Chromebook vs. Laptop for College: Which Is the Best Option?

As college students head back to school, a decision must be made between the Chromebook and laptop. Chromebooks are generally known for their low price and zippy performance, while laptops have the widest range of hardware options and supported applications. Which works better for college?

Students’ key conditions are simple enough: the price should fit an often modest budget, but it should have enough computing power for all required tasks. Various options are available to meet these essentials, so it all depends on the user’s specific needs. Some students work mostly on web-based applications, while others need resource-intensive applications.

In this Chromebooks vs. laptop for college comparison, we assess each against common features—affordability, performance, storage, application compatibility, etc.—and see which of the two fits certain user types. We also discuss how Chromebook functionality can be elevated with the use of Parallels® Desktop for Chrome OS.

Why Use a Chromebook for College?

A Chromebook is essentially similar to a traditional Windows-powered laptop with one marked difference: it runs on Google Chrome OS, an operating system so lightweight it keeps things fast and responsive. Google designed the device primarily so users could work with Google Workspace and other web-based applications, with everything stored on the cloud.

At the outset, what makes students give the Chromebook immediate attention is its low starting price. Sure, some higher-end Chromebooks are priced well over $700 today, but there are also a good number of Chromebooks costing under $200 that can do the job. This makes it an ideal choice for students simply looking for an affordable device that handles word processing, web browsing, and video/audio streaming effortlessly.

Students can write out reports and documents easily in Google Docs or MS Word Online and share them to their professors and/or classmates. The good thing is, if you can go higher in your price range, you can get some bells and whistles such as higher specs, bigger storage, and better graphics.

Now, whether you get a budget Chromebook or a premium one, you’ll get a good battery life compared to most laptops. The average Chromebook lasts about 10 hours, ensuring that college students can get through an entire day with this portable device without having to plug it in. One more aspect that gives it an edge in the Chromebook vs laptop for college debate is that its inability to support hard-core gaming (since this demands serious specs) removes this common distraction and allows students to focus on school work instead.

Where Does the Chromebook Lack in Comparison to Laptops for College Use?

Despite its many advantages, this isn’t to say that the Chromebook is THE device that college students should have in their backpacks. It also comes with some significant drawbacks that may hinder productivity; hence, potential users would do well to consider these seriously before making that critical decision.

For one, Chromebooks are intended primarily for online use so it works best if you have stable internet connection all the time. Some web applications may allow you to continue to work offline (Google Suite applications already come with offline functionality), but in general, online connectivity is necessary to maximize your use of a web-based application.

There’s a reason why Chromebooks are on the cheaper side, and that’s because they have lower hardware requirements. They’re typically smaller, use lower performance chips, and require less in terms of memory and storage. For instance, many Chromebooks can make do with 16 GB or 32 GB of storage, while 128 GB or 256 GB is considered only acceptable for Windows laptops.

With limited storage, you would be able to store very few files locally on the Chromebook. This means that you would have to rely mostly on cloud storage, which again, would necessitate internet connectivity. On the other hand, the larger storage capacities of laptops allow you to comfortably store tons of documents as well as bigger files such as applications and video games. In addition, there are productivity applications and games that run exclusively on Windows, so if any of these is a must-have, then a Chromebook won’t cut it for you.

Chromebook vs. Laptop for College: Individual Needs

Instead of asking which is the right pick in comparing a Chromebook vs. laptop for school, the more suitable question would be: Which of the two meets specific needs and workloads?

For many students, a device that they can use for creating documents, browsing the web, and streaming internet content—and with a modest price tag at that— would be the ideal choice. The Chromebook fits the bill perfectly. It is inexpensive, lasts long, and does its job as an online productivity workhorse very well. The addition of Google Play Store and Android apps on the Chromebook also enhances its appeal as you can now leverage the thousands of Android apps for school tasks and for entertainment as well.

But not everything can be done on a web application and stored on the cloud. Some college work may necessitate the use of specialty software that demands high resources and more importantly, is Windows-only compatible. For instance, if your course curriculum requires you to work with Photoshop or CAD, or if advanced Excel functionality is needed, then it’s better to set your sights on a laptop.

The Chromebook and laptop each have their own compelling attributes that make for a valid case in convincing students to get either. At the end of the day, however, their strong points appeal to different types of students with varying needs. The best approach is to evaluate your workload and requirements thoroughly before making that buying decision.

Increase Chromebook Usability for College with Parallels Desktop for Chrome OS

If you’re leaning towards the Chromebook for its inherent advantages but still need access to Windows-native applications for optimal student performance, then Parallels Desktop for Chrome OS might be the solution for you. Check out the system requirements first.

Parallels Desktop for Chrome OS is the first-ever desktop virtualization solution that enables full-featured Windows applications to run on Chromebooks. A welcome addition to its growing line of cross-platform software solutions, Parallels for Chrome OS allows for the provisioning of Windows virtual environments so that users can access and use Windows applications on their Chromebook even without being connected to the internet.

This essentially eliminates the Chromebook’s limitation and increases its usability by giving college students access to their most-commonly used applications. Parallels Desktop for Chrome OS is a simple solution that not only elevates the functionality of Chromebooks but helps make them a worthy alternative to laptops.

Interested in trying out Parallels Desktop for Chrome OS? Download a free trial!