Chromebooks are just like any other technical product – some are good and some are not so good. While avoiding some of the pitfalls of Windows laptops, like spinning hard disks and included malware, you still need to handle potentially understated hardware or lack of support for specific features.
This guide highlights what to avoid when buying a Chromebook, especially older models that are often displayed as refurbs at major retailers, or used on sites such as eBay and Swappa.
Check Support Status
Chromebooks do not get indefinite update as PCs. While you can run the latest version of Windows 10 on a computer built ten years ago, each Chromebook model has a solid support life. When Google develops a new hardware platform (which manufacturers become consumer products), it will support the platform for at least 6.5 years. Some older products only have a lifespan of five years.
The first thing you should do when considering a Chromebook is to see it on Google's auto-update page. It shows the end date of all Chromebooks released so you can know exactly how long your computer will receive updates from Chrome OS.
Software support for Google Chromebook.
When a model reaches the end of the support, it may receive updates from Chrome OS, but they are not guaranteed. You should remember how long you intend to use your Chromebook and if your life expectancy matches or exceeds it. For example, if you only need a computer to last for a school year, it's not a bad option to pick up a used Chromebook with only 16 months left of the support (unless you plan to sell it later and the buyer reads this article) .
This step is especially important when you buy used or refurbished Chromebooks. There have been several occasions when Best Buy, Newegg and other retailers have greatly reduced Chromebooks that have little or no general support left. It's definitely a creepy move – but now you will not fall for it!
Avoid Low Power Intel CPUs
Chrome OS, even with the latest addition of Android app support, is remarkably capable of low-end hardware. For example, even with just a dual-core Celeron CPU, the CTL Chromebox CBx1 we have previously considered can handle most workflows.
You should be skeptical of some Intel CPUs in Apollo Lake and Bay Trail families.
However, there are some processors that are too weak to run Chrome OS properly. For example, many Chromebooks have Intel processors based on Goldmont and Silvermont architectures, which are small developments from Intel Atom CPUs from old. Remember how awful netbooks were? Yes, you do not want a Chromebook with the same processors.
You should be skeptical of any Intel CPUs in Apollo Lake and Bay Trail families. Some examples include Celeron N3350, Pentium N3510 and Pentium N3310. Intel has largely stopped using the Atom brand in consumer products, so now they throw these low voltage wells under the Celeron and Pentium umbrellas.
That's not to say that every Apollo Lake and Bay Trail CPU is useless, but you should keep in mind that performance will be limited. Last year we have reviewed the Acer Chromebook 15, which has a Pentium N4200 (Apollo Lake) processor. Jordan noted that when he passed about 3-4 Android apps and five Chrome tabs opened, the laptop began to save.
Remember netbooks? Many modern Chromebooks use processors similar to Atom CPUs netbooks had. (image source)
What are the options, can you ask? In most cases, you will be better off with an ARM-based Chromebook, usually found in the same price range as laptops with Apollo Lake / Bay Trail chips.
For example, Asus Chromebook Flip C101PA and Samsung Chromebook Plus (V1) have an ARM-based Rockchip OP1 processor. OP1 works a bit better than most of the above-mentioned processors, but because it uses ARM architecture, you get better battery life and more optimized Android apps.
Check for Android app support
With a few exceptions, Every Chromebook released from 2017 and beyond has the Google Play Store. On these models, you can install Android applications and run them with Chrome windows. This feature has made Chromebooks far more versatile since you no longer need to rely on websites and browser extensions.
If you're not sure if a particular model has a Google Play store, check this list. Some Chromebooks are listed as "Scheduled", but you should treat these as if they will never receive Android app support. Some models have been labeled as "Scheduled" for many years, and it's likely that many (or all of them) will never get the Play Store.
Hopefully this guide has helped you make an informed purchase decision on a Chromebook. Let us know in the comments if you have more tips!