We are starting to receive a few questions from our readers and we are loving the engagement, in fact, we love it so much we’re starting a segment called Ask TLR Technology. I can’t promise that we will be able to answer every question, but we’ll definitely try to answer a few that keep coming up.
Our first question comes from Kiley B.
Hi TLR, I’m looking for a replacement for my aging Surface that was passed down to me. I always see you talking about Chromebooks, my friend’s mention Apple, and I’ve used windows. What should I get, help! PS: We use Chromebooks at school.
Thanks, Kiley B for the question. This is something that we get asked seemingly on a daily bases and it’s a good question. The bad news is there really isn’t a bad choice here, and the good news is there really isn’t a bad choice here. I’ll do my best to explain what I mean and my opinion on the different OS and why you might want one over the other. I go a little deeper in this article than I intended, jump to the bottom of the page for the TLDR;
The first thing that you need to be clear on is your budget. This will help inform your purchasing decision before you get too overwhelmed with choices.
If your budget is $200, the only real choice you have are Chromebooks or Chromeboxes (Desktop version of Chromebook). You can get brand new Chromebooks starting around $149, in that price range don’t expect HD displays or tons of ram, or even Android apps. What you will likely get is a safe, secure, basic laptop experience that will allow you to surf the web, watch Netflix, and type papers, spreadsheets etc. For some people, this might be all they want and need. Apple and Windows-based PC can’t be found in this price range unless it’s very used and probably dated spec wise.
(Photo: Samsung USA, Chromebook 3)
The next range I’d say would be the $249-350 range. In this range, you can get a much nicer Chromebook / Chromebox or base model windows 10 laptop. At this price point, your Chromebooks start getting 4GB or ram for smoother operations/ multitasking. The displays become HD, some will start adding touch screens, or maybe backlit keyboards. At the $350 mark its possible to get 2 in 1 Chromebooks that fold onto themselves to create a tablet-like form factor. On the windows side, in this price range, you get a very basic Windows laptop, you’ll likely get a watered down version of Windows 10 and No HD displays. These are very similar in appearance and build quality for Chromebooks in the $149 price range. The benefits are that you can use some of the more basic Windows programs. These cheaper Windows laptops are really only designed to combat Chromebooks, the problem is Windows was never really meant to run on lower spec hardware and it shows. I would NOT recommend buying one of the cheaper Windows PC in this price range. They will be extremely limited on functionality, the lack of storage is can quickly cripple these machines (UNLESS) you only used it for the very basic task.
Now we get to the sweet spot, in my opinion,$399- $650 Yes Apple is still going to be out of the budget but Chromebooks and Windows PC are very functional. Chromebooks in this range are very premium devices. You’ll get glossy HD displays with vibrant color, metal chassis, Intel processor, 4GB or more RAM, nicer keyboards and trackpads, 2 in 1 functionality, Android app support, Linux app support. In a coffee shop, you’ll be hard press not to think these Chromebooks aren’t $1000 windows/ Apple laptops. On the windows side, you’ll get finally start to get a laptop worth buying. Towards the bottom end of the price range, you’ll get again something compared previous price point Chromebooks, No HD display, plastic build, but it will do the basics of windows and shouldn’t have too much problem. It won’t be anything special but it will work, If you feel you have to have a windows laptop, this is the minimum buy-in price point.
(Photo: Dell and Asus)
Windows Desktop at this price point will easily outperform Windows laptops, you start getting dedicated graphics cards for decent gaming. You’ll likely get 2 to 3 times the storage, and probably twice the RAM. If you don’t need a laptop buying a windows desktop is the way to go, if you’re not nervous about getting your hands dirty, you can build an even nicer windows PC for the same price.
$699-up, we’re now in the range of premium devices. We can now add Apple to the mix.
First Chromebooks, you can often get a Google Pixelbook for $750 on sale, this is my daily driver, I take mine everywhere I go, and I’m typing this on it now. Its the cream of the crop, the tip of the top Chromebook. Nothing help back. In this price range, you’re going to get quad HD bright vibrant displays, Tons of RAM, Intel I5 or I7 processors. You get backlit keyboards, touchscreen, Pen supports, Android and Linux app support. If you know chrome is your thing and you have the budget this is the range for you.
