Chromebook - First Impressions
I received a Toshiba Chromebook 2 (CB35-B3340) for Christmas. As someone that is an IT enthusiast, I was excited to see what all I could do with this nifty device. I’ll try to keep my thoughts on this related specially to ChromeOS, and not much so on the Chromebook model (although, I must say the display is absolutely amazing!).
I wanted to provide my thoughts on what I believe are the biggest strengths, but also, what the biggest weaknesses are of Chromebooks. I’ll try to keep things in perspective on what this device was actually designed to do, but also on things that I think Google missed out on.
What Google Got Right
ChromeOS as Designed
I believe that the design behind ChromeOS is a nice refreshing take on most consumer needs. When I’m not doing any actual work, my use of a computer at home are fairly basic:
Surfing the Web
Listening to Music
In those basic needs, I find that ChromeOS excels. The OS is lightweight enough in that all of your Internet based needs are snappy and responsive. I would normally have just used my Galaxy S5 if I were sitting on the couch and wanted to look something up. Since I got my Chromebook, that is no longer the case. Having a physical keyboard with a larger screens adds an additional convenience to those basic tasks. The device is lightweight enough where it’s not a burden to take it from room to room.
I would have never dreamed of taking my laptop to work without a power cable. Whenever I take my Chromebook to work, the power cable stays at home. This is due to how very lightweight the kernel is and how apps are managed. Unless I am streaming video all day at work (which would surely result in finding myself in the unemployment line), the battery will easily last me all day long.
As a long time Google fan, and someone that has tried to leverage the most out of Google’s offerings, I am very familiar with Google Docs, Drive, GMail, and all other offerings. I am able to create documents easily in a very familiar environment. The Web Store has a pretty solid offering of “apps” that seem to address most basic needs.
As a software developer, I have found that I really like Chrome Remote Desktop. Although, there is a bit of a pain in connected to my work computer that has multiple monitors. Instead of adjusting the display to a single monitor, and allowing me to scroll to my other display, I have 1 ½ displays showing at one time. This is a bit frustrating in that it makes it an annoyance and isn’t nearly as convenient as using RDP on my Windows based laptop. The RDP “apps” that I have found for Chromebook aren’t up to par with the Windows RDP client. But, I can live with that.
The touchpad gestures are awesome and is something that I really love. I was a bit confused at first with only having a single button on the bottom of the touchpad, but I quickly figured out all of the neat things that I could do and find myself wishing my laptop had the same functionality. Two fingers for scrolling, two finger tab for a right click, three finger tab for opening link in new tab, three fingers down for showing all open windows, etc… This was a brilliant design by Google’s developers and offers a really level of productivity boost and convenience.
The ChromeOS launcher also has more functionality that I initially thought. I can use it as a calculator, currency converter, or show off by using “OK Google”.
Other items that I found are a nice touch are the notifications (which I have seen in Chrome on Windows), setting up multiple accounts (including using the Guest account), and the extra storage you get with Drive are all really great features.
What Google Got Wrong
I may be off base in this area, but I feel it’s important to take a look at things that Google can (and should) do to improve upon this great product. And really, I only have two gripes about ChromeOS. Your mileage may vary………
Yes, I love Linux. I started off with Madrake/Mandriva, then to SuSE, and then Ubuntu. So, I really am glad that ChromeOS runs on a lightweight Linux kernel. However, I think Google could have taken this a step further (I’ll address Crouton shortly).
As I mentioned earlier, I am a software developer. While I primarily write .NET applications, I do spend some time working on Android apps. Google needs to add the ability to run a full blown Linux kernel under ChromeOS to allow the local installation of applications (in my case, Eclipse, Java SDK, etc…). I had installed Crouton and setup the dual boot, but found it to come across as just a “hack”. By a “hack”, I mean it’s a pain to have to see the warning on boot up and the ridiculous keyboard combo for switching between ChromeOS and Ubuntu. While this isn’t being said to “slam” the work down to allow Crouton to work (I think it’s a great way to “force” a real Linux distro), I do believe it is unnecessary to have to do this. Google needs to include a true developer option with the ability to include a real package manager. Having said that, I understand that isn’t really the objective of ChromeOS, but I am hoping this is something that Google will really look into later on.
Yes, I do have a single complaint regarding the keyboard. The lack of a Delete button is a bit silly. I know, I can use ALT + Backspace, but come on….. :) I know, this is a silly complaint, but it’s also something that I think should be included.
Having said all of this, I really am enjoying the Chromebook. While I do have some gripes, those gripes are based on what ChromeOS isn’t designed for, and I completely understand that. I do believe that Google’s approach to ChromeOS is rock solid, and I think that this is really only the beginning of this technology. I’m looking forward to what other goodies Google may give us down the road.