Recently, Google’s Chromebooks have gotten a solid foothold in schools and with consumers who want affordable notebooks to go online. Still, I’ve never been able to recommend a Chromebook to somebody in the market for a full-fledged laptop.
Chromebooks were designed primarily for use while connected to the internet. And, despite notable improvements over the years, Chromebooks are still highly dependent on a strong internet connection. What’s more, the Chrome Web Store is a confusing mess, and any apps you do download only work in the Chrome browser.
But I might start changing my tune about Chromebooks after Google’s announcement that it’s bringing Android apps and the Google Play Store to its laptops. That means Google's Chromebooks could now serve as a viable alternative to standard laptops.
With Android apps like Microsoft’s Office, you’ll be able to create and edit Word documents, edit photos and listen to music you saved to your Spotify account without constantly needing to be connected to the web. And thanks to Google’s new Android N operating system, apps will work in their own resizable windows rather than in Chrome browser tabs.
That might not seem like a huge upgrade, but it will go a long way toward making your Chromebook feel like a true laptop.
It also won’t hurt that Google’s Play Store will bring more than a million apps to Chrome OS. Sure, Chrome OS has its own apps store, but it's nowhere near as large as the Google Play Store. What's more, developers prioritize building apps for Android over Chrome OS, since there are more Android devices in the world. The Play Store is also simply more organized and easier to navigate than the Chrome store.
But before you toss your MacBook or Windows laptop in the trash and rush to the store for a Chromebook, it’s still worth pointing out that Google’s notebooks have limitations.
First off, Chromebooks simply aren’t meant to be as powerful as competing PCs and MacBooks. So, if you’re going to be doing things like using high-end video and photo-editing software, you’ll want to opt for a MacBook or PC. Ditto if you’re into PC gaming.
There's also the fact that certain Android apps might not offer the same kind of functionality as their OS X or Windows-based counterparts. On top of all of that, not all Chromebooks will run Android apps or the Google Play Store. (Still, Google says Chromebooks that can’t run Android or the Play Store will still receive updates to the Chrome OS.)
Those issues aside, Android’s introduction to Chromebooks will likely put the fear of God in Microsoft and Apple — especially since Chromebook sales already outpaced MacBook sales for the first time even before the addition of Android.
So should you buy a Chromebook now?
Well, if the addition of Android apps and the Google Play Store go as planned, then absolutely. You'll get an incredible number of apps and offline capabilities that will make Chromebooks more useful than ever.
If, however, you want a laptop with a lot of processing power, then you’re still better off going with a Windows PC or MacBook. But for most of us, Chromebooks are finally looking like the low-cost PC and MacBook alternatives they were always meant to be.