(Photo: Google, Pixelbook)
Windows laptops start to get premium with great displays, decent storage, and RAM. This is where you begin to get choices, Do you want a larger display for watching videos, do you want a laptop for gaming (you’ll get less battery life), or do you want something like the surface pro that is convertible. It’s in this price range that you really don’t have many limits on functionality. Again windows desktops in this range are going to give you much more bang for your buck, and of course, building your own gives you complete control over the looks and components. This is where I’d finally start looking at Windows laptops, I think $800 is the minimum price I’d personally start shopping windows laptops.
(Photo: Samsung USA)
NOW FINALLY! We can begin to talk about Apple. The low end of the Apple range is the MacBook Air it starts at $999… Yep, you read that right, a cool grand is the minimum you can spend on a new Apple laptop ( unless you find a sell). At this price, you’ll get performance on par with windows laptops that cost half as much. If you’re wondering about how it compares to Chromebooks, well it’s a bit tricky. Chromebooks are very functional machines (NOW) and can really hold their own especially with Android and Linux app support… BUT you’ll likely want to know at least how to install the Linux software center or Linux apps to get complete functionality.
Once you get around $1200 you get into Macbook territory. These are the Mac/ Apple laptops that you’re likely to see in Starbucks or on College campuses. Again you can get more for your money specs wise with a windows PC that cost less. You can get a high-end purpose built Windows gaming laptops in this range. This price point gets you really close to the maximum pricing on Chromebooks, and for that, you basically get everything I stated in the previous pricepoint just higher spec’d processor, RAM, and faster SSD.
Operating system (OS)
Overall Windows 10 is going to be the least limited OS. You’ll find that nearly every program or game on the planet is designed to work on Windows and if the program that you need is ONLY available on windows, then a Windows PC is your best choice.* You can run Windows programs on Apple/ Mac and Chromebooks but they require more complicated workarounds.
Mac OS is the name of the core OS that Apple uses on its Mac laptops and desktops. It is the likely 2nd most used desktop OS in the world. This means that there is a ton of support for it as well. However, Apple prefers to lock down its OS more than windows in the name of security. It’s this reason that Mac computers do in fact have less threat from Virus compare to windows. A side effect of this more locked down approach is less program support when compared to Windows, so keep in mind that you won’t have access to all the apps available to windows.
You might be wondering then why Apple/ Mac computers are substantially more expensive. Honestly, I don’t know other than the name, in my mind, Apple has become more of a status symbol. At one time Mac computers were seen as devices for creative people, music producers, digital artist etc, but that time has passed. Windows and Chrome OS to a degree have caught up or surpassed Apple in that regard. In fact, most creatives have moved over to Windows as their chosen platform as Apple had been neglecting creatives for years until this year when they have revamped SOME of the Mac product lines. While I do like the hardware and the Mac OS is cool, the price puts me off, I can get the same build quality, better performance, and more design choices in windows. It’s this reason I don’t recommend Mac computers, I wouldn’t spend my money on one, so I wouldn’t recommend that you do. *(We do own a MacBook Pro, it was bought used for testing and educational IT reasons)
The newest kid on the block as far as mainstream computer operating systems. The truth is that Chrome OS is based on Linux an OS that’s been around for a while so it’s pretty stable. Again the defining trait is security, and when it comes to security Chrome is top dog. Computer security experts recommend Chromebooks (with Chrome OS) more than other OS. Chrome OS runs programs and apps in what’s called a sandbox environment. What it does it create a standalone environment in which it runs an instance of the program or app that’s open. This keeps potential virus or security threats from infecting other areas to the operating system.
If you haven’t realized the trend the more locked down the OS is the less program compatibility it has. Googles approach with Chrome OS is to run most of the apps in the Chrome web browser as progressive web apps. That basically means most of the programs run in the Chrome browser, The addition of Android and Linux apps have expanded the usability of Chromebooks beyond “Internet Computers”
Summing it up
I don’t recommend Apple mainly based on the price and features. You can get more for less with Windows and Chromebooks are a better value proposition overall.
Windows PC is a good value compared to Apple but I wouldn’t suggest buying one under $500 unless its a model that retailed originally above the $500 mark. Cheap windows PC are just no good, them make to many compromises.
Chromebooks can probably complete 95% of the task that most people do on a daily bases, they can often do it faster, cheaper and more securely. The downside is the last 5% to 10% that a person might need to do. The good news is part of the last 10% for me is triple-a gaming and Google is making that possible with Project Stream. So I personally just use a Chromebook as my daily driver and a Windows desktop as a secondary machine.
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