First Experiences with an ARM Chromebook
I recently bought a Samsung Chromebook (Wi-Fi, 11.6-Inch). I am fascinated by living tied to the web, indeed my honours computer science thesis deals with this in relation to mobile applications (and hybrid half-app/ half-website). Spurred on by the excellent reviews this Chromebook has gotten ("It’s $1,000 worth of design made with $100 worth of materials" - The Verge and “You simply won’t find a netbook this nice for that little money.” - Engadget).
I’m typing this review on the laptop now and it’s keyboard is the first thing that is noticeably good. As good as my MacBook Pro that cost 10x as much (bar the lack of a back-light which I miss). The design is clearly inspired by the Macbook Air - it is light and very portable. Battery life is also good, 6.5-7 hours in most reviews. Also it’s fan-less and I have been unable to make it get hot (unlike almost every other laptop I have owned). I’m a heavy Google user (been using Docs since 2007, Calendar since 2006 and Gmail since 2004) so the promise of the apps I use most being on the Chromebook was a non-issue. I’m also a very lackadaisical gamer, I’ll happily go a long time without a proper console/pc game and fill the void with 5 minutes of cut the rope or Angry Birds (and these are better on my smartphone then in Chrome).
I also use a lot of web services. I’ve gone out of my way to put files on Google Drive when I knew I was buying this machine. I’ve already used Picasa for years and uploaded my music to Google Music recently. I use Evernote for notes (their web version is flaky offline though, hopefully this will be fixed). I’m trying my best to stick to this laptop for all personal use. My work laptop is a Windows machine, but I spend almost all of my time in a Linux remote desktop and in Chrome. That brings me to one thing I miss and that is a proper IDE. I’ve researched the web versions and frankly they are pretty bad. I do see promise though - having it all managed would be a great asset - I’ve seen countless people struggle with IDE issues.
My struggle with this laptop is where it fits (between desktop, power laptop, smartphone, tablet etc). For the first time a generation who could almost entirely survive on touch interfaces is growing up - so it’s no wonder Microsoft is positioning the Surface for the office of the future - people will expect, nay demand some sort of touch. The issue is whether ChromeOS (which almost certainly will merge the divide and bring out a touch laptop) can win this space with just web apps. This has almost made me feel old in technology terms. Don’t get me wrong - I love touch. But I also love my keyboard for coding, you can pry it from my cold dead hands. I’m also not getting rid of my MacBook Pro, I still need that safety cushion of proper computer. I feel the same way about my desktop - I like sitting down at a computer and experiencing comfort!
But I realise I own too many devices. I like cloud computing because it also means I can have low-powered, cheap devices and not have to worry about backup. ChromeOS extends this so the laptop updates automatically every six weeks. So how can I trim the fat? I’m not sure… I’ll report back with more findings from sticking to just ChromeOS in a later post - stay tuned!