It’s been a few weeks since I brought my Chromebook home from the store, and I’m not gonna lie – I am completely and utterly in love with this little machine. It’s light to carry, easy to use, offers comprehensive access to what I need my computer for, and (with about an hour of preparation when I first bought it) puts all my work at my fingertips. I’ve encountered one or two hiccups since booting the Chromebook up for the first time, but have found all of them supremely navigable.
This comes with a couple of caveats: I don’t play computer games, I have above-average knowledge (if we’re talking the average of the general population here) of how a computer works, I haven’t yet used the Chromebook for screenwriting, and I’ve maintained a primary desktop that runs on Windows 7, which I use when I need to save large files or print a document.
With those disclaimers out of the way, here are some of my favorite things about my Samsung Chromebook:
99.9% of what I use my Chromebook for is typing. Whether I’m tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, novelling, emailing or a dozen other -ings, words are at the center of most of my computer usage. The Chromebook’s keyboard is close enough to full-size to be comfortable and easy to type on, unlike the Asus EEE netbook I bought (and ultimately discarded) four or five years ago. The keys are low to the surface of the laptop’s lower casing, and give a satisfyingly mechanical click when struck. I can’t stand silent keyboards. They make me feel like I’m fooling myself. One reason I picked the Samsung over the other models of Chromebook available at the Best Buy I visited was the tactile experience of testing its keyboard and mousepad before purchase. Given the importance of the tactile experience in my writing process, I think I made the right choice.
Living In The Cloud
Dropbox has become a more important part of my storage life for the last few years. I haven’t yet found a satisfactory way of mirroring files from Dropbox to Google Docs, and since Google Docs can’t open direct from Dropbox, I’ve had to use a roundabout process of downloading, converting and opening files to get my documents across, but I’ve now started saving my work directly to my Google Drive. Almost every service with a web interface is accessible from Chrome, so I’ve been able to keep watching my shows on Hulu Plus and listening to music on Spotify. I’m also (as I’ll discuss next) really growing to enjoy — not just tolerate — the experience of using Google’s productivity suite.
The Software Experience
My biggest point of hesitation when it came to moving away from the Windows OS was my reliance on Microsoft products. All my writing (with the exception of screenplays) has been done in Microsoft Word since around 1993, and being able to access those files is critical. I knew that moving to Google Docs was going to be a transition, but I didn’t give a lot of thought to the casual use of image editors. And even though my phone is an Android, the idea of my choice of OS having a substantial impact on my organization and planning hadn’t really occurred to me.
Where its office suite is concerned, the Chrome OS is a winner. Google Docs (the company’s replacement for Microsoft Word) and Sheets (for Excel) make it possible to import Microsoft files (though you have to be sure to use the “import” command rather than just “open,” or you won’t wind up with an editable file. On top of this, Google offers Forms, which may be the easiest way to set up a survey and collect simple data that I’ve ever used (and I’ve used Access, Surveymonkey, LJ Polls and more). On top of this, Google has added offline mode for everything from gmail to Docs, which means I can keep up with my work even when I’m not online.
At the moment, thanks to a plethora of doctors’ appointments, my calendar isn’t as uncomplicated as you might think. Since getting my Chromebook, I’ve noticed a jump in the up-to-date nature of my calendar. Suddenly, putting new items on my agenda has become a seamless process, since I no longer have to navigate the default options put into place for me by Microsoft. Any time I get the option to “add to Google Calendar,” I click it, and presto – my calendar is updated the way it always should have been, but wasn’t, when using my Google Calendar from a Windows machine. It also carries over to my phone’s Google calendar – again, this should have been happening before, but there was some kind of hiccup taking place when I tried to do this from Windows, and I never took the time to fix it.
Thanks to an article I read early in my research process, I had learned about Pixlr, touted as an online alternative to Photoshop. When I got caught needing to make a picture for my first blog post about Chromebook, I tried it out – and I am happy to say, it works exactly like a replacement for Photoshop – right down to the functions of different tools and where they’re placed. It may not be a twin to the most recent version of that software, but it’s certainly showing the level of functionality I need.
The Samsung Chromebook advertises as having a battery that holds a charge for over six hours. I haven’t timed it yet, but so far I haven’t been dissatisfied with the amount of continuous use I’m getting out of the machine. I can sit down and work and not worry too much about having to plug in again – plus, when that time comes, it only takes a couple hours before I’m back at 100% charge.
- I don’t play video games, and that’s just as well, because the only ones I could play on the Chromebook would be browser-based games. The downside here is that I really want to play Actual Sunlight and I just haven’t had a chance to play it on the Windows computer I’m using as my base.
- I can’t watch Netflix from the Samsung Chromebook. This is something to do with site compatibility and what the Chromebook won’t run (I want to say Java?).
- Skype doesn’t work on the Chromebook (I hate skyping, so I don’t actually consider this a downside, but if there were a situation where I needed to discuss something face-to-face with a family member, friend or client who was geographically distant, it would be Google Hangouts or bust.
- The keyboard is not a traditional QWERTY setup. There’s no “home” or “end,” no “page up” or “page down.” That row of familiar F-keys along the top of the keyboard has been replaced by a series of icons, the meaning of which isn’t always immediately clear. Right-click is non-existent. Caps Lock has been replaced with a “universal search” key that acts much as the start-menu search in Windows. That said, there are easily-searchable lists of keystroke commands. You can summon the right-click command menu by following instructions on trackpad use. There are alternatives, you just have to be ready to investigate them.
- Inexplicable technical quirks. The first two times I turned on the Chromebook, my mouse pointer disappeared after a few minutes. Both times, it re-appeared once the computer was restarted. I suspect that I inadvertently triggered some kind of keypad command, but haven’t followed up to see what it was. More worrying was the sudden drop-out of any ability on the part of the computer to connect with my home WiFi network. My Android was still connecting just fine, but despite numerous refreshes and restarts, I couldn’t get the computer to connect to the home network (which it could still see). I went to a friend’s house intent on performing a complicate reboot — and if that didn’t work, mentally preparing to send the whole thing in to Samsung for a replacement under warranty — but when I got to my friend’s the computer connected to her home WiFi network without a hitch. Once I got back to my own place, it was as if the problem had never been there in the first place. These technical glitches are worrying, mostly because figuring them out wasn’t possible and now the problems have passed, and if I’d been under a deadline they would have been extremely distressing – particularly the one about the WiFi not working, since the Chromebook is designed to function at full capacity only when connected to a network.
Overall? I’d still recommend the Chromebook over a Windows laptop for anybody who doesn’t need to game or program with their system. The price is right, the capabilities seem more than adequate, and the experience of use has been more or less friction-free so far.