Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Chromebook – initial thoughts…

I bought a Chromebook last week. A lot of people have asked: why?

 

So, I’ll tell you, and offer my initial thoughts and comments.

 

Why?

 

I used to have my personal email server and file storage running on a beefy server in my own personal datacentre garage. This is now in the cloud. To be precise it’s in Google Apps, with some local file storage on external disk (soon to be replaced by a QNAP NAS). The topic of Google Apps vs BPOS (as it was at the time) is a post for another day (I have one in draft that I never finished!).

Part of the rationale was (in Microsoft parlance) to eat my own dogfood – I was advocating the Cloud, but I wasn’t there myself, well, not really…

 

So, the point is: for the last couple of years my personal email, files, photos, etc have been in the cloud.

 

I have a laptop provisioned for me by my employer. I used to use this for some personal web surfing (etc) in the evenings/weekends but this meant that OCS/Lync, email, tasks etc were intruding on personal time, which, along with a few other factors, was contributing to the work-life balance tipping in the wrong direction.

 

So, the point is: I wanted something I could use entirely for personal use and avoid work intrusions.

 

 

So, I needed a device (laptop, tablet, netbook, whatever – I didn’t care) that allowed me access to my cloud data. So, I started looking for something to meet the following criteria:

 

Must Should Could Won’t
Have a proper keyboard

Have a pointing device of some sort

Be portable

Have wifi

Allow access to Google Apps

Have audio capability (speakers/mic or headphones/mic)

Play video

Play Flash

Have decent battery life

Allow me to use Chrome (by far my favourite browser)

Have speakers

Look good
Allow some work system/data access (just in case)

Have 3G

Have a webcam

Play HD video

Allow me to connect it to a TV

Have an ethernet port



Have massive local storage

Be expensive

Be a PITA to use/manage

Replace my Win7 laptop or Win7 Media Center

Be my ‘main’ PC/Laptop

 

 

So, a few of my ‘must have’ requirements ruled out the iPad (shame – I quite like them), others ruled out tablets (really didn’t want to have to mess around with docking stations just to have a keyboard) which left laptops and netbooks.

 

I really like the idea of the Dell Duo – it runs Windows (which I know and like, and can generally fix when it goes wrong) and is in a very cool form factor. But running an OS like Win7 on 2GB of RAM (with no option for upgrade) troubled me. They are also above my budget (circa £250), even on ebay they fetch around £350 second hand.

This is a shame – it would have fitted the bill nicely…

 

This left a raft of rather ‘samey’ netbooks and small laptops… Until I remembered the CR-48 and Google's plans to release a mass-market consumer device running Chrome. So I looked into this further.

The hardware was indeed available now in the UK (Samsung Series 5 or Acer AC700, see Amazon for details) and the OS was available in a pre-built VM to play with evaluate (which I did).

Although the performance of the VM could have been better (it isn’t optimised for the VMWare ‘hardware’ and you can’t (easily) get the VMWare Tools installed) I liked it, quick boot, easy to use, and just the web…

 

 

The Samsung looked better, but the Acer has a better spec, but the Samsung was available, the Acer will hit the market later in the year……

So I bought the Samsung:

 

Samsung Chromebook Series 5 - image from: http://www.gadgetreview.com

 

I have the 3G and WiFi version, although can’t see me using much WiFi as it will be mainly used at home (or the homes of friends/family) and occasionally when out and about, but not much…

 

Thoughts and comments

 

It’s a great device, I’m loving it so far, there are a couple of minor niggles, but all-in-all I’m impressed.

 

As it uses my Google account for login it knew my Chrome preferences as soon as I logged in, and seconds later it had all my apps/extensions installed to! I have had several PC’s/Laptop’s/etc over the years and this is the only one that felt that it was mine within seconds, I usually have to install/configure loads of ‘stuff’ to get to this point, not so here Winking smile

 

I have played around with the beta builds and even ventured as far the unstable dev build, and was VERY impressed with the OS re-installation routine. On my laptop, downloaded a small executable and plugged in a USB stick, the program created a bootable image on the stick, turned the Chromebook on (while holding down a reset button on the back) and it re-installed the latest stable build in around 5 minutes – and then (even with a clean build OS) i was back up and running with my settings/apps/etc a minute later. Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

As someone who’s done their fair share of Windows installs over the years I was genuinely impressed…

 

The browser itself runs fine, can be a bit sluggish if you have loads of tabs open (esp if the sites/pages you’re opening are full of Flash and high res images), but it’s well within realms of acceptability.

 

I haven’t had any need to use my Win7 laptop in the evenings since having the Chromebook…

 

Pro

-boots in under 7 seconds

-resumes from sleep in ~1 second

-gives me web access

-gives me access to my data in the cloud

-gives me access to my local data (as in local NAS)

-synchronises my preferences/settings/apps/extensions between all my computers running Chrome

-felt “personal” from the first time I turned it on

-plays SD video fine

-plays ITV coverage of the RWC fine!

 

Cons

-struggles with HD video

-perceivable slowing down when you have lots of tabs open (with ‘busy’ web sites/pages)

 

 

I did a quick comparison of boot time (and more importantly ‘time until usable’) between my work laptop (Dell Latitude E6500 with: Intel Core2 Duo @ 2.8GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM SATA Disk, 64bit Windows 7 Enterprise) and the Chromebook (Samsung Series 5 with: Intel ATOM @ 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, 16GB SSD, ChromeOS) the difference is staggering:

 

-Win7 took 55 seconds longer to get to the login screen

-Win7 took a 3.5 minutes longer to get to the point of being usable (although was still loading stuff)

-Win7 takes (on average) 30 seconds longer to resume from sleep (although on one test took over a minute)

 

 

Conclusion

 

The Chromebook is a great bit of kit and does exactly what I need it to do, and does it very well.

 

It isn’t for everyone, and certainly isn’t a main/primary PC choice, but as a second device I can’t find a major fault with it. I don’t care much about watching HD films/programs on it, so that doesn’t really bother me, and I can live with it being a bit slower if I have loads of tabs open (it’s still better than IE8/9 on Win7 in that regard though).

 

I think they are priced wrongly, I paid £240 for mine off Ebay, this is the price point they should be at, £400/£450 puts them into a price bracket that they can’t compete in.

 

All-in-all a thumbs up from me!

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