Should I buy a Chromebook for my child’s schoolwork?

Samsung ChromebookThis question gets asked of me a lot in the local area where I live. Most of the local schools ‘require’ some form of personal computing device for each child now (beyond about the age of 10+) and Chromebooks are an often recommended solution with the alternative being the iPad or a full laptop. I’m sometimes not even sure if the schools themselves fully understand the differences, limitations and usefulness of the Chromebook.  Hopefully the following helps with your decision.

A Chromebook is just a cheap laptop right?

A Chromebook can be thought of as a basic laptop or netbook, sold with an operating system (based on Linux but managed by Google) called ChromeOS instead of Windows. Don’t be scared off by the fact that it isn’t Windows though. Generally the laptops are not overly powerful, but if the majority of work is done on the internet (in a browser) they are a great, cheap and low stress choice.

With ChromeOS, Documents are usually stored online (or memory stick). Google docs replaces word/excel etc. Email will be gmail/hotmail or some other webmail. Lots of programs already exist that run fully in the browser. This does mean however that you have to be online for ‘most’ of its use (with some exceptions)… so no playing minecraft on it in the car on a trip (well, I guess tethering to your smartphone would suffice)… whereas with ipads (and of course android tablets) you can play standalone ‘apps’ without the internet. But you are buying it for schoolwork right…!?

Whilst I agree that the ‘walled garden’ of ChromeOS is slightly restrictive (even moreso than the iPad), that is why the devices are cheaper, lower power, and more secure. There is plenty of good stuff out there already designed for browser use and you can even use a slightly cut down version of the full Microsoft office suite on Microsoft Skydrive if you want to avoid the Google Docs equivalents for some reason.

“…the Chromebook marketing strategy has centered on the total cost of ownership, which, can be “dramatically” reduced by lower maintenance, management and security costs, even if hardware costs remain unchanged…” Rajen Sheth, the ‘father’ of Google Apps.

Chromebook, iPad or Laptop?

People (especially kids) are doing less and less work on ‘installed’ software (does anyone remember buying Encarta or Britannica on CD?!) and more in a browser online. I certainly do recommend Chromebooks for childrens’ education as they are cheap, soooo low maintenance and more ergonomic, usually with a bigger screen than a tablet/keyboard combo. However, you have to remember… an “i-device” does have the “cool” factor amongst kids (…and some adults…), so you have to weigh up that… vs cost for your child. You don’t want your child to be disappointed if ‘every’ other child in the class has an iPad. Hopefully the following helps with your decision.

Samsung Series 3 Arm Chromebook

A windows or mac laptop ‘could’ be more useful longer term, but will require antivirus maintenance, checks for malware etc… which is fine if you are technical or know someone who is…. and most laptops only really have a useful life of 3-4 years anyway. The idea of a Chromebook is a lower ‘total cost of ownership’, ie. upgrades, maintenance, software fixes are generally eliminated. They pretty much eliminate virus/spyware & malware issues so are very low stress for the owner (or parent…!)

Can I Print from a Chromebook?

Yes, but not directly connected with a cable. Similar to a ‘tablet/ipad’ the printer would be either connected to another computer in your home, or be a ‘network printer’… or new ones which tout themselves as ‘cloud ready’. If you already have a printer at home and can print from your existing windows pc or Mac… you can set them to be ‘shared printers’ in Windows/OSX and you are fine.

What are other advantages and disadvantages of a Chromebook?

A Chromebook generally starts up and shuts down in seconds. This is great for a portable device. One apparent downside at the moment is trying to obtain a Google account for under 13 year olds, so that Google docs and other features can be used. I’m told you get around this by going through an educational institution, who can authorise new accounts through their framework. Or just lie about age I guess.

Any other references I should look at?

A very recent article entitled Help Me, LAPTOP: Should I Buy a Chromebook?
An older link from 2011 50+ Killer Apps for Chromebook
A recent ChromeOS Version 25 Review from April 2013
If you really got bored you could always Install Ubuntu Linux on it and unlock even more potential.
You could learn more from Google’s Chromebook pages directly or read the Wikipedia Page on the subject.

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