A week with Samsung’s and Google’s new Chromebook.

In one line. I’m sold – it will only get better – shelving plans for an ultrabook First impressions. Firstly, its small, thin and light! Certainly smaller than I was expecting, think larger netbook rather than ultrabook/notebook. That said the keyboard is full size and the screen at 11.6 inches is perfectly reasonable for most tasks. This looks pretty nice, however, it does feel a little cheap due to its all plastic body. Does it feel like a $250 netbook? No way, I doubt the casual observer would think you aren’t using anything but the latest and greatest little ultrabook. So far the keyboard has been great, the keys respond well so touch typing is a breeze. The track pad is also above average based on my experience, in fact its the first laptop I have owned where I haven’t automatically gone for the USB mouse. It should be noted that the keyboard lacks a dedicated cap’s lock and delete keys, however, easy short-cuts are available in their place ([alt] [backspace]=delete, [alt][search]=caps). As for additional keys, the dedicated back and forward browser keys, as well as brightness and sound keys are a nice touch. All in all using this little machine is a pleasant experience, and I doubt the casual user will have much to complain about with regard to typing, using the touch pad, and the screen. I have noticed some negative reaction to the screen over the twittersphere regarding black white contrast, however, I certainly don’t have anything to complain about and the matte finish on this should work well for outside use. Battery life for me has been easily 6-7 hours with normal light internet use (its rated for 5-6 hours with heavier use). Overall, very happy with the look and feel.

ChromeOS. Well what can I say, its pretty much like using the chrome web browser. Startup times are ridiculously quick, pretty much instant for coming out of sleep and less than 10 seconds for a full reboot. It does have a desktop and a launch bar at the bottom of the screen, but most of the time you’ll find yourself working in tabs within the browser window. Perhaps to highlight this best, outside the typical chrome browser settings, there are only a small handful of settings that actually relate to ChromeOS itself (available by clicking the clock on the bottom right corner). Basically, what this means is that setup is nearly zero work, in fact after you provide your google details all your browser history and settings are automatically synced onto the new machine. Everything is backed up to the cloud too, so performing a factory reset is cost less, you are back up and running in a matter of minutes. As long as you trust google, this means no more backups!

Google apps and the cloud. This machine is designed to work well with google’s ecosystem and they give you 100GB free storage for two years, as I’m already a google user for my music, most docs, and email, obviously for me it just works. Importantly, offline access is available via the google drive app, as is email and many other apps in the offline category of the chrome webstore. For some reason I had problems getting offline Docs to work, in retrospect I probably didn’t allow enough time for the online files to sync to the machine (the main offline settings are available at the bottom of the cog options on your google drive homepage). Well anyway, now I can happily edit docs away from wifi and they will automatically synced with Drive once I am back online. Apart from google apps, I also

Offline drive setup can be found under the cog

installed a simple calculator app, angry birds (works well), the weatherbug app, a light image editing (sorry no links, I haven’t really tried these so can’t really recommend them, but their all in the popular downloads section of the web apps store). Coding is bit more of a challenge, there’s a nice little python shell app that is really only good for testing, perhaps a better long term solution will be with a cloud based IDE like cloud9IDE , and I’m sure more solution will be coming online as the popularity of cloud computing grows. Perhaps the best app I have discovered is Chrome Remote Desktop (CRD), this allows you to access all your computers through the browser using pin-codes. Despite the awesomeness of CRD, the big drawback for me was that there is no way of adding a Linux machine to your “computers”, so my plans to run my work computer as a code slave for my chromebook went up in smoke.

Chrome Remote Desktop is brilliant

Hopefully, future updates will add better Linux support for this awesome app (you can access a Linux computer but only through the “share” function that requires you or someone else to be sitting at the slave computer). That said, if you want to give granny this computer helping her out in real time via the CRD will save your life and sanity.

Issues. Besides the ones related to using google docs (please please integrate docs with google scholar as a citation manager), perhaps the biggest is this constant page reloading that seems to occur when you have “too many” tabs open (I’m talking 10ish). The reloading slows everything down and tends to cause docs and especially music (via google music) to hang for a frustrating number of seconds. Hopefully this “feature” will work better in future chromeOS updates.

Bottom line. This thing would be awesome for the road worrier or as a general use house laptop, especially if they were already part of the google docs ecosystem. With an external monitor it might even be perfect starter for your granny. With the SSD its pretty robust, fast to start up, has a small footprint make it a computer that I’ll happily drop into my backpack for that I need a browser now moment.

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