What Can You Do With a Chromebook?

posted in: Desktop, Google | 0

It was exactly four months ago today that I received my first Chromebook. The (then) new HP14 model (with 4GB of RAM, and built-in 4g). Being a regular user of the Google ecosystem, I understood how it could fit into my regular workflow.

I’m a man of many machines and gadgets… I already had three computers (one of them running Linux), my wife and I had smartphones, and we’d just gotten a pair of Android tablets, too.

Before taking the plunge, and indulging my curiosity, I did some serious homework. I’d read all of the articles (both the positive and negative) about Google’s Chromebook project, and realized that the majority of negative opinions were written by people who never actually used one in real life. Of the people who actually did use them regularly, the reviews were mostly favorable.

Still, I couldn’t help but ask myself:

Will a Chromebook Work For Me?

hp14_a-1In my particular case, honestly, I could never have used a Chromebook exclusively.

However, I didn’t plan to.

I do a lot of work with agencies that requires me to run high-end graphic software, like Adobe’s Creative Suite, which needs to be installed on a Mac, or a PC.

However, I also realized that I never actually used those programs on my laptop, anyway. Our existing laptop was something I used on the road, and something my wife and I shared when we’re away together.

When I had to do serious graphics work, it was always on my powerful desktop workstation back in my office, “The Beast,” with its huge (color corrected) monitor, and high-end specs.

Keep a Log of What You do With Your Laptop

To confirm my hunch that a Chromebook might be a perfect option for us, we started keeping a log of every single thing we did on our laptop. Of course, we both checked & sent email (Gmail), managed our calendars (Google), worked on documents and spreadsheets (in Google Drive), checked the news & social media sites, and of course, general “web surfing.”

At the end of 30 days, it was obvious that Google’s Chrome Operating System (Chrome OS) would be a perfect fit for us.

Do The “Can I Live Inside Chrome Test”

Because Chrome OS is an operating system built around the Chrome browser, it can do (at least) everything you can do inside Chrome on a PC, or a Mac.

Simply fire-up Chrome on an existing computer, and see if you can accomplish everything you’d like within the browser. If you can, you’ll be golden with a Chromebook.

Curious about what you can do without an internet connection? Just install some of the offline Chrome Apps from the Chrome store, disconnect, and find out for yourself.

The Benefits Of Owning a Chromebook

  • Crazy long battery life… A single charge on mine easily gets me more than 8 hours of fairly consistent use.
  • Really, really fast booting… I’m logged-in, and actually using the thing within about seven seconds of turning it on.
  • Automatic updates… Google pushes-out updates to Chrome OS every couple of weeks, and we’re never interrupted. Each update is applied automatically the next time the machine is started.
  • Security is state-of-the-art… I’ll skip the geeky details, but you can read that here, if you’re so inclined (Chromium OS is the open-source base for Google’s Chrome OS).
  • As a general rule, Chromebooks are extremely affordable.
  • Instant cloud backup of everything… If your Chromebook dies, or gets lost, grab a new one (they’re that inexpensive), log-in, and within moments, you’re back to where you left-off on your old one. Even your wallpaper is restored (try that with a PC, or a Mac)!

Don’t “Chromebooks Always Need a Connection?”

In my case, this is a “non-issue.” The uses we identified as important to us all require a connection, anyway. A Windows, or a Mac laptop would, too. Again, your mileage may vary, depending on what it is you need to get done, so that’s why I feel it’s important you identify your own requirements by keeping a log, as I mentioned earlier.

However, there are offline Chrome extensions that will let you work with email, documents, and your calendar without a connection. Admittedly, I’ve found the Gmail offline app to be handy a couple of times, but as with a PC or a Mac, you (obviously) can’t actually fetch new emails, or send newly composed ones until you do have a connection again.

If being connected constant really is a big thing for you, go with one of the Chromebooks that comes-with 4g. My HP14 includes free 4g service for life, although the “free” service is only 200MB/mo. That’s not an awful lot, but it’s plenty to satisfy your email or IM cravings, and when you need more, one click will let you purchase an additional data pass. Those vary both in-terms of the amount of data, and the duration, but none require a contract (they’re pay-as-you-go), and seem to be priced lower than MiFi from the major carriers here in the US.

What About That HP14 Model?

I have to say, I’m impressed with almost everything about mine. The build quality is much better than I was expecting, the 4GB of RAM has let me do everything I’ve ever tried without the machine getting sluggish, and the Intel Haswell CPU makes this thing feel very fast, while preserving the battery charge all day.

As I mentioned, I got the model with 4g, and that may (or may not) be something you’d find useful. I’ve been to very few places without WiFi, but having it there provides some peace-of-mind, I suppose. I was demonstrating my Chromebook to a friend who’s considering one, and he told me the 4g pricing was “substantially less” than he pays for the same amount of data each month for his Verizon MiFi.

About the only negative I’ve got about this machine is the display. Most people who look at it think it looks “perfectly fine” for a laptop, but since I still do graphics work on a high-end system with a calibrated monitor, I can easily see the difference. But then again, this Chromebook costs less than that monitor alone, so that’s to be expected.

Public Reactions To Chromebooks Are Amusing

My HP14 is white, so it’s not uncommon to hear, “Hey, that’s really sharp. Is that a new Macbook?”

Another memorable reaction was in a coffee shop, when a guy asked, “How do you like your Chromebook? I’ve heard they don’t work offline.” His expression was priceless when I replied, I am using it offline right now.