Chromebook Pros and Cons
So what’s good and what’s bad about using a Chromebook? Here’s what I’ve found.
There’s a lot to like about Chrome OS and this first generation of Chromebooks. My favorite things include the following:
- Setup. Setting up my Chromebook took only about 20 minutes, with most of that time spent downloading an update to Chrome OS. Other than the OS update, it was pretty much ready to go out of the box. And here’s something I really loved: No crapware. It’s a clean desktop (or browser, actually) with no trial versions or unwanted apps cluttering things up. That’s a great advantage to not having anything stored locally!
- Form factor. It’s very light and very small and that’s great when you’re carrying it around.
- Battery life. Google claims that Chromebooks will provide between 6 to 8 hours of battery life. That’s true, and maybe a little conservative. I don’t have to charge it up every evening, like I do my Windows notebook, and that’s nice.
- Startup time. My Chromebook boots up in well under the advertised 10 seconds, and arises from sleep mode almost instantaneously. I can be booted up, logged on, and working with my Chromebook while my Windows machine is still whirring and chirring. That’s really nice.
- Safety. Since Chrome can’t download, store, or run traditional applications, that also means it can’t download malware. At all. There’s absolutely zero chance you’ll run into computer viruses, spyware, and the like. There’s no safer computer out there.
- Connectivity. If a computer has to be connected to the Internet to work at all, it better be a solid connection. To that end, I’ve never had any trouble connecting my Chromebook to a variety of Wi-Fi networks. (In fact, I’ve found little use for the 3G functionality.) On my Chromebook, connectivity just works.
- Web integration. Google has done some nice things to make working on the web a little easier. My Chromebook does a great job logging onto Picasa and other Google services, recognizing who I am without me having to manually log in each visit. And Google Talk is built into the OS, so that’s pretty seamless. If you have to live in a web-based world, this is the way to do it.
Those are all good things.
Not all is honey and spice, however. There are some definite downsides to using a Chromebook, including the following:
- Lousy keyboard. Sorry Google, but I hate the Chromebook keyboard. It’s smallish compared to a full-sized notebook PC (but not as small as some netbooks) and the keys are very Chiclet like, which as a working writer, I despise. In addition, Google has dictated the removal of many common keys from the keyboard; there’s no Delete, Home, Insert, or Caps Lock keys, and the traditional row of function keys has been replaced with dedicated “web keys” for controlling volume, brightness, and the like. I’d rather have a more traditional keyboard, thank you.
- Lousy touchpad. This may be a Samsung thing rather than a Google thing, but the touchpad on my Chromebook is twitchy on the best of days and downright unusable on the worst. There are no buttons to click, so you have to get used to tapping the touchpad instead. (Right-clicking is a particularly “fun” experience.) Fortunately, you can connect an external mouse, which I may end up doing.
- Lack of personalization. With Windows, I’m used to customizing the look and feel of the desktop to an extreme degree. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do in Chrome except change the browser theme. That’s not a major thing, but it bothers.
- Full-screen windows. It’s interesting. Chrome OS lets you open multiple windows, but each window takes up the entire screen. When you switch between windows, one slides out of the way while another slides into place. You can, of course, open multiple pages and apps on multiple tabs within a browser, but the inability to stack and arrange multiple windows on the desktop is something that takes some getting used to.
- Web-based apps. My Chromebook is great for browsing Facebook, using Google Calendar, watching YouTube videos, and the like. It’s less great for doing serious work with serious applications. Yeah, there’s always Google Docs (as well as the web version of Microsoft Office), but these web apps don’t have the full functionality of their desktop counterparts. If you’re a power user, moving to the cloud just doesn’t cut it – and there are no other options with Chrome.
- No Skype. Specifically, there’s no web-based version of Skype, nor is there a good web-based alternative to it. If you depend on Skype to video chat with others, that’s a deal breaker. Google is said to be working on some sort of Skype-like functionality for Chrome, but it isn’t there yet and even when it gets here it won’t be Skype. Bummer.
- File management. No copy command? Are you serious? I know Google wants us all to fly away to the land of cloud computing, but there’s still some need for local file storage and the ability to manage those local files. Yes, you can connect a USB flash drive or SD memory card to a Chromebook, which is fine for reading files (and essential for listening to music or watching movies), but Chrome won’t let you write files to these devices. (You can download files to external storage, but you can’t copy files from the Chromebook to an external device.) As much as Google wants to embrace the concept of cloud computing, today’s reality is that we need to manage some files locally. Chrome sucks at that.
- Media playback. If you want to do streaming audio or video, the Chromebook excels. If you want to listen to music or watch a movie while you’re not connected to the Internet, however (like when you’re on a plane flying cross country), you need to go through some contortions. Listening to music means converting all your music to MP3 files (the only audio format Chrome recognizes), copying them to a USB drive, and then using Chrome’s anemic built-in Media Player (Playlist? What’s a playlist?) for playback. It’s even more difficult for video files, which are harder to convert and large enough they won’t always fit on a USB stick. In this instance, the lack of internal storage combined with limited file format compatibility and a lousy media player app combine for a frustrating experience.
- Printing. Google took the lazy route by not including native print functionality in the operating system. Yes, Google Cloud Print can do the job, but that’s not the way we’re set up today. There’s simply no way to physically connect a printer to your Chromebook and print a document; you have to go through all the bother of the Cloud Print process. It’s unfamiliar and a little unwieldy – definitely not as quick and easy as direct printing.