Can a Chromebook replace your everyday laptop?
When Google first unveiled their lineup of Chromebooks at Google I/O in 2011, they promised a ultraportable computer with robust battery life, instant-on access, and even things like 3G connectivity so you could get your Internet on the go. They were basically a netbook in disguise, but cheaper... and potentially less functional. (Ah, netbooks. Remember those?)
Three years later, Google is still pushing frequent updates to ChromeOS and its partners are still shipping new Chromebook models with improved battery life and more powerful processors. ChromeOS has gained a number of features that make it compete better with traditional desktop operating systems.
When we post news and reviews about Chromebooks and ChromeOS on Engadget, we see a lot of discussion featuring jokes and snark about whether Chromebooks are actually useful or not. I've made my own share of disparaging comments and have often wondered who would really buy one of these.
The thing is, 4 of the top 10 selling notebooks on Amazon right now are Chromebooks. They're pretty affordable and seem to do Just Enough™ for most people. Hey, I could potentially see my parents picking one up as a replacement one day (they mainly use their current laptop for email and browsing the news).
However, I never see these things in the wild. In coffee shops or libraries, it's usually Apple or Dell notebooks. So, who is buying all these Chromebooks and where are they being used?
If you're using one, share your impressions below! Alternatively, if you're like me and confused about their utility, post away and let us know.
To be honest though, I have completely stopped using the native ChromeOS (not that it isn't useful for more basic needs) in favor of a Crouton setup. With linux you have many, MANY more options for software. A little bit of tinkering gets you rDesktop, which I use to remote into the previously mentioned desktop and do any "serious" computing on the go. This was great as a student, I would never worry about transferring files or notes or running CPU heavy computations. rDesktop introduces some lag but if you have a decent connection on both ends you can end up actually with a very usable environment. The visual lag was often made up for by the fact things rendered so much faster on the remote PC, sometimes resulting in an apparent increase in overall responsiveness for internet browsing and whatnot. The end result was I would have access to instant startup, incredible battery life, and a powerful Windows 8 desktop with minimal lag all on the go for $250.
The only fault I have found is the ARM cpu limits the software you can install in many cases...this isn't an issue any more though and I will probably upgrade to a Celeron based chromebook in the next year or two. At $250 or less it's hard to argue. And I can't go back to using a "regular" laptop now, anything larger than 13" feels unwieldy and anything less than a 5 hour battery life is unreliable.
TL:DR In the right usage scenarios Chromebooks can be even more effective than a regular laptop at a quarter of the price.
As well, I bought my dad and mom a chromebook and they travel with it, use it almost daily. They have stopped using their desktops.
For around 90% of what I need to do (I run a startup) the Chromebook is fine. My email's in gmail, my files are in drive, most other applications I use for work are browser based in some form, and to be honest most of the ones I use for leisure are browser based as well. If I want to play a game I can fire up a tablet or (at home) my xbox.
For some rich documents and for a fair bit of spreadsheet work, I revert to iWork or, if I really have to (legal docs) Office. But we now have a presentation template in Google Slides and most presentations there. I could fire up icloud to edit my rich docs in the browser anyhow (though I find it a bit slow).
Advantages: I put an all you can eat 4G card (well, "3G+") into the device (it came with a more limited "free use" SIM). So I'm pretty much always connected. It's not much lighter (if at all, I haven't checked) than the macbook but it's a little more robust and anyhow it was only £200 so if it gets dinked I'm not that worried (so I don't bother with a case for it, which saves some bulk). I'd also note that, unlike a lot of windows machines, the keyboard is spaced much like the macbook so, apart from the position of control/command (which you can change in software) and the trackpad scroll direction (ditto) it's not a painful move. The battery goes on for around 10 hours, depending on how bright you run the screen.
Disadvantages: cheaper components. Specifically the screen (obviously), the trackpad (selecting text can get irritating) and I have my suspicions about the wifi quality. The keyboard is actually pretty decent but not backlit. Screens are getting better. I note the new Acer, not yet on sale, offers a 13.3" screen with full HD (1080p), and unlike the Samsung Chromebook 2, which offers a similar screen, can run an at a decent battery life due to using Intel's new chip.
I'd also note there are some capabilities that are vital to me, which you need to switch on in the flags - notably being able to run multiple google ids simultaneously - which a novice user wouldn't find.
Anyhow, this is about the same cost as the VAT (sales tax) on a macbook pro. I love it.
1. You don't have the full version of Office on the Chromebook, but you do have Office Online and Google Docs, both of which are very good substitutes.
2. I think most people are okay with Chrome as their browser.
3. You can download Linux and have a couple more options.
4. Very portable
The only thing that I would miss is Photoshop. To be honest though, I don't NEED it. I have Photoshop on my desktop and that should be good enough. There's also an issue if you need to download a specific program for school and it's not available on Chrome OS. For most students though, I think a Chromebook would be fine. I read an article a couple weeks ago on schools converting to or buying Chromebooks. My next laptop might be a Chromebook.
I have a feeling many people who bash on Chromebooks either do not have one, have not used one for long, or are not in the target market. The reason why you haven't seen many out in the wild is because public schools are the main buyers, not your average tech-smart reader.
The Acer did a good job of supplanting my 4 year old laptop for almost everything, except when other college classes specifically required Microsoft Office products (specific formats in Word and Powerpoint for example), or I had to edit some media.
