In an effort to cure a raging case of tech boredom, I’ve been trying some experiments to see if various gadgets have the ability to replace my 13″ Macbook Air as my go to workhorse computer. I recently tried this with a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Android tablet to less than a stellar outcome. Now it’s time to try the same test with a Samsung Chromebook. Let’s see if it performs better than the tablet.
Note: Images can be clicked to view a larger size.
I really don’t have a long list of needs for my main computing device, but the things I absolutely need it to be able to do include:
I consider myself something of a Gmail ninja. I typically receive over 100 emails a day, so I need to be able to read, search and file mail quickly or my inbox gets completely out of hand. I’m not one of those Zero inbox crazies, but I do start feeling stressed if my inbox has more messages than can fit on one screen without scrolling. To help me keep things under control, I use multiple inboxes, stars, labels (100′s of them), canned replies and keyboard shortcuts.
2. Blogging / writing
99.9% of my writing is done through The-Gadgeteer’s WordPress dashboard. On my Macbook Air I use the Chrome browser for this.
3. Photo editing for images that are used in Gadgeteer articles and reviews.
I use an Eye-Fi SD memory card to wirelessly transfer images to my Macbook and then use Photoshop to crop, adjust levels and do other basic modifications.
I’ve been using a 13″ Macbook Air as my main/only computer for several months now (I recently traded my 27″ iMac to Powermax) and I find that it does a terrific job. The MBA has spoiled me because it is so light weight and now I don’t think I’ll ever be able to buy another laptop that weighs more than 3 pounds. It also has great battery life. I just wish it had a Retina display, but as is, the screen is fine.
When you put the Samsung Chromebook next to the Macbook Air, it looks significantly smaller, but it really doesn’t feel that much smaller when using it. The Chromebook weighs in at 2 lbs 7 ounces which is 8 ounces lighter than my MBA.
Even going from a 13″ 1440 x 900 resolution display down to a 11.6″ 1366 x 768 resolution display wasn’t all that noticeable, which surprised me.
The Chromebook almost looks like a Macbook with its grey brushed metal look. It does not have a metal case though. It’s plastic. That said, it feels solid and well made. Let’s take a quick tour.
On the Left side you’ll find a standard sized headphone/microphone jack and an SD card reader slot.
On the back edge there are 2 USB slots. One is 2.0 and one is 3.0. There’s also an HDMI port, power port and a cover for the 3G SIM slot which isn’t activated on the WiFi model of the Chromebook which I purchased.
The keyboard is almost exactly the same size and key layout as my MBA’s keyboard, so I didn’t have to endure a learning curve getting used to size and placement. The trackpad is small but usable.
And as far as the display is concerned, like I mentioned above, it’s a bit smaller than the 13″ inch display I’ve been using for awhile, but the size difference doesn’t feel obvious to me. Of course I’d rather have a larger display, but as is, the Chromebook’s display gets the job done and I don’t have any real complaints about it.
What exactly is a Chromebook anyway?
Chromebooks are laptops powered by Google’s Chrome Linux based operating system. If you read the word “Linux” in that previous sentence and it made the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up in fear, take a breath and relax. Chrome OS isn’t the often times overly complicated (but fun), insanely powerful (if you have an IQ of 203) and gloriously mysterious operating system known as Linux. Chrome OS is a stripped down minimalist operating system that relies almost entirely on web apps. That means that you’ll need a broadband connection to use this device. If you don’t have a connection to the Internet, then the Chromebook is pretty much a paperweight. But in this day and age, how many of us use our computers offline? I know I don’t… at least not on purpose. For that reason, I didn’t have any qualms choosing this device for my 2nd experiment.
Just a note, some apps and content can be used offline. You can use the calculator and scratchpad without a net connection. Google Drive documents can be saved locally to the machine and some apps / games can be used when you’re offline. But for the most part, this is a device that requires a network connection to be useful.
The Chrome user interface is very simple and has been designed to minimize distractions. There’s a strip along the bottom of the screen that is used to navigate between different apps/webpages. Clicking the Chrome logo will open a new blank tab. There’s a Gmail tab, Search, Google Drive and Youtube. The next to the last icon is your currently open web tab and then the last icon is your apps list.
Out of the box, there are 1.5 pages of apps. As you install additional apps, they appear in the list (I installed the Pixlr editor you see in the image above). Apps are found in the Chrome web store which has a large selection of free apps.
If you are already a Gmail, Google docs, Calendar, Chrome browser user like I am, then setup doesn’t get much simpler than Chrome OS. Similar to setting up an Android smartphone or tablet, you just type in your google account details and you’re done. Seriously, that’s it. All your bookmarks and browser extensions will automatically get configured. Within just a minute or two, you’ll feel right at home with this device.
First up, the Gmail test
Normally when I use Gmail on devices other than my Macbook, I have to give up a lot. Sure I can read and send messages, but I don’t have all the bells and whistles like multiple inboxes, stars, canned replies, labels, etc that I rely on… All the features I listed as must haves for me are usually not available. I was extremely happy to learn that the Gmail experience on the Chromebook is exactly the same as on my Macbook Air or my Lenovo Windows 7 laptop at my day job. Everything I use and need is there and works great. There’s no learning curve at all. It is exactly the same.
Gmail Test Results: PASS
Next test, blogging/writing
The next thing I tried with the Chromebook was blogging and writing via the WordPress admin dashboard. After using Gmail on the CB, I already knew that I’d have no problems whatsoever with writing. I was right. Anything I can do on the Macbook as far as writing, I can also do on the Chromebook.
Blogging Test Results: PASS
Last test, editing photos
If the Chromebook was going to stumble, this was going to be the test where that would happen. I expected to have more problems than I did… In my normal workflow, I use Photoshop to edit all my review images. As I’m snapping pictures of a product, they are automatically being uploaded in the background to my Macbook via the Eye-Fi card in my camera. After I snap the last image, I go to the folder where they were transferred, select all the images and drag them into Photoshop where I crop, adjust color levels and re-save. With the Chromebook, I had to remove the SD card from the camera plug it into the SD card slot on the side of the Chromebook and manually copy the files. Once on the CB, I had to then load them one by one into the free Pixlr photo editor I installed. Pixlr is like a light weight Photoshop that works very well. My only wish is that it could open multiple images at once.
Photo editing Test Results: PASS
Although I am not planning to ditch my Macbook Air and make the Chromebook my main computer, I was very happy with how well the Chromebook performed. It really makes a great ultra light simple computer. The $250 price tag is crazy nice as well. If you are a Gmail / Google user, you can feel confident with this device. It will do what you need to do and won’t bankrupt you in the process.