Brave New World? My Chromebook first impressions

After a whole lot of research and investigation, I finally decided to recommend a Chromebook for my mother’s next computer.  All she really does is browse the internet.  Video chatting?  By the time her old Celeron powered Microsoft Vista ‘laptop’ booted up, no one really wanted to video chat anymore.  So I wanted to find a cheaper way of accomplishing what she needs and a Chromebook seemed to be a good option.

Getting up and running was easy and the Acer C720 I purchased was quite snappy.  So when my father in law wanted help with a new computer, I suggested the larger HP 14 Chromebook.  He travels for work, but other than helping him the first time he had to connect to the internet, he hasn’t called with an issue in months.

So…I figured if I was going to support them- I was going to need one myself.  (Well, that and I had an Amazon gift card burning a hole in my pocket.)  One click later and on the way was a matching Acer C720 like my mom’s.  I wanted something lighter and portable and was willing to trade the better IPS screen of the HP 11 Chromebook for the C720’s more powerful Haswell processor (even if it’s a Celeron).

Setup

After a warm up from being left outside (winter delivery FTW), the C720 booted right up, asked to pick a wireless network and downloaded the latest updates.  Once I signed in (with my primary Google account, since I have several), I was greeted with the home screen.  First order of business- put it into ‘Developer Mode’.  Once that was done and the Chromebook ‘powerwashed’ itself, I signed back in, fired up a command shell and installed Crouton.  XFCE Linux allowed me to install Firefox.  Some command line changes in XFCE and I now had a working Citrix Receiver.  This allowed me to connect to my Win 7 Virtual Machines.  Now I really could use my Chromebook on the run.

Franken-Chromebook
My Acer 720 running a Win7 VM in XFCE inside a Crouton shell on ChromeOS.

 

Travelling with the Chromebook

So, I was scheduled to head to Vancouver, Canada for SAP dCode Inside at the BusinessObjects ‘mothership’ and decided to bring my Chromebook as my main PC, along with my iPad Mini.  (My work laptop was along for the ride, in case of a serious issue.. This ‘job insurance’ added 5 pounds to my carry-on bag- UGH!)  In order to maximize my carry-on, I used my normal computer backpack (Samsonite Tectonic M) rather than my ‘go bag’ (Mountainsmith Small Messenger).

One problem appeared when I got to Canada.  No power cord!!  I thought I was being slick- since the Acer and HP both shared the same cord (from the power brick to the outlet), I’d bring one for both.  I was in for a bit of a surprise when I was unpacking and saw no power cord.  This changed my plan a bit, so I powered off the Chromebook to save the battery.  I used one of my 12 free GoGo Inflght credits on the way, so the battery was down to around 90%.  Since I needed to get a full day out of it on Tuesday,off it went.

When I booted up at 9am Tuesday morning, the battery was still around 85-90%.  I decided to go all in and spin up Linux and connect to a VM for email and Lync, switching back and forth to the Chromebook to keep my notes in Google Docs.  I do like the seamless switching that Crouton gives you…very nice!  By the end of the day, a full 8 hours later- the battery meter was at 15%.  With the exception of an hour for lunch, the Acer was running and connected to Wifi.  I can’t complain about the battery!  And lucky for me, I didn’t forget a charger and cable for my iPad Mini, so I had entertainment on the plane ride home.

Conclusion

Are there things missing from the Chromebook?  Yup.  Unless you have a Google Cloud compatible printer or a computer connected to a printer with Chrome running, you’re out of luck printing.  And yes, if you’re not connected to the internet you really can’t do anything.  But if you’re reading this and thinking about a Chromebook, you already knew that.

Do I like the Chromebook?  Yup, I do. It’s been a great ‘second screen’ while watching TV.  It also is portable and quiet.  It’s also light enough that I’ve been grabbing it to head out to Starbucks to write, instead of my iPad 2 with keyboard.

What do I wish the Chromebook had?  To be honest, I’m missing some tools that I would love as ‘Chrome Apps’ (apps that work offline).  If Evernote or Microsoft OneNote would come up with one, I would be totally psyched.  GDocs is good but the image inserting doesn’t really seem to keep pace with Evernote/OneNote for my blog writing style.

Would I recommend the Chromebook?  Yes, with conditions.  I wouldn’t recommend it as a primary machine to anyone outside my parents age bracket.  Most folks still have a need for some applications that aren’t Chrome Apps or some form of offline app.  Would I use the Chromebook to replace my Windows or Mac machines?  Not as a daily driver.  But as a ‘second screen’ or light ‘companion’ machine, you really can’t do any better than a Chromebook.  Especially for less than 200 bucks!

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