A Chromebook Review

July 28th, 2011 8 Comments

Earlier this week, I received a Chromebook, specifically the Samsung Series 5 3G Chromebook, courtesy of Google for attending their IO developer conference in May.

Of the goodies Google passed out this year, a Galaxy Tab 10.1, a Verizon MiFi and a Chromebook, I was least excited about the Chromebook, but after using it pretty heavily for a few days, I’m favorably impressed and think it has potential.

The Wins in No Particular Order
My laptop is a desk-based device, tethered to Time Machine, my KVM, and to my monitor. I’m lazy, and I don’t really like to cart it around the house, so for me, the Chromebook fits a niche.

Where it shines most is casual content creation. I have two tablets, an original iPad and the Galaxy Tab from IO, but neither is good for creating anything more involved than a couple sentence email. Maybe I’m a relic, but I need a QWERTY keyboard with tactile feedback to really bang out the words. Hunt and tap on a screen is unpleasant.

Plus, in addition to its lean-forward capabilities, the Chromebook is also nice for consuming content in lean-back mode, which is tablet territory, minus the apps and technology restrictions. It’s the whole intertubes, not a subset.

Physically, the Chromebook is a nice size too, about 3 and quarter pounds and not terribly larger in dimension than my iPad, but unlike most netbooks, the keyboard works for normal size hands. The screen is also not miniature at 12.1 inches.

You also won’t set your lap on fire from internal heat or go deaf from the fan running constantly, both positives.

It’s actually a pretty sweet device.

The Fails in No Particular Order
The price is wrong (h/t @oraclenerd). At $500, Chromebooks compete with tablets, and unless Google’s marketing changes, they’ll be tough to sell into that segment, which is dominated by iPads. Yes, $500 is a competitive price vs. Windows laptops and netbooks, but this isn’t an ordinary computer.

It’s an internet machine. Good luck explaining that.

I tried. The first question was could it do Facebook. Yes. The next was what makes it different. I made the mistake of explaining what it doesn’t do because that’s what really makes the Chromebook different. This sent the discussion off the rails.

So, marketing the Chromebook will be challenge.

And Google has a bit of a bipolar approach going already. Is it for casual internet users? Or is it for enterprises to deploy (ahem @mikekrupa)?

I hope not the latter, since there’s no VPN on board, and the screen lock (a must for enterprises) is unlocked via your Google Account credentials, which is a major boo-boo.

Think about how annoying it is to remember and type a strong password just to unlock your computer. So, this leads to weak passwords, which makes enterprises cringe. I suppose two-factor authentication would help, but I’ve seen mixed reviews about how well this works with Chromebooks.

The Rest in No Particular Order
I really dislike the trackpad. It’s jittery and skippy, but others report it to be fine. Maybe it’s a me thing.

I miss the ability to screenshot. There is a version of Awesome Screenshot for Chrome OS, but it’s buggy.

The battery is great when compared to my Macbook (circa 2006), but compared to my iPad, it’s disappointing. I should be happy with 10 hours.
My Android devices don’t play nice with it; I expected angels to descend when I plugged in my phone to upload a video to Picasa. Alas, Chrome OS didn’t mount the phone’s SD card, or do anything really, other than flash a message about the device being connected.

Similar deal with my iOS devices, but no message. I have yet to try a standard disk or a camera yet.

Another thing I was expecting was that extensions and Chrome Web Store apps would help fill the gaps left by only surfacing the browser. This has been hit and miss so far, which is to be expected, but longer term, I hope the extension and web app ecosystem built around Chrome will bleed over into Chrome OS, making it more functional.

Chrome is a resource pig on every OS, and Chrome OS is no different. Or maybe I’m making an assumption that when the browser tabs fail, it’s a result of resource management. Whatever the case, there are crashes, although as with the browser, the sandbox architecture helps you recover somewhat gracefully.

My final observation is a key one.

Using a Chromebook brings on a weird feeling, kind of like when you move the phone on your desk and when it rings, you reach for where it used to be. You feel like something is missing.

And depending on what you do with a computer, something probably is. For power users, this loss of control is an issue. For others, I guess we’ll see.

Find the comments with your questions and/or thoughts.


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8 Responses to “A Chromebook Review”

  1. uvox Says:

    And your assessment of it as status symbol? Must be pretty high (outside of the board room) I’d say!

    Love to get my hands on one. Have to get to that Google I/O gig…

  2. Jake Says:

    I don’t think Chromebooks carry much in the way of status, but I could be wrong. 

  3. Chominimalist Says:

    Ctl + Switch Windows = Screenshot. There’s also a Google built Chrome extension if you want to just capture part of the screen. Ctl+Alt+/ to see all the keyboard shortcuts and they are very much worth learning because they are huge productivity boosters. I agree with most everything except my trackpad is the smoothest I’ve ever used. You neglected to mention you couldn’t give it a virus like you can other machines and I think the compelling feature is you lift the lid and begin to work. I had a Macbook Air for a brief time and it booted really really fast but you still were at the OS and not at your pinned tab apps ready to work.Another semi feature is it tosses your downloads in 5 days so your drive doesn’t accumulate clutter. It’s a very lean clean cloud working machine. I’ve found SaaS replacements for many of my desktop apps and I’m down to a good FTP solution and a coding environment (but I have a feeling some are on the way). I see huge implications for this machine in business and education when you look at costs to support this box versus the alternatives.

  4. Gary Myers Says:

    Got to touch the Samsung one yesterday. I don’t think they are aiming for Status symbol. There’s nothing obvious to say “I’m a Chromebook !”

  5. Jake Says:

    It’s a nice machine, no doubt and thanks for the tips. I do like the fast boot and fast on features. Re. viruses and malware, never say never.

    Enterprises need VPN, so that’s an issue. The IT guy in me hates using Google Account creds for unlocking the screen too. 

    Overall, it’s a good start, but it needs focused marketing to succeed.

  6. Jake Says:

    Yeah, kinda the opposite of status symbol, unless you aim to project a spartan image.

  7. AG4IT Says:

    Chromebooks are targeted to specific types of users that want an easy, portable Internet browsing device.  They are not meant to replace the traditional PC or laptop.

    In addition, there are third party apps out there that can bridge the gap for Chromebook users that require occasional access to those tools found only in a Windows environment.  For example, if a Chromebook user needs quick, easy, temporary access to a Windows desktop or Windows app, they can use Ericom AccessNow, a pure HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server (RDS Session Host), physical desktops or VDI virtual desktops – and run their applications and desktops in a browser.

    Ericom‘s AccessNow does not require Java, Flash, Silverlight, ActiveX, or any other underlying technology to be installed on end-user devices – an HTML5 browser is all that is required.

    For more info, and to download a demo, visit:
    http://www.ericom.com/html5_rdp_client.asp?URL_ID=708

  8. Jake Says:

    I beg to differ. Chromebooks are very much targeted to replace laptops, in enterprises, schools, etc. Yes, the ideal user needs a portable Internet browsing device, as you say, but Google is pushing Chromebooks as lower cost alternatives to IT departments to replace traditional laptops.

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