Chromebooks are a special type of laptop – here’s what makes them different

Google Pixelbook Go collage
There are a few key differences between Chromebooks and other laptops. Hollis Johnson/Insider
  • Chromebooks are a specific kind of laptop that run Chrome OS instead of Windows or macOS.
  • Compared to Mac or PC laptops, Chromebooks put heavy focus on Google apps and websites.
  • In short, all Chromebooks are laptops, but not all laptops are Chromebooks.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

A few years ago, if you wanted to buy a laptop, you’d have two choices: a Mac or a PC. But these days, you’ve got a third choice: a Chromebook.

Chromebooks are probably pretty different than the laptops you’re used to. Here’s everything to know about the differences between Chromebooks and laptops.

The differences between Chromebooks and laptops

A Chromebook is a special kind of laptop, different from standard Macs and PCs.

Its operating system – the software that decides how the computer works and what programs it can run – is called Chrome OS. It’s made and updated by Google.

A Chromebook's desktop, with Google Chrome, Gmail, and Google Docs open in separate windows.
Nearly all of the default apps on a Chromebook are Google services. William Antonelli/Insider

As you might expect, Chrome OS is primarily built to run Google apps like Google Drive, Docs, and YouTube, which are all installed on the Chromebook by default (although you can emulate some Mac and PC apps). You log into the device itself using your Google account and password, and will need an internet connection to use most of its features.

The keyboard also has keys you won’t recognize. Instead of a Caps Lock key, it’s got a button called “Search” or “Launcher” (depending on the Chromebook) that lets you search your device or the internet for anything you type. And in place of the Windows or Command key, there’s a key that’ll bring up Google Assistant.

A Google Pixelbook Go's keyboard, with the Google Assistant and Search keys highlighted.
There are two keys that are unique to Chromebooks. Google; skitching by William Antonelli/Insider

Finally, they’re not as powerful as most high-end MacBooks, and nowhere near as powerful as high-end PCs. If you want a computer for gaming, animation, or image and video editing, look elsewhere.

The chart below compares a top-of-the-line Chromebook with similarly priced PC and Mac models. The best of every category will be highlighted.

Acer Chromebook Spin 13 Dell Inspiron 14 5482 MacBook Air (33cm)
Processor Speed 1.60 GHz 4.6 GHz 3.2Ghz*
Graphics Intel UHD Graphics 620 Intel UHD Graphics 620 Apple M1 GPU
Storage Space 128GB flash memory 512GB solid state drive 256GB solid state drive
Memory (RAM) 8GB DDR3 8GB DDR4 8GB Unified
Screen Size & Resolution 13.5in, 2256×1504 14in, 1920×1080 13.3in, 2560×1600
Price $899.99 $889.99 $999.00

*Based on third-party benchmark tests, as Apple hasn’t released their own stats.

But when it comes down to it, a Chromebook is just another type of laptop. You can think of it like this: All Chromebooks are laptops, but not all laptops are Chromebooks.

The most popular Chromebook models are the Google Pixelbook Go, the Acer Chromebook Spin, and the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. They all look like any other laptop, just with that slightly different keyboard layout.

Google Pixelbook
Your Chromebook will have the same clamshell design you’re used to. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

If you mostly use Google apps, or are tired of Macs and PCs, Chromebook laptops might be worth a look.

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