Chromebook: First Impressions

Great review, Chipp. Thanks!

Steve Lomas
Web Consultant, Idea Mechanic
615.830.6451 cell

On Mon, Jun 20, 2011 at 1:55 AM, Chipp Walters <> wrote:
Recently, I purchased a Samsung Series 5 Arctic White 3G Model Chromebook. For those of you who don't know, Chromebook is a notebook computer which runs Google's Chrome OS and is for the most part just a Chrome browser in a notebook. I know, it sounds rather simple and not very exciting. But, knowing how much I depend on Google for business and after doing a bit of research, I became interested enough in it to purchase one and try it out. Here's what I now think of it after using it for three days.


First off, if you want to know more specifically about the Chromebook and it's features, there's an explanation HERE.

Many of you know I already own and use an iPad-- so much so, it's taken over as the computer I use most daily. It replaces my laptop for many tasks including email and web browsing. Plus, it allows me to sketch ideas and diagrams, something not easily done on a notebook. Still, I have to say there are quite a few things I really like about my Chromebook.

Early impressions are extremely positive. It has many of the features I really like of the iPad while also retaining much of the functionality I like in netbooks. I should mention, the Shafer Walters Group is a virtual company and we pretty much run on Google Apps, including accessing email in Gmail, creating and editing documentation in Google Docs, and with most spreadsheet work done using Google Spreadsheet. We aso like Google Presentations as a collaborative tool for creating slide presentations. We use many online tools, including Basecamp, Freshbooks, Quicken Online, Dropbox, FogBugz among others. So, it's fair to say, just like my friend Jerry Daniels, we do a whole lot of computing already 'in the cloud.' In fact, Jerry is an excellent source of new cloud apps and talks about them frequently on his blog. A cloud only device suits many of our needs well.

The implementation of the Chrome browser is great. It looks and behaves exactly the same on Windows and MacOS, which was a bit of a surprise to me seeing how it's based on a Linux kernel. When I first logged in, the Chrome browser already had all my bookmarks and personal preferences setup as I had on my other Chrome installs (PC and Mac), which was a nice surprise. In fact, install was a snap and I was up and using it after a quick OS update. 

The Samsung Chromebook is a bit larger than netbook computers, but smaller than most notebooks. The keyboard is easy to use. It's fairly light for a notebook but still weighs twice the iPad2. The Chromebook display is much higher resolution at 1280 x 800  vs the iPad's 1024 x 768 and the Chromebook has a whopping 2GB of memory versus the iPad2's wimpy 512MB (iPad 1 is only 256MB). Both iPad and Chromebook use solid state drives, with the iPad having three configurations to choose from: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. This Chromebook only has 16GB, but does have an SSD slot along with a couple of USB ports where you can add more memory. Because the Chromebook focusses on connecting to the Internet and storage in the cloud, I don't see lack of local storage as a significant detractor.

Chromebooks can be purchased from $349 to $499 (mine), the topend being a bit more expensive than one might expect. I think this price may come down as more of them are sold, still they are quite competitive when priced against current tablet models including iPad.

The Positives

Extremely long battery life. No kidding. Reportedly it can run continuously for 8 hours. I've not had to recharge any more than once per day-- just like my cell phone and iPad. I also have Sony Vaio and MacBook Air laptops, and neither get even close to iPad or Chromebook in battery life.

Instant on. And instant connection to wireless. My Chromebook takes 8 seconds to boot-- from a cold start. Closing the lid puts it to sleep and it resumes from sleep instantaneously, much like my AirBook. But unlike my AirBook and more like the iPad, the wireless connection seems to be instantly connected. I've set mine to force a password login from sleep mode, something I would encourage anyone to do who owns a Chromebook or iPad.

3G so I can connect anywhere. Combined with extreme battery life, this is one of the most valuable features of this particular model. Furthermore, Verizon gives away free 100MB of transfer per month for the first two years of ownership. I used to think having a wifi hotspot was just as good, and I do have one of those as well, but my good friend Steve Lomas, convinced me otherwise after seeing him pull out his 3G iPad, check his email and put it away in 30 seconds. The darn wifi hotspot takes over two minutes just to boot, not to mention having to connect it to a laptop, iPad or iPhone. As such, I'd never use it to quickly check an email or Google an address.

No auto-correction, it's replaced by good spellchecking. I find when I send emails on the iPad, I have to constantly check to see what iOS has automatically corrected and changed. I know I can turn it off, but sometimes it does come in handy, just not always. It's SO MUCH EASIER TO TYPE emails on a Chromebook than on an iPad-- and this is one of the reasons folks like my business partner, Dan Shafer, may prefer a Chromebook over iPad as an Everday Portable Computing Device (EPCD). 

Large trackpad with MacOS type functionality. I do admit, I mostly prefer Apple's implementation of trackpads. Two-finger scrolling and a physical click directly on the trackpad help make it easy to use. Still, dragging and dropping is somewhat difficult, just like on my MacBook Air, which IMO is better done with two fingers on opposite hands. The feel of the trackpad is very smooth and works as well as on Mac devices.

Keyboard modifications make it actually easier to use. There's no caps lock key, which surprisingly to me, is not missed at all-- in fact, it's better because I don't accidently hit it when typing. It is replaced by a search key which opens a new browser tab and highlights the URL field. If you really want CAPS LOCK back, you can choose to do so in Chromebook settings. Also, the mostly useless function keys on other keyboards are replaced by much more useful keys like: forward, backward, refresh, full screen, show next window, brightness and audio volume buttons. Much better.

Printing is easy to setup and just works. I was able to easily setup my Epson wired and HP wireless printers to work with the wireless Google Cloud Printing. I was a bit concerned this would be an issue, but it turns out it just worked-- not as seamlessly as Apple's AirPrint, but easy nonetheless.

