Chromebook

A few months ago I wrote about my desire to get a Chromebook. Well, I finally broke down and got one. At first I wasn’t really sure if it was worth the expense but now that I had it for a few days it seems like it should have been a no-brainer. I mean, you can’t really go wrong with a $200 laptop which weighs less than an iPad, has an actual working keyboad and runs a real web browser.

My Chromebook

My Chromebook

Granted, before plonking down the very modest amount of money (compared to other tablets and laptops, you financial situation notwithstanding) you should understand that this is not a general purpose computing device. It is a web browser with a keyboard. While you can use it for “work” via all manner of cloud services (Google Docs, Microsoft Live, Share LaTex, etc..) it is not what it was designed for. It was built for browsing the web and comfortably typing in your Facebook updates, or making notes in Markdown Journal. It is a device that offers a hybrid experience that lies somewhere between a tablet an an actual laptop but it is not a replacement for either.

I do own an iPad and it is a perfect device to use if you like to read or watch videos in your bed, on the toilet (though I have a policy of never taking electronics into the poop palace) or on the couch. If I’m going on a trip, or staying somewhere overnight I typically load it up with consumable media and take it with me. I usually shunt downloaded PDF’s into the iBooks, use Kindle for purchased content, Comic Zeal for reading comics in CBR format and Comixology / Marvel apps for downloadable content. It works marvelously as long as I don’t have to type a lot on it.

Hell, even if you hook up a Bluetooth keyboard to it, copying and pasting and switching between different pages and apps tends to be a pain in the ass. Whenever I type on the touch screen I yearn for a real keyboard. Once I hook up a real keyboard I start yearning for a real mouse or a touch pad because fingering the screen to switch tabs or apps completely breaks my flow. Mouse and keyboard go are a great combo for a reason. It will become abundantly clear as soon as you sit down to do any serious typing and/or editing on a touch screen device.

Light Strip on the Back

Light Strip on the Back

This is where a Chromebook comes in: it lets me maintain my flow. It lets me compose a blog post complete with links, quotations and even code snippets without driving me absolutely insane with awkward mouse-less multitasking scheme. Not only that: as soon as you sign into Chrome it syncs up all your extensions, bookmarks and bookmarklets. This means I get the full benefit of indispensable little user experience improvement tools such as Adblock and Last Pass which don’t really work on my iPad due to extensive app sandboxing.

I keep comparing the Chromebook to an iPad because I think this is the most constructive way of thinking about it. I have seen countless reviews of these devices, all of which concentrate on comparing it to regular, fully functional, multipurpose computers. I think that’s a little silly, because in such a comparison the Chromebook will always come up short. The best way to think about it is as a low end tablet that swaps the touch-screen with a keyboard and a touch pad, and replaces the sandboxed app ecosystem with Chrome Extensions. This means that while you may not get the latest version of a flappy/angry bird themed game on it, you will have access to tools that can actively modify your browsing experience. Browsing the web on a Chromebook is no different than browsing on a Mac or Windows PC.

Size Comparison with the iPad

Size Comparison with the iPad

The Chromebook 11 is tiny, and weighs almost nothing. I actually believe that it is a bit lighter than my last gen iPad and has similar battery life. The other day I used it for roughly five consecutive hours of browsing (including some light editing in OneDrive version of Powerpoint) and I still had roughly 80% of charge remaining which is quite impressive. My MacBook’s battery would be more or less dry at that point. I don’t really think this is sheer battery efficiency, but rather the amount of processing being done.

Chromebook uses an Exynos 5 dual core 1.7GHz CPU which doesn’t actually seem to get very hot at all. I had the device on my lap and the underside was barely lukewarm even during heavy load which is probably contributing to the battery life. At a glance the slow CPU combined with mere 2GB of RAM don’t really inspire much confidence in this things ability to perform under stress. Indeed, if you open several tabs and load computation intensive pages the performance does suffer. Probably the most annoying side effect is laggy scrolling of “heavy” website. The Chrome OS itself however performs very well. It boots in seconds and it wakes up from standby instantly. You can literally take it out of your bag, open the lid and start typing.

I have used netbooks that were similar size, weight and price range before, but not of them even comes close to Chromebook with respect of performance and responsiveness. Those devices were severely bogged down by their heavy-duty operating systems. Chrome OS makes this form factor work.

In my initial post, I expressed a concern that Chomium OS seemed to be missing a lot of libraries which crippled the web experience. So far the Chromebook had none of these shortcomings. I used Dropbox, Microsoft Office cloud tools, Share LatTex service, Youtube and even Netflicks. All of which worked rather well. Netflicks was a little bit sluggish to load and buffer videos but playback was actually acceptable. It’s probably also worth mentioning that the invisible speaker built into the rim around the keyboard is surprisingly loud.

If you ever wanted a cheep, disposable, super-tiny, super-light laptop like device for web browsing, then Chromebook 11 is perfect for you. You can just throw it into a bag and not worry about scratching, damaging or breaking it. It will definitely not replace a regular laptop, nor can it compete with a tablet with respect to portability. To use it you still need a table, or at the very least a lap to prop it on. But I think it offers unbeatable experience for typing up emails, note-taking or doing some light web based work that does not require firing up native tools. It’s a great value for very little money and I highly recommend it.

