New Chromebooks – worth the bother?

Google have announced a new model of their Chromebook – the web only laptop that runs their Chrome operating system, which essentially consists of a browser and not much else.

As well as the laptop, there’s now a desktop machine too – which is rather reminiscent of the Mac Mini.

Both look like nice bits of hardware – but just how useful is a computer that only runs web based apps? ReadWriteWeb featured two contrasting views recently – one for, one against.

I’ve never actually seen a Chromebook, and am pretty sure I don’t know anybody that owns one (this in itself is probably telling). I do however have a bit of experience with something similar.

A while ago I blogged about my investment in a Lenovo S205 netbook. After a little while I got bored with it, and decided to replace Windows 7 with Ubuntu as the machine’s operating system. I probably should have been mowing the lawn or something at the time.

Anyway, as part of setting up the machine, I made it boot up Chromium (the open source cousin of Chrome that ships on Linux based systems) automatically, and so I pretty much just use the machine within the web – I don’t run any native programs at all.

The truth is, it’s pretty handy and I reckon I can get 80% of my work done on there. Thanks to Gmail, Google Docs, Evernote, Xero, Basecamp, Google Reader, Tweetdeck, WordPress and so on, I can get an awful lot done within the browser.

The downside comes when I need to do something with an actual file – such as using FTP to get a file online, or formatting a document in Word (Google Docs is fine for bashing in text and sharing notes, but not so good for well presented documents, I find). Editing images is another example of a common activity that right now isn’t fun to do within the browser.

(The other downside of using the Lenovo as a Chromebook-like device is the slow boot time – unlike the official ones, it doesn’t feature a solid state drive, which enables the Chromebook’s to boot in less than 10 seconds. I have, however, ordered an SSD for the S205, so we’ll see if it makes a difference!)

However, when I think about it, there could well be a role for Chromebook style devices, not necessarily for person use, but maybe within an organisational context. I could imagine a company’s sales team, or a group of field workers, having access to all the apps they need through a browser: email, docs, CRM etc, without any of the clutter of a traditional machine that in their roles they just wouldn’t need.

I’d probably prefer to have an iPad though. What do you think?

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Dave Briggs

I'm Head of Digital and Design at Adur and Worthing Councils.

4 thoughts on “New Chromebooks – worth the bother?”

  1. I think Chromebooks could be useful for new web/computer users. No issues with losing files in the filesystem or navigating around it. No problems with backups (or generally, the lack of them). No viruses or virus checkers.

    The iPad also has all of these benefits.

  2. Dave, great to read your blog as always.

    I’m inclined to agree with your final sentiment.

    A dividing line is appearing between the devices people use for production and consumption; Tablets and smartphones being used for consumption and desktops / laptops used for production, be that producing movies, websites, presentations.

    The chromebooks are consumer devices, as you alluded to when talking about image editing, they do a great job with consuming web content, an alright job at editing text content & a duff job at everything else.

    Ignoring the price factor for a moment, what can the Chromebook do better than an iPad? Editing google docs? Probably.

    But what does the iPad have over the Chromebook? Pretty much everything – games, movies, battery life, the whole app eco-system (vomit, but it’s important).

    A few years down the line Chrome OS will be some semi-dormant open-source project, Chromebooks will be a distant memory at best, and all of Google’s focus will be on Android tablets. And they’ll probably be doing a pretty good job of it.

  3. I want one!

    I do agree they aren’t great for anything too serious like, in my case coding (although there are good web based code editors around) or image manipulation. That won’t take long to change though IMO.

    The Chromebox, however is I think finally the thin client that will actually work. In a typical office, or even school, environment it could provide the most cost effective way to give everyone a PC without the hideous licensing costs of Microsoft and the networking and storage infrastructure to tie it all together. Instead, a network of Chromebooks connected to the net using a Google Apps domain does the job nicely.

    Lastly I wouldn’t prefer an iPad having had one and sold it. An Android tablet that can actually synchronise well however…

  4. Interesting stuff.

    The Chromebox and Chromebooks are both great ideas, and from the reviews I have read, the Samsung Series 5 has vastly improved usability on 1st gen Chromebooks.

    I like Philip’s proposition of how such devices could gain real traction in an educational context … saying that I think an ipad or tab with a keyboard option is still better here.

    I like that the Chromebox is a relatively low-risk entry into Google Chrome OS and if you are experimental, it is, like Android, a great interface to play with – if that is your bag!

    What turns me off them is the number of absent features, the total reliance on Google Chrome and potential incompatibilities – which impacts on its usage as a full-time work pc. I couldn’t exist in Chromebook or Chromebox land alone.

    This is not to say that I wouldn’t love to see Chrome getting some traction though. It still feels like early doors though and I’m not sure if they are ever going to sell enough to be a “competitor” against the most established folk we all love and hate.

    Still think the tablet market is better, albeit accepting many of Kelvin’s comments. If your world is not Apple iPad, and you rock Android, I would get the Asus Transformer 300, if you want simplicity and functionality – and for the similar price as a Chromebook.

    …And if you want Windows, you can buy a remote PC client for pennies now like Splashtop.

    T.

    PS. The tablet market is going great guns now – I cannot wait to see more of the rumours Asus Transformer AiO which will run on either Windows 8 or Android at the touch of a button (however that works) although the price points of anything associated Window 8 will really need to come down.

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