The Chromebook challenge – Update

I’ve been promising that I’d give an update on the Chromebook challenge that I undertook a while ago, but one thing and another have meant that I haven’t really had enough time to do it. But, finally, here it is.

 

The positives

There are a lot of positives to the Chromebook experience and to the “web-only” approach. Never having to think about where your data is is a liberating experience, and one that – once you’ve had it – is very hard to go back on. Similarly, not having to think about whether an application is installed, and being able to sit down at any machine and get to work in seconds is amazingly cool.

Then, of course, there’s security. Chromebook is about the most secure computing platform you’re going to find (and yes, I know about the security hole), and your data is about as secure as it’s possible to be.

The speed of startup and battery life on the Samsung Series 5 3G hardware is also great. You open it, and it’s ready to use (at least if you’re using WiFi – 3G, sadly, always takes a few extra seconds to connect to the network, something that’s really unavoidable). And the battery life is so good that it’s more like a phone than a PC. You charge it overnight, and work throughout the next day with it.

The negatives

This might surprise many, but the need to constant connectivity hasn’t proved to be a negative. I’m simply not out of range of both WiFi and 3G often enough for it to be a problem for me. If you live in the middle of nowhere, that may not be true for you – but in my case, living in London, I’m constantly connected. And, of course, if I’m not connected then it doesn’t matter whether I’m using Chromebook, Mac or whatever – I can’t get to my webmail.

However, there are problems, and you can group them into two camps: those connected with the web-only nature of ChromeOS; and those to do with the hardware.

First, the web. You would think, with uncounted millions of websites, that there would be better applications out there than there actually are. But even the best web applications look pretty barebones compared to the richness of native apps on something like the Mac or iPad (or even Windows). Of course, web apps have features and advantages, particularly around sharing and collaboration, but their interface design tends to be pretty weak and hugely inconsistent from app to app.

Then there’s the hardware. Now there’s a lot to like about the form factor of the Samsung, but at the end of the day it’s just not quite powerful enough to do what it needs to do. Open up a couple of windows and five or six tabs, and the Atom processor and 2Gb of RAM start to creak under the strain. An i3, with maybe a bit more RAM, would make ChromeOS fly – and given the premium price you’re paying compared to more complex Windows-based netbooks, I think we have a right to expect this level of hardware.

Conclusions

Overall, I’m actually happy with the way that the Chromebook challenge has gone. Could I use the Chromebook as my only machine? No, and I don’t actually think that it’s really intended to be used like that. Could I use it as a second machine, a “throw in the bag and forget” laptop? Definitely. In fact, it’s ideal for that.

Will I be carrying on using it? Yes, I think I will. I don’t think that I’ll use it exclusively – sometimes, the iPad is a better thing for me to be carrying around – but the Chromebook will definitely get enough use to make it worthwhile keeping. And I’m looking forward to seeing what the next generation of Chromebooks will look like, because I think that this is a view of computing that represents part of the future. Not for everyone, perhaps, but for quite a wide range of potential users.

This weekend will be the first trip away that I’ve had since starting the challenge where I won’t be taking my Chromebook. Instead, I’ll be back using the iPad, along with a keyboard so that I can churn out some words. I’m pretty sure that I’ll miss the Chromebook though – it really is something that its creator, Sundar Pichai, can be proud of.

  • http://ag4it.myopenid.com/ Adam

    You are correct in your point that Chromebooks are not meant to replace the traditional PC or laptop. They are targeted to specific types of users that want an easy, portable Internet browsing device.

    In addition, there are third party apps out there that can bridge the gap for Chromebook users that require occasional access to those tools found only in a Windows environment.  For example, if a Chromebook user needs quick, easy, temporary access to a Windows desktop or Windows app, they can use Ericom AccessNow, a pure HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server (RDS Session Host), physical desktops or VDI virtual desktops – and run their applications and desktops in a browser.

    Ericom‘s AccessNow does not require Java, Flash, Silverlight, ActiveX, or any other underlying technology to be installed on end-user devices – an HTML5 browser is all that is required.

    For more info, and to download a demo, visit:
    http://www.ericom.com/html5_RDP_Chromebook.asp?URL_ID=708

  • http://mostlythis.com Mac Morrison

    Pretty much spot on to my opinion of mine too. 

  • Pamela Merritt

    I’m rather astonished at the hostility towards the Chromebook concept. This review nails the strength and weaknesses for people to figure out for themselves. In my own case, as a blogger and writer, the Chromebook is the clear best choice. People are always telling me; you can get a netbook for that price!

    But the netbook needs software to run; a virus checker; a backup drive. I’ve just doubled the price, to get what I have on a Chromebook, right out of the box.