Saturday, January 5, 2013

Thoughts on the Google Chromebook

If you follow this blog, then you know that I’ve been pretty high on some of the recent Google computer/tablet products, especially since Google seems to have decided to compete on price rather than style and/or design, putting it into quite a different market space than either Apple or Microsoft.  Now, maybe the growth of Google’s price-based market space will eat some total share from the higher-end space sought by Apple, but at a certain level, that’s beside the point.  Based on the products on offer, Google seems to be going head-to-head most specifically against Amazon and Barnes & Noble--content providers moreso than companies that specialize in hardware.  With all of that in mind, I asked my wife for one of the super-low end Google Samsung Chromebooks for Christmas.  The model that I got was the $249 version; essentially the thing is a web-browser with a keyboard.  Lots of folks also expressed an interest in the new device after I did, so for what it’s worth, this is my review.
My Chromebook
First thing’s first: I wanted a Chromebook primarily as a commuting computer.  The Chromebook weighs 2.4 lbs.  I have an hour-long train commute in the mornings, after which I get on my bike and ride into the office.  The commute sucks, but I manage mostly because I can make good use my time, either reading or writing and then riding.  That said, since I have to carry this machine on my back, I definitely, definitely wanted a machine that was light weight.  You might think that Manhattan is flat, but trust me when I tell you that it definitely is not.  Moreover, I already had a very nice Windows 7 laptop, but it’s got a fifteen-inch screen, and it weighs seven pounds, and bottom line, it’s just not conducive to my commute.  And then, too, my wife is working some now, and my kids are old enough that it seems like they always want to be on the computer, so really, our family sort of needed a second machine.  Not necessarily the world’s greatest machine, but still.  Our family had lots of computing needs and not quite enough computers to go around.
So.  As a commuting computer, the Chromebook is a world-beater.  It really is super-light, and as long as you don’t mind working in Google Docs, it’s terrific.  It’s got a flash hard drive and very little in the way of installed programs, so it boots in seconds.  I can easily put down between four hundred and a thousand words on the way in in the mornings, and that’s just awesome.  Moreover, Docs Offline lets you work in either its word processor or its spreadsheet program, and that’s pretty much all I need to do when I’m on the train.  So that’s great.
What’s not so good about the Chromebook is the other times I use it; when I’m home, and I just want to do whatever, i.e. not work.  It’s those times that the Chromebook tends to show its limitations.  
What can’t you do on a Chromebook?  
Well, what you can’t do is pretty much anything in a format that’s not inherently web-based and Google-supported.  So, for example, when my daughters want to play on either Marvel’s Superhero Squad or Club Penguin, they can’t do that.  Superhero Squad requires you to install game files on your machine, and you can’t install files on a Chromebook, and Club Penguin requires Flash, and that’s not supported, either.  Likewise, if you try to download WMV files or something like that, you can’t play those on the Chromebook, either.  And that’s maddening because you while you can easily install apps to get around these problems on a Nexus table--I personally use MX Player to play unsupported files on my Nexus 7--the Chromebook doesn’t even allow that.  Yes, you can run HuluNetflixPandora, etc., but anything that doesn’t sort of stream live over the Internet is probably going to be problematic.  I also can’t access my company email and intranet systems from Chromebook, either, because it apparently doesn’t have sufficient security.  I think the problem is that the Chromebook doesn’t have a firewall--nor does it need a firewall, given that you can’t install anything on the machine in the first place--but it’s still a problem that makes me dependent on either my phone or my tablet to get actual work emails if all I’ve got with me is my Chromebook.  Again, this is a problem that’s easily overcome on a phone or a tablet via the use of installed apps, but since you can’t install apps on a Chromebook, there is effectively no work around here.
Bottom line, my Chromebook is a great personal computer for me.  For my personal interests in my particular circumstances.  But it would be a Hell of a lot more useful if you could install some Android apps on it as a work-around for some of the machine’s inherent design limitations.  These things aren’t necessarily deal-breakers, but you wouldn’t want to buy a Chromebook and think that it’s the only computer you’re going to need.  That’s definitely not going to be the case.  But if what you need happens to be a super-light weight typewriter/web browsers, then yeah, this machine is going to work out great.

1 comment:

  1. One correction: Club Penguin does work on the Chromebook. It streams just fine.