Ultrabook reviews 2014, scoops and comparisons

Chromebooks vs Ultrabooks (portable laptops): two sides of a coin

By Adrian Diaconescu , updated on September 11, 2014

After comparing ultrabooks with regular laptops, netbooks and tablets, it’s now time to focus on another fight

We are talking about having side by side ultrabooks and chromebooks, as both are rather “special” types of laptops and both try to carve their place in a crowded and extremely competitive computer market.

In the following lines, we will show you the similarities and differences between these two classes of personal computers and we will insist on each of the two’s strong and weak points.

Finally, we we’ll conclude which side is the better buy these days and we’ll try to determine whether any of the two categories (or both) has a real shot of staying around long enough to make an impression.

What are ultrabooks, what are chromebooks?

Without getting into very many details (we did that in some of the previous posts), we could summarize ultrabooks as thin and lightweight laptops, running Windows on an Intel powered hardware platform. They have to meet a certain set of criteria (maximum width of 21-22 mm, fast SSD or hybrid storage, battery life of at least 5 hours, etc – more details in this post), meant to ensure a certain level of portability, performances and endurance.

In other words, ultrabooks are more or less thinner, lighter, faster and longer-running laptops, able to cope with pretty much any of the software you’re familiar with from your regular Windows computer. They tend to be quite pricey though.

The Toshiba Z835 is one of the best, if not the best ultrabook on today's market.

The Toshiba Z835 is one of the sleekest ultrabooks ever launched

Again, we don’t want to go in depth here, but if you want to know more, check out this post where you can find a selection of top available ultrabooks, but there are also specialized ultrabooks, like gaming ultra-portables, business machines, 2-in-1 convertibles and so on.

Chromebooks, on the other hand, are affordable mini-laptops, meant for basic and everyday use, as you can find from this detailed buying guide. They look pretty much like a regular laptop and come in various sizes (most of them with between 11 and 14 inch screens). However, they run ChromeOS, a particular operating system made by Google.

That comes with pros and cons. For the good parts, Chromebooks have very simple interfaces and are easy to understand and use. Like with Android tablets and phones, on a Chromebook you have to install apps from an App Store, and there’s little to no hassle with updates, viruses or any other Windows-like problems.

However, for the bad parts, Chromebooks won’t be able to run your native Windows software, so you’re limited to the apps in the Store. And besides that, Chromebooks need to be connected to the Internet to work properly, as most of their services live in the Cloud, including Youtube, Gmail, Dropbox, Google Drive, Google Music, Maps and so on. Last but not least, most Chromebooks aren’t very powerful, so multitasking between more than several opened apps is not going to be their strong point.

Chromebooks are however fairly cheap, most of them at least, selling for between $200 to $400, while ultrabooks sell for between $500 to $1500, with exceptions on each side. And that qualifies them as excellent secondary computers you can easily carry around when needed, or cheap laptops for kids.

The Acer AC700 is one of the two chromebooks available on today's market.

The Acer AC700 is one of the two chromebooks available on today’s market.

Ultrabooks vs chromebooks: similarities

Aside from the fact that they are both basically laptops and therefore have, or should have, the same basic characteristics (screens and keyboard, ports, hardware inside, batteries, etc), ultrabooks and chromebooks don’t have much in common.

If we are to look for similarities, we could conclude that both are thin and light and both tend to outlast regular laptops in terms of battery life (five, six hours of continuous use between charges, and even more for some of the top ultrabooks).

What sets them apart

It would take many pages to list all the differences between ultrabooks and chromebooks, so we are only going to focus on the really important ones that will help you decide to go for either one of the two.

First of all, as we already mentioned, ultrabooks are more powerful and snappier than Chromebooks. Most of today’s ultrabooks are powered by Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 ULV processors and come with 4+ GB of RAM and SSD or hybrid storage. Chromebooks on the other hand tend to be motorized by lower-power Intel processors, 2-4 GB of RAM and 16 GB flash storage or more. You will find different configurations on Chromebooks though, some of them offering regular storage space, some of them running on ARM processors and so on. I’ll tell you more about those in a different post.

