Is a low-cost Chromebook suitable for distance learning and homework? Yes—depending on what’s inside.
You may already be familiar with the advantages and disadvantages of Windows laptops vs Chromebooks as a parent or student. One of the selling points of a Chromebook is price, especially if several people in a family must purchase one.
However, some of the cheapest Chromebooks we’ve seen come with quite significant drawbacks. We’ll go through the major aspects to consider before purchasing a laptop. Consider these factors while shopping for our best Chromebook deals on Black Friday.
Examine the Auto Update Expiration
When contemplating any Chromebook, particularly one that is attractively priced, you should check it against Google’s Auto Update Expiration list.
While Microsoft has long supported Windows PCs, Google has a limit—now about six years from the product’s original ship date for most consumer models, though some (especially education and business models) get a few extra years.
When Google terminates support for a ChromeOS device, it will not upgrade the software any further, which means no new features and no security updates.
If you buy an older Chromebook, it’s already several years closer to its expiration than a brand-new model would be. This isn’t something that retailers advertise, so keep an eye out for it.
But there are no assurances. My kid spent much of last school year doing schoolwork on an original Chromebook Pixel from 2013, which was far out of date and worked well—but nothing is certain.
Resolution and brightness are the two most important factors for picture quality.
A low-quality display has long been a standard feature of Chromebooks at a lower price. Whether you’re young or old, looking at a tiny, low-resolution screen for prolonged periods of time may be tiring or harmful.
That’s why, if possible, get a Chromebook with a Full HD (1920×1080) display. An HD (1366×768) display—which is frequently included in the cheapest Chromebooks—can be managed on smaller 11.6-inch displays; however, we don’t recommend it. Kids and adults are susceptible to eye strain.
On cheaper Chromebooks, the displays may also be dim. They would work well for indoor use, but sunlight will wash out the screen. Look for a brightness specification of 250 nits or more if you can find one.
Important is the content, not how much data it contains.
Computers, like Chromebooks, can hold data locally. The majority of schoolwork, however, is done online. My kids have never saved anything to a Chromebook straight, so the onboard storage capacity isn’t an issue for me. PC enthusiasts may prefer faster SSDs over eMMC flash drives—but not for a Chromebook?
It makes little difference whether you use slower SSDs or eMMC flash drives; whatever works best for you should be fine. If your work is mostly or exclusively conducted online, pay no attention to how much storage a Chromebook has.
Because your browser data is stored in memory, this is where the most of the activity takes place. Because more memory means you may have more browser tabs open at once, it becomes increasingly crucial.
The majority of Chromebooks come with 4GB or more of RAM. Anything less than that (as little as 2GB) might cause significant problems—in fact, Zoom recommends a minimum of 4GB. A child in elementary school who uses only Google Classroom, Zoom, and other applications may not require much RAM.
For older children, it’s possible that they’ll need to have numerous tabs open for research. Consider a Chromebook with a little more memory if you’re dealing with an older student, teenager, or adult. (Unfortunately, Chromebooks aren’t usually upgradeable.)
Laptops with less ports are more common. Consider what you’ll require to connect—such as a USB thumb drive, a headset, or a monitor.
Look for an HDMI port (for connecting an external display), a microSD or SD card slot for storing pictures, and a USB-A port (ideally more than one) to attach accessories. On some Chromebooks, you may find USB-C ports, although they aren’t always the cheaper alternatives.
It’s entirely possible that a more advanced Chromebook with a newer Wi-Fi radio may be out of your price range. Even for Zoom’s bandwidth needs of 2.5 Mbps for group video chats at 1080p resolution, most 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi or better, as well as Bluetooth, should work.
Make sure there is a webcam on the computer to record your screen.
A well-intentioned instructor will not be concerned about the quality of a student’s webcam if one is available. A superior webcam may make it easier to see your kid or make their task more apparent if they’re holding it up for inspection, but a bright environment might easily compensate for any shortcomings.
Zoom necessitates a faster CPU.
The processing power required for online schoolwork on Chromebooks has typically been low, and in many cases, they have saved money by utilizing cheaper CPUs. However, the significance of Zoom and YouTube has grown significantly.
Even old, low-cost Chromebooks shouldn’t put up much of a fight against YouTube, especially since it automatically adjusts the quality to provide a pleasant experience.
However, as Zoom becomes increasingly popular, choosing a Chromebook with an Intel CPU may be worthwhile, either a Celeron or a full-fledged Core chip. For Zoom versions, you’ll need a processor that is “1 GHz” according to the requirements.
The majority of Chromebooks with Core processors (much more power than is required), Celeron or modern Pentium chips (possibly enough) and Qualcomm and Mediatek Arm chips are available.
We’d agree that even an Arm chip in a Chromebook may function adequately (after all, it’s in your phone), but a quick Google search for the processor isn’t a bad idea. If the processor was designed more than five years ago, you should think about upgrading.