9 Things You Probably Don't Know About Chromebooks

Dan Tynan

Laptops that run Google’s own Chrome operating system (which looks just like the Chrome browser you might be using on your PC or Mac) are cheap, easy to use, and growing in popularity. They also do more (and sometimes less) than you might think. Here are nine things you probably didn’t know about machines running the Chrome OS.

1. They’re far more popular than Apple’s laptops. Last year, Chromebooks outsold MacBooks by a ratio of five to one. The fact that Chrome OS machines tend to cost less than a third of what their OS X cousins do probably has a lot to do with that.

2. You don’t need an Internet connection to use one. Though designed to work with a constant Internet connection, many Chrome OS apps — including Gmail and Google Docs — allow you to work offline for as long as you want and then sync your data when your connection is restored. Some apps have this ability built in; others require you to tweak their settings or install additional extensions from the Chrome store.

3. They can run Windows software (for a price). Last February, Google announced a partnership with virtualization king VMware to allow Windows apps to run inside the Chrome OS. To do that, though, you’ll need to be running VMware’s Horizon View 5.3, a piece of pricey enterprise-level software generally used only in large corporations. 

4. Some are faster than others. Though all Chrome OS machines start up and load webpages relatively quickly, they aren’t created equal. Generally speaking, machines running Intel x86 processors tend to be slightly faster than those running ARM-based chips. Your mileage may vary. (See The Verge’s story: The first Chromebook with a Core i3 processor is here.)

5. They don’t totally rely on the cloud for storage. For Internet-based machines, Chromebooks offer a surprising amount of local storage and preinstalled software. New models like Samsung’s Chromebook 2 and Acer’s C720P come with 16 or 32 GB of solid-state storage, respectively, along with slots for SD or USB memory sticks. The Chrome OS also includes a copy of Quickoffice, which allows you to read and edit Office docs without a Net connection.

6. Google Drive isn’t free. Chrome machines come with 100 GB of free online storage from Google Drive, but that deal ends two years after you buy the laptop. After that, you must pay $5 $2 a month for the privilege of storing your documents on Google’s servers. Those who don’t pay can continue to access their existing files but won’t be able to add any new ones.

7. But phone support is free. Though Google and its hardware partners seem determined to drive users to its support pages when they have a problem, you can call the company directly to get your Chromebook questions answered. Just dial 855-836-3987 and press 2 twice to get to a Chromebook technician. (You can also use this number to get support for the Google Play store, Android devices, Chromecast, and more.)

8. You may have to kiss your old peripherals goodbye. Chromebooks don’t come with drivers for printers, scanners, and most other third-party devices. To see your documents in black and white, you’ll need to connect your printer to the Web and set up Google Cloud Print. Your mouse and keyboard should work. But otherwise you’re probably out of luck.

9. Even if you’re not using a Chromebook, your kids might be. Because they’re so inexpensive and easy to manage, Chromebooks are extremely popular with cash-strapped school districts. According to NPD, one out of five notebooks sold to schools in 2013 was a Chromebook, a number that is only expected to increase.

Note: This story was updated to correct an error in the pricing of Google Drive storage.

Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.