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12 Responses to Chromebook

  1. meh’ i bought one of those Toshiba AC100 long ago (that’s pretty much the same concept, at least after i installed Linux, minimal system, browser, nothing more) and bought a Asus T100 last year.

    Both do what the cromebook does (although the AC100 would need more RAM), are better in most ways and fill my needs. The T100 even works as a “better” iPad (hell yes, windows touch-keyboard is horrible, but still better then that of iOS)

    BTW: AC100 was cheaper, T100 more expensive (70€ vs 400€), both have “full day” lasting batteries and both are able to run a real all-purpose os.

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  2. Dr. Azrael Tod wrote:

    BTW: AC100 was cheaper, T100 more expensive (70€ vs 400€), both have “full day” lasting batteries and both are able to run a real all-purpose os.

    70€? Seems very little for such a device – is that correct?

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  3. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Can’t the iPad use a mouse? I’ve plugged in a mouse and keyboard to my Nexus 7 (using a USB hub, of course) and it worked out-of-the-box. It even has keyboard shortcuts: http://www.reddit.com/r/Nexus7/comments/1b63r0/keyboard_shortcuts_for_ nexus_7/

    Carrying a laptop body is obviously easier than tablet + hub + keyboard + mouse, but I feel guilty enough buying a “useless” device like my Nexus, I couldn’t possibly justify buying that – it just feels too wasteful.

    That said, I hear it can run a real Linux distro, besides ChromeOS, so when my normal laptop craps out I might consider replacing it with one of these. I end up doing all heavy processing on my desktop or VPS, anyway.

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  4. Victoria Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    Hi Luke!

    Can you add another language to the system?

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  5. @ Federico Poloni:
    well.. i bought it “new” on eBay for 70€, because there was a time when prices for these dropped for they came with shitty Android and Updates were never really avalable. shortly there after supplies ran low and prices exploded again.

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  6. Karthik INDIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    This is quite tempting, but I have one question: Is it a brick if you’re not online?

    Or can you edit and save documents with no connection? Load and play music? Read PDFs/CBRs? Do you get filesystem access, and use it as a low capacity pen drive?

    Also, can it do stream Youtube at 720p without stutter?

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:

    Yeah, running full blown Linux does make a machine more flexible. The advantage of the Chromebook however is that it is accessible to just about anyone.

    You can use the Crouton script to sort of “dual boot” Chromebook with a lightweight Linux distro. I have not done it yet, but I’ve seen few videos/tutorials and it is kinda cool since ChromeOS is still running in the background and you can “live switch” between them. So you can run ChromeOS and drop to a full blown bash shell. It does eat memory and drain battery faster though. Also you have to put the machine in Dev mode which puts up an ugly scare-message every time you boot up.

    @ IceBrain:

    As far as I can tell the iPad does not even have a mouse cursor mechanic. Pairing it with a Bluetooth mouse does nothing. Also iDevices have no USB ports so you can’t “plug” stuff in. Apple has everything on lock down. :P

    @ Victoria:

    I’m pretty sure it asked me for the language when I first booted it up, but I wasn’t really paying attention because US English was the default and that’s what I wanted. I’ll go back, check and report back. :)

    @ Karthik:

    You do get local file access. If you do have bunch of PDF files saved locally you can read them. Not sure about editing documents, though. I haven’t really used it anywhere that didn’t have online access. If you plug in a USB it will show up and give you access to the contents.

    But yeah, I think there is very few things you can do without internet. I think the inline spell check does Google looks-ups so it stops working when your WiFi drops.

    I did watch a Youtube video without stuttering on it, though I didn’t pay attention to the resolution because it was a clip of a cat saying “Old Long Johnson” so it didn’t seem important. :P

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  8. ST/op DENMARK Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Karthik:
    You can try Chrome OS on any PC or laptop by running it live from an USB stick: http://chromeos.hexxeh.net

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  9. Luke Maciak wrote:

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:

    Yeah, running full blown Linux does make a machine more flexible. The advantage of the Chromebook however is that it is accessible to just about anyone.

    Well… Asus T100 comes with Windows 8.1

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ ST/op:

    Yes, but you have to keep in mind that the Hexxeh builds are missing some features: flash and PDF plugins among them. So you’re not getting the full experience, but merely a decent approximation of thereof.

    Dr. Azrael Tod wrote:

    Well… Asus T100 comes with Windows 8.1

    My point stands :P Pretty much all the non-technical folks I know that took the plunge and switched to Win 8.x haaaaaaaaaaate it with a passion of 10 thousand fiery suns. And this is after I installed the Classic Shell thing ensuring they get their Start Menu back.

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  11. ST/op DENMARK Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    Luke Maciak wrote:

    Yes, but you have to keep in mind that the Hexxeh builds are missing some features: flash and PDF plugins among them.

    Yes, you’re right. Proprietary plugins I guess… But it seems to be a way, though: https://gist.github.com/dz0ny/3065781
    Gonna go try it in a VM!

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  12. TinyI UNITED KINGDOM Google Chrome Linux says:

    Interesting! I’ve been thinking about getting one of these ever since I started experimenting with nitrous.io (cloud dev vms – you can get vim working on it too with your plugins – granted it takes a lot of messing with though!) as they have a chrome app.

    Looked at the prices though (£229 exc. delivery) and I think its kinda steep really for what it is. Still tempted!

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