When Chromebooks were first announced back in 2011, I was intrigued. As a budget-conscious freelancer, I loved the idea of some slick new machines hitting the market at reasonable prices. But it was a Chrome browser as a laptop. Was that worth it?
At the time, I was knee-deep in Linux – the Ubuntu flavor – and loving it. Sure, there was a lot (a lot) more tweaking involved, but I didn’t have to deal with the headaches of Windows or the massive price tags of Macs.
And while my Linux desktop was running well, I didn’t have a “road warrior” – something that I could use on business trips, or if I wanted to work from a coffee shop or coworking space. My Windows netbook was okay at best for those needs.
So I went out and bought a Toshiba Chromebook – the first generation. I don’t remember how much I spent, but it wasn’t more than $250.
I loved it.
The Chrome OS was snappy, lightweight, and did everything that I really wanted it to do at that time. I did just work out of my browser most of the time anyway, so I just ran with it. Besides, I had upgraded to an affordable Mac Mini for my desktop anyway.
The Chromebook soon got bogged down, and Google Docs five years ago just wasn’t quite cutting it for me. I upgraded to another Chromebook – the next generation of Toshiba Chromebooks – and it worked better. Docs was updating regularly and starting to resemble the functions I could get out of Word.
Then, I locked in a new client that insisted I work in Word exclusively.
Since that client had me on retainer, I used some of that money to buy a 2015 MacBook Air. I sold my Chromebook, and my Mac Mini, and bought a dock to connect my Air to an external monitor, keyboard, and USB devices.
Truthfully, I loved this setup. I adored that I could just run everything off of one machine and still have the desktop experience when I wanted and needed it. The macOS was a bit much for my needs, but I wanted to run Word natively, and this was the only option if I wanted to avoid Windows.
Two months later, the client fired me.
But the MacBook was paid off, and it did everything I needed it to do. So I kept it for 2+ years, using it faithfully. And honestly? I did love it. I liked using the machine, I loved the hardware, and it worked for me.
Until, you know, it didn’t anymore.
I’ll touch on the reasons why as I run through my points below, but a couple weeks ago, I sold my MacBook Air on the Facebook Marketplace for $600. I took that cash and walked straight into Best Buy, walking out with a $500 ASUS Chromebook Flip C302CA.
I was nervous, I’ll admit. It had been years since I ran a Chromebook, and there were things about that MacBook that I really, really liked. Could I make the switch?
Yep. And I am so happy that I did.
What I use my computer for…
So let’s start here: any conversation of Chromebooks versus any-other-machine-out-there has to begin with a discussion of what you can do with it.
I can only speak to my needs, but here are my uses for a computer:
- Writing. I’m a freelance writer, through and through. Whether I’m blogging on WordPress, writing a book, ghostwriting a book, producing copy, or publishing on Medium, I need to be able to write regularly. I can’t wait around for stuff to load, and I can’t deal with a whole lot of hiccups. I need to write, write well, and write consistently. It needs to be exportable to Word when needed for my clients, too.
- Solution: Google Docs. I was doing a lot of writing in Google Docs anyway on my MacBook, so this wasn’t that big of a change. I did use Scrivener, but generally, Scrivener is more than what I really need. Some writers swear by it, and I do enjoy using it, but I just didn’t need it. Plus, sometimes I like to use dictation, and the Docs built-in dictation is miles ahead of Mac’s built-in dictation. So I couldn’t write in Scrivener in that situation anyway.
- Book Cover Design. I publish a series of books on Kindle right now, and I have the cover design dialed into a similar template across the board. I may hire a designer to re-do it at some point, but for now, I am still doing it myself. I have a template that I put together in Pixelmator, and it works very well: I can update it, swap out images, and have a brand new cover in under 5 minutes. I needed to be able to work with this template.
