So, I mentioned that Meg has something of a “fondness” for our Kindle Fire HD 8.9, mostly just for watching TV shows. As a result, my tablet has been somewhat co-opted in favor of my toddler on most weekends, when I’d like to sit on the couch and catch up on my online reading from the previous few days. Compound this with the fact that tablets don’t have keyboards, so when traveling, I don’t generally have anything I can type a lengthy e-mail with (unless I borrow a nearby computer, which is sometimes a viable option).
Now, I gave up laptops after my last one failed, mostly because I don’t really need one anymore (especially for gaming), and because they are made obsolete within a few short months, despite spending $1000 on a reasonably decent one that should comfortably last you a few years. We’ve still got Brooke’s Dell Mini 10 netbook, but as it was somewhat underpowered the day we bought it nearly 4 years ago, it wasn’t my first choice of solutions.
Enter the Google Chromebook. These are cheap, netbook-type laptops that don’t run Windows, but instead run a modified version of Gentoo Linux called “Chrome OS.” Essentially, it’s an operating system that functions almost exclusively in a web browser. Actually, the first iterations of the operating system were literally just the Google Chrome browser and nothing else: no file manager, no storage on the hard drive, no nothing.
The strategy behind Chrome OS and Chromebooks at large are to provide a low-cost solution to consumers to drive people closer and closer to “living in the cloud,” where they do their typing in Google Docs, they store their photos on Google+, they send their e-mail with Gmail, they use the Chrome browser, they play games in that browser, and they use Google Music to store and play their MP3s.
It’s the idea where just about everything they do is inside a web browser, and for many people, that’s just fine. A lot of people buy a nice laptop and only use it to check Facebook and Pinterest, never needing to install heavy photo editing software, play graphics-intensive games, or run AutoCAD. They may have the occasional document to write, but don’t need macros or anything more complicated than double-spacing and bold text.
And for these people, a Chromebook is just fine. Best of all, as it’s a browser-running-on-Linux, it’s virtually virus immune and all updates come down automatically in the background. As it runs Chrome, if you take advantage of its Cloud Sync functionality, everything gets synced between computers and browsers, so if you lose or break your Chromebook, you just log in to a new one and it’s set up identically to your old one.
The Samsung Chromebook that I picked up a few weeks ago has a 11.6″ screen, a full-size keyboard, a few USB ports, an SD card port, and HDMI out (if you wanted to have an external monitor or send it to your television). The difference is that it runs an ARM-based processor (as opposed to an Intel or AMD processor like your PC or Mac has), which is similar to the processors running your cell phones. This particular Chromebook has a 16 GB SSD, as well. The combination of the SSD and ARM chip means there are zero fans in the device, allowing it to be crazy thin, crazy quiet, and crazy efficient (about 6.5 hrs of battery life).
And the price for this thing? $250. To be fair, I got it cheaper than that, but I think it’s worth the $250 asking price.
The big key is to think about what you need/want a laptop for. This thing doesn’t run Windows, so if you want to use Microsoft Word, you’re out of luck. If you want to install Adobe Photoshop, you’re out of luck. If you want to install Steam and a copy of Age of Empires II, you’re out of luck. But, if you live mostly in a browser for most things you do and you’re already tightly integrated with Google services (i.e. you use Android smartphones, like we do), then it makes perfect sense and serves as a great laptop. I’m pretty happy with it thus far, and have had a good time finding alternatives to programs I use routinely that function within a web browser. For example, Pixlr is a photo editing tool based on The Gimp that has many of the same functions of Photoshop. Let that sink in: a Photoshop-capable alternative running in a web browser. Nuts.
So, overall, I’m a big fan so far. It isn’t perfect, but for the most part, it does all that I need it to and then some. It’s well worth it if you don’t need anything “over-capable” and you do most things in a web browser.