Other than that, most of my time is spent in a browser anyways. To everyone who defends windows laptops to their dying (online) breath, they're missing several key points:
-Updating a Chromebook is painless and happens behind the scenes. No more updating individual pieces of software and having to wait several minutes restarting multiple times
-Quick cold start and sleep/wake times; I have yet to use and experience windows 8, but I've heard that certain laptop configurations come close to chromebooks, so this is a diminishing point
-Good battery life to weight ratio. For their size, Chromebooks last a very long time, any price-comparable windows laptop is going to struggle to match it
I recognize Chromebooks are not for everyone, but they do fill a useful niche, and constantly bashing them isn't helping anyone. There are multiple commentators out there who have bought one for older relatives as well; what would you rather buy for someone, a laptop that can get them online for their email and video conferencing (yes, there are plenty of options for video conferencing that are compatible with chromebooks that are just as easy to set up, so "not being able to skype" is a moot point in my book. take two seconds to explore other options people....geeze), or a windows/(expensive) mac that requires much more maintenance that will have them calling you constantly for tech-support?
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I closing I think that Chromebooks are a good compromise of features and price point. I can well imagine that a Chromebook is all a non-professional (e.g. house person, students, parents, etc.) should need. All-in-all I like it and use it quite often ... especially in coffee shops or libraries! :) Well, that my 0.25CDN (0.23USD) worth.
P.S. Here in the True North I see these machine quite often out in the wild.
P.P.S. I tend to connect my Chromebook to the internet using the cell phone's wifi hot spot which works exceedingly well since I have a good LTE plan.
I wouldn't go back to not having a chromebook, in fact we now own two in our household. I find it so useful, its light enough to take in my bag when travelling I can simply connect it to wifi or my phone via usb for data, luckily my network (Three UK) provides unlimited data in a number of places I visit US, France, Italy etc, the battery life is incredible.
Connectivity wise it is excellent, with bluetooth, an SD card reader and USB 3.0 it can connect to just about everything, again its great for previewing photos taken when travelling on a big screen or uploading them to an online backup service,
As far as replacing a laptop, I find that I can do anything that I needed to do on a laptop on a chromebook... yes I do have to go back to my desktop for certain things (mainly gaming), but most of these things are not something I would have done on a laptop anyway as they probably need a bit more hardware grunt.
The initial problems I had were due to a reliance on certain desktop apps, mainly keepass, but finding web based services to replace them was easy (LastPass, and more recently Mitro), as well as finding a decent Remote Desktop app that didn't involve installing an additional server (Chrome RDP).
Many of the things that I want to do can easily be done with webservices, listen to music (Google music), watching media (Plex/Netflix), basic text editing (Caret), basic photo editing (google photos/pxlr), Office documents (Office online/Google Docs), signing PDFs (Hellosign), there are even some online IDE's (Cloud9/codenvy).
I wouldn't hesitate to buy a chromebook again, for the price everyone should own one!
HOWEVER, in grad school (computer science) I've had to switch to a fully featured laptop because programming on the Chromebook is painful. I tried remoting into my tower to code, but the connection would get laggy or even drop if my internet connection became weak, so programming at a coffee shop was often an exercise in anger management.
If you're a programmer, get yourself a fully-featured laptop, but otherwise I would recommend a Chromebook any day.
Yet there's still a part of me that doesn't feel comfortable switching to a Chromebook. I'm wondering what the disconnect is. I have one of the original Samsung Chromebooks (which is a bit slow and underpowered these days), and it's definitely come a long way. But I feel like I'm missing a lot of stuff that I may potentially want.
e.g., How am I going to play Civ V on this thing? I can't edit photos in Lightroom. What if I want to edit together an epic Vine video of me devouring a burrito?
I don't think chromebooks are quite there for gaming (although recent annoucements indicate that this is changing). Video editing and photo editing, however, are quite good -- you just have to be willing to learn to use the tools available for Chrome OS. I use WeVideo and Pixlr for those tasks and they seem to suit my needs -- which are not to onerous -- quite well.
Hope this is helpful.
I don't normally worry about such things, but I have recently started seeing some things in the way that Google works that worry me - Eric Schmidt said in an interview that "Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it." - I don't know about anyone else, but I try to stay well away from creepy in my daily life, and don't trust someone who is trying to get as close to the line as possible.
I haven't investigated Linux on Chromebooks, and how that affects the data that Google can collect, but that may be something that eventually tempts me towards a Chromebook.
To summarise my view:
For: cheap, functional, a useful workhorse.
Against: All your data are belong to Google.
i see chromebooks at starbucks every now and then.
The only slight issue I find is with the lack of SMB support, lack of supported codecs and other providers not recognising the growing need to support Chrome eg. Amazon Prime Video.
I have 2 servers running 24/7 at home, Windows Home Server and an ESX testing platform. With the addition of Chrome Remote Desktop I can get to these devices but cannot stream any of the media from the Home-Server. I can however browse to the internal site hosted on my Home Server and download files for off-line use.
I also have 3x work laptops all running Windows 7, vista & XP, 1 very old personal laptop running XP and an AMD 6 core midi tower for more power thirsty applications such as SimCity 2013 or video editing. I also use Chrome Remote Desktop with this for the very occasional use of Microsoft Word. I say very occasional as my main work laptop has Microsoft Office installed and I have Google Cloud Print linked to my HP WiFi Printer.
The fact that everything synchronises between all of my devices (including my Nexus 5, 7 & 10) is utterly brilliant. I can't wait for the announced updated of continuous working to come in to play so I can simply put down one device, pick up another and carry on where I left off.
Despite the lack of video streaming capabilities and Google knowing every aspect of my life, I have nothing to hide and doubt I'll ever buy another Windows Laptop ever again.
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