My month with a Chromebook instead of an iPad

Chromebooks have always intrigued me since they were announced a few years ago. The idea of a new way of approaching what an Operating System is and how we interact with a  traditional computer.

I had a CR-48 for a while but for whatever reason I never really played around with it. Recently I picked up a Samsung Series 5 off of Ebay and spent a week with it to see if a Chromebook could fit into my workflow.

As a standalone machine:

The Series 5 is a great device that lends itself easily to anyone in Google’s system, or is comfortable with cloud computing (Basically your stuff is saved online not on the machine). To be clear what a Chromebook actually is, its a computer that just runs a Chrome browser. There is a rudimentary file system but everything runs through the browser. Now you might be saying, “Well that’s dumb it’s just the internet” while you are correct you have to think about how much you work on the internet in your day to day work. Personally I spend a ton of time online and minus a few (two to be exact) programs I had no trouble at all adjusting to the new machine. If you’re a Google user you’re even further along because you just log into the machine with your credentials and all of your stuff is synced and ready to go. Nothing is more fun than working on the machine at my desk, then going home and opening the lid of my Chromebook and literally have the same browser tabs, and all my stuff right where I left off.

Pros:

1. Speed – Google boasts an 8 second startup time since each Chromebook has a Solid State Drive and since it’s loading a browser and nothing more. While I was a skeptic at first I can honestly say 8 seconds for a cold start is about right and it’s damn near instant on when you bring it out of sleep. While it may seem like a small pro, it is very nice to not have to wait for stuff to load for minutes. Especially when you’re in a rush.

2. The Chrome Store is full – One of the things people were apprehensive about when looking at Chromebooks and Chrome OS was that you can’t run a traditional program on it. Things like Word and Excel don’t exist on Chrome OS. However Google has done a great job herding and creating a Chrome Web Store chock full of web based apps and services that make your Chromebook very very useful. Need to edit images or video? You can with some web apps. Need to emulate IE for some Active X controls? Done, need to draw something from scratch? Doable. Best of all extensions are 100% free!

3. Battery Life – My biggest complaint about, well everything now a days, is battery life. It seems like I’m always running out of juice and my laptop is no exception. I have a wonderful Macbook Pro for work but the 3 hours of battery life (and yes I’m minimizing everything) just can’t cut it on the road. The Samsung series 5 gives you 8.5 with wireless on and full screen brightness. I’ve never done any kind of stress test personally, but I have run it all day this way and I was rockin 8.5. With brightness turned down and no wireless it was displaying 12 hours. Which is impressive. As a road warrior Chromebooks are very impressive.

4. Ease of use – Chrome OS updates itself and does not need to prompt you for anything. Deleting your user account off of a machine is as easy as deleting the icon you click on for login since you’re cloud synced. There are no viruses for Chrome, and if you break/lose your book, you can just pick up your data right where you left off.

I also found explaining to people how a Chromebook is used is drastically easier than any other device I’ve had to explain/train.

5. Cost – My out of the box (literally it came in the original box) Series 5 was $200. Google has made a concerted effort to keep costs down to compete with other laptops and even the latest generation of books is looking to be between $200-$400 tops.

Cons:

1. Embracing the cloud – With the limited amount of storage you have, plus the lack of supporting traditional programs, you have to store your things online. For some people this can be a difficult decision to embrace. The idea of some other company or entity with access to your items can cool people to the idea of a Chromebook

2. Still a laptop – If you’re looking for something you can use with one hand or hold easily while walking the Chromebook is not for you. It’s a laptop, and comes with all of the laptop pros and cons. You have a dedicated keyboard which I like but you have the size and bulk that comes with it.

3. Finding workarounds – Much like any non-traditional OS you’re going to have to come up with workarounds to get some things done. Like using Extensions instead of programs. Need Adobe Photoshop? On a Chromebook it’s not going to happen, without finding an alternative in the Chrome Web Store

4. If you don’t like Chrome – I’m not sure why you would use a Chromebook if you are not a Chrome user but if you’re looking to run Firefox on your Chromebook you’re going to be out of luck.

5. Internet – One common myth is that you NEED the internet to get any functionality out of a Chromebook. As of right now you can get your Gmail offline and you can view Google Docs offline, there is also a Scratchpad that can synch with Gdocs that lets you type offline and I have heard this summer GDocs offline editing is coming so you don’t necessarily need the internet to make a Chromebook useful, however I would be sitting here lying to your face if I din’t say having internet access make the Chromebook ten times more functional.

vs. my Macbook Pro

My work Macbook Pro is a great machine. It’s not the newest MBP release but it’s under 3 years old and with my setup it runs very smoothly. However the battery life can be a bit of a downer, plus I find myself constantly waiting for stuff to load.

In terms of portability and speed/efficiency the Chromebook wins hands down. When it comes to computing power the MBP takes the title.

vs. my iPad

In what I thought was going to be a tough battle, the Chromebook was very impressive. It negated the iPad’s battery life and with the regular keyboard I found myself more productive with the Chromebook. Plus since I’m a pretty big Google user, the iPad has always lacked a decent GDocs app.

Where the iPad was clearly better was with media consumption. Watching videos, and casual browsing it was clearly the better choice. I also have to give it the nod in terms of portability.

The Bottom line:

There is a niche out there for the Chromebook and ChromeOS. It’s the perfect device  for someone that feels more familiar with a laptp than a tablet, loves being on the internet and doesn’t want the bulk of a traditional OS weighing them down. Plus with the cheap price tag, you can’t go too wrong choosing to buy one.

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