- Solution: Pixelmator (via MacInCloud). The discovery of this service is actually a godsend for me. Pixelmator is just, by far, the easiest-to-use editor. And yeah, I could probably rebuild my template in another program, like Pixlr or GIMP, but I don’t have time to learn right now. Maybe down the line. With MacInCloud, I am able to have a remote Mac desktop that I rent, so I can run Mac-only apps. Pixelmator is one of those. I installed Pixelmator and Google Drive’s sync, and I can edit or generate whatever book covers I need quickly and then pop them in Drive so they’ll sync to my Chromebook. I purchased MacInCloud by the hour, and $30 for 30 hours is going to be enough for me to last months, at least.
- Ebook File Generation. Whether it’s ghostwriting for a client or my own books, I need to be able to assemble files ready for publishing to any major ebook platform.
- Solution: Vellum (via MacInCloud). Vellum is the #1 app for me, and it’s not even close. Nothing makes ebook generation faster or easier. And it’s Mac-only. Because it works with Word files, I can do all of my writing and editing in Google Docs. When I’m ready to make the file, I can export it as a Word document into Google Drive. Then I just log into MacInCloud, open Vellum, import the Word file, and it’s ready for me to format! Formatting takes 5 minutes at the most, and then I just save it to Drive again.
- Gaming, kinda. I have one computer game that I like to play on a semi-regular basis: Fire Pro Wrestling World (yeah, yeah, leave me alone about it). I bought it on Steam, but it’s Windows-only. On my MacBook, I was able to dual-boot Windows with BootCamp. Whenever I wanted to spend an evening playing for a bit, I could just boot into Windows and off I would go. With Chromebooks, there was an even better option.
- Solution: Steam, via Crouton and WINE. This took weeks for me to figure out (and it really shouldn’t have, but I have work to do, you know?). I installed Linux alongside the Chrome OS using Crouton. This allows me to run Linux simultaneously with Chrome. I can switch to Linux whenever I need to without rebooting. This is actually even better than my dual-boot setup on my MacBook. I used WINE to install the Windows version of Steam, then the game. It works great. Plus, I can use my Linux installation for Calibre, which I prefer for a lot of my own personal ebook reading management.
So obviously, the last two there are workarounds (albeit, really effective ones). Why would I switch to a Chromebook then? If I have a couple Mac-only apps, and everything else I do in Chrome, and my MacBook Air is paid for, why switch?
I’ll admit, this question kept me from switching for a long time. I spent months kicking around this idea until others convinced me to just do it already.
Ultimately, it comes down to several key reasons that were enough for me…
This is a minor one, but one that was important enough to be a factor. I use the computer for my work (obviously). I have an old Nexus tablet for longer online reads or pulling up longer recipes in the kitchen. I use my phone for shorter reads or more convenient reading. And I have my Kindle Paperwhite for books.
I’m keeping my phone, of course. And I won’t get rid of my Paperwhite, as it’s the best reading experience I’ve ever had. But now that Chromebooks have touchscreens and the Google Play Store for Android apps, I don’t need a separate tablet.
It’s a small consideration, but being able to use one less device is pretty great. Plus, the ASUS Chromebook Flip folds back into tablet mode whenever I want, which has come in handy far more often than I would have expected.
It’s not much, but I also went with a higher-end Chromebook. I listed my MacBook Air on Facebook Marketplace for $650. I sold it for $600. With taxes, the Flip cost $525. I still have to sell the MacBook dock and some other devices (including my tablet). But if you’re thinking about a Chromebook, you can get one for $200. That increases your profit considerably.
This is why most people own Chromebooks.
They’re fast. Like, REALLY fast. There’s nothing like it. Even MacBooks, which are known for their speed and simplicity, can’t compare with the Chromebook on this one. It reboots in 5 seconds and you’re off to work.
I notice this even more so in Google Drive documents. On my MacBook, I would have to sit and wait for a delay while the document would load. And in the case of Google Sheets, I’d have to let the spreadsheet load fully before doing anything with it or navigating away from it. Otherwise, I’d get a loading error.
On my Chromebook, all documents open up quickly and I can start working on them immediately. It’s just a better experience for me.
