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Chromebooks: Understand the Myths and Realities Before You Buy

Do your research before investing in a Chromebook, but don’t buy into these outdated warnings.

Chromebooks, or laptops that run on Google’s ChromeOS, have been around for more than a decade and have gone from basic internet appliances to excellent laptops for personal or professional use. While Chromebooks do have an expiration date, at which point they’ll stop receiving security and feature updates, their user-friendly nature makes them a good option for schools, businesses and for people who are less tech-savvy.

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But a lot of negative ideas about Chromebooks have circulated over the last 10 years too, including the fallacy that you can’t use them offline and that the devices are underpowered. Some of these critiques may have been true when Chromebooks were first released, but they have since been corrected or improved upon.

Here are eight Chromebook misconceptions to ignore when looking for a new laptop.

1. Chromebooks are underpowered

This is a common misconception that dates back to the Chromebook’s launch, when it was mainly used for accessing the internet via the Chrome browser. As more people started using Chromebooks, including for school and business, Google increased the functionality of the operating system and Chromebook makers improved their performance to take advantage of new features. Now, like other laptops, you get what you pay for with a Chromebook.

ChromeOS, the Chromebook operating system, still has low hardware requirements, though. This means Chromebooks can provide basic functionality for less money. Despite the low hardware requirements, Chromebooks can perform as well as — and in some cases better than — similarly priced Windows laptops.

“New Windows laptops for $200 are few and far between and, frankly, are rarely worth buying,” CNET’s Joshua Goldman writes. “Finding a good $200 Chromebook, on the other hand, is pretty easy to do… Premium Chromebooks typically start between $400 and $500, but can easily run more than $1,000 depending on your needs.”

The Lenovo Duet 3, for example, is $379, and it can stream videos, run almost any Android app and be used for cloud gaming via Nvidia GeForce Now or Xbox Cloud Gaming. Other premium Chromebooks, like the CNET Editor’s Choice award-winning Acer Chromebook Spin 714, are more expensive, but they can have up to 10 hours of battery life. They can also stream videos and handle productivity apps like Slack with ease.

2. You can only use Chrome on Chromebooks

It’s understandable — yet incorrect — to think that Chromebooks, which run on ChromeOS, can only use a Chrome browser. You can run other browsers, like Brave and Firefox, on your Chromebook.

To use these browsers, you need to download the apps from the Google Play Store. While those apps are meant for Android phones, they will work on your Chromebook. Some apps have tablet support so they look cleaner and use the additional space on the screen of your Chromebook. Their windows can also be resized just like traditional desktop software.

3. Chromebooks aren’t safe to use

Chromebooks have multiple layers of protection to keep your data safe. For example, you’ll get automatic updates from Google so your device always has the latest patches. Chromebooks also run individual websites and apps in sandboxes to contain threats.

These security features make Chromebooks more secure than many other laptops. According to CVE Details, a security vulnerability datasource, ChromeOS has had about 50 security vulnerabilities since 2010. In comparison, Windows 10 has had almost 3,000 vulnerabilities since 2013.

4. Chromebooks don’t work offline

While the first models were designed to be used online only, Google changed that long ago so that many Chromebook apps will work with or without an internet connection. You can use your Chromebook to take notes, watch movies and listen to music when offline. You can even check and respond to emails or view, edit or create documents in Google Drive. In these cases, whatever emails you are sending or changes you are making to documents won’t go through until you reconnect to the internet.

5. You can’t game on Chromebooks

Years ago you could only play web-based games on your Chromebook but since 2016, you can play many of the games in the Google Play Store. That includes games like Roblox and Apex Legends Mobile. You can also play games from SteamNvidia’s GeForce NowAmazon Luna and Xbox Cloud Gaming on your Chromebook.

Google is even selling Chromebooks made for cloud gaming. The Acer Chromebook 516 GEAsus Chromebook Vibe CX55 Flip and Lenovo Ideapad Gaming Chromebook are the first three gaming Chromebooks that let anyone play AAA computer games without a high-end gaming PC using cloud services.

Three Chromebooks from Acer, Lenovo and Asus from left to right designed for gaming with colorful backlit keyboards.
Lenovo, Acer and Asus (left to right) are the first three Chromebooks built for gaming.Google

6. Chromebooks aren’t good for photo or video editing

For basic editing, the Google Play Store has a number of photo and video editing apps, including Adobe’s Android apps and LumaFusion, which are Chromebook-compatible. Google also unveiled a new video editor and movie maker in Google Photos in July.

If you’re a business professional and need more advanced photo- or video-editing capabilities, like Adobe InDesign or Photoshop, you’ll still want a Windows, Mac or Linux laptop. However, if you are putting together a family photo album or a video for a family reunion, Chromebooks have everything you need.