Multi-user accounts make this a family computer. As I mentioned before, I'm all setup on Google Apps, and so is my wife and daughter. Because I don't need to worry about viruses on the Chromebook, or any files getting damaged or lost as they're stored in the cloud, I can easily lend my Chromebook to my wife and daughter for them to use. They each use their existing Gmail account sign on and then they're good to go. So, if Christi goes out of town, she can take the Chromebook with her to check emails, bank balances, etc. and it's more secure because of the 3G access (We all know those wireless access points are not always very trustworthy!). 

Lost or damaged Chromebooks aren't as expensive as one might first imagine. The first thing I think about after spilling Red Bull on my notebook keyboard and watching the screen fritz is "what data have I lost?" When all the data is stored in the cloud, that question pretty much goes away. Furthermore, the Chromebook is not as expensive as my MacBook Air or Vaio, so if something does happen to it, no data is lost and it's less expensive to replace with a new one which is up and running in no time at all. This is huge, and one reason I'd like to talk my Dad into using one, as sometimes he forgets which file he left on which computer or he downloads new Windows apps which 'promise' to speed up his computer, but instead install viruses, which I later have to remove.

Economic model is great for small businesses. You can 'rent' a Chromebook for between $20-30 per month for employees, and Google will take over all help desk responsibilities. This is huge, and IMO, a real gamechanger. The business administrators can configure all employees Chromebooks from one central interface. And, if your Chromebook breaks it is immediately replaced free of cost. This is huge for small businesses who can now spend less on IT and more on productivity-- assuming you have no need for standard business apps like MS Office, which many, like us, have given up in favor of Google Apps. For those diehards who absolutely need to run MS Office, there is an HTML5 remote desktop computing solution which allows Chromebooks to run remote virtual instances of Windows7 running Office and other Windows apps, but it seems counterproductive to the ease-of-use premise of Chromebook.

Chromebook runs Flash with no problems-- along with several other web application frameworks. There are many web applications which try to replace desktop applications using Flash and Flex, including our very own which runs flawlessly on Chromebook. For instance, has a bunch of really cool apps including their Phoenix image editor which mirrors much of what Photoshop can do-- and they all run in a browser using Flash. I've had no problems using these products including HTML5 apps which allow me to FTP into WordPress sites, and even edit directly the php and CSS files directly. Certainly, there are many more on the way. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for either iPad or Android.

The Negatives

A few keyboard issues. There is no delete key. There is a backspace key. For Mac users, this is probably no big problem as the Mac doesn't have one either. But for many of us Windows users the delete key is critical to our workflow. Hope this is fixed in newer versions. But Mac users will be disappointed with the undo,cut, copy and paste keyboard shortcuts. There is no Apple command key so you have to use the CTRL key as a modifier, which is quite a finger stretch for those trained on the easy Command-Z,X,C and V workflow.

There is no Netflix. Yet. For those of you hooked on Netflix, it's rumored to be in the works, but currently there is no way to play Netflix. I suspect this is because the OS is based on Linux and for some reason, Netflix has some specific requirements which only run on MacOS and Windows and iOS.

There are many applications which have no online counterparts. No decent 3D apps are available as web apps. And of course neither support for the real Photoshop and MS Office or my favorite programming language, LiveCode. We all have our 'gotta have' applications, and many of mine are just not available.

No GoToMeeting or Skype. For me, these both are two of the biggest detractors right now for Chromebook. I depend on both these apps during the day, and both are supported on the iPad. Though, frankly, GTM on iPad is pretty bad-- you can't initiate a meeting nor can you do any sort of screen sharing. Google Voice does work on the Chromebook. While there are plenty of rumors, there's no word yet on when or if there will be an HTML5 or Flash version of Skype. There are some pretty decent chat clients. One is

No Network, No work. This is a common complaint for most reviewers of Chromebook. But, for me, it's not such a big deal. I only want to use my Chromebook when I need web access, so I purchased it with 3G built in. So, unless I'm flying somewhere, or way out in the country, web access shouldn't be much a problem-- and if I can't have Internet access, I doubt there's much I really want to do. Also, I don't think of my Chromebook as my only machine, only as possibly the one I may end up using the most.

Final thoughts

First of all, I hope others see the value in owning a Google Chromebook. Because as more users buy them, more companies will have to take note and begin support for them.

As products and operating systems become more and more complex, the simplicity of accessing and storing data on the cloud using only a browser is appealing to those who crave for a simpler and easier way to do things. This is an important step in lessening our collective dependency on older and more antiquated OS'es, which are providing less and less value to us as they become more and more complicated. Fact is, modern OS'es have been looking like the same animals, doing the same things, offering the same features. Apple's new OS named Lion now has many similar features as Windows 7, including the much needed ability to resize a window from any edge. But also, looking forward, Lion also adds some very interesting iOS features, such as implementation of fullscreen mode which does away with windows-- and acts more like a fullscreen BROWSER-- just like Chromebook already does! I expect if ChromeOS is successful, it will start to implement Android type features much like Lion has adopted iOS capabilities.

I personally think Chromebook is excellent family based computer as well as perfect for many small businesses. And for myself, someone who owns a desktop PC, Mac and Windows laptop, and iPad, the Chromebook will be an interesting fit. It will be telling to see how much time I spend using it-- my guess is it will take over much of the space my iPad used to use. I enjoy the iPad because of it's instant on, super long battery life, and super fast and capable connectivity to the web-- all things make it a superb Everday Portable Computing Device. The Samsung Chromebook has all of this PLUS I can now view Flash, type emails without looking at the keys (instead of hunt-and-peck on iPad), and have an overall better browsing experience. We'll see.