I finally bought a Chromebook. Sure, you can read about a Chromebook, but I need to touch and feel it before I can recommend it to anyone.
My motivation was the near death of my Surface RT – that is the one that Microsoft withdrew and did a nearly $1 billion write off a few years ago. The thing is underpowered but it did one thing for me perfectly: I could login to my real computer back in the office from anywhere, and since it is light and small I could carry it anywhere. It ran out of storage space, I couldn’t figure out how to delete stuff without killing the operating system, so I did a “wipe and reload” and nearly killed it in the process. It isn’t dead – I did a second wipe/reload and it seems to be doing OK – but I figured I should have a backup system. So while ordering a laptop for a customer I added a Dell Chromebook for $239.
Since it is replacing the Surface RT I will of course compare them.
And as I write this I realize I am very Windows-centric. I’ve been using Windows so long anything that doesn’t work that way slows me down.
And I suppose just like no two Android phones are alike, the same may be true for Chromebooks. I am using a Dell Chromebook 11 3180 which cost me $233.10 + sales tax. Your Chromebook adventures may vary.
Keyboard: All the letters on the keycaps are lowercase. I’ve never seen a keyboard like that before. I do look at keyboard sometimes and it actually makes me stop for a second sometimes. Weird.
There is no delete key. Only a backspace key.
There are no function keys. It has a top row of keys; here is what they are for:
- esc – does about what you’d expect from an “escape” key but not sure a novice would figure that out on their own
- Left pointing arrow – go back a page in browser; might do other things I’m not aware of
- Right pointing arrow – go forward in browser…if there is something to go forward to; might do other things
- Refresh – refresh browser window; might do something in other windows
- Full screen – press once to go to full-screen in whatever app you are using; press again to go back
- Open Apps – I don’t know what they call it; I made that name up. Press it and all open apps appear in a grid on the screen, click on the one you want to go to
- Brightness down
- Brightness up
- Volume down
- Volume up
Touchpad – there is no “right-click” option on the touchpad! (If you connect a two-button mouse the right click does work the way a Windows user would expect). They have a way to do it that I stumbled upon (I imagine this is all documented somewhere): You tap the touchpad with two fingers and that brings up the “right-click” menu.
Scrolling: The scroll bars on the Chrome browser are small (narrow) and don’t work exactly the way I am used to, but with two fingers on the touchpad you can “push” and “pull” your way through the document. You can change the direction of push/pull. Default was like you were dragging the scroll bar thing that represents where you are. To go down on a page you would drag that “thing” down in the side scroll bar. I changed the direction so you are dragging the text – want to go up in the document? You drag touch two fingers at front of touchpad and drag them toward you. I’m sure that description is confusing – once you do it you’ll see what I mean and can choose the option that works for you.
Screen: I went cheap: No touch screen, and compared to my Surface RT, the resolution isn’t as good. It is a little “fuzzy”.
As with the Surface RT, I use the Chromebook to login to my Windows computer. A lot of little things make it harder to use than Surface RT. The pointer doesn’t change like it does in Windows when you are near the edge of a window or a column in Excel. You can resize a window but you have to click and drag until you find the sweet spot. For some reason if I scroll slowly in on the remote Windows computer nothing happens; I have to move it quickly to get a reaction. The Remote Desktop Connection app form the Google Play Store lets me login to any Windows computer that supports RDP but the bottom ¾ inch isn’t used on the Chromebook’s screen. Well, if you click on the keyboard icon at the top of the RDP app’s window that bottom ¾” is filled by various special keys (Ctrl, Alt, etc.) that you might want to press – for use in a table mode, I suppose.
Battery life: Great, I think. 9:23 hours reported when I unplug it, but I checked a while later it still said 100% but was down to 7:34. I’ve never run it down completely to see how long it will last. The AC adapter is big and clunky – about the same as with a regular sized laptop. I’d like to see something small for such a small laptop. The Surface RT has a nice relatively small “wall wart”.
Remote Support: Being able to connect to a device and guide the user through whatever they are having problems with is a “biggie” for me. Something I can’t do when the user has an iPad. The Chromebook has that ability and works very well.
Another iPad/tablet drawback: You have to hold the darn thing. The Chromebook is a laptop so it will actually set it on your lap or on a table freeing up both of your hands to touch (if you get a touchscreen model) and type. OK, so it isn’t a great form factor for reading eBooks. I use a Kindle, phone, or table for that.
Very fast on and off. Open it (or tap power button if already open) and it is ready for login in 15 seconds. When it is on if you tap the power button it sort of “winks” at you. Hold it for a second and it will “lock” the window but apps are still going. (I had YouTube app playing music and it continued to play when it was locked.) Hold it for 4 or 5 seconds and it will power down.
Updates: Much, much, much simpler than a Windows computer. If it has installed any updates in the month that I’ve had it I haven’t noticed.
Antivirus, hacking, phishing, etc. I suppose you have to worry about downloading malware on your Chromebook but seems to me at this time it is a much simpler and more secure environment than a Windows computer.
For someone who is very Google-centric (my son) a Chromebook is probably all that he needs…but my son still needs his killer PC to run his video games. However, for my mom, in-laws (all in their 90s), and novice users I expect I will be encountering more and more I think it may be just the thing.