Chromebook for the money, I like the Lenovo ThinkPad x131e, which was designed for students and cost just over $400, and the ARM-powered Samsung Chromebook. The latter has been Amazon's best selling laptop for months and sells for $250.

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Topics: Hardware, Google, Laptops, Lenovo, Linux, Networking, Samsung

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103 comments
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  • One district in Maine requires students to buy Chromebooks

    OK, so one incredibly wealthy district requires each student to buy a Chromebook. Try that in Chicago, Detroit or backwoods Mississippi. How about trying that in any average city in the US and see how the parents scramble for the $250 to $300 for a base Chromebook.

    Get real, not every student can afford to go to school, let alone buy a computer. That's a luxury, even a Chromebook, that not every district can afford.

    e-Textbooks - you have no idea how much I want that to succeed, but in today's world, probably not there yet. I have three in College and text book bills are crippling. There will be a special place in hell for the publishers that gouge the students and leave them no choice.

    However, a $75 tablet displays textbooks just as well as a Chromebook.

    The real problem for the Chromebook is that if you can afford a Chromebook, you can afford a computer that doesn't require the Internet to function, and one that really prepares you for College and life.

    It seems the Chromebook exists at a price point that is too expensive to be justified as a toy but not capable enough to be a true workhorse.

    How many years do we have to listen to Steven push something that the market is rejecting?

    (by the way, the article he wrote about Chromebooks really taking off sort of fell apart when the numbers were analyzed. Chromebooks have 25% of the sub $300 laptop market. Honestly, how many laptops are under $300?? Chromebooks should have 100% of that market as so few are under $300)
    Cynical99
    • There is an advantage to having the real book.

      1. It can continue providing information after graduation. Many of the cheap ebooks stop being readable.
      2. Easier to keep notes in - I used to add entire pages of notes associated with the section of the book the notes are placed.
      3. A quality real book keeps forever - there are some text books that have lasted 4 to 5 hundred years...
      jessepollard
      • Ya, but...

        depending on subjects, information changes. That why I can't sell my 5 year old college text book to a new student; they are now using a new edition with updated information. In my opinion, everything in print should be converted to digital, with government supplied e-readers for all!!
        kstap
        • That depends on the subject.

          But undergraduate textbooks (except for history, some EE, some physics) hasn't changed in 50 years.

          The book that got me through calculus was not the textbook for the class (it was rather crappy), but a 1936 textbook on calculus. Better writing, better examples, and the answers in the back of the book were the correct answers.

          Most of the subjects (up to and including some 3rd year) haven't changed one bit.

          What did change was the publishers pressure on instructors to select a new textbook. Such selection normally makes it mandatory that the student buy it.

          Been there seen that. And got pressured to select some bad text books.

          Publishers hate it when the instructor picks the same textbook as the previous year - they don't get money for it.
          jessepollard
    • As for the chromebook...

      Yes, a complete chrome book is still a bit more expensive than the 75 dollar throw-away.

      But the chromebook is more useful. Composition, Emailing, searching, compositing...

      The cheapo tablet can do some of this, but not conveniently, nor fast.
      jessepollard
      • Make that BARELY more useful

        Yes you can do a few extra things ... but nothing is barely a few extra things.

        But all the "extra" can only be done while ON-LINE ... meaning you have to have an internet connection ... and that is an extra expense for families who are barely making.

        So paying the extra $200 to get a glorified net appliance is not necessarily going to give a person anything extra over a simple (low cost) throw away e-reader or crapware tablet.
        wackoae
        • That isn't true, and you know it.

          It does support local processing.

          And if you STILL don't like it, add any missing software you want.
          jessepollard
        • Quite right

          Or just get a Linux box for a few bucks more. And for, say $150 more (including a copy of Office for Students) you can get a Windows box.

          When one considers that I'll be using a laptop for 3 to 5 years, spending an extra $150 seems a bit, well, minor.

          Consider that I'll probably spend hundreds of hours on the laptop through school, and the extra $150 breaks down to pennies per hour, if that.

          Concentrating strictly on up front costs is a sign of lunacy, and many here seem stuck on it.
          Cynical99
        • Internet is not a hardship

          It's ridiculous to state that anyone in the real world would buy a computer without also having an internet subscription.
          Carney3
    • I liked the comment

      "they don’t freeze-up; and should anything happen, you simply reboot and you’re off and running"

      So they either do or don't.
      William Farrel
      • He could just as easily been referring to a dead battery.

        And "something happening" could be a lightning strike nearby.

        Very few systems will come through that without a problem of some kind.
        jessepollard
      • William - you can reboot a chromebook...

        ...in less about 10 seconds (including log-in), so in the rare instances where they freeze, rebooting them is not a hassle.
        CHIP72
        • Wow!

          Do you have a life? Arguing over a couple of seconds? That goes for Windows and mac users as well. Get over your selves peoples. Who cares if something takes 10seconds or 30 seconds? Really!
          "Shakes Head"
          martin_js
          • More like 2+ minutes for Windows......

            ...if you have a secured server authenticated desktop with a few essential start-up scripts.
            Mah
    • Problem

      The problem is that any 250 dollar windows computer will be slow, sluggish and still require that you buy office, apps, anti-virus etc etc..

      chromebook does that for 250 flat.. no extra cash needed.
      frankieh
    • your choice...

      If you don't like what he writes then why do you go out of your way to waste your time?
      Bradish1
    • LOL - good but my son's school

      requires iPads with Tuition but they get them for $299... they do a TON of education stuff with them and my son does not have to be connected all the time to use. Granted this is a private school, but the price point and non-tethered option is kind of nice.
      ScanBack
      • Bingo! You've got that one right

        The price point of a highly limited Chromebook is that of a iPad purchased at educational prices from Apple.

        It's also the price of a low end Windows laptop, and if really cheap, you can install Open Office or Libre instead of purchasing MS Office.

        Or, just buy a Linux box for about the same price and eliminate Google from the equation.

        Seems that Google's Chromebook just doesn't have enough advantages to consider it over other options.
        Cynical99
  • Re: Chromebook instead of an Apple....

    To even consider a Chromebook is superior to a MacBook is hilarious.

    Yes the MacBook is more expensive but the ChromeBook has inferior build quality and running 'open source' software the value for money becomes poor.

    I am not saying Chrome as an OS is rubbish in fact its one of the better Linux attempts.
    5735guy
    • It gets worse...

      When you compare the $1450 Chromebook Pixel to the $1500 Macbook Retina which is a real computer while the Chromebook is a Dumb Terminal.
      itguy10