Laptop, Opinion, Review

Living with a Chromebook – Can It Replace Your Laptop?

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been using the Acer Chromebook Spin 13 as my daily driver. I did it for two reasons: I needed to review the Chromebook Spin 13, and I wanted to familiarise myself with Chrome OS. I have never used a Chromebook before, so I was quite excited to use one for the first time.

That excitement, unfortunately, dwindled down after a couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I still think there is a market for Chromebooks (especially budget-oriented ones), but for my usage scenario, it’s just not the most ideal operating system.

While it will not replace my Windows laptop anytime soon, can it replace your laptop? Let’s find out.

Chrome OS, at its core, relies heavily on the Google Chrome browser. In fact, when I boot up the Chromebook Spin 13, the first thing it does is to open a new Chrome tab. It does this very quickly too: the time it takes for the Chromebook to get to the desktop from the initial boot up is easily less than 10 seconds.

So how well does Chromebook run Chrome browser? Well, nothing out the ordinary, actually. It feels just like Chrome on a regular Windows laptop, which is a good thing. If you do most of your work on Chrome browser, you’ll be right at home with a Chromebook.

But once you need to do something outside of the Chrome browser, that’s when you’ll run into trouble. Honestly, I was doing just fine with the Chromebook to get my daily work routine done…until I needed to edit some images.

Of course, there is a solution to this: I could just fire up the Google Play Store and look for a suitable photo editing app. That’s right, Chrome OS can run Android apps, making it a lot more versatile than ever before. It’s a good feature, no doubt, but I’ll need to get out of my way to familiarise myself with a new photo editor.

Basically, it’s not a seamless transition, which may discourage those who are on a different platform to switch over to Chrome OS. The solution is there (in the form of Android apps), but it’s highly likely you’ll have to settle for alternatives to your favourite applications on Windows or macOS.

As for myself, I couldn’t look for an app that can replace my favourite photo editing program on Windows. Every time I need to edit images while I was on the Chromebook, I’ll grab my Windows laptop instead. It’s a lot more seamless, and it is so much easier.

Another thing I don’t quite like about Chromebook is the keyboard layout. On other operating systems like Windows and macOS, the Caps Lock key is located right above the left Shift button. But on Chromebook, it’s replaced with the Search button. If you want to enable Caps Lock, you’d have to press Alt + Search – not very intuitive.

Chrome OS has its quirks, but if you can look past them, it’s really quite a good platform. This is especially the case if all you do on a laptop is to fire up Google Chrome. Plus, you have a whole library of Android apps at your disposal with Chrome OS.

Okay, so how about the Acer Chromebook Spin 13 itself? Overall, it’s a premium, refined convertible Chromebook. It is built very well, it has a good keyboard and trackpad, and most importantly, it has excellent battery life.

According to Acer, the Spin 13 can last for up to 10 hours on a single charge. In my testing, I got pretty darn close to this estimate. However, it’s worth noting that I dimmed the display slightly (but still plenty bright for comfortable use) to get this kind of battery life.

As for the display quality itself, it’s definitely above average. The 3:2 aspect ratio offers a lot more vertical space than conventional 16:9 panels, and the 13.5-inch 2256 x 1504 IPS touch display is sharp, bright, and vibrant. That being said, I don’t quite like the large bezels surrounding the display – it makes the Chromebook a lot bigger than it should be.

Performance is absolutely not an issue with the Spin 13. Powered by an Intel Core i5-8250U quad-core processor paired with 8GB of RAM, this Chromebook is plenty powerful. Throughout the review period, the Spin 13 stayed fast and responsive. In fact, I’d say it feels ever so slightly more responsive than a standard Windows laptop.

Connectivity wise, the Spin 13 offers a good mix of ports. It has two USB-C ports, one full-size USB-A connection, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a microSD card slot. It also has a stylus tucked away underneath the Chromebook, with Wacom EMR pen support.

I’m not much of an artist, but I do like using the stylus. It feels responsive, accurate, and I find myself using it to take snippets of the screen more often than I thought I would.

Unfortunately, there is one area where the Spin 13 is lacking: it only comes with 64GB of eMMC storage. Granted, most Chromebooks have very limited storage capacity anyway, and it would’ve been fine if this machine does not cost RM3,599. For that kind of money, you can easily get a better-equipped Windows laptop.

And that really is the Spin 13’s biggest shortcoming. It’s a fast, premium Chromebook, but that also demands an equally premium price tag. Not only does this put it in the same price range as other, more capable Windows laptops, it also loses one of the most important appeals of Chromebooks: affordability.

Let’s get back to the original question: can a Chromebook replace your laptop? Definitely. If you’re mostly dependent on Google Chrome, and you can live without Windows-only programs, then this operating system will serve you very well.

This Acer Chromebook Spin 13, in particular, could be a good option too. It’s a premium product with great battery life, fast performance, and solid build quality. The only downside, of course, is its high asking price. But hey, that’s the price of a premium Chromebook.

Personally, however, Chromebooks are not for me, and I would switch to a Windows laptop in a heartbeat if given the choice. It’s not that I don’t like Chrome OS; I simply prefer the versatility and familiarity of Windows. I can work more effectively with the latter, and I could just fire up Apex Legends or any other games on Steam whenever I want to get entertained.

When it comes to gaming, Chrome OS simply cannot compete with Windows. It’s a different landscape altogether. Yes, I did try to play PUBG Mobile on the Spin 13, and no, it was not a very pleasant experience.