One pleasant surprise I received this holiday was a Google Chromebook. I had originally mentioned my interest in a Chromebook as it seemed like an interesting concept – an inexpensive notebook for the masses. I pretty much do all my writing on Google Docs given the ease of use and instantaneous syncing across devices. I wondered if this simplicity extended to their hardware as well.
But are the Chromebooks any good? Or are they simply an alternative to a comparably priced personal computer?
At the time of this writing I have been using my Chromebook for nearly a week. Previously my computing was dominated by Apple – an iPad and MacBook Air. I use a PC on occasion, but only if I must. Previously I had done all of my office related tasks on iWork, but became frustrated after installing updates that created challenges and removed functionality. This prompted a switch to Google Docs which I have found to be very effective yet simple.
After about a week of use I have found the Google Chromebook is much different than I expected.
There has been a slight learning curve. Being primarily an Apple user I had to re-enter all of my credentials into various services such as Dropbox, Shopify, WordPress, etc. I did previously have a gmail account – this is one of the really cool things about the Chromebook – straight out of the box everything works after entering your gmail username and password. Pretty much everything centers around your Google profile.
However, there is a big downside to being Google centric. Google does not allow for the installation of third party software on a Chromebook. This means that you are limited to the Google ecosystem – for example, I have to use the Google Drive app as opposed to Dropbox – although I can still access Dropbox via a Web interface. This did create other limitations, although I have been able to work around everything thus far. The closed nature of the Google Chromebook did surprise me as I had previously viewed Google as being an open system, at least when compared to Apple. Although in this instance, the Google device is much more limiting.
Perhaps the most profound aspect that I discovered about the Chromebook is that it’s not simply meant to be an affordable computer, but a completely new approach to computing. Consider the following from the Chromebook website:
“Usually, when you evaluate computers, you’re inclined to focus on a few hardware components that indicate how fast a computer is or how much memory it can hold. But now that most of what you do is online, it’s time to rethink hardware specs.
RAM – Since you won’t have client apps to manage you don’t need that much RAM – everything you’re doing is being taken care of by super fast and secure supercomputers.
Hard Drive – With most of your computing happening in the cloud, you have a supercomputer working on all those tabs you have open, so you can just focus on DOING. Chromebooks come with smaller hard drives because you have more storage in the cloud.
Cloud Storage – You have some storage on your device for those times you need to access a file without access to the internet, but for everything else you can access and store it in the cloud. And your Chromebook comes with 100 GB of free Google Drive storage for 2 years.”
I literally found this aspect of the Chromebook to be amazing. Literally all of the processing requirements are accomplished on Google’s servers. This allows for a streamlined device on the consumer end. Also considering that I read today on Peter Diamandis’ Top 10 Breakthroughs of 2015 that Google’s Quantum Computer is 100 Million Times Faster Than a Normal Computer, Google should have plenty of processing power as more people use Chromebooks.
Offboard processing power and storage lead me to another great benefit of using a Chromebook – it is lightning fast. This could be possibly the fastest computer I have ever used. When I open the laptop there is no delay. In addition, websites open nearly instantaneous. I’m not sure if the system will become bogged down with continued usage, but for now it’s screaming fast. I would like to caveat this statement by saying that I do not do much graphics related work, however, I perform many data intensive tasks, all of which have performed flawlessly.
In terms of aesthetics, the Google Chromebook is fairly simple. Not emotional simple like Apple, but more utilitarian simple, like Google. The design is clean but is missing some of the aesthetics such as the overall feel of the device, which can feel a bit boxy at times. Furthermore, I do find myself missing the magnetic plugs on the Apple laptops.
Overall the Google Chromebook is a good enough device. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of an Apple product, but it’s also a fraction of the cost. However, given the price point (usually between $300 – $600) it really is a phenomenal machine.
Will I switch to a Chromebook over the long term? At this point I’m not sure. I have migrated quite a bit of my daily computing to the Chromebook so I may be switching. Probably the most important factor will be if I feel as at home within the Google ecosystem. Also, it will be interesting to see which device I find myself intuitively reaching for. Only time will tell.