Initial Thoughts on My New Google Chromebook

A few weeks back, I got a Google Chromebook. I got the machine so that I could have an easier time writing while away from my home office. I had previously been doing my writing on my iPad 2, using an external BlueTooth keyboard, and that worked out fine, but the screen size was a little too small for my needs. I needed something more comfortable, and the price of a Chromebook made it worth checking out. I’ve had my Chromebook for a few weeks now, so here are some of my initial thoughts on it. These are by no means comprehensive. I ended up getting the Samsung $249 model:

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This model is extremely lightweight. And it boots up faster than any computer I’ve ever had, from cold shutdown to fully ready to go in well under 20 seconds. It also fits nicely in my messenger bag without adding a whole lot of weight, which is convenient.

The basic OS takes a little getting used to because it is essentially all browser-based. The upshot of this is that the browser in question is Chrome, which is what I used on all of my other devices and platforms anyway. There is plenty of local storage for my needs, but the idea is that this is mostly a thin client. Google Docs is ready to use and available offline, which is convenient, and one of the “goodies” that comes with the Chromebook is an additional 200 GB of storage on Google Drive, so I have plenty of space for documents.

But I generally don’t use Google Docs for my writing. I was looking for something cleaner and simpler, something akin to iaWriter on my Mac and iPad. The best product I’ve found is called WordFlow made by AwesomeSource and available through the Chrome Extension store. This gives me a full-screen editor that can handle markdown files (.md) just like iaWriter can. The files are available offline, and I can save them to my Google Drive so that I can work on them on other devices when I’m not using my Chromebook. The features are minimal, but the distractions are almost nil and the layout is perfect for the screen size. Here is a screen capture of WordFlow on my Chromebook, which should give a sense of how clean and simple it is:

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As far as web browser, email, social network and blogging goes, there is absolutely no difference between the Chromebook and my iMac, since I do all of these from within the Chrome browser. That’s a nice little benefit to have. I try to avoid it on the Chromebook, because my whole purpose in getting it was not to distract myself with social media, but to focus on writing when I’m away from my desk1.

One of the most unexpected, and coolest features I’ve uncovered is the “Chrome Remote Desktop” application. With a little configuration, this allows you to access any machine over the Internet for which you have setup remote access. It has proven useful on several occasions so far, to be able to access my iMac while I am at work, or in another room of the house. You are prompted for which machine you want to connect to, and a special password to authenticate:

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Once you’ve selected the machine and entered the password, you can see your screen and work as you would work if you were sitting in front of the computer. Below, you can see the screen of my 27″ iMac as it looks from my Chromebook with Chrome Remote Desktop. The screen is shrunk down but you have an option to view it at normal zoom:

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This has already come in handy twice:

First, I can’t run Scrivener natively on my Chromebook. My first drafts tend to be done outside of Scrivener these days, but the second drafts on are done within Scrivener and the manuscripts are always compiled from within Scrivener. I needed to put together a manuscript the other day. I was not home, but I was able to make a remote desktop connection from my Chromebook to my iMac, open Scrivener, compile the manuscript and send it off.

Second, I can’t run Mathematica on my Chromebook, but I can run it on my iMac and when I need to access Mathematica from my Chromebook, I can do it through the remote desktop connection. Ditto any application I need on my iMac that doesn’t run on my Chromebook.

NetFlix streaming doesn’t yet work on the Chromebook2 but Amazon Instant Video streaming (for Amazon Prime accounts) works just fine. Again, this device really isn’t for multimedia, it’s for writing, but I figured I’d at least give it a shot.

Overall, I’m very happy so far with my experience with the Chromebook, especially for my writing. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it as my experience progresses, but so far, it is well worth the money.

Notes

  1. At the moment, I am writing this blog post on the Chromebook because I’m upstairs with my little boy, who is home sick today.
  2. But they say they are working with Google to ensure that it works in the future.

13 thoughts on “Initial Thoughts on My New Google Chromebook

  1. I got a Samsung Chromebook before Christmas. I wanted something light, with a good battery, that supported the Google ecosystem (I have my music in Google Play, my e-mail in Gmail, use the Calendar, etc.). I find I use it mostly in the kitchen for looking up recipes and playing music. I still prefer a tablet of some sort for the couch.

    I told a friend of mine about the Chromebook and he gave one to his wife (a school teacher) for Christmas. She’d asked for an iPad but a number of factors made the Chromebook an instant favorite. Turns out, her school system uses Gmail for e-mail and the Chromebook sucks in all her school-related Google stuff. She loves it, spends at least four hours on it a day. She uses it at work, she uses it on the couch, she takes it everywhere.

    1. What’s nice with the Chromebook when I am writing, I’ve found, is that I can focus entirely on writing on the Chromebook, and have the iPad setup next to it for any research-related lookups I need to do. It’s like a portable multi-monitor system.

  2. I’ve been looking at Chromebooks of one kind or another for a while, for about the same reasons you are using yours. I’m wondering about a couple of things. First, what kind of battery life are you getting? Second, I see a lot of complaints about Chromebooks that shut down/lose the connection/reboot/just plain fail at random, some immediately out of the box, some after a month or so. It looks like you are using yours pretty heavily — have you had any of these issues? One other question, how difficult has it been to connect using public wifi or password- protected wifi in some place you are visiting for the first time?

    Thanks for posting your comments here — it’s very helpful!

    1. Bill, I haven’t used the laptop long enough between charges to come close to draining the battery, but from the looks of it, I’m on target for about a 6 hour battery life. I’ve had no problems at all with random shutdowns or reboots. Nor have I had any problems connecting either to public or secure Wifi networks.

    2. Ive had the random restarts, which is mildly annoying, however, with how fast it boots back up again it hasn’t been too much of an issue so far.

  3. It’s rated for six and a half hours, and indeed, that’s about what I get.

    As for Chromebook troubleshooting, remember there are a number of manufacturers and models. At this time, they’re made by Acer, Samsung, Lenovo, and (upcoming) HP. I have the $249 Samsung Chromebook and I haven’t had any failures or connectivity issues at all. WiFi just works whether it’s public or encrypted once you enter the password.

    I most like the solid keyboard and the effortless integration with my Google credentials and pervasive Chrome bookmarks.

  4. Thanks, Johne! Good to know that the battery performs as advertised.

    There are a bunch of manufacturers. I think I have them all sorted, I just hadn’t seen anything on the Samsung’s reliability.

    My next thing to figure out is whether this offers significant advantages over what I am using now – second generation wifi-only iPad with a Zaggfolio keyboard-case. The one thing I can see is that I could upgrade to the Chromebook with 3G for not a whole lot more and pay less for the 3G (which would possibly be nice — I do a lot of conferences and really loathe hotel wifi). Of course, 3G will bring the battery life right down …

  5. It’s one thing to mimic Apple’s feel of the Air, but to even put those arrow keys in the lower right? It’s not like Apple got everything right with the Air, even! Show just a _little_ creativity, Google!

  6. Great review. I’ve been kicking around the iPad as a work device feature and my only other consideration has been the chrome book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. Thanks for this review! I have the same and I find Chromebook to be awesome! My background is IT Support / R&D for a very long time. Google has done an excellent job! I find my large system here idling more while my Samsung Chromebook is used more frequently by me. Also, your suggestion of WordFlow was great! Wonderful application!
    Thanks!

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