Speed, Part 2: The Updates
What’s the worst thing about Windows? It’s Windows Update, right?
Windows Update can take hours to update your system, and you can’t use it until it’s done. I thought I had avoided that with the MacBook, but it just came back in a different format. Every other month or so, an update comes along that takes 45 minutes to run.
That’s 45 minutes of you being locked out of your computer, staring at that little Apple logo.
It’s brutal. And it feels archaic. It’s the #1 reason why I wanted to make the switch.
And poetic justice: I sold my MacBook in the middle of the day during a weekday. It was very sudden, and I had to wrap up my work so I could wipe the device in time. I started the device wiping process a full hour before I had to leave. I wound up selling it while it was still sitting on that logo, with “35 minutes remaining” on the process. The guy had to trust me that the stupid thing worked.
Just a confirmation for me that I was doing the right thing.
A Chromebook updates much differently. While you’re working, it updates in the background. When there’s an update downloaded and ready to be installed, you see a little “Up” arrow in the corner of your screen. Click it, and click “Restart to Update”.
The boot time goes from 5 seconds to maybe 7 seconds. And then you’re back. Yes, it is that fast.
Windows machines are full of garbage. Macs are full of less garbage, but they still have garbage on it. It’s “simpler”, but I don’t need to use all the built-in apps like Garage Band or whatever. There are a lot of things on both machines that take up space, I don’t use, and can’t be removed. Even the ones that can still take up space, which is why the Mac uninstallation process is so cumbersome.
On a Chromebook, well, this is no longer an issue. The apps are simple, you can install or uninstall as you wish, and my list of apps isn’t cluttered with crap I don’t want.
Look, we all like “new”, right? We like the feeling of having the latest and greatest thing. Even though our phones work fine, we still upgrade them, even if we’re not proud of it.
My MacBook Air, after a couple years, was starting to “feel” old to me. It was zippy for the most part, and I don’t want updates-for-the-sake-of-updates, but it was a 3-year old design and model. The Chromebook, with its clean, colorful interface and touchscreen, felt like a huge upgrade.
Easily transfer to new machines
As I write this, Google’s latest string of announcements will be coming our way in a couple weeks. No doubt, there will be new Chromebooks announced there, and there already have been some that will be going on sale soon.
Let’s say I see one of those new ones and I think that I want to jump on that device. I could sell this Chromebook and go buy the new one.
But what about the hassle of transferring devices?
It… doesn’t exist with Chromebooks. With the exception of installing Crouton and Linux, I don’t have to DO anything. I can just log into the new device with my Google account, and all my files, all my apps and extensions, everything is automatically transferred over.
I don’t need to make a list of apps that I want to make sure I have downloaded and installed or anything. They’re already here.
Optimized for Google apps
Finally, this is important for those of you who use Google’s services as much as I do: the Chromebooks are built for them.
I never bought into Mac’s ecosystem. I have an Android phone. I use Google Photos, Google Drive, Google Keep… and the Chrome OS is made for them. So they work great on this system. There is no lag, no struggle, and everything just “works”, as they say.
It’s not a surprise that Google would optimize their OS for the apps that they make. But it feels very intuitive, which means I can spend more time getting work done and less time trying to figure out how to get things to work, or how to set them up the way I want them.
Is it time to switch to Chromebook?
If you’re doing particularly intensive video editing, then you probably don’t want a Chromebook. But you can do pretty good video editing with WeVideo. And image editing? Sure, you probably want to stick with your current machine. But again, there are some pretty good options for you if you want to make the switch, like Pixlr or Photopea.
Chances are, if you’re considering it, you probably can make the switch and really enjoy it. The average user can. Google Docs is far ahead of where it was even a couple years ago. And most of my clients prefer to work in Docs anyways now.
But you have to answer that question for yourself. All I can say is, I was able to make the switch, and I have zero regrets. It’s great to be back in a Chromebook, and I intend to stay here.