I’ve now been using a Samsung Chromebook for six months as my main device. There’s been lots of talk about them in recent weeks (particularly in regard to that nonsense world that is Tech Company Sales Numbers). But let’s be honest, do you know anyone (apart from me) who actually uses one? And that’s probably the case even if you know lots of people who work at Google.
So, six months in, what’s it like?
A bit of context – first of all a Chromebook is a laptop that runs Google’s ChromeOS operating system. You can think about it pretty much as a laptop that does nothing but run a Chrome Web browser.
The main tools I use today are: Google Apps (for email, calendar, documents, spreadsheets and presentations); LinkedIn; TweetDeck (to run Twitter); WordPress (for blogging); Expensify (for expenses); Kindle and Evernote. All of the above run as Chrome “apps”.
I have an Android phone (Galaxy SII running Cyanogenmod), a Nexus 7 (when the kids aren’t using it) and also a desktop Windows 7 PC which is up in our attic home office, and now mainly used as a staging point for the endless photos of the kids.
My working patterns are: at home (usually in the kitchen as my wife has first dibs on the home office), on a train, in coffee shops and shared office spaces across London, and meeting people (often at their offices). The trains are rammed, so I usually only use the phone on them.
If most of your work is browser-based (as mine is) Chromebooks are viable. In six months I can think of maybe two occasions where I was unable to get network access (either via WiFi or using my phone as a hotspot) when I needed to get access to my work.
Having everything in the Cloud means that I don’t really think about devices per se – I can sit on the Windows machine upstairs if I can’t be bothered to shift keyboards and things around on the desk and work quite happily; similarly I often will be working on something at home on the Chromebook and then make tweaks or send out emails or share files whilst on my phone on the way into Central London. Having no real option to store primary copies of data on a device totally stops you from doing it. That’s no bad thing, in my opinion.
The device itself is low-powered, so runs for a day without charging – I rarely if ever bother taking my power lead with me when I’m travelling in for meetings. It starts up or resumes in a few seconds from pressing the power button. It reliably puts itself into sleep when the lid is closed, and I’ve never had the experience of getting it out of a bag on the point of heat melt-down which I have on many occasions with fully-fledged PCs of various OSs.
Some of the things that I thought would be a pain (notably taking screenshots and bouncing files about from place to place) are actually fine because there are pseudo-client apps that are included that let you manage files a la file explorer and do basic crop/adjust of images.
It’s light. It’s small. But the screen is big enough to do most things without concern (the one exception is analysing data in spreadsheets, but that’s just as bad on any screen with my eyesight/not wanting to use a 40″ 4KHD display for doing work thank you very much…)
It’s cheap – £230. When every penny matters, that’s not to be overlooked.
The low (processing) power means that if you have a dozen or so tabs open and one or two pages are doing big stuff (over-burdened web pages, Flash, or big spreadsheets) the whole thing can start to grind a bit.
There are a few bits of native Windows/Mac software that I would like, but can’t use use (notably – Sparkol’s VideoScribe, and Propellerhead’s Reason) and a few plug ins that don’t exist (notably video services like BT Sport and NowTV who decided to use Silverlight for their products).
The touchpad is a bit crappy, without buttons, so you have to do a weird combination of multitouch to right click.
The low processing power also means that video playback is ropey for the most part (unless there is absolutely nothing else running).
In combination with a reasonable smartphone, and maybe a tablet, it’s great for doing typed content creation which can be a pain on a touchscreen. There’s no glamour factor with a Chromebook – if I’m making any statement with it it’s “I’m being tight with my money” – but that’s fine. At this moment in time I am.
Would I buy a heavily upgraded, expensive Pixel? Not a chance. If I were paying a grand for a laptop then I’d get a Windows or MacOS device.
Will I replace it with another low-cost Chromebook when it’s needed? If I’m still working with the Cloud-based tools that I do today, quite possibly although that will mainly depend on when the thing conks out – ie the battery fails – and then doing a true cost analysis on it versus devices with replaceable consumables.
It’s not a device to love, but I’m that’s what tablets and smartphones are for these days, right? It’s fine. And that’s kind of what I want from a laptop these days.