My son started second grade last September, and his school gave him a beat-up old Chromebook in his backpack as his first laptop. Unacceptable! As a technical writer, I couldn’t settle for what the school offered. So, I did what any tech nerd dad would do and took my boy to buy a new Chromebook.
But as I soon learned, the world of Chromebooks can be dizzying. If I wanted to find the right option for my child, I would have to check my own technical knowledge and preferences at the door.
Too many Chromebooks
For starters, there are plenty of Chromebooks out there. I didn’t fully realize how many there were until I started buying one.
The first place I looked was Amazon. It was a mistake. There are over 200 Chromebooks pages. You get well-known names like Lenovo, Acer, and Asus. But you’ll also get some weird brands with names like Mighty Skins and VEIKK. I was certainly wary of the Basrdis Chromebook.
Even well-known brands have a huge library of machines. There were six pages of Chromebooks for Asus, ranging in price from $57 to over $700. Samsung Chromebooks occupy 17 pages on Amazon.
My local Best Buy had 17 Chromebooks on display.
Ok, Amazon was not working for me. With some advice from our own Chromebook reviewers, I decided to take my son to Best Buy because surely they must have a respectable lineup of decent Chromebooks to see in person, right?
It turned out that my local Best Buy had 17 Chromebooks on display, right in front of the Windows laptops. That’s a lot of Chromebooks. Their prices ranged from $200 to over $1,000. It’s better than the 200 pages of options on Amazon, but still got me a little overwhelmed with all the options.
Specs don’t tell the whole story
I scoured the screens at Best Buy scratching my head, wondering how my own experiences with technology would inform our decision on this new Chromebook.
Intel Celeron! 4 GB of RAM! Two in one! Must be a good deal, right? Well, not necessarily.
Chromebooks have the luxury of not requiring a lot of processing power to accomplish most tasks, and Chrome works surprisingly well on a Chromebook regardless of memory. Go figure.
But I’ve learned that you need to think of a Chromebook’s specs as part of a larger whole, rather than individual numbers. What I mean is you can get decent performance with a basic Core i3, but what if the device comes with a 120Hz OLED touchscreen and no GPU? Do you think that little 10th Gen Core i3 is going to power everything you need?
This is the problem I had with my son. At first, we picked a nominally inexpensive Samsung Chromebook. Samsung makes a number of solid Chromebooks, and even though this one was a bit older, I thought it was just for school, right? It came with an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. It was an upgrade over the school-issued Chromebooks, but as we found out, it wasn’t good enough.
This mediocre processor could barely power the machine, and my son’s school uses intensive web pages with interactive animations and videos. My boy had to wait for minutes while the video froze or lagged, while his classmates moved on.
It was back to Best Buy for us – and this time I was going for something with a little more punch.
You (usually) get what you pay for
After rendering this rather useless Samsung Chromebook, I held my nose and bought a much more expensive HP machine for my son. It cost over $500, compared to the $180 I spent on the Samsung.
HP makes great Windows laptops and I have a soft spot for their design aesthetic, which it carries over to its Chromebook line. My son didn’t complain at all. It came with an 11th Gen Intel i5 processor, 6GB of RAM, and 120GB of storage. The screen was a standard 1080p 60Hz LED screen, but it could fold back and become a tablet.
The HP looked fit for a man in a suit, not a kid in a Minecraft hat.
I was convinced that I had finally landed on the right device for my boy, but there was a downside. This HP Chromebook was flimsy. It was in the hands of a seven-year-old kid doing who knows what all day at school, and I wasn’t comfortable with it.
Also, the HP looked fit for a man in a suit, not a kid in a Minecraft hat. One night I told my son that I had to remove the Chromebook because it wasn’t working. He shrugged. It was just something he used in school and therefore didn’t interest him. As much as it hurt my tech-loving heart, it forced me to realize that my search for the right Chromebook for it may have been misguided from the start.
The lesson I learned
I never returned the HP Chromebook. I kept it to myself. After all, I liked the machine, and Chrome OS is a joy to use on a good computer with decent specs. If you’re buying a Chromebook, make sure you get something with a decent processor and enough RAM to handle what you throw at it. These computers have come a long way and our expectations of them have grown.
But my son was happy enough to start using the school-provided Chromebook again. It’s sturdy, easy to use, and gets the job done. And in the end, that’s really all it takes. As much as we love to scoff at those bulky plastic laptops, maybe those school administrators know what they’re doing.
I’m sure there will come a day when he wants something a little more refined – something he actually has love using. But for now, the school Chromebook is all he needs.
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