While it has taken a while for the sales numbers to rise, Chromebooks are currently the fastest growing part of the PC industry. For schools looking for a low-cost device that can revolutionize your classroom, the Chromebook could fit the bill. But there are likely many situations where they will not be the first choice. While they are cheap, quite easy to manage, and proving reliable, you do have to have a robust wireless infrastructure and willingness to live within their limitations (or new way of doing things) to make a deployment successful. They are true Cloud Computing devices.
- Low cost: From below $200 to around $400, Chromebooks are truly low cost solution to providing computing resources for a classroom.
- Light & thin: While Chromebooks started out looking very similar to the Notebook class of machines, they are getting closer in styling and screen sizes to the more modern Ultrabook style of laptops.
- Fast: Since all Chromebooks have internal flash based memory, start-up time is measured in seconds (about 10) as opposed to minutes with many windows-based laptops with spinning hard drives. The flash RAM also allows most operations to fly along at higher speed.
- Free Storage: Included with all Chromebooks is access to 100 GB of storage in the Google Drive. If your school is using Google Apps for Education, then you now have unlimited storage available.
- Free Software: Each Chromebook includes the Google suite of apps (Docs, Sheets, Presentations, Drawing etc.) Some of these also work in off-line mode for when you do not have an Internet connection. Additional apps can be downloaded from the Chrome web store.
- Battery life: Flash based RAM and other power saving features mean that most Chromebooks can run for over 6 hours on a battery charge.
- Security: Built-in antivirus and malware protection ensure that Chromebooks are one of the most secure platforms, and the tight software control helps to ensure this..
- Full Sized Keyboards: Unlike many mobile devices, Chromebook do have full-size and very functional keyboards.
- Management: While it used to be that there was a monthly fee for the management console that brought the overall cost of ownership of a Chromebook closer to the traditional laptop level, now, there is only a $30 one-time fee for this feature. The management console allows you to track location and usage, assign the device to an individual in a group and push out restrictions and customizations based on the group, configure network access and pre-install, whitelist or blacklist applications,
- Updates: Chromebooks update themselves silently and automatically in the background meaning that keeping the devices current is not something to take up your time.
- HDMI Output: Most models have HDMI output ports allowing them to connect to a projector or large screen TV for displaying a YouTube video or displaying a presentation.
- Limited to compatible software: Chromebooks can only run the built-in applications, or others downloaded from the Chrome web store. No Windows or Mac software will run on this platform. While this may be adequate for many classrooms, others may have legacy systems or other requirements that will knock Chromebooks out of the running. While MS Office programs will not run, the files they produce can be read and written with the included Google apps.
- Limited models available: There are not as many vendors or models of Chromebooks as there are of the traditional PC laptop market. Selection is increasing.
- Printing: Chromebooks do not connect directly to a printer. Printing is accomplished through the Google Cloud service. Printers can be purchased with this feature built-in, which allows direct wireless printing, or a computer can set up as a print server.
- Not all include optical drive or USB ports: Lack of a DVD or CD player or burner may limit their usefulness in some situations, but most laptops are going that way now also. Also, the cloud-based storage model really makes USB thumb drives obsolete anyway?
- No Skype: Skype calls are not supported, (workarounds do exist, but unsupported) but Google Hangouts can accomplish the same goal.
- Limited Video or Photo editing: While Photoshop or comprehensive video editing programs are not available, there are web-based and Chrome Apps available to do what most classrooms will require.
- Management: While the Management Console does provide for comprehensive management of the Chromebooks in your environment, it is another system that you will have to learn and manage.
- Needs a Robust Wireless Environment: Every function of a Chromebook relies on having an Internet connection. Some features are getting better with off-line modes, but still, if you do not have a robust and secure wireless infrastructure, you are best to stay away from Chromebooks for a while.