**Updated January 2018
A note to readers:
When I started this post almost two years ago, our school had just implemented chromebooks. We started with 50 Lenovo N21 devices. We are now at 100 HP/Lenovo devices and looking to double even that. Chromebooks are a great resource and if you understand their limitations and are ok with what they can do, you have the infrastructure to support them, and a little time to troubleshoot here and there, then they are by far the best option for school tech.
For a more in depth look at why and how to implement chromebooks please click here. If you are just interested in a review of chromebooks themselves, then please read on…
Chromebooks: The Pros, the Cons, and the Ehs!
One of the dominant devices in education is the chromebook. According to FutureSource Consulting, the market share of chrome OS devices steadily rose from 2014-2016, with the greatest growth in the USA. However, just because the chromebook is popular today doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best for everyone. Apple iPads were all the trend 6-7 years ago with the introduction of iPad 2. We see today that iPad market share has fallen. As a school that has chromebooks, macs, microsoft desktops and many iPads, the technology prowess needed to implement iPads is much greater than that of chromebooks. It also twice as expensive. While I can say that chromebooks are my go to device due to cost, quick implementation and relative durability, they do come with some limitations.
For the past couple of years our school has implemented 1-to-1 solutions in isolated classrooms. We went with a cart per classroom model (25 devices per cart) and have not ventured into letting the devices off site with but a few exceptions. We have gone from 2 carts, to 4 carts and we are now looking at having a cart in every middle school classroom (6 carts) with an additional stationary chromebox computer lab. Now that we have had chromebooks for 2-3 years, I can say that the carts model is the best I have seen. For more information about why, please click here.
- Price – The cheapest ones start at around $170/device. If you get a cart of 25 (cart and chromebooks with shipping included) you are looking at about $6K-$7K on the low side. Chromebooks need to be licensed when managed by a school IT specialist, teacher, or administrator. Remember that each device will have in addition to its cost, an approx. $30 licensing fee.
- Licensing-The good thing is licensing is a one time fee for schools and nonprofits (perpetual licenses). Device licensing is specific to manufacturer and model. For instance. A Lenovo N23 can be licensed but if that device fails, then that license cannot be used on the HP G4. You will need to buy a new license from a google partner. Now, there are some rare exceptions to license transfers. You would need to do some research to see if older licenses could be transferred to newer devices. Especially if older devices become discontinued (which happens a lot with chromebooks).
- Fast – With just a 10-20 second startup time you can really get more done because you have more time. Certain features can be turned on and off using the Google Administrators Console to optimize this time.
- Management – You don’t need to work through the server or with any special equipment. Google makes managing Chromebooks quite easy. You just need to have a G-Suite account for your organization (formerly Google Apps for Education). G-Suite is free to educational institutions. Figuring out the administrator’s console for G-Suite takes some time but it doesn’t require any special training or expertise. Take a week, learn the console, and then you will be good to go with Chromebook Management.
- Size – While some consider the smaller nature of the devices hard to work with, many teachers love it because they fit on desks, they don’t take up a lot of space in the classroom, and they still have a full keyboard so students can type without compromising their typing style. I recommend 11″ models because you will get the same functionality as a 13″ model and save on cost. They are also easier for students to carry.
- Closed System – This may seem like a con, but closed systems like Apple operating systems and Chrome OS are less likely to get bugs and viruses. This make the devices safer and less prone to malicious software.
- Kiosk Mode – If you have a school wide test, website, or program you want used (and nothing else) chromebooks are great for this. With the prevalence of online testing it is a pain to install programs on multiple computers. With a chromebook you can “Push Out” a program to all your devices at once and if you want you can force each one to default to only one application. This feature known as Kiosk Mode can also be set so that users don’t have to have a google account to use it. This can be great for form data collection or testing programs that use a unique login (like those from Pearson and McGraw Hill). For more click HERE.
- (NEW) Chromeboxes – There is a “desktop” version of chromebooks that are great for replacing older lab style spaces. Asus sells the only really competitive models at this time (Jan 2018). They can be managed like chromebooks, are very affordable, and can use existing monitors, keyboards and mice if you are in need of a computer lab that is easy to manage. If you are interested in exploring or knowing more about this option, please feel free to contact me directly by clicking here.
