Saturday, June 15, 2013

Devices, Gadgets and Gear, Oh My: The Chromebook.

Anyone who knows me knows that I like "stuff". You know geek crack, gadgets, electronics. I usually have a number of gadgets with me that mostly do the same thing but in different ways and in different sizes. In this series of posts I am going to take a look at each of them and try to tell you what purpose that device has for me and hopefully make your decision easier should you need to get one yourself.

I am going to start with my most recent acquisition, the Samsung Chromebook XE303C. Mostly because it's much easier to justify, even to myself, than any of the others.

I made the decision to use the Chromebook because I was looking for a smaller, lighter, and cheaper platform for mobile work. The Chromebook fit all of these needs and added long battery life as well.

The 11.6 inch screen is smaller than most laptops but the resolution is higher than most netbooks making for a good compromise. This Chromebook is very light; it feels like a small tablet but adds a full keyboard.

The keyboard is where this Chromebook really shines. I have used both very nice and very bad keyboards over the years. This one is one of the best, Certainly the best keyboard of this size I have ever come across. I do not find myself searching for keys and my typing speed is not diminished at all. It has a chiclet keyboard similar to the Apple Macbook or Apple Bluetooth keyboards. Compared to my Macbook Pro's keyboard I find the spacing on the Chromebook to be better and I mis-hit fewer keys. No they do not come colored like that, those are Gmail shortcut stickers I added.

Speaking of the Macbook Pro, to the left is a comparison photo of the two. Yes, I know that's Windows 7 on the Macbook, I had to rebuild my Bootcamp image yesterday and its updating at the moment so I couldn't boot back into OS X for the photo. Don't give me any grief about it, the single biggest reason to own a Macbook is to be able to run both OS X and Windows on the same laptop. As the photo clearly shows, the Chromebook is much smaller than the Macbook. Much lighter too; it feels like less than half the weight. The Chromebook certainly costs less coming in somewhere about one fifth of the cost. The biggest detraction to the Chromebook is in it's screen, it has a decent color and resolution but you can't compare it to the bright, sharp, beautiful screen on a Macbook. The Macbook shown, which is only a mid 2010, is much brighter, sharper, and more colorful, imagine comparing it to a retina Macbook. So While the Chromebook screen is a little dark, it isn't razor sharp, and the colors are a bit muted if I knock it off a table or spill a coffee on it while sending an email at Caribou it won't make me cry either. Certainly the screen is very usable if not perfect and really if you're not sitting it next to a Macbook or Cinema Display you won't notice.

Let me talk about the 500 pound gorilla in the room: the operating system. ChromeOS is, of course, not OS X; it isn't even Windows. I don't have a problem with that though, I think of it as computing condensed. ChromeOS allows you to get done what needs doing without all the distractions of a full operating system. No, you can't play Crisis on it and you can't log into WoW, so what? I have a  Mac so I am used to not being able to play games on my computers. OK, that's a bit harsh, Mac gaming has come a long way and with software like Crossover you can do most anything. But that's the point I am trying to make. If you're willing to do the leg work you can accomplish most anything on a Chromebook. You can play some games, you can (using Google Docs or another online office suite) both word process and create or edit spreadsheets. Heck, I created this entire post photo editing and all on my Chromebook. You can use it offline though with a smaller feature set, but you have to prepare to be offline before you go offline. Google Drive's offline mode does work if you set the files you need to be available while still online. The caveat here is the offline view available to you. I use folder structure to organize my files and many documents are actually named the same but are in different folders. When you are offline you lose the folder structure and just get a list of files which in my case are mostly named the same. You can figure out what belongs to what, but simply leaving the structure alone would go a long way to making it more useful to me.

I admit I am old school, Google and I butt heads on this point all the time. Especially in Gmail where they would prefer I use labels and filters but I prefer folders. I am not ready to start sorting thousands of emails and labeling them to re-create what I already have working just fine in folders but I am going to have to rethink how I store files on Drive with offline mode in mind.

Battery life is another area where the Chromebook shines compared to any other laptop I have ever used. Heck it has a better battery life than my iPad. I can make almost an entire day of working on the Chromebook without having to charge it. Try doing that on your laptop.

So what it boils down to is this: the Chromebook is smaller, lighter, has incredible battery life, has a great keyboard, and costs like a nickle. If you don't need specialized software on a daily basis I can strongly recommend using a Samsung Chromebook. If you need specialized software I can still recommend the Samsung Chromebook as long as it isn't your only computer. Google has a remote desktop client you can install to connect to your other computer to use whatever software isn't available for ChromeOS. I still use my Macbook but mostly just to play games and watch movies; It seems a lot heavier now than it did a couple years ago.


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