I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read a comment like the following when talking about relatively expensive high-end Chromebooks. “Why does anyone need to spend $1,000 on a Chromebook?” There are many variants of that comment, with some adding the completely wrong “ChromeOS is just a browser” thought. Folks, this isn’t a difficult concept to understand. But in hopes of reducing silly, similar commentary let me explain why high-end Chromebooks exist.
Why is there a different standard for PCs?
Right off the bat, you could try to apply this meme to alternative computers. And what do you see when you look at the available choices for a Windows PC? Or a Mac, for that matter?
You see a range of models with various price points. This varies far more on the Windows PC side as Microsoft has more hardware partners than Apple (which has none) and Google.
You can buy a basic Windows machine for around $300 to $350, such as this example from HP.
I’m sure it’s fine for basic use cases.
It has a dual-core Intel Celeron processor and 8 GB of memory. Storage capacity is 64 GB of eMMC flash storage. The 14-inch display isn’t touch-capable and the resolution is a fuzzy 1366 x 768 pixels. There’s a webcam, speakers, and obviously, a trackpad and keyboard. It’s not something I’d buy for my computer activities but everyone has different use cases.
So for someone that just needs a basic laptop and has a limited budget, or doesn’t want to invest more in a laptop, it’s perfectly fine. There’s a whole market of device choices for folks like this because the devices work for those folks.
But maybe you have a bigger budget and you want some additional or improved features. Oh look: There are mid-range laptops just for you! Sticking with the HP brand, you can find a solid performer for just under $600 like this one.
This is quite a step up from that entry-level choice. The Core i3 processor will boost performance as will the 16 GB of memory. You go from 64 GB of slow internal storage to a speedier 512 GB SSD. The larger display has a sharper 1080p resolution, the webcam uses a better sensor and hey, a fingerprint sensor comes along for the ride.
Both the entry-level and the mid-range PCs do all of the same things. But one does them better or faster and makes for a more enjoyable experience with a better screen. I suspect the keyboard and trackpad are better too.
As a high-end example, I’ll use a Windows laptop I bought last year. I chose a Dell XPS 15 with Core i7, 16 GB of memory, and an Nvidia mobile RTX 3060Ti GPU.
It was generously discounted, more than the cost of the entry-level example above. I still spent nearly $1,700, even with the discount. I wanted the performance and features it offered over less expensive choices. I needed the GPU for some machine learning tasks in my Computer Science program. And I’m thrilled with my purchase, not regretting the fact that I could have saved at least $1,000 with a mid-range model.
So why then do high-end Windows PC exist? I think I’ve rationally outlined that here.
People with different budgets and different user requirements want or need them over less expensive options. Maybe they need gobs of memory or storage because of what they actually do on the laptop, for example. Perhaps they need a very high-resolution screen and a dedicated GPU for digital video editing. Or maybe they want to game on their laptop, so spending $3,000 or more for the best gaming experience on the go is their reason.
Yet, there appears to be a double standard here: It’s OK for Windows laptops to vastly range in price and for high-end devices to exist. But that argument doesn’t apply to Chromebooks.
The double standard is from people who generally don’t use Chromebooks
That gets us to the people who think high-end Chromebooks aren’t necessary. These are the folks who typically say, “Wow, for the price of that Chromebook, why not get a good Windows laptop or a Mac?” Let’s think about that.
There’s a key reason people are looking at high-end Chromebooks and are willing to spend $800, $1,000, or more on them. And it’s a simple reason: They either don’t want or don’t need to use Windows but they still want a premium experience. I say that because all Chromebooks do the same things for the most part, just like PCs or Macs. There are some exceptions, with the most notable being the ability to play Steam games in ChromeOS. There are specific hardware requirements for that.
That exception aside, if you don’t want or need to run Windows apps, why would you consider buying a Windows laptop over a Chromebook in the first place? And if you’re going to do that, why don’t the same budget and requirement choices apply?
Look, I have nothing against Windows at all. Or any other operating system. I’ve always said that you should use the best tool for your tasks. If that’s a PC, get a PC!
The issue here is that the “just get a PC for that price” crowd think that their computing use cases apply universally. And they’re dead wrong. I made this point in a recent post explaining why I use a Chromebook:
I can’t natively use Microsoft Word on my Chromebook, nor can I create iOS apps. Guess what: I don’t do those things. I use an iPhone so I can’t get my text or Messages on a Chromebook. But my phone is always with me so I’m covered.I could list hundreds of other apps I can’t run on a Chromebook that I could on a Mac or a PC. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t need those apps. On the off-chance there’s some modern app I need, I can always look for an Android version to see if it cuts the mustard.Are there limitations on a Chromebook? Sure! Do those limitations apply to my workflow? Nope. They may apply to your personal workflow and for that reason, I never suggest that everyone can or should use a Chromebook full time.
That’s the difference here between me and the high-end Chromebook naysayers, if not all of the Chromebook naysayers.
I may use a Chromebook but I’m not familiar enough with your computing requirements to say you should and must use a Chromebook. To dictate what device is best for someone else you don’t even know is just an ignorant and ill-informed opinion.
Do these people now know that just about every product available on the planet comes in better and worse models? I’m talking about cars, houses, televisions, and even water. Yes, you can buy high-end, or premium, water. I don’t buy it, but if you do, that’s your business. And I have zero business telling you that you’re a fool.
Use cases dictate the need for high-end Chromebooks
Perhaps these are niche use cases but I can think of several user types that want a high-end Chromebook. Maybe you’re a programmer using VS Code, for example. Or you could be one of many corporate users where your IT department wants to manage fleets of laptops in the simplest way possible.
Just maybe, you want what’s considered the most secure and least hacked operating system widely available in your home or business. That would be ChromeOS by all accounts and measures I’ve ever seen; I’d generally consider Linux equal here.
Or you might be a knowledge worker that mostly uses web apps but needs the occasional Windows app.
Well, why use Windows and all of its legacy kruft when you can just pop into a Windows VM with Parallels Desktop for Chrome Enterprise for that Windows app?
Regardless of these situations, they all have one commonality: They either require or run best with, high-end hardware. That could be the latest 12th gen Intel Core i5 and 16 or more GB of memory, for example.
You’re simply not going to find that configuration in an entry-level or mid-range Chromebook. Yet there are customers who need this type of device and so… Google’s hardware partners make them. It’s really that simple.
Obviously, there’s a market for high-end Chromebooks
Again, the double standard between high-end Windows laptops and Chromebooks makes zero sense to me. However, I’m not naive enough to ignore the fact that most Chromebooks sold aren’t high-end devices. They fill certain needs for certain people. And most people would be better served by spending less on a basic or mid-range Chromebook if that’s all they need.
But to say high-end Chromebooks shouldn’t exist ignores a section of computer users that don’t want or need Windows but still have specific wants or needs provided only by an expensive Chromebook. Those could include hardware requirements for better performance, for a better experience, or for some features typically not found on less expensive ChromeOS laptops.
Why is that so wrong?
There is a market for high-end Chromebooks, even if it’s a niche of the overall Chromebook market. I’d say the same about high-end gaming Windows laptops but I’d never question their existence.
Hardware partners make them and continue to do so every year because a certain number of users buy them. By questioning the existence of these devices, you’re questioning the needs and use cases of those who buy them. That’s just plain rude and disrespectful. You may not need a $1,000 Chromebook or a laptop that runs ChromeOS at all. But let’s stop with the BS and agree: You buy what’s best for you and I’ll buy what’s best for me. We both end up happy even if we use different operating systems or hardware.