One of the most important differences between the two is that ultrabooks run Windows and chromebooks run Google's Chrome OS.

One of the most important differences between the two is that ultrabooks run Windows and chromebooks run Google’s Chrome OS.

The hardware difference will usually translate into an overall smoother everyday experience provided by ultrabooks, as well as better multimedia performance. But if you’re mostly going to run basic tasks on your computer, a Chromebook will cope with those just as well.

Secondly, while Chromebooks are not exactly ugly, bulky or tacky, ultrabooks tend to be more elegant, more refined, as more sophisticated materials are used for their bodies (aluminum, glass, magnesium, carbon-fiber).

In addition to that, there’s the so important software aspect, another huge difference between ultrabooks and chromebooks. Like I mentioned above, ultrabooks run Windows (mostly 7, 8 or 8.1) and offer support for all the legacy software you’re already familiar with from other Windows based computers.. Chromebooks, on the other hand, run ChromeOS, which is lighter and simpler, but limited in terms of app support and functionality.

Last but not least, the pricing is yet another very important difference between these two sides, with chromebooks being much more affordable. Most of them sell for around 200-500 dollars at the moment, with few exceptions, like the Chromebook Pixel, while ultrabooks start under $500 these days, but can easily go over $2000 for the top options.

Why to get an ultrabook, why to get a chromebook?

As much as we would have liked to have a closer battle, ultrabooks are clearly better than chromebooks.

As much as we would have liked to have a closer battle, ultrabooks are clearly better than chromebooks.

After comparing and contrasting ultrabooks and chromebooks, it’s very clear that each side has aces down their sleeves.

Ultrabooks tend to be more elegant, more powerful and more versatile than Chromebooks, as they run Windows and offer access to a familiar everyday use experience and all the content you could need. They are also available in different sizes and shapes, but they tend to be quite pricey.

Chromebooks on the other hand are nice on-the-go units or nice secondary laptops. If you’re after compact computers able to handle your basic chores (browsing, chatting, writing texts, watching movies, playing some light games), they will do just fine, and they are going to be much more affordable than an ultrabook. However, remember that these need to be connected to the Internet to work at their full strength.

Bottom point, if you don’t ask much from your computer and don’t really need Windows, you can take a jump at one of these. I’m pretty sure you’ll like them, after you’ll get used to ChromeOS and how it works.

Wrap-up

There’s no clear winner in this fight, as both ultrabooks and chromebooks have their pros and cons. Either side can provide worthy picks in certain situations, it all depends on what you need from your computer and your budget.

As a side story, if you’ve lived through Netbooks, small and low-power computers that were quite popular back in 2008-2010, you might consider Chromebooks their successors. They’re not as sluggish as netbooks used to be though, but are as compact, as affordable and to some extent, as limited (or even more, software wise).

With that in mind, it’s time to wrap this up. Hopefully this post managed to shed some light on this Chromebooks vs Ultrabooks debate. So if you’ve picked one side over the other, these posts should help you in your search: a list of the best Ultrabooks of the moment and a list of my favorite Chromebooks.

Anyway, time to wrap it up for now. If you have any questions, post them in the comments section below, I’ll be around to reply. And if there’s anything you might want to add to this post, feel free to leave your replies as well as share you opinions on ultrabooks and chromebooks.

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Adrian has a passion for technology and portable computers and he's been writing about mobile devices for many years now. He is in charge with the news here on the site, but sporadically he also contributes with tests and reviews.

17 Comments

  1. Pat novak

    October 8, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    you forgot to point out the huge downside of ultrabooks….they run windoz.

    • Ben

      June 11, 2014 at 10:31 am

      He mentioned that Windows is an UPSIDE.

