Another Go with the Chromebook

June 3rd, 2013 Leave a Comment

Anthony (@anthonyslai) has been using his Chromebook lately, by necessity, and a combination of recent speculation and my own gut tells me that I should try to work my Chromebook back into the regular rotation.

Actually, the speculation isn’t recent. Anton Wahlmann predicted a Chrome OS smartphone two years ago; he’s just updated his prediction based on the happenings at I/O.

He makes an interesting argument, and given the consolidation of Android and Chrome OS under Sundar Pichai, it makes sense. Also compelling to nearly everyone, the sudden and unexplained appearance of a chrome-plated Android robot at Google HQ.

So, I’m giving the little guy another chance to find a home in my gadget arsenal.

I’ve had a Chromebook for a few years, the Samsung Series 5 3G Chromebook, but like many gadgets, it’s gone unused. Picking it up again for the first time in a while, the first striking feature is how many updates I’ve missed.

Chrome OS has undergone some major changes, since I last used this device. Yes, I’m using it now. It now feels like an OS, rather than just a Chrome browser, with a desktop, a listing of “apps” and a system bar.

It also doesn’t feel dated, unlike most two-year-old devices do. For example, the Nexus S, which I got new at about the same time, is woefully under-powered running the most recent version of Android, Jelly Bean. Google has obviously taken care to architect Chrome OS to maximize the low-spec hardware.

The features of Google’s web apps, like Hangouts, make it seem more functional, and the speed Anthony references is still there, providing instant-on and snappy reboots for updates.

So, not surprisingly, the Chromebook is an ecosystem device. Google stuff looks good and runs well. Web stuff is mostly the same. Beyond that, you have to wade into deep water. Check Anthony’s post for examples.

One early show-stopper for me still exists, VPN support. It’s baked-in, but not for the VPN I need for work. That won’t change anytime soon.

Overall, it’s not bad to use. Unlike the Pixel, my Chromebook feels like exactly what it is, a cheap laptop. Not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.

Actually, the device’s cost and its lack of local data make it a perfect traveling machine. Don’t want to carry your fancy laptop and its accessories on vacation? Just throw a Chromebook into your luggage. It’s fairly rugged, and the mental cost of losing it is much lower.

I did this equation in my head during a trip last year, and found it quite liberating to leave behind the Macbook Pro and laptop bag.

The size is nice, but it’s a bit too small for my lap and the keyboard feels a bit cramped after extended use. Google has rearranged a few keys, specifically the ctrl one, which has caused some relearning.

The trackpad also tends to catch my fingers as I type, moving the cursor around magically.

Otherwise, the device works very well. So, why wouldn’t Google create tablets and phones for it? Firefox OS is proving there is room at the other end of the smartphone market, where apps are less important than portable internet connectivity. They may have competition soon.

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