About a week ago, I was sitting at work late. I was in a meeting and despite my intentions to leave at a healthy 6:00 PM to grab a nice dinner with my girlfriend, the clock was rolling on 10:00 PM. Impulsively, I decided I needed to buy something and my interest was turned to the Samsung Google Chromebook. I’m not really sure why, I hadn’t seen any of the commercials, and previously, I had almost entirely written off the Chromebooks as legitimate devices. I guess shopper’s therapy can do the darnedest things.
In case you’re just here for the short version of this review, here it is: buy it, probably.
If you need more detail, read on for more information.
- The Chromebook costs $250. That’s great. It’s on par with 7” tablets and far cheaper than their 10” companions. The price really is the sweetest thing about this device.
- It is compact. It’s been about two years since I last owned a Macbook Air and, admittedly, I missed this sort of portability.
- Battery life is solid at six and a half hours to a charge, rated. I’ve been getting slightly better performance, but I’m sure that will deteriorate over time.
- The keyboard is what most of us have become accustomed to, with great key separation and relatively low pressure needed for touch typing. The trackpad is equally accurate, and while it stutters at times it is far more accurate and reliable than the trackpad on what was a $1,500 ASUS gaming series laptop (A74sx).
- The book time and power down time. This device can be fully turned on and off almost at will, for once it it is more convenient than sleep mode. This saves battery life and builds convenience to a product that is going to act as a middle ground between a smartphone and a more capable device.
- Also, the WiFi is very quick to find networks and establish connections – in total I rarely wait more than 15 seconds before being powered on, logged in, and connected to the internet.
- Very easy to setup remote desktop feature. This may be the best part about trying to make this laptop work as your office and travel companion.
- 100 GB Google Cloud storage. This is a definite value, especially since you’ll be storing everything you do in the Cloud moving forward.
- Replacing the caps lock key with a quick search button. It is a very small detail, but every laptop manufacturer in existence should copy this practice immediately. It is unbelievably convenient.
- HDMI, USB 3.0, and Bluetooth support. This will be really good for some people; I probably won’t be using either. With the included cloud storage, I won’t need a USB drive and the trackpad is responsive enough I won’t need a mouse.
- It does have software limitations. We’ll get to those and why they may not be a concern, but they will definitely a downer for some people.
- The screen’s auto brightness feature. This is a feature that’s meant to be good, like a cell phone in which the brightness changes for bright light and dark light viewing. Unfortunately, the sensor on the Chromebook is completely off and over the last ten minutes I’ve counted at least thirty dramatic light adjustments. I haven’t moved from my chair (but I am on an aircraft).
- Its plastic. This isn’t a huge problem, but it does scratch very easily. For those of you who get uncomfortable with some case scratches you’ll need to protect it with a cover or cover it with stickers.
- The screen hinge is relatively loose. I hadn’t noticed this until I began writing this article, but I’m currently on a 3-seat wide aircraft from Boston to Cleveland experiencing noticeable turbulence. The screen is bouncing back and forth quite a bit, that said I hadn’t previously experienced this in more stationary settings.
Holiday Acquisition Observation
- If you’re thinking about this as a gift, you need to start searching immediately. Chances are, you still won’t be able to land one and you might want to make up a really nice “IOU.” This device, from my best observations, is sold out everywhere. I originally ordered one on Amazon and was given a 3-week wait time. I was lucky to find one at Best Buy but of the 8 stores in my area just one store had one, and they had only one. After my purchase a week ago, all 8 stores remain sold out. The good news is that for people who adopt this device, anecdotal evidence suggests that there is interest in the product and this should push continued support and development of Chrome OS.
How it Fits into your Life
The Chromebook is not a typical laptop. At its base, it is quite simply a Google Chrome web browser. If you can’t achieve what you’re looking for in a Chrome window then, for all intents and purposes you can’t do it with this laptop. That’s going to strike some people as an impasse; however, I haven’t found it to be much of an issue.
I think, in many ways, the idea that I was buying a $250 Google Chrome web browser was more of a mental hurdle than anything else. For many people, the idea that you can survive strictly on a web browser still seems fundamentally wrong – and for some people it isn’t quite possible. My job consists mostly of documents, spreadsheets and the occasional presentation. I do a lot of e-mail and a bit of web browsing. In those regards, this is the perfect office and travel companion.
Prior to owning the Chromebook I had the iPad 3rd generation (and 1st and 2nd generations before that). For whatever reason, I never found a good “fit” for this in my work-flow. I see people making it work all the time, but it just wasn’t working for me. If you’re one of these people who can’t fit that product into whatever it is you’re doing, your eyes should perk up here. I sold my iPad for $600 used on Amazon (it was a white, 32GB, Verizon model), dropped the $250 on the Chromebook and used the other money to fund my recent excursion to Boston. I don’t regret it a bit.
It goes without saying that you should be committed to the Google ecosystem to make this device flourish. I recently also sold my iPhone 4S in favor of the Samsung Galaxy Note II. Using an Android device with 4.1, Google Drive, Google Calendar and Google Docs means that this Chromebook just fits seamlessly into my lifestyle. Everything is very smooth, auto-syncs, and works together. Quite honestly, I find that it “just works” better than the current Apple ecosystem, which I still find relatively closed in terms of accessibility from any device.
The big downer for most people will be the software limitations. If you can’t do it in a Chrome browser you likely can’t do it on this device. That said, that doesn’t mean you need the internet. I’m writing this a couple thousand miles in the air without connectivity (Google does give you a dozen in-air WiFi passes if your flight features the service). The offline mode of many of Google products including Calendar, Email, Docs, and Drive means those few times when you’re not connected, you can still get things done.
But what if you really need a program that only runs on a proper OS? There’s a very easy solution for this, Google Remote Desktop. It is super simple to setup and allows you to access a home computer from within the Chromebook very easily. It’s the easiest remote desktop client I’ve configured and, by and large, is perfectly functional. I’ve experienced some problems streaming from Spotify and I’m not sure that you would want to use Photoshop through this, but I’ve used it to type a document in a letterhead template in Word and manipulate data in relatively complex Excel spreadsheets.
Essentially, Remote Desktop should hold you over in those rare times when you can’t get it done in a Chrome browser, but it is still a remote access client. Most importantly, and much to my surprise, is that more often than not I don’t need to leave the Chrome browser anymore. The app store for Chrome is relatively well featured and growing.
Samsung has done a great job on this device and really made an affordable, well built, netbook. Google’s Chrome OS is developing nicely and implementation three really makes this “consumer ready.” In 2010, when Google first debuted this idea I shrugged it off as another Wave project waiting to fail, but they’ve clearly got a vision and direction that works. I hope people buy into it and its success continues.
If you’re on the fence, jump. If you weren’t considering it, start. I won’t be returning this computer anytime soon, and its likely that after my Note II, it will become my most used electronic device in my arsenal.