The Ultimate SMB Guide to Buying Chromebooks

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Buying a Chromebook instead of a traditional Windows or Apple laptop is an appealing option for small business owners who want to minimize their hardware costs and take advantage of cloud storage and business apps. But at first blush, the world of Chromebooks can be confusing. After all, how much offline storage space do you really need? Will a Chromebook have enough processing power for you to access the apps you need, stream media and get real work done?

These are the types of questions you’ll know the answer to after reading our Chromebook buying guide. By working your way through these steps, you’ll figure out if Chromebooks are a good fit for you, and it’ll also help you shop for Chromebooks with confidence.

Step 1: Laptop vs. Chromebook comparison

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In many ways, Chromebooks are the same as other laptops, especially if you’re looking at hardware specifications related to the display, keyboard and processor 鈥?all the hardware basics are the same. The way in which Chromebooks differ from standard PCs and Macs is twofold: operating system and internal storage.

Operating system: Chrome OS is Google’s operating system. Need a primer on operating systems? Well, all you really need to know on the user side is that the operating system affects how the interface of a laptop looks when you turn it on. How icons appear, how menus are arranged, and how updates are rolled out vary by operating system.

The OS also manages how the software and hardware work together, as well as the processing power, battery life and processes of the machine. Back in the day, Windows and Apple were the only two user-friendly operating systems available, but nowadays, most PC or Mac users would have no trouble logging on to and navigating a Chrome OS device.

The only real consideration when switching to Chrome OS is compatibility. If your business uses any legacy software or business apps, make sure you’ll be able to use them on Chrome. This dovetails into the second consideration, internal storage, which impacts the ability to download software.

Chromebooks and internal storage: The idea that Chromebooks have no hard drive space has been vastly oversold. Early Chromebooks were experimental; no one was certain how they’d be used, and they were sold largely as supplemental devices (that one might have in addition to a more powerful Mac or Windows laptop) or for educational purposes. Chromebooks have come a long way, though, and many companies are building laptops that run Chrome OS and have adequate internal storage for many business users. Keep an eye out for Chromebooks that have SD card slots too, as those allow you to expand the storage capacity of your device.

It’s tough to define exactly how much RAM (or SSD storage) you need for internal storage, but a good place to start is by looking at your current laptop storage and usage, and strategizing how you will use your future device. The cost of a Chromebook usually correlates to the internal storage available as well, so if you’re looking at Chromebooks in the $300-and-under range, don’t expect more than about 4GB. Most Chromebooks have either 4GB or 8GB internal storage, and that is workable for many business users so long as they store most things in the cloud, and primarily run web apps and SaaS rather than downloaded software. If your business uses legacy software that must be downloaded, find out exactly how much space those systems require before buying a Chromebook. We’ll explain more about offline use and common business software use on Chromebooks in the next section.

Step 2: Key considerations for business Chromebook shoppers

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Hardware specifications matter as much when you’re buying a Chromebook as when you’re choosing a regular laptop. To check out our general recommendations on hardware specifications, you should read our Laptop Buying Guide. In addition to that, there are a few considerations unique to buying a Chromebook.

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Offline use: Most Chromebook users will end up saving their projects in either Google Drive or Microsoft cloud storage (or another third-party system like Dropbox). Items saved in these locations can usually be downloaded onto your Chromebook device, allowing limited offline access, but the apps you use to work on those projects (Excel, Adobe Creative Suite, Word, etc.) may not be accessible if you’re using a cloud version of the software, as you likely will be. The question here isn’t whether you will ever need to download items for offline access, but what type of files you’ll be downloading and the frequency with which you’ll do so. If you are rarely offline, like most business users, this shouldn’t be an issue. If you spend a lot of time in areas without internet access, though, you should probably opt for a traditional laptop so you can download software.

Microsoft Office suite: The biggest concern many small business owners have with adopting Chromebooks is access to the Microsoft Office suite 鈥?still the business standard for many, despite competition from Google’s G Suite. You’ll be pleased to know that the functionality of the Office suite is available online via Office 365. However, you should know that Office 365 varies slightly from the standard Office suite. Menus and ribbons look a little different and can take some getting used to, and Outlook isn’t identical in the online version (though it works well enough). If you’re considering adding some Chromebooks to your fleet of business devices, you may want to have employees adopt Office 365 first, make sure it’s a good fit for everyone, and then proceed with buying Chromebooks.

Apps and compatibility: Work apps are readily available through the Google Play Store. Some commonly used apps for business users are Evernote, Slack, QuickBooks and SAP. If you require specific apps or software, make sure it’s available through the search function.

Step 3: Buying a Chromebook laptop

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Finding the best Chromebook laptop is a matter of identifying your needs and getting to know the best brands for business use. Like Apple and Windows laptops, Chromebooks come in various sizes, configurations and hardware specifications.

A traditional Chromebook laptop, with a hinge and full-sized keyboard, is the best option for serious business users who want to use a Chromebook most of the time. However, most top-rated business Chromebooks are hybrids, meaning they can be used like a traditional laptop or like a tablet. Chrome OS is excellent for use via touchscreen, making it a great choice for people who have varied needs. However, if you opt for a hybrid (that either flips on a 360-degree hinge or detaches from the keyboard completely), keep in mind that touchscreen devices often have lower battery life than their non-touchscreen counterparts.

Once you’ve determined the type of Chromebook you want and how much money you’re willing to spend, search the top brands. Leaders in the Chromebook laptop space include Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Samsung. On the luxury side, you’ll also find Google’s own Pixelbook, which is widely considered to be the best Chromebook available but may be cost-prohibitive ($1,100-plus) for some business owners. The Google Pixelbook is a good fit for entrepreneurs who want to adopt Chromebooks because they prefer Chrome OS and want to avoid Windows and Apple devices without giving up the feel of a high-end device.

If searching through all the Chromebook options available is too overwhelming, check out the best Chromebook lists on reliable hardware review sites like ZDNet, Laptop Mag, TechRadar, PCMag, CNET and Wirecutter.

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