Chromebooks vs. Tablets

Comparison of Two Low Cost Computing Options

Samsung Chromebook on Desk

In many ways, Chromebooks are not all that different from traditional laptops. They still use the familiar clamshell design of a laptop. Instead, they are really designed for online connectivity with low price tags and portability being key.

In essence, they are kind of like a new wave of netbooks but rather than running a scaled back version of Windows, they run the Chrome OS operating system designed by Google which is what their name derive from.

You can install and run Linux on a Chromebook, by the way, if you prefer.

Because of this, many of the issues brought up by the Tablets vs. Laptops article are going to be just as relevant in this discussion.

Size and Weight

Since Chromebooks are essentially laptops, they have the same size and shape of your classic ultraportable systems. This puts them around two and a half to three pounds with dimensions of roughly eleven to twelve inches wide, seven and a half to eight inches deep and about three-quarters of an inch thick.

There are larger Chromebooks now but most tend to be smaller. Even large tablets such as the iPad Pro 12.9-inch is thinner and lighter than your average Chromebook but many people are getting smaller 7-inch tablets that are generally half as thick and half the weight of a Chromebook. This makes the tablets much easier to carry.

Result: Tablets

Displays

While Chromebooks tend to have larger screens than tablets, they sadly offer much more inferior screens than a tablet.

Chromebooks feature an 11-inch or larger display and feature a standard 1366x768 display resolution. The Google Chromebook Pixel is an exception to this but it also costs about four times what most Chromebooks do. There are more featuring a standard 1920x1080 display now. Tablet resolutions really depend upon the price and size of the tablet.

Most smaller tablets feature displays that are less than 1080p but most premium tablets offer higher resolution displays.

The big difference is in the technology of the displays. Tablets tend to use better IPS panels that offer better viewing angles and color than Chromebooks. This gives tablets a slight edge on Chromebooks.

Result: Tablets

Battery Life

Both the Chromebooks and tablets are designed to be extremely efficient. They offer just enough performance to deal with most of the basic computing tasks that people have and to do so on very small batteries. Even though Chromebooks have larger sizes, they still don't quite have the same running times as tablets. Even the best Chromebooks tend to top out at just over eight hours in video playback testing. Many offer less as they have smaller batteries to keep costs down.

In contrast, most small tablets can run for eight hours in the same video playback test with some like the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 10 offering almost twelve hours yet priced the same as most Chromebooks.

Result: Tablets

Input Method

The primary means of input for a Chromebook is still using the classic keyboard and trackpad just as with a laptop. There are more Chromebooks that are adding touchscreens with improved support from Chrome OS but it is still very uncommon.

Tablets, on the other hand, have been designed with just a touchscreen in mind. This makes they very easy to use when it comes to browsing the web, playing touch-oriented games and watching media. The downside is that trying to input a lot of text in them can be very problematic as it requires using the virtual keyboards that are slower than a keyboard and take up some of the screen space when in use. Of course, just about every tablet has Bluetooth capabilities that allow one to attach a wireless keyboard if you need to type a lot but this does add to the cost and what peripherals you need to carry with you.

Result: Chromebooks for those that write a lot, tablets for those that mainly browse or watch media

Storage Capacity

Both Chromebooks and tablets have similar designs for their internal storage. They rely on relatively small solid-state drives that offer fast performance but very limited space for data. Typically, this is around 16GB for Chromebooks with a few 32GB models and tablets ranging from 8 to 16GB for the base models and running up to 128GB or more if you are willing to pay a significant increase in price.

Chromebooks are really designed for your files to be stored on Google Drive, a cloud-based storage system so your files can be accessed from anywhere. Tablets do offer some cloud-based storage options but it is highly dependent upon the tablet brand, operating system and what services you may subscribe to. The big difference instead is how easy it is to expand your local storage. All Chromebooks feature USB ports that can be used with external drives for quick and easy expansion. Many also feature SD card slots for flash memory cards.

On the other hand, many of the biggest tablets on the market lack both of these but some models do have microSD slots available. Because of this, Chromebooks have a bit more flexibility when it comes to needing to access your files remotely or locally.

Result: Chromebooks

Performance

Performance is a tough item to discuss as the hardware in Chromebooks and tablets can vary dramatically. For instance, the Samsung Series 3 was the first Chromebook that used the same ARM-based processor that can be found in many tablets.

conversely, there are some tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 that use an Intel Atom processor previous used in low powered laptops. So in terms of raw number crunching ability, the two platforms are roughly equal and it really comes down to comparing specific models of each to get a better idea of the two.

After all, both platforms provide sufficient performance for basic computing tasks and it is only when trying to deal with more complex ones that they tend to suffer and a traditional PC offers a better experience.

Result: Tie

Software

Google is the primary company that developed the Chrome OS operating system used in all Chromebooks and Android that is either used for or the basis of many tablets. The two operating systems have very different purposes which give them a different experience. Chrome OS is essentially built around the Chrome browser and the applications are written for that browser. It feels much more like a traditional computer. Android, on the other hand, is a mobile operating system that has applications natively written for it. The result is that Chrome tends to be a bit more laggy in the user experience than Android, Fire OS or iOS.

In addition to the experience of the operating systems, the number of applications available for them is drastically different. The tablet app stores offer a significantly larger number of applications compared to Chrome. Chrome's base is growing and a new program should allow for more applications to be written for the two platforms at the same time but the tablets still have an edge when it comes to the speed, number, and variety of applications.

Result: Tablets

Cost

Pricing between Chromebooks and tablets is very competitive. Things obviously vary a bit on both sides depending on the price. At the entry level, tablets tend to be more affordable with many Android tablets available for under $100 with the Amazon Fire cost just over $50. Most Chromebooks are closer to $200. It is the middle range that is more commonly priced when you look at something like the Apple iPad Mini 4 that is closer to $400 when things are fairly even that Chromebooks might have an advantage. If you have larger budget tablets tend to offer much better features for the price but you are probably better to offer to get a real laptop.

Result: Tie

Conclusions

As the market stands right now, tablets overall offer a better total experience. They are smaller, have longer running times, a greater variety of apps for them and just offer better experiences than the current batch of Chromebooks. Having said that, Chromebooks still fill a niche that makes them useful for a number of people. If your primary purpose of getting either a Chromebook or a tablet is for writing while on the go, then the Chromebook with its built-in keyboard and cloud storage support offers a better experience. If you plan to use it mostly for browsing the web, playing games or watching media, then the tablet is still far superior.