Chromebooks are good for college students

How good are Chromebooks for studying?

Dare to do something new - also during your studies

I needed a new study laptop and wanted to try something new. No Windows, no Linux, no Apple computer. Instead, a Chromebook should be preferred.

Even after years, Google's notebook category is still unknown to many users. The devices, which were once designed for always-online use, are suitable for most everyday tasks and some special areas of application. In addition, they are usually cheaper than Windows PCs or Macs.

As a PhD student in history, a notebook should enable me to work on the move. This includes text writing, research and reference management using applications such as Citavi. This also means that the display should be anti-glare, easy to type on the keyboard and the battery life should be long. My choice fell on the Acer Chromebook 315 for 380 euros.

Looks like a typical Windows notebook and has USB-C, USB-A socket, MicroSD slot and 3.5 mm jack: the Acer Chromebook 315. My choice as a new study notebook.

It has been five weeks since the purchase. Although the notebook is often enthusiastic, there are aspects that stand out negatively or are difficult to understand. In an article published in 2019, we examined in detail that Chromebooks do not develop their potential. We also provide information on how you can switch from Windows to Chrome OS. And yet it remains a challenge.

Top and flop: operating systems and app selection

What should students expect from their Chromebook? First of all, the fulfillment of the ADEL principle from our study special. Battery life, display, ergonomics and performance have to be right. In addition, the applications that make sense in the course of study should run on it.

The signs are good for that. Chromebooks combine three operating systems under one surface. In addition to Chrome OS, you can work with Android and a Linux environment. In parallel, without restarting the notebook. Sounds good? Yes, if Google didn't put a stick between its legs here. All functions are only available in developer mode. If you try it without, for example, installations of Android apps outside of the Google Play Store are impossible. Maybe something will happen here if Google takes the next step and uses the Parallels virtualization environment to get Windows applications running.

Perfect for those who like writing

If you are studying a research and writing-intensive subject such as history, philosophy or linguistics, you will find the most common applications on the Chromebook. A fast web browser is preinstalled with Chrome. The Chromebook saves documents in the internal memory and optionally in Google Drive.

You can use Microsoft Word with your university account. And there are a number of (mostly free) alternatives to the aforementioned desktop apps.

The gaps are wide in the case of special software that is primarily used in MINT subjects, engineering courses and in the course of empirical surveys. Getting CAD software, SPSS and Co. to work on these devices is almost impossible. What I missed was Citavi. The literature management, which is so popular on Windows, is not available for Android or Chrome and in the VM environment Crossover it does not run despite the compatibility entered.

In short: If your subject requires a lot of research and reading, the Chromebook is a suitable alternative to Windows, Linux and Mac. The Google notebook has so far been of little use in technical courses.

Top: battery life and everyday performance

Some Chromebooks are real endurance runners and last 8 hours or more on a single charge. The Acer Chromebook 315 (2018) I bought omitted this point in the data sheet. I was counting on 4 to 6 hours, which would be okay. That it lasts for a whole day of study (8 working hours) surprised me positively.

Google's notebook division relies on fast SSD storage. Regardless of the manufacturer, the devices need a few seconds to be operational. Writing, moving or duplicating data happens in no time at all.

The applications are just as quick. Chrome browser, Microsoft Word, a video editing program in the background and two games are open at the same time? Thanks to clever storage management, it gets along with that. In the course of study, this means being able to use all relevant pages and applications at the same time. Without the performance dropping to its knees or the threat of a crash.

Mixed feelings: the model selection

Chromebooks lead a niche existence in the public perception and in the electronics markets. A handful of Google notebooks are built in shame, crushed by Windows computers and Apple's MacBook avant-garde.

It is worthwhile to deal with the current models. Because there is something for every taste. The 10.1-inch Lenovo IdeaPad or a full-fledged 15.6-inch monster? Brilliant OLED panel or anti-reflective display? Flip function á la Asus Chromebook C436?

The clearer your idea of ​​what features your Chromebook should have, the faster you can get that one model that meets your needs. You can also read it the other way around: Sometimes there is only one model left. For me, a 15.6-inch anti-glare display, a number pad and a sturdy hinge were decisive. Two devices from Acer offered that, I took the cheaper one.

It can be done better: Google Assistant, desktop functionality and rights management

Originally, Chromebooks should always be connected to the internet. Google soon said goodbye to this, but you can still find remnants of the approach. The keyboard adorns a search key instead of a caps lock key. If you press it, an input field opens immediately in which you write your search query. The results appear within a split second. What for typing The voice-controlled Google Assistant, established under Android, somehow made it to Chrome OS. "Somehow" because it is not active by default and can only be reached via small detours. It's a shame, because Chromebooks could make Internet searches even more convenient thanks to the OK Google queries.

Another leftover from the earliest Chrome OS days is the empty desktop. You can decorate the background with your own picture, but that's about it. Applications and file managers are collected in the tray at the bottom of the screen and in the app drawer. But how practical would it be to use the desktop effectively? Create shortcuts, set up widgets for calendar and weather and thus get a lot of information at a glance? A mind game that Google will probably not implement anytime soon.

What is more confusing is the administration of rights. As already mentioned, you can only use the full range (including the sideload of Android apps) in developer mode. If you switch it off or switch back to regular user mode, the Chromebook will erase all apps and files from the memory. So you start again with a fresh installation without "legacy". This deficiency could be remedied with an update for Chrome OS. As with Android, a few ticks in the system settings would, in my opinion, be sufficient to protect users from harmful sideloads. In return, they benefited from a significantly expanded range of applications.

Conclusion: Yes, Chromebooks are suitable for studying, but ...

Are you studying MINT subjects or an engineering discipline? Then Chromebooks are not devices that help you with your studies. Students of all other directions are advised to check out the Google alternative in addition to Windows and Mac. The price-performance ratio of the Chromebooks is top, the battery life in everyday study is unparalleled.

You will find a suitable device from the wide range of models, provided you know in advance what it can and should offer. We only have mixed feelings about the neglectful treatment that Google has given its Chrome OS. This device category could be so much more if the search engine manufacturer cleared the obvious construction sites.

You can find a selection of Chromebooks at Euronics.

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