  2. JLRC

    November 6, 2013 at 3:43 am

    If I had a <$400 budget, I'd go for the Chrome OS for sure. The Chromebook 14 from HP is a nice deal. I think a larger portion of computer users than one would expect would learn to love their Chromebooks as they don't do anything that Chrome OS can't do. It is so much lighter than Windows that the hardware comparisons don't match the way you want them to. 2GB RAM on an Ultrabook and 2GB on a Chromebook will give you completely different performance. At least once upon a time, Macs ran with leaner memory as well.

    Ultrabooks and Windows in general is going to be far more versatile, capable, and customizable. However, netbooks can't do anything. They have the software capability to "do more stuff," but they lack the hardware to do so; this is why nobody buys them. If you have a low budget, buy a Chromebook or buy an older, used/refurbished laptop if you have software needs that can't be satisfied by Chrome OS. Don't buy the Pixel though, it is a deluxe piece of hardware that has way too much capability to be utilized by Chrome OS.

  3. ted

    November 8, 2013 at 2:01 am

    And the other HUGE downside of ultrabooks – cost.

    Chromebooks are down right cheap. If your tasks consist of web, email, and light office work – chromebooks are a fantastic value.

    • Andrei Girbea

      November 8, 2013 at 10:28 am

      Indeed, most ultrabooks are so damn expensive

  4. David Brandt

    November 28, 2013 at 3:42 am

    every time you talk about how sleek and fashionable the ultrabooks are I laugh and gag at the same time. Are you going to where the silly things or what? Not even remotely something I care about. the cloud thing sound cool, but I am nervous about the functionality of the chrome OS. I do use google chrome for my main browser though. for me the debate is chromebook vs laptop. I would never waste money on one of those overpriced “fashion” statements of a ultrabook

    • Andrei Girbea

      November 28, 2013 at 10:36 am

      You might be right, but the line between ultrabooks and laptops is getting blurrier each day. In other words, most laptops are getting thinner and lighter, except for those specialized (multimedia or gaming rigs, and even some of these are slim these days). And we, the buyers, actually benefit from that.

  5. Tyler

    February 5, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    This has to be the stupidest thing I have ever read.

    We have the nice expensive car over here and we have the budget car over here. Lets compare them. first you have this piece of crap cheap car that only has a V6 but this shiny beaut has a V12. Don’t forget you will be paying 3 times as much for the expensive car. The clear winner is the expensive car.

    Does that not sound stupid?

    • Sambuddha

      July 13, 2014 at 3:51 pm

      It baffled me too, till I looked at the domain name. Had to be a little biased, right? :)

  6. Adriane Day

    March 6, 2014 at 3:18 am

    What did he mean by “Chrome can not be used. Offline, and the Ultra books and netbook can

    • Andrei Girbea

      March 6, 2014 at 10:32 am

      Adriane, Chrome OS relies heavily on web services, so it needs Internet access for those to work properly. It can still be used offline, but not at its full abilities.

  7. cookyy

    March 10, 2014 at 7:29 am

    “if you want something cheap, a netbook is still your best choice right now, being able to do more things than a chromebook at a better price.”

    really? i have a netbook and it’s completely useless.
    and what’s the only advantage of windows? being able to run all games and stuff like photoshop. will the majority who has an ultrabook do that? no. most people only browse the web and occasionally use office (which is NOT possible with a netbook without enraging).

    • Andrei Girbea

      March 10, 2014 at 3:41 pm

      You are somewhat right, this post is quite old and desperately needs an upgrade. It’s on the TO DO list :)

      • cookyy

        March 10, 2014 at 6:47 pm

        well, it says last updated march 6, 2014, so i thought it’d be up to date :)

        • Andrei Girbea

          March 11, 2014 at 9:12 am

          Yea, I updated something inside the post on March 6th, but not the Core article, which is a few years old now. Sry for the confusion

  8. Elma

    June 18, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Thank you! Very helpful!

    Would you say the chrome book is better for those with small kids and toddlers that manage to get a hold if everything?

    • Andrei Girbea

      June 19, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      Mostly because they are simple to use and affordable. It’s going to be “easier” to replace a $200 laptop than a $500+ one

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