7. Chromebooks can’t run Microsoft Office

Yes, you can run Microsoft Office on your Chromebook. However, instead of using the software suite made for Windows or MacOS, you’ll use Microsoft’s Office progressive web apps, or PWAs.

PWAs are like the mobile versions of websites, but they give you more features, like offline use and push notifications. There are PWAs for Microsoft Office 365 that work great on Chromebooks. Besides having to download the PWAs, using them is the same as using the web versions of Office 365. Microsoft Office power users might find that Office PWAs aren’t as robust as the desktop software, but the PWAs will likely meet most people’s needs.

8. You can’t use Windows on a Chromebook

This one is half true. While you can’t install Windows onto your Chromebook, you can access the operating system via remote access. You can use remote computer access tools, like Parallels for Chrome or Chrome’s Remote Desktop, to connect your Chromebook to a Windows computer.

Parallels lets you run full-featured Windows applications and is mainly meant for business users. Chrome’s Remote Desktop takes minutes to set up and can be used to access Windows — or Mac — software on your Chromebook. Is this cheating? Maybe, but I won’t tell if you won’t.

For more on Chromebooks, check out these eight Chromebooks for any budget and how to see which Chromebooks are about to expire. You can also check out how to run Windows Office on your Chromebook.

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Chromebook Expiration Dates: A Must-Know Guide for Smart Buyers

Easily find the Auto Update Expiration date, which tells you when a Chromebook’s security and feature updates will stop.

Joshua GoldmanManaging Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn’t consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.

ExpertiseLaptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and dronesCredentials

  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Joshua Goldman

3 min read

A Chromebook's screen showing the AUE date
Find out your Chromebook’s AUE date.Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

Chromebooks are great for many things and they’re generally less expensive than Windows laptops and Apple MacBooks. But before you pounce on one, there’s an important date to check first: a Chromebook’s expiration date, aka its Auto Update Expiration date.

Chromebooks automatically manage updates so they always have the latest features, including security updates. But because Google can only guarantee ChromeOS and browser feature support on non-Google hardware for so long, every device currently has a date on which it stops receiving updates — its AUE date.

If you’re interested in a particular model with an unbelievable low price, it’s best to find out the AUE date before you buy. (It’s also a good idea to do this if you’re buying a used Chromebook or passing on a gently used one to a friend or family member.) The good news is, Google makes it extremely easy to find out the date for any Chromebook.

Read moreChromebooks: Understand the Myths and Realities Before You Buy

How to check an AUE before you buy

A screen listing various AUE dates
Lenovo’s original Chromebook Duet has an AUE date of June 2028.Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

Getting the AUE date for any Chromebook is as simple as finding its name on a list. Google maintains a full list of AUE dates for all models. Just head to the list, find the make of your Chromebook or the one you’re looking to buy or pass along. Click on the make and the model list will drop down with its AUE date.

According to the policy page, Google will publish a model’s AUE date after its release, so you should always be able to find a specific Chromebook before making a purchasing decision.

Read more: Best Chromebook 2023: 8 Options to Fit Any Budget

How to check your AUE on your Chromebook

The About ChromeOS page
The About ChromeOS page takes you to your AUE.Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

Already own a Chromebook and want to know how long you have for updates? You can check for your model on Google’s list that I noted above or you can find it right on your Chromebook. There are several ways to get to the information, but essentially you have to dive into the settings menu to find it.

Open up your Chromebook’s settings menu by clicking on the time in the lower right of your screen and then clicking on the Settings cog icon. At the bottom of the left navigation panel (you may need to click the three bars at the top left to open the panel), you’ll see About ChromeOS. Click that, and then on Additional details. That’s where you’ll find your AUE date.

However, now that you know it’s in the About ChromeOS area, you can also search your Chromebook for it and go straight there. Press the Search key, assuming you haven’t changed it to function as a Caps Lock key, and search for “About ChromeOS.” You can also two-finger swipe up from the bottom of your screen to bring up a search bar, or there’s a search icon at the top right of the settings menu you can use. As I said, there are several ways to get to the info.

What happens when a Chromebook reaches its AUE?

Currently, once your AUE date arrives, the Chromebook will no longer receive software updates from Google. These include security updates, bug fixes and new features. And without those updates, things like apps and browser extensions might no longer function properly. So while you can still use a Chromebook past its AUE date, its usefulness will deteriorate.

Part of the issue is that the ChromeOS and Chrome browser are deeply connected. At the moment, this means that not getting a ChromeOS update also means not getting a browser update. Google, however, seems to be at work on separating the two. With the two separated, you might miss out on new OS features, but the Chrome browser would stay up to date. Google CEO Sundar Pichai may have even hinted at this separation in a tweet in March.

Google is also working on extending these dates and, as of November 2020, it announced new models would have longer lives, which roughly translates to anywhere from seven to eight years or more. However, the date varies from device to device and isn’t determined by when the device was released or by when you bought it.

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Source: CNET

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