In all this time, there's never been a decent mid-range Chromebook that ticked all boxes. That is, until the TCB2 came out. This model has a nice 1080p screen, an Intel processor (albeit a relatively slow Bay Trail one), 4Gb RAM, a decent battery life and costs about £250. So leveraging the excuse that we're going on a long trip next month and needed a cheap laptop to drag around with us, I imported one from the US (this model is perpetually out of stock in the UK) and finally entered the world of Chromebooks.
Now, this post is not a recommendation to buy this Chromebook. If you don't already want to buy a Chromebook, then this is not the laptop for you and I wouldn't dream of trying to persuade you otherwise. Chromebooks are like the Matrix: you can't be told that you want one, you need to see it for yourself. You need to sit up on your couch one evening and realise that increasingly, everything you do on your laptop is on the web - your files are in Drive or Dropbox, you use Gmail or Google Calendar, you rarely play games anymore, you mostly spend your time getting angry at web page comment threads. You need to have the perfect moment of clarity where you see that if you had to reinstall Windows right now, it wouldn't be the trauma it was ten years ago because you use Windows for little else than a browser launcher.
If this isn't you, if you're still hooked on your Word or your Excel or your iTunes, then seriously, a Chromebook isn't for you. If you need to lovingly edit videos of your kids or code up humongous .NET applications or spend weeks at a time in World of Warcraft, a Chromebook isn't for you and you can probably stop reading.
Maybe this is you though? Maybe you've had your moment of realisation? Maybe you've gone on to wonder why you're waiting a minute to boot into your full Windows environment, with its 30 years of history, patching, splicing and fixing? Why are you worried about viruses and system vulnerabilities? Why do you spend most of your life figuring out which process has gone mental causing your fan to sound like a hovercraft starting up? If so, then you don't need to be told a Chromebook is a good fit for you, since you probably already know it is.
Now, if you've stuck around and you haven't yet considered a Chromebook, you're probably hopping from foot to foot, finger in the air, desperate to interject with "but, it's just Chrome!"
You'd be right! But because you haven't yet had your moment of zen, you still see that as a bad thing. What you're not seeing though is that "it can only run a browser" is not the limitation it would have been in 1998. It's not Netscape Navigator! Web applications are so rich and varied these days that you're no longer limited to just "viewing web pages". You can listen to music (Spotify, Play Music), edit pictures (Pixlr), edit documents (Docs, Office Online), play games, store files, do most of the things you would want to do in a desktop environment. Granted, some of the options are currently pretty basic, but I'd wager that the average user would manage just fine.
And look at what else you get by cutting loose from 30 years of legacy - since it is "only a browser", it is very efficient and can run on low end hardware. It can run low power CPUs that no longer require a fan. The footprint of the OS is small and easily managed, so updates are frequent and fast (it takes around 5 seconds to apply an update to ChromeOS). You reduce your virus vulnerability surface area radically, and no longer need to worry about anti-malware or anti-virus. It boots from cold in under 10 seconds, and this never degrades. If you do install a rogue extension, then resetting the system is a simple 5 minute job and you don't lose anything since it's all stored in the cloud.
Am I sounding evangelical? Apologies for that. I tend to be because I've cleared out so many crufted up Windows laptops in the last decade that I sometimes wonder why everyone isn't running a Chromebook. Earlier this year, I cleaned a relative's computer that had 700 separate malware infestations on it. They didn't use the laptop for much of anything, nothing dodgy, but had probably just failed to untick a box when installing an apparently reputable piece of software and had ended up inviting the malware vampire into their abode.
Enough rant, how is the device to use? Well, it's fine. It's a 250 quid laptop, so it's never going to melt your brain with how wonderful it is. The case is a bit plasticky, but doesn't look that different to a Macbook Air when you open it up. The stand out feature is definitely the screen, which is probably the nicest screen I've seen on a laptop. It has enough CPU and RAM that it feels broadly similar to my 2011 Air when browsing, but it does tend to chug a little when you're loading multiple tabs at once. Scrolling is smooth, it doesn't seem to get bogged down with my usage pattern (around 10 tabs open at any time).
It's basically a nice laptop, and it has taken the place of my Macbook Air as my couch laptop. This is primarily because the Air has become a bit of a fan monster these days, with them being inexplicably on more than they're off.
And ChromeOS? Well, it's a bit difficult to say much about Chrome, since "it's just Chrome". It's slightly different to Windows Chrome in that it looks like a "proper" OS with Windows and wallpapers and icons and stuff. But it's still just Chrome, you browse the web with it. Reviewing ChromeOS is like reviewing Britain's motorway system - you run the risk of sounding underwhelmed by it, but hey, consider all the places you could use the motorway system to get to!
But that's the point about ChromeOS. It's a tool for consuming the web, nothing more. Unlike other OS's, the destination is more important than the journey. You don't end up talking about metro tiles, or start menus, or built in anti-virus, or task managers, because all of those are just obstacles in the way of you using the internet. ChromeOS is the "thin client", reborn.
It's not for you, yet. It's not for most people. But it is maybe for your mother or your granddad, because it simplifies their life and removes some of the anxiety and weirdness of owning a computer.