Many of the stories I hear from home office workers are stories of doing more with less: packing a corporate office park's worth of productivity into a corner of a spare room, maintaining the Web presence of a company 10 times your size, arranging apps on one big monitor instead of two small ones. (I explored that last one in last week's column and, sheesh, did I hear from burly developers and day traders who snarled that I'd pry their second through sixth monitors from their cold, dead hands.)
The monitor uproar, however, got me thinking about a different way of making do: using the least powerful and pricey computer that makes sense for a home office. Normally, my computer buying advice is probably a lot like yours: get 8GB or more of RAM instead of 4GB, steer clear of Celerons and Pentiums but a Core i5 will probably do (unless you need a Core i7 for rendering video or CAD drawings), bonus points for solid-state storage, and so on.
But, also like you, I get inquiries from friends and family members tempted by ultra-low prices and curious about chromebooks. Many are as clueless as the questioners you can see on any chromebook vendor's website or Amazon listing: "Does it come with Word, Excel, Skype, iTunes, and Firefox?" (No, no, no, no, and forget it.)
Others, though, have at least a vague notion of what it means to have a Google account (likely for Gmail) and some online storage, or have even played with creating and saving word processing files, spreadsheets, and presentations in Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides. And any home office worth the name has a Wi-Fi network now. So, can a chromebook actually serve a telecommuter or entrepreneur as well as it serves a K-12 student? I parked my Windows laptop and desktop for a few days to find out.
Hardware That Doesn't Suck
Upfront confession: I like chromebooks or at least some of them. I've reviewed the two best (and highest-priced) models, the Google Chromebook Pixel andDell Chromebook 13, for PCMag's sister site Computer Shopper and think they can stand with any laptops out there. At the opposite extreme, I tested the $179 Lenovo 100S Chromebook for a review publishing soon and found it delivered solid value for the money.
I chose another winner for this week's experiment: Toshiba's $379.99 Chromebook 2, which should be called the 2B or 2.5 because it refreshes the system of the same name with a "Broadwell" Core i3 CPU and snappy backlit keyboard, as well as a great 13.3-inch IPS display with 1,920-by-1,080 resolution. The Toshiba's eMMC flash storage is the same scanty 16GB as many entry-level chromebooks but its 4GB rather than 2GB of memory gives Chrome OS perky performance.