I don’t like Windows 8, but without the cash or desire to spring for a Mac and without the technical know-how to use a Linux machine, I’ve been a little stuck as to what to do when it comes to upgrading my current machine. Why do I need a new laptop, you ask? Well, my current laptop has developed an affinity for knocking over pints of water because it wants a bath.
Yes, it’s the laptop making these decisions.
After its first bath, the keyboard got a bit gunky but the mousepad still worked, so I just hooked up an external keyboard and kept going. It was far from ideal, so I soon bought a cheap (very cheap) Windows 8 desktop from HP, and realized within a few days that I hated it.
The hatred intensified when I realized that I had to upgrade every time Microsoft pushed a new version of the OS, or risk having all my apps (because we don’t call them programs anymore, and we have to get them through the app store, and by the way, can you give Microsoft your credit card details pls k thx bai) become unusable. Literally unusable. Can’t-open-a-PDF unusable.
I looked into rolling back the machine’s OS to Windows 7 — which, incidentally, would have run lightning-quick on a machine that slowed Windows 8 to a crawl — but the process was going to be either complicated or expensive, so I’ve been left with what is essentially a large, expensive paperweight that I occasionally use to print documents. (Though since I’ve hurt my back, I can’t sit at a desk anyways.)
In the midst of all this, my laptop took another bath and the touchpad stopped working. Now, in order to use my Toshiba laptop, I had to plug in an external mouse and an external keyboard.
I’ve been making do with my Windows 7 laptop and external peripherals, but the other day I hit my limit. I can’t stand in one place for long at the moment, and the thought of all the productive time I was losing by not having a laptop that acted like a laptop was enough to make me decide to use part of my tax refund to treat myself to a new, functioning laptop.
At first, I had decided to get a larger Windows laptop — there are still version 7 operating systems that come pre-installed — but a Twitter follower pointed out that Microsoft’s support for Windows 7 would end in 8 months (extended support will continue till 2020, but that won’t include security updates or other features that would keep the computer running smoothly).
All of which brought me to seriously consider a Google Chromebook.
What’s a Chromebook, you ask? It’s an ultra-thin, ultra-light, ultra-lean and ultra-cheap laptop that runs on an operating system based on Google’s Chrome browser. Most of the entry-level Chromebooks cost between $200-$300, and the intention is for them to be used while online. (There are some options for working off-line, as well.) They won’t play video games, mine doesn’t run Java, and you can only access Google Hangouts, not Skype. (Note: I’ve also noticed that they don’t use the now-familiar “pinch” motion to zoom in or out, and there are some keyboard changes that took me off-guard, but none of those have been dealbreakers.)
In the past, I had dismissed Chromebooks because the OS won’t run a lot of the software I’ve liked to use. There aren’t alternatives for Photoshop or InDesign, there isn’t a Final Draft (scriptwriting) alternative, and there’s not an option for Microsoft Office. But this time around, with light Windows 7 laptops clocking in at over $500 and significant security support for the OS ending soon, and more Google and web-based apps available every day, I had to ask myself the serious question: could I compromise on a few comparatively insignificant features if it meant a small, light, cheap laptop that I could write on while lying in bed?
After a few hours of really thinking about it, I was pretty sure that I could.
So far I’ve been using my Chromebook for a little under a day and with the exception of a disappearing-mouse issue that happened the first two times I booted it up (which takes 7 seconds), it’s been the best technology purchase I’ve made in quite a while. At $250, the Samsung Chromebook has a keyboard I can type on with fast accuracy. Google Docs (Google’s version of Microsoft Word) is easy to use and offers a much smoother experience than I’ve had using it through Chrome on a Windows machine. The speakers on the Samsung Chromebook, compared to my old Toshiba, are a revelation. It features a webcam and microphone, the battery is rated to last over six hours, and since almost everything can be accessed via a web browser these days, I even have options for screenwriting software that I can later import through Final Draft on my main machine.
If you’re into graphics, video games or heavy video processing, Chromebooks probably aren’t the way to go, and I might not recommend it as a primary machine just yet – if only because of the software limitations. But for a cheap secondary laptop that lets you travel and type, particularly for those without wads of cash to spend on an ultra-light laptop, I don’t think I know of a better computer.
Have you tried a Chromebook? If so, what’s your experience been like? If not – go to your local tech retailer and check one out. You might be surprised!
Nov. 8, 2014
Since publishing this blog, a plug-in/add-on for Google Docs has come in that supposedly does screenplay formatting. I only tried writing a few lines with it but it was fairly cumbersome.
Also since original publication, I’ve tried getting hold of a few games via Steam, and haven’t been able to figure out whether the Linux version would work on the Chromebook. Granted, I haven’t put much time into it. But if anybody has looked into this at all…?