Chromebook – What it is and what it isn’t.

Tech advice from "experts" who don't have experience in what they are talking about can give costly advice.
Tech advice from “experts” who don’t have experience in what they are talking about can give costly advice.

I think readers will recall mention I made a while back of a little known area called (Usenet/newsgroups) and how it’s time as a serious discussion group is over.

I was prompted to write this article as at one time Usenet was the place where technology experts could be expected to post and engage in discussion.  The time has long since past, but there are tech “experts” still commenting, unfortunately some of these comments are not only wrong but misleading too.  I used to think the misunderstanding of what a Chromebook is was limited to those with no interest in tech.  Who could blame them? They just want to buy a device and get on with things.  So when posters in Usenet and in particular a Linux advocacy group cant grasp a Chromebook and end up providing misleading or misinformed information about them, I thought would spell out to everyone what a Chromebook is.

I should also add though that other “experts” around the web commenting about Chromebooks also seem confused and there seems to be a common theme here with “experts” that if the technology is vaguely familiar, then they can make opinions on it and it will be right.  They are wrong.  I’ve been using and posting with one exclusively for the last 2+ months.  I tried a number of models before settling on the HP14″ (for the larger screen) so I think I am qualified to give an opinion on the pros and con’s of a Chromebook – especially since all my work and computer usage has been with one over the last few months.

This is the best “warts and all” appraisal of a Chromebook I can make without taking it into pages and losing the interest of most readers.

If I make a recommendation of technology (any tech) to someone I make it very clear what that tech is, what it can do, what it can’t.  Unlike some people who will promote a tech blindly missing out important facets or worse, intentionally doing so, I prefer to make it very clear to people before hand and if you fit the criteria for a Chromebook with your online choices, then you will find no better device than a Chromebook.

People who read my tweets and articles will know that I love my Chromebook.  I’ve been very productive with it and I believe I am over the two month mark of having used it exclusively.  Is it possible to live your online work/life with a Chromebook.  Yes it is and very well – with a few caveats that we must cover now:

‘Here be Google Services’

Not dragons, Google services.  If you don’t use them or don’t ever intend to then a Chromebook is not for you.  There’s a little giveaway on the case of the device that displays the Google logo, but in case you miss that.  Do not buy it.

This device has been designed for those who do use Google services and what a great device it is too.  Everything is integrated in a way that you can’t get from your browser and probably the most immediate stand-out feature is that your file manager treats your local storage and Google drive in the same way, you can effortlessly pass files between the two.  There are of course other advantages to the Google integration here, but then we need to clear up some things first.

“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” – What you can’t do.

I’m trying to decide what items to put in this list, so if there’s something here you don’t understand then just move on its not going to be an issue for you.

Want to play music CD’s? Well there’s no internal drive to do that.  Want to plug one in? – You still won’t be able to play that dusty copy of Cliff Richard.

Want to watch a dvd? Same again you can’t.  “But what if..” NO you can’t.

BluRay? – After no CD and DVD? – you’ve got to be kidding. NO, you can’t.

How about Java? No. You can’t.

Want to play WMV files? You can’t. – There’s a list of unsupported formats, I merely picked one for the purposes of this article and it would be worth your while checking first, especially if you facilitate some of the rare “exotic” codecs/file formats.  I don’t include them all and it may be in future there are work arounds, so its best to stay up to date.  One such example is .flv which does have a offline app but it is not included in the default ChromeOS setup.

I would add that if you think ChromeOS is the same as Android and your purchase is because you want an android type gaming device with a keyboard, then you will be disappointed.  There is a Chrome store, there are games, but you are not going to get the diversity or well known titles that you’ll see on the Android app store.  The Chromebook is a device for surfing and working.  Thats not to say there are not games – some of which you will have played on a Android device, but if your sole desire for the Chromebook is gaming, I’d say look at a “traditional” laptop instead and if it’s Android you want…..get an Android device.

The confusion some people have with the Chrome store and Play Store isn’t helped by the fact that the Play Store is included by default when you powerup your Chromebook.  Quite why its here is a bit of a mystery because you can’t play any of the titles.   The only thing I can think of is that you can use the Play Store on your Chromebook to install apps to other Android devices you may have.  Those who use Google services will know you register all your devices with them.

What you will get from a Chromebook

If like me you are a heavy user of Google – for example I use gDocs, hangouts, googledrive, email et al) and you have no need of the above, then you are in for a very good experience with all the services you use daily tied into your operating system much better than a tab in a browser.

You’ll also get some great deals (at time of writing)  Google is giving 100gb free drive space to Chromebook owners – there’s other freebies too dependent on where you live in the world.

The Chromebook boots very quickly.  Of course you’ll see differences between models (I’m running an HP14) but I think its fair to say that if you take out the time to enter your Google password, you are looking at about 10 seconds from the machine being cold to being online (the majority of time taken up by handshaking with your router) – power off is pretty instant too.

If you think your Chrome browser on whatever desktop you run gives you an idea of what the ChromeOS is like then you are wrong.  The experience on a Chromebook is vastly superior – and rightfully so, it was designed for this purpose.

Are Chromebooks cheap tech?

I’ll surprise people and say no.  Chromebooks come in at a nice price because they strip away the things which you don’t need (large internal storage, dvd drive etc) if you need these things you are not going to buy one, but by taking them away it means the Chromebook comes in at a lower price than a traditional laptop.  That doesn’t make it cheap, just fairly priced and for the first time I’ve made a purchase of tech where I haven’t paid for things I didn’t want.

You would be ill advised to buy a Chromebook and change it into something else.  I’ve seen posts about installing Linux and plugging in external hardrives etc, but then after you’ve done this, you are better off just going for a traditional laptop in the first place.  Ive quite a few USB ports on my Chromebook and I could fill them up with external devices, but then my compact Chromebook then turns into a bulky knobbly thing just asking for a careless person to damage one of the USB ports.

I understand that there are people with concerns about their privacy and data.  This is not just aimed at Google either and for those people the Chromebook is unsuitable.  With 10gig of internal storage its designed to use the Google drive so you are better advised to get a cheap laptop which will have no links to Google, a larger internal storage and you’ll be able to play DVD etc on it.  You’ll also have function keys, something which are missing from a Chromebook (although with a few key-presses you can get the functionality of them)

A Chromebook is only a replacement for a traditional laptop if you understand that its designed for Google services and outside of the Google ecosystem the Chromebook is not a cheap way to get a laptop experience unless you don’t want all the things that I’ve listed it can’t do.  Want a laptop that just surfs the web but don’t want Google services? Yes, the Chromebook could accommodate that, but again, if that’s your only requirement then I suggest you first look at other alternatives than to a product integrated with Google.

I hope those that feel they can tell people about Chromebook without actually knowing about them can now understand what a Chromebook is and I also hope those that were thinking of buying one are clearer as to if it will meet their needs.

Personally I’m still on my Chromebook and still love it to bits.

One comment

  1. As a result of further conversations I should add that there are many more things that the ChromeOS cannot do. Are you still posting to Usenet? Get used to Google Groups and forget about a binary news reader. Like your VOIP? Forget Skype, forget Mumble. You’ll be using Google Hangouts. I reiterate I am not being critical here, I am pointing out things it won’t do. It’s not sold pretending to do these things and it doesn’t imply they do. I include them only to prevent people from making a purchase that might not live up to their expectations and depending on what your intentions for your PC, the Chromebook may be limited.

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