TL;DR version: the Chromebook is already 10 times more useful than my tablet, and the fact it is only running a very fast browser allows this thing to be fast and useful like a fully loaded laptop, but with the battery life, lighter weight and low cost profile of a netbook.
A week ago I fired up the Google Chromebook that I got as an attendee at GoogleIO back in May. When I first heard about the Chromebook project, I was pretty skeptical; I already had a Netbook and a tablet, and to be honest neither device has been that revolutionary in terms of my work.
While the tablet is awesome for consuming media and being entertained, I don’t really get enough downtime to be entertained. With the response to the iPad by technology pundits being so overwhelming – revolutionary, game changing, a breakthrough new computing experience – I figured Google was just allowing some of their engineers to indulge in a bit of a geekery because they can afford to, much like the self driving car project.
However, I have been very very very pleasantly surprised – this Chromebook has already become an integral part of my technology toolbox.
My primary machine is a 15″ Dell Latitude Laptop, which comes packed with 8GB of RAM and is able to run a complete stack of our application. It isn’t so big that it would be considered a desktop replacement, but it is pretty heavy and having to walk around the streets of San Francisco with it on my shoulder starts to get old after a while.
What I’ve been doing for most nights over the last week is leaving my laptop in the office, and working on the bus and at home on the Chomebook. It is ideal because it is light weight, it is fast to use, and it lets me do most of the things I need to do these days, since I live in the browser. Keeping on top of email, keeping organised with my calendar, using AffinityLive for clients and work – it is all there.
Why can’t I do this with a tablet, you might be wondering? Well, I almost can. But the problem is the lack of a keyboard. Tablets are sexy and portable and trendy – I really really wanted to get on the bandwagon. I spent a Sunday afternoon getting my week organised and scheduled into my calendar a few weeks ago, and tried to use the tablet; just typing in the titles of meetings, and selecting start and end times was painful and horribly slow compared to the experience with the Chromebook. Win.
When you’re a road warrior, you really care about battery life. While San Francisco is much more supportive of the cafe office setup, with a lot more power jacks around, the need to plug in to get stuff done is at the very least an inconvenience.
With the Chromebook, I can get almost a day’s use out a single charge. Of course, I’m not using it as my primary machine, so I never use it for a full day; instead, it gets used on the bus ride to and from the office, on the couch when I need to reply to a few emails quickly or just check out the latest headlines on Techmeme, or anything else online. I’ve only needed to charge it once all week – not a bad effort at all.
Comparing to my experience with the Netbook – which is also super portable and runs a long time on a charge – the big advantage of the Chromebook is that it isn’t a pain in the arse. I don’t feel like I’ve gone back 15 years in technology, struggling to load pages, update textfield and go forbid use a website with modern technology like AJAX.
Instead, the Chromebook is super quick. It boots like lightening. It goes between tabs and processes super fast, and loads up even complicated web pages with lots of moving parts effortlessly. There are some times when I can tell it is more computationally challenged than my main laptop, but these times are few and far between, and generally speaking I’m probably taking the piss a little; dozens of tabs open, including some hard core things like Gmail and Google Calendar spread across close to half a dozen accounts.
This unit from Samsung was free as being part of the GooogleIO conference this year, but even so the promised pricing of these things is well below tablet land, and is very comparable with netbooks. So, you get the portability, power and price benefits of a netbook, but with much much higher performance and build quality.
And the build quality aspect is a big deal. The screen is one of the higher quality screens I’ve ever used; the fonts are crisp, the resolution is fantastic, and they keyboard – while missing a page up/down and home/end keys – is responsive, easy to use and of good quality too. Only the trackpad lets it down, but with a USB port for a mouse if you want one, and the ability to turn on tap-to-click as well as using multi-finger gestures, it is still pretty good.
It Just Works
The last point is probably the most important. As a device, it needs to be online to be useful, but at least here in the US you can get 100MB of free 3G data with Verizon for two years. If you want to get another 1G of data per month – which is plenty unless you decide to use the cellular network for Pandora or YouTube – you’re only looking at $20. The signup process all happens inside the browser, and the device is smart enough to maintain both WiFi and 3G connections and to automatically pass traffic to the 3G network only when the WiFi isn’t available. For my Aussie friends, the good news is that there’s also a SIM card slot; I’m not 100% sure whether this model has both GSM and CDMA radios installed, but my guess is that it does.
And then there’s the user experience. I’ve been typing this blog post on the Chromebook on a bus, in a bar, and in a cafe. I’ve worked on it a bit more one my laptop. Every time I enter a few words, it auto-saves to the cloud. I pick up another machine, log in, and I’m off and running – it doesn’t matter the machine, the time or the place; it all just works. It is so refreshing and exciting to see.
So, in conclusion, I’d have to say I’m much more bullish and excited about what the Chromebook means for my work as a tool than I’ve been about a tablet. Sure, the tablets are sexy, and while I think they’ll probably make a much bigger impact on the industry than the Chromebook, I know personally that this device is much more relevant and valuable for me.