Monday, August 13, 2012

My New Chromebook

It wasn't "like new;" this Samsung Series 5 3G Chromebook  was brand new!  The Verizon Wireless 3G plan had not been enabled yet...doesn't appear as though it'd ever been turned on before.  The protective plastic sheets were still on it.

I've read reviews about a crappy keyboard, but I like this one.  There are a few keys that are different than other keyboards and I still have to figure out the keyboard shortcuts.  It's nice for typing except I don't have a number pad off to the right.  I'm not sure if the advertised 8 hour battery life actually holds up.  I never use it for that long straight.  I like that you can close the lid to put it to sleep which really saves battery.  When you open it up it's almost instant on.  You just have to enter your password.

It's an interesting idea to do everything on the cloud.  The 16GB SSD is nice because I can put pix from my camera on here and I can shake the thing when it's on and won't have to worry about hurting my data.  I am looking for a way to store my photos, though.  I need a web service that allows you to upload a decent amount of pix and not reduce the resolution.  Even Picasa trims the resolution.  This problem may be alleviated in the near future if Google gives 100GB for free on Google Drive to Chromebook users.

The Chromebook integrates well with all my Google stuff as should be expected.  I've found some great apps to use as workarounds for native applications.  I've started using Google Docs/Drive a lot more now and I use ShareLaTeX to write and compile my LaTeX documents online.  The neatest thing about that is I can access them from any computer without having to worry about my USB stick.  The only thing I don't like is that I can't get the color scheme that I'm used to (comments in red, LaTeX commands in blue, declarations in green), but I'm getting used to declarations looking like commands.  Also the debugging is a bit rougher for me to work with than TeX Works.  I'm really happy to have a laptop with decent speakers and an audio output that works.  I can hook up to my bigger speakers in my room and blast music from Google Play Music, Amazon Cloud Player, Pandora, Grooveshark, or even stuff I've put on my hard drive.

The integrated webcam is great.  It's 1MP as opposed to my old 0.3MP which did alright for itself.  Just tonight I joined my first Google Hangout but only with one other person.  I think it might be super cool to get a few friends in on that.  You can share your screen (but they can't put your screen full-screen) and there are apps that you can use inside the hangout.

The Chromebook is really lightweight, honestly starts up from dead in under 10 seconds.  On a good start, you can pull up a website about 12 seconds after hitting the power button.  I've timed it.  It's really cool how you can get internet access over 3G.  I have not activated my free 2-year subscription with Verizon yet because I want to wait until I'm somewhere where I'll need it for about a week.  Right now I just try to use the offline apps which are really solid.  I have this offline Gmail app that will sync with my account, allow me to read and respond to emails and it just waits until I get an internet connection to actually send the messages.  I can also load web pages before I leave the house and see the contents of that page on the road.

Complaints:  the VGA out only supports the native resolution of the laptop, no matter the size of the external monitor.  Also, dual monitors are not supported...both display, but they are the same image.  You can't print by plugging into a USB cord into the printer because you don't have drivers for your printer.  I've found a workaround to this using Google Cloud Print which is really neat because I can use my laptop at my house and get it to print to the mail room at school!  If I get my Linux machine back up and running, then I can plug the printer into that desktop and use my printer again.  Luckily I don't have to print too much these days.  I still have a hard time understanding why they can't make an app to allow me to plug in the USB cord and print to my old printer.  My printer has wireless too, so why can't I just print over the network?  I don't know enough about computers.  It's not so bad to lack an optical drive.  I really would only use my Rosetta Stone disc, but that was made for Windows OS anyway.  CDs are going to be obsolete soon anyway.  It's difficult to open file formats that should be very open such as .csv.  There's a great online Open Office reader that will read the .odt family of file extensions and Word files can be imported beautifully into Google Docs format.

Take-home:  I got a great deal on this laptop.  It does just about everything I need it to do and it's supposed to only get better with time.  If you're interested in how they perform, I'll gladly lend you mine for a little bit (if you see me in person to borrow it).  I'm happy to give Google my money.  I wish they'd hurry up and become my ISP.  I like my Android phone and I like my Chromebook.  I'm trying to use more Google services now...just like I really started using Google Calendar when I got an Android phone.  They keep giving me more and more space for free (Gmail offered a free 1GB when I started and it's up to 10GB now).  The wireless connectivity is amazing and it's really light and portable.  You can charge it at the beginning of the day and use it really hard and it can still last without bringing along your charger.  If you're thinking about a new laptop in the $300 price range, get a used or refurbished Chromebook.  Once you adjust, you'll love it...just like the Chrome web browser.

UPDATE 8-27-12:  I just installed an awesome remote desktop app (SparkViewRDP) from the Chrome WebStore.  You can give it an IP address and connection info and it has all the features of Microsoft's mstsc.exe and more.  It opens in a web browser tab, is lightweight, and very responsive.  You can connect to multiple computers at once by running every one after the first in an incognito window.  I find myself adapting as I use my chromebook more, now there are some aspects of computing that I like a lot on here.  I'm retraining my brain to work in the cloud and I've even started using Google Drive when I'm on the windows machine in my office.
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