Sunday, January 22, 2012

Google Chromebook Review


My motivation for trying the Chromebook was that I realized that I live in Google's world. I use Google search, maps, Android, Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Google Apps at work, YouTube - everything Google. I even switched from iTunes to Google Music recently. Realizing this caused me to think about using the Chrome OS and the idea of a nice, light ultrabook with no data on it was also very appealing.


Hardware

Let's look at the laptop first. This Samsung Chromebook (white), first of all, is gorgeous. Well, the outside shell is. The keyboard and screen bezel are very utilitarian once you open it up, but the outer shell is amazingly beautiful. This is true for the white version, I think the black versions are not as nice. (Update: last I checked the white Samsung is no longer being sold.)

Screen clarity and brightness is very readable. Brightness is adjustable to any room lighting. The keyboard is very comfortable. People talk about how large the trackpad is, which is true, but the extra wrist-rest is very convenient. The trackpad is not stellar. I find it a bit laggy, but it is useful enough. Much more important is that the trackpad supports multitouch gestures. This is a MUST for me being a former MacBook Pro user.

The laptop is 3.3 lbs, which seems featherweight to me, but then again I use a giant black HP laptop at work, so anything would feel light after using that.

Battery life is absolutely stellar. I've been using the computer for hours today unplugged and I am down to 64% remaining, which is about 4.5 more hours. I've never used a laptop with battery life this good. It must be because of the solid-state hard drive. Anyway, Samsung, nice job on the battery life. I am totally impressed (and this is a do-or-die feature for me on laptops).

Graphics quality is excellent. I played 720p videos in YouTube, Netflix and Hulu and none showed the slightest lag or jerkiness. Once I tried 1080p video, it started to get jerky.


Chrome OS

But what about the operating system, Chrome OS?? I like it. It reminds me of Jolicloud, which was an operating system that was meant to operate "in the cloud" several years ago. It never got popular, but I tried it for a while. It was too buggy to be useful, but I liked the idea of it.

Well, Chrome OS is Jolicloud done right. You can "install" apps from the Chrome store, but they are really just "links" on the splash page of the Chrome browser. The closest you get to actual apps is some of them get installed as Chrome browser extensions. What did you expect? The browser is the OS. Stuff like Settings is just another browser tab. It is genius. Simplifies things greatly. I probably spend 85% of my time inside a browser, why not make it 100%?

As for the advertising and hype, I am here to tell you that Chrome OS on the Chromebook really does boot up in 8 seconds. I timed it. Friggin' unbelievable. That changes everything. Turn off your computer whenever you are not using it, because it takes no time at all to bring it back up. This isn't some "sleep mode" like on Windows PCs, this is really "OFF." So it is 8 seconds until you see your user login, then another 2-3 seconds after logging in and you see the browser. Super fast.

I am blown away by the variety of apps in the Chrome Store. I was expecting I would have to live without the functionality of my MacBook Pro in certain areas, but that turned out not to be true. Astoundingly, I found a GIMP-like app in the store called Pixlr. It does layers, filters, the whole bit. I haven't dug into it yet, but I use GIMP a lot (GIMP is an open source alternative to Photoshop) and I'm so happy to still have at least some of that functionality. Also, Netflix and Hulu work GREAT, thank you very much. No problems at all. No goofy plug-ins to load, they just work. And Hulu sees the Chromebook as a computer, not a mobile device, so you have a much wider variety of programming. The Chrome Store even has Angry Birds! (sorry I mentioned it). It makes you realize that "apps in the cloud" are going to be so much cooler than the crap we load onto our local hard drives. Sky's the limit.

My employer uses Google Apps corporately, so I use two Chrome logins, one for my personal Google ID and one for work. What I used to do on my MacBook Pro was to have the Chrome browser and Firefox open at the same time and be logged in to one Google ID on one and one on the other browser. This was very fast and easy, just flip between spaces on the Apple desktop. With Chrome OS, it is not as easy. You have to log out of one Google account and log in to the other. (You can actually have two IDs in a single browser but it doesn't seem to work well for me.) I'm being picky here, because it is probably a 10 second process total, but still a lot slower than what I'm used to. A good side-effect is that that extra hassle actually keeps me focused on work when I need to be focused on work, and also focused on my personal stuff instead of constantly checking work e-mail and notifications. I'm sure I'll get used to it.

You can actually have multiple windows open on Chrome within one login. Two is the maximum, I think. I guess this would be useful if you have too many tabs open at a time, so you can spread them across two windows. There's also a nice extension called "Too Many Tabs" that lets you take browser tabs offscreen and then you can bring them back anytime. Another possibility for multiple windows is if you want one window as normal and the other as "incognito," which is Chrome's word for no tracking, no history.

The idea of the "desktop' is really gone now. Well, sorta. The landing page when you start the machine (or open a new tab) is your "desktop." It shows icons for all your apps and you can easily click on the one you want.

Now, after owning a Chromebook for three months, I am really loving it. Obviously, I cannot use Word or Excel documents very well. Google Docs is great for unformatted stuff, but if I need to create a proposal for a client, I have to be using MS-Office on Windows or Mac. But for the rest of my work, this Chrome cloud-world is just fine. Preferable, even. And the freedom of not loading anything locally feels so good. My MacBook Pro crashed, so even though I had everything backed up with Carbonite, I still keenly felt the vulnerability of having data locally. I guess I'm a cloud guy now. And dangerously close to being an annoying Google fanboy.

I mean, Chromebook? Seriously??

3 comments:

The Walrus said...

After a month of using my Series 5 religiously I'm pretty much in the same place as you. But I can't get Pixlr to recognize my SSD through ChromeOS. So I installed Ubuntu and it works just fine. Weird

http://non-technical-tech.com/2012/01/22/the-chromebook-one-month-later-tantalizingly-close-but-still-feels-beta/

Joseph M.Mann said...

You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be really something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I'm looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!
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