- Programs – Chromebooks like iPads are a closed system (see above pro). This means that you can’t install third party software, nor can you really download games/software from CDs or DVDs. You need to either stream content from the chrome browser or through approved apps like netflix and youtube and other web/internet based sites. Now, we have been running ours for two years and really haven’t run into any issues with this. With everything moving to the cloud this has really been a non-issue. Many companies, websites and developers recognize the need to allow their software to run through a website. For instance, there are websites like GeoGebra, PhET, TinkerCad and Microsoft 365 that have moved to HTML or web compatible applications so that software that actually lives on the machine isn’t really necessary anymore. However, if you have physical applications that need to be installed on machines, this is going to be a deal breaker.
- WIFI Dependent – Chromebooks are google cloud based. They store all information in the google cloud. While some consider this a huge pro (because you don’t loose files, or need flash drives) it can be a negative because the device is very WIFI dependent. However, contrary to popular belief they still work without wifi. If you are working on the machine and the internet goes down, you can still type in google docs, make a slideshow…etc but no work can be saved (to the cloud) until a wifi connection is restored. However, if the students are using the internet, and it goes down, then like any other device progress in the classroom will be stalled. Note: If you want to use the device offline, the student, teacher or other user must have signed in when the device was online. The reason is, Google authenticates every login using an internet connection.
- Space – Chromebooks have very little internal space (the equivalent of a 16GB iPhone). Therefore, if you are not comfortable with the cloud, in this case Google Drive, this is probably not the right choice for you.
- Printing – Because you can’t install third party software, chromebooks require the use of Google’s Cloud Print system. There are really two routes to take in this department. The classic printer setup requires a Windows, Mac, or other computer connected to your hardwired network. You then install the chrome browser and follow these instructions to set up and share your printer. This is NOT the most reliable system. We have experienced intermittent failure with this system. I recommend that you have a printer device that is Google Print Certified on your network. Most newer copy machines (Lanier, Ricoh…etc.) have firmware upgrades that make them work with the Google Print Network. If your copy machines are too old, get a Google Certified Printer. You can find some example models HERE. Getting a certified printer is the most reliable and it does NOT require a network engineer to set up. You will need to add the printer, once installed, to the Google Admin console. If you have any questions about how to share it out effectively feel free to contact me using the contact tab at the top of this webpage.
- Microsoft Office – If you are an exclusive Microsoft office user, this may or may not be for you. PCWorld put out an article explaining how you can use a version of office with Chromebook. For more details CLICK HERE. The article is from 2014, but it is still relevant and a good read if your serious about chromebooks. Now, Microsoft Office is moving to requiring office 365 for schools which is compatible with Google Chrome (the web based version), because it can run through the web like Google Docs. Apple’s suite of applications Keynote, Pages and Numbers also is now available through the web by logging into iCloud. If you were/are a Mac school this also makes using chromebooks a little better when mixing operating systems.
- Warranty and Leasing – Chromebooks have really been influential in the educational world. With better wifi and internet access, this is a more optimal and realistic choice for schools and 1-to-1 deployments. If you buy a classroom set of devices, I recommend you consider a budget for buying replacement devices or getting a warranty. If you know your student population is hard on devices, I would recommend the warranty. Chromebooks are cheap and they almost always will have device issues and failures. However, because they are so cheap, buying a replacement device is not only feasible but usually cost effective. Repair and warranty can be a lengthy process. Of the now 100 devices I manage we have had to warranty over 50 of them. Most manufacturer’s are easy to work with. They are not going to be the best quality though.
Overall, Chromebooks are a great resource, if for no other reason than price, speed, and deployment. They aren’t fancy, but they are good workhorse machines that can word process and access the web. Everyday the Google Marketplace is coming out with more apps that make chromebooks more useful for schools and personal use. Don’t expect the quality that you have with high end computers like Macs and better PC laptops. But, for what students do on a day to day basis they’re really quite good.
Please see the list below for more articles and options to enhance your chromebook experience!