The Chromebook Dulls…

Back in June I wrote a post about my plunge into the world of Chromebooks. I thought it would be a good idea to provide an update on that experience and highlight the reasons why I am putting it on the shelve, or more precisely handing it over to my son…

First the good, which is that it really is a viable alternative to Mac and Windows. Almost everything we use these days is browser based so running a sub-compact laptop that relies exclusively on a browser for applications is workable. It is inexpensive, the battery life is fantastic and it does the job for most tasks.

Here’s what I didn’t like:

  1. The Samsung is slooooooow and the display is actually rather weak, rising to the “good enough” level on the best of days. Admittedly these issues can be resolved with a more capable alternative like the Google Pixel but why would I spend $1,300 on a laptop that has other significant shortcomings? 
  2. Google Print and remote desktop both rely on the host being available (no surprise, right?) but in the case of print this is particularly debilitating. We have no fixed computers in our house, everything is either laptop or tablet and when it comes to printing, which is still a required capability, the Chromebook became a problem because it was looking for one specific laptop that I had sourced with the Google Print capability. It was not always available and this resulted in frustrating moments when I really needed to print something and could not. Google needs to sort out this print feature set to enable direct-to-printer interfacing, even if with a generic driver.
  3. Can’t run installed Java therefore Gotomeeting, Webex, etc. are not possible… this was a major problem for me. There is a way to do this with remote desktop but then we come back to the issue above, if the remote desktop is not available you are out of luck.
  4. Could not connect USB devices I wanted to connect, like my camera. This surprised me, I just assumed that any device connected with USB would be treated as external storage… not the case. #fail.
  5. The last issue is a strange one and it is only when you use the laptop for a while that you notice how annoying it is. There are odd caching behaviors that result in pages being reloaded way too often… for example, if you shift focus away from your Gmail tab for more than a few minutes and then return to the tab it will reload Gmail. This is massively frustrating if you are like me and are in and out of Gmail literally hundreds of times per day. Add up all those 10-15 second intervals over the course of a day and it adds up to a good chunk of wasted time.

On balance I am still happy to have the Chromebook, and for my son it will work really well, but the fact remains that with the significant shortcomings this device is not adequate for business use.

Living With a Chromebook

Last week I bought a Samsung Chromebook.

The reason for taking the plunge is that my son needs a new computer and I talked with my wife about getting him a laptop instead of a new iMac. The only desktop computer in the house is his, Lisa and I both use laptops and tablets while working, reading, whatever, and rarely sit in our home office. As a result, if my son used his computer he was often doing it unsupervised and at his age I still want to have a watchful eye on what he is doing.

The proliferation of free, and pseudo-free, applications available through app marketplaces also presents a challenge for parents because many of these apps have features that circumvent the parental controls that operating systems provide. For example, many games have embedded chat capabilities. With that in mind, I wanted to give him a laptop that cut off one of the avenues by which children can stumble into trouble, installed apps, which often also bring security risks that could impact our entire home network.

Lastly, I wanted to experience the Chromebook as a possible extension of my own computing needs for when I am traveling or out-and-around town for meetings and such. An 11″ lightweight computer with a long lasting battery makes a lot of sense, and with my Verizon mifi connectivity I can be connected in the absence of a fixed wifi network.

The Samsung Chromebook is an appealing laptop on several levels. It is lightweight, has great battery performance, features a surprisingly nice keyboard, and good enough performance. It delivers the goods and doesn’t promise any extras. it is certainly no Pixel but it is $250 so from a value perspective it is hard to beat. In addition to the basic features, it includes a couple of USB ports and, surprisingly, a full sized HDMI port; storage is extended with an SDCard slot in the side.

I like what Google did with the launcher and dock, and setup was really straightforward. Performance is, as I noted, good enough, but it really lacks responsiveness. which is to say it just isn’t very snappy. The only significant negative that I can point out is that the display is washed out and generally unimpressive.

The only surprisingly challenging thing to do on the Chromebook is print, but once I figured out how to add a “classic printer” to Google Cloud Print and then shared that across my multiple Google profiles, it worked but clearly Google has some work to do with Cloud Print although competitive offerings from HP and others could fill this gap. Eventually I will replace my printer with one that is cloud-centric, which will also help smooth over this issue.

The display brings up the topic of the Google Pixel, which by all accounts has one of the nicest hardware/software experiences available in the market today, and the display performance and quality is nothing short of phenomenal. However, as good as that is, it is a $1,300 price tag and a larger form factor at 13″, plus the battery life is not very good.

Despite a few shortcomings, I think the Chromebook will find a place in my toolbox and this reflects a broader trend that many people are experiencing where they end up with a proliferating array of devices that either depend on the cloud or are synced to reflect a unified user experience.