Chromebook Versus Tablet & Keyboard: No Real Loser – or Winner

Over the course of the past few weeks I have been using an Asus C670 Chromebook. I will admit that when I got the C670, I was expecting to not really like it. After all, why would I want another laptop device when I have my Galaxy Tab 4 8″ tablet and an iClever Bluetooth Keyboard (in the process of being reviewed)?

The answer frankly surprised me. I can see where and why I would want to use both in my day-to-day and I suspect that there are others out there who could as well. Ultimately I don’t think there is a clear cut winner or loser when it comes to Chromebook versus Android tablet. I think each have a strong use case.

The Case for Chromebook

When it comes to Chromebooks there are two things that stand out as positives for going with it.  First is Chrome OS and second is the laptop experience.  Chrome OS, while essentially a slightly enlarged version of the Chrome browser, does give you a sense of familiarity.  It looks and behaves much like the Chrome browser but you have the added benefit of a desktop like environment.  Instead of a Start button you have a Search button.  You have familiar keyboard controls and shortcuts and even on marginal hardware, it runs super smooth.  When I first started trying Chrome

Acer C670 Chromebook
Acer C670 Chromebook

OS I was not sure I would ever consider it as a mainstay player.  I do now.  I think it certainly has a place for providing fast access to cloud-based stored content and a familiar experience.

Part of that familiar experience is the laptop experience.  Chromebooks feel and look like a Windows based laptop or a Macbook.  They have built-in displays, keyboards, touchpads and you usually have 1 or 2 USB ports to get content from a USB key or add a mouse.  There is something to be said for having a familiar experience and while you may have to learn Chrome OS (which is certainly not a high bar) you at least won’t have to learn a piece of hardware.  If you have used a laptop then you will feel right at home with a Chromebook.

The Case Against Chromebook

Perhaps the single biggest challenge facing Chromebooks is the limited number of apps available.  This is fundamentally for two reasons.  First, Chrome OS apps are written in large part in JavaScript and Google’s own scripting language which is built on JavaScript.  That means developers for the most part – but not 100% – have to code an app for Chrome OS outside of their other apps.  Second, because the apps are almost certainly going to access data from the cloud and with very limited storage on board a Chromebook, you are effectively limited to web apps.  Again, I’m using loose terms here but you get my point I hope.

Aside from the app limitations, there is the physical size and weight of a Chromebook.  It is essentially a laptop in size and is going to weigh more than a tablet.  That will turn people off in some cases.  Do you really want to travel with essentially two laptops or do you want to travel with one laptop and one tablet?  If you don’t travel then it is less of an issue as you can have a Chromebook in the family room while the main PC sits in the office areas elsewhere in the house.

The Case for Android Tablet & Keyboard

When it comes to Android tablets, the biggest benefit is portability.  A slate of anywhere from 7″ to 10″ is relatively easy to carry or cradle in one hand while packing it in a briefcase or backpack is even easier.  They take up a small percentage of space when you compare it to even the smallest of Chromebooks.  They are also lightweight which of course saves your back or shoulder as your carrying them around.

Couple that with the small, often folding keyboards that you can attached to your tablet.  If you don’t want to carry a separate keyboard then there are plenty of portfolio style cases that have built-in keyboards that you can connect to your tablet via Bluetooth.  Often the separate keyboards will give a bit more comfort as they are larger than those in cases, especially if you have smaller 7″ or 8″ screened tablet.  Either way you go though, you have a Chromebook like experience in a smaller package.

Then we get to the apps.  Lots of apps.  Lots and lots and lots of apps.  The Google Play Store has over 1.6 million apps available and while many of them you will not need a keyboard, the reality is that there is undoubtedly an app for what you need, something that cannot necessarily be said for Chromebooks.

The Case Against Android Tablet & Keyboard

Despite the smaller physical footprint of an Android tablet, when you add a keyboard to the mix you are stuck in one of two positions.  You are either carrying a larger portfolio case that adds size and weight to your tablet.  If you don’t decide to go with a portfolio case then you are forced to carry a separate keyboard which again, adds to what you have to carry around with you.  The advantage of a Chromebook is that you have that keyboard built in and you don’t have to carry a separate piece of gear with you.

The other challenge with an Android tablet is, generally cost.  Yes you can buy some budget tablets for as low as $79 but good luck getting any sort of Android updates for the vast majority of these.  Of course you could make the same argument for more well known brands (I’m looking at you Samsung) but you have a better chance with these more expense devices.  This can quickly be double or triple the cost of a Chromebook.  This is particularly true the higher in screen size you go on your tablet.

Another challenge with an Android tablet can be the screen size.  The largest of tablets is going to be just over 10″ in screen size while the smallest Chromebook is going to be just over 11″ (see my review of the Acer C670, an 11″ Chromebook).  That means that you will not necessarily have the most comfortable viewing experiences if you are going to be doing a significant amount of work on a tablet.

Verdict:  Hung Jury

The reality here folks is that there are pros and cons to both a Chromebook and an Android tablet with a keyboard.  In either case you are going to have to deal with a bit of weight but for long term use you will likely find a bit more comfort with a Chromebook.  However, if you are looking for apps (especially for that game of Angry Birds 2 after you triage your email or work on the document), then a tablet is going to give you more mileage.

As for me, when I travel, the tablet goes with me with the keyboard.  Overall it is a smaller package for me to carry.  But when I’m at home and I decide to skip away and work from my local coffee shop, the Chromebook goes with me.  I can get to everything I need to from it and when I’m done, I fold it up and go back home.

I’d love to hear from you.  Which do you think is best and what works for you?  Leave a comment here or on Google+.