Why Buy a Chromebook?

Why buy a Chromebook?

In a previous page I said that I would try to fairly outline the Chromebook Pros and Cons in detail and to answer the question… why buy a Chromebook?

The first thing I would say is that the Samsung Series 5 has a well-built feel to it. It’s very slim and feel solids but weighs in at only 3¼ Pounds. The excellent 12.1″ matt screen and modern style tiled keyboard are both excellent.  I would say that both are worthy of a laptop or ultrabook costing more than twice as much.

The touchpad works very well and can be configured easily for either clicking or tapping and a right-click is achieved by pressing with two fingers. I was always a fan of the little red button “trackstick” in the middle of my IBM/Lenovo Thinkpads keyboards for mouse control but I soon got used to using the Samsung touchpad.

Ports fitted on the Samsung Series 5 are:-

  • 2 USB 2.0.
  • Mini VGA (with adaptor lead supplied)
  •  SD/SDHC/SDXC card reader.
  • SIM Card slot (3G Models).
  • Headphone/microphone combo jack
  • Power and Audio jacks.

The keyboard might look a bit different to what you’re used to as there are none of those wacky F1 to F12 Function keys on the top row like a PC or Mac. Instead there are a few helpful and easy to remember keys for things like refresh, next/previous page, screen brightness and volume controls.

Chromebook Keyboard and the Caps Lock Key

Interestingly, the a-z keys are marked in lower case rather than the usual capitals and there’s the usual Shift key but no Caps Lock key. No problem though – if you want all capitals just press and hold down the shift key then tap the key above marked with a magnifying glass (where the caps lock key is normally).  This magnifying glass key used on its own is to access any of your Apps or to start a web search.  Some sources on the web mention that you should press both shift keys to replicate the Caps Lock Key but I think this must refer to a previous version of Chrome as this doesn’t work on my (UK) Chromebook. Maybe this refers to US Chromebooks?

Chromebooks don’t have Microsoft Windows or the Mac Operating System but instead run using Google’s (web-based) Chrome Operating System. So let’s start with an overview of the Chrome OS followed by an outline of “The Cloud” storage system.

Google’s Chrome Operating System
There’s hardly any learning curve involved in using Chrome OS. Essentially, it’s just like using any web browser. You may even already use the excellent Google Chrome browser on your present computer but even if you don’t you’ll feel pretty much instantly at home. If you want to give Google Chrome a try you can easily add it to an existing computer as a second browser. There’s no reason why you can’t have a second (or third) browser installed on a PC or Mac.

The same Google Chrome Operating System installed in Chromebooks is actually based on a version of Linux (an open source OS) which incidentally means it’s free of expensive licensing costs. It has a very small “footprint” which means that it takes up little space, is light on both system resources and battery use and enables Chromebooks to boot up in under 10 seconds. As far as I know that’s a quicker startup time than all but the very fastest PC’s.

Updates to the Operating System are automatic and seamless so a Chromebook stays “new” all the time. So unlike traditional machines, they don’t get bogged down and slow up over time due to superfluous/orphaned files that tend to clog up hard discs.

As part and parcel of this always “new” and fresh operating system approach it’s not possible to load the usual sorts of programs like Microsoft Office, Photoshop etc. But that doesn’t really matter very much unless you’re a real power user of these programs as there are lighter (and free) apps available from the Chrome Store or from the web that are perfectly adequate for most users.

So instead of running a heavyweight Windows or Mac Operating System and loaded up with full-blown programs like Microsoft Office, Photoshop etc on a PC or Mac, with a Chromebook there’s a lightweight OS with free Apps available to do just about anything you could think of. The only program I use on my PC that I haven’t yet found a Chromebook equivalent for is Camtasia (a screen recording program to create videos).

I have used Microsoft Office and Photoshop as examples above and some people may feel lost without them. But they needn’t be as there are actually web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote available from Microsoft (http://office.microsoft.com/en-gb/web-apps/) and the files produced have full file compatibility with the desktop/laptop versions.

Adobe has a web-based photo-editing application (http://www.photoshop.com/tools/expresseditor?wf=editor) called Adobe Photoshop Express Editor and while it may not have the tremendously full-blown capabilities of Photoshop, it has all the usual editing tools needed to fix just about anything needed in a photo.

And the best part is that both Microsoft and Adobe provide these resources free for personal use.

Apart from the two example programs mentioned above, the Chrome Web Store search facility built into Chromebooks has a multitude of programs… or Apps as they are called. Of all the usual sorts of things, there are Apps for Business, Entertainment, Photo Editing, Productivity, News & Weather, Games, Utilities, Lifestyle, Social & Communication etc. And that’s without even mentioning Google’s own range of Apps like Google Docs.

“The Cloud” Storage System
This is the second part that really makes the difference and where an understanding of the overall Chromebook “big picture” is needed.

Instead of all your data files being stored like a PC or Mac on a hard disc, Chromebook files are saved to  “The Cloud”. By data files I mean things like word processor, spreadsheet files etc. and “The Cloud” simply means an Internet based storage location. There are a number of “Cloud” options available but the obvious first ones to consider using are:-


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Google Drive (5GB of free storage).


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Microsoft SkyDrive (7GB of free storage).


A suggested approach would be to use Google Drive when using the Google Docs Apps or if the Microsoft Office type environment is more familiar then use the Microsoft SkyDrive.

If you have some very sensitive data that you would worry about storing in any of “The Cloud” storage systems perhaps a Chromebook is not for you. I’m happy enough that Google and Microsoft will provide adequate security for my stuff but I realise that may not suit everyone.  For my part, I think it’s sensible to use a good strong password – and make it different from any (and all) of your other passwords.

I wouldn’t mind betting for instance that if someone created some sort of membership site and asked new members to enter their email address and a password  they could well be the same details as used for their PayPal account! And if your PayPal account is funded from your Bank account it could even open the back door into that too. For anyone reading this sorry if  you now feel the urgent need to change your PayPal password :-).


Side Note Here.
What constitutes a good strong password?
I would suggest something with at least two capital letters, a few lower case letters along with some numbers and one or two unusual characters like !ӣ$%^&.
A bit of a pain to remember maybe but I’m sure there are ways you’ll be able to think of to manage some sort of combination for different sites. Your usual password with a few add-ons relative to each site maybe?


You may not have many data files but even if you do they don’t take up much space and the 5GB from Google or the 7GB from Microsoft  is space enough for a huge amount of files. As an example and using the Microsoft Word web App, I created separate online “Word.docs” containing all the text from every page on this site and they hardly even dented the 7GB available. After creating and saving all these files to the SkyDrive it still shows 6.99GB available.

If there was a need to store lots of photos or videos the space could be used up quite quickly though.  But I wouldn’t be too surprised if Google increased the current 5GB of free space by quite a bit in future and Microsoft may do the same. For the present though, if more space is needed the option is available from both to pay for more storage at quite a modest cost.

When you think about this “Cloud” storage aspect it means that you could access your files via the Internet at any time and from any computer. No need to worry about a hard disc crashing and not too much of a disaster even if your Chromebook is lost or stolen as your precious (and hard to replace) files would still be safe.

Chromebooks do of course have a 16GB solid state drive for internal storage but some of that space is needed for the operating system. While I suspect there’s quite a lot of free space available on the SSD, it’s probably best not to clutter it up with too many files when there’s “The Cloud” storage facility available.

There’s certainly the ability to download files to a Chromebook, and any screenshots created are automatically stored in the File Manager but the option is always there to move photos etc to and from the File Manager with a USB Flash Drive when necessary.

Still on the subject of the Solid State Drive, I believe The Apple MacBook Air was one of the first to use this type of storage device and three big advantages that come with a SSD are:-

  • A SSD operates much faster than a conventional hard disc.
  • Unlike a conventional hard disc a SSD (Solid State Drive) has no moving parts.
  • A SSD is light on battery use. (No motor needed to spin a disc).

So with a lightweight operating system, no heavyweight programs, no anti-virus/anti-spyware software needed and no data files to worry about, a Chromebook doesn’t have to lug around the typical heavy burden carried by a PC or Mac!

No heavyweight software for a Chromebook

One way of thinking about a Chromebook is to consider it to be a personal lightweight terminal that you can use to create and access not only your files stored in “The Cloud” but also gain access to the biggest computing resource there is – i.e. the World Wide Web.


Even though the basic hardware specs of  Chromebooks may not at first seem all that impressive, the light load they carry enables them to skip along very nicely.

Chromebooks need Internet access to fully interact with the net, but with Google’s continuous updates to the operating system and the ever-increasing number of offline Apps now available from the Chrome Store it’s surprising what can be done when there’s no Internet connection available. There’s a free Offline Google Mail App for instance that can be used to read, respond to, search and archive messages without network access. Anything done is automatically queued and synced the next time the Chromebook is started up with an available Internet connection.

Most of us have WI-Fi at home and have access to it in other places too. There are of course the 3G models for use where there is no Wi-Fi signal available but they are more expensive and need some sort of contract to work. A possibility here is that if you have a Wi-Fi Chromebook and an iPhone (or similar) the iPhone could be used to set up a mobile WiFi hotspot and in the process make use of its existing contract.

I think most users depend quite heavily on the Internet now when using computers and a Chromebook or a Desktop Chromebox is a perfect machine for quick, easy (and fast) access to all our favourite haunts like:-

  • Google Search
  • eMails.
  • Facebook.
  • Twitter.
  • Amazon
  • eBay.
  • YouTube.
  • Insert your favourite(s) here.

To sum up, here are my Top 10 reasons as to why I think Chromebooks make a lot of sense as the ideal machine for personal use:-

  • Cost
  • Form Factor.
  • Speed.
  • Battery Use.
  • Chromebooks always stay “new”.
  • Simplicity.
  • No need to back up.
  • Quiet & Cool.
  • Lack of hassle.
  • Potential.

Taking each of these in turn:-

Cost
Chromebooks start at less than half the price of most Ultrabooks and there’s no expensive software to buy.

Form Factor
Chromebooks are about the same size as Ultrabooks, i.e. small enough to be really portable but still with a decent 12″ size screen.
Chromebox
The Desktop Chromebox is a very neat little computer and takes up very little space. It’s about 7½” square, just over 1″ high and is very similar in shape to a Mac Mini. It can be used with an existing monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Speed
If you look at the spec of the original Samsung and Acer Chromebooks you’ll see that they both use the Intel Atom N570 dual-core CPU running at 1.66Ghz, and both also have 2GB of RAM. Nothing particularly special there you might think but without the burden of running the usual heavyweight Windows or Mac Operating Systems and with a SSD rather than a spinning hard disc they both perform well.

Battery Use
The light battery use stems partly from the lightweight Operating System and from the fact that there are no moving parts in a Solid State Drive. A conventional hard disc spinning away sucks juice out of a battery at quite a rate. These factors contribute to (genuine) battery life of around 8 hours for the Samsung Series 5 and around 6 hours for the Acer AC 700.

Chromebooks always stay “new
Google updates to the Operating System are automatic and seamless and there is none of the build-up of junk files over time that always seem to slow up PC’s to a crawl.  My 2 year-old Lenovo laptop now takes almost 10 minutes to boot up and sometimes when in use the hard disc just seems to think it will take over completely doing heaven only knows what!

Simplicity
Chromebooks have a simple and very easy to use browser type interface. But don’t let that mislead you as there’s a whole world of Apps available to do just about anything you could think of. As an example how about being able to produce Microsoft Office Documents online? And that means regular Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote files that you can save online and then access using a PC or Mac if you wanted to.

No need to back up
As your files are stored in “The Cloud” there are no worries about a lost/stolen machine or a hard disk crashing.

Quiet & Cool
I had my Samsung Series 5 Chromebook for a number of weeks before I even realised it had a fan. It only runs occasionally but when it does it’s quieter than a whisper and can only just be heard in a silent room. Even then I had to hold it up to my ear to check! It runs cool too but the newer Samsung Series 5 550 may run a bit warmer as it has a faster processor and I notice the battery life is shorter – but still around 6 hours.

Lack of hassle
With a boot-up time of under 10 seconds, no expensive software and upgrades to Operating Systems to buy and no anti-virus programs needed, Chromebooks are the perfect antidote to all the usual hassles.

Potential
There are thousands of apps available for Chromebooks and most of them are free (or cost very little). They can perform all sorts of tasks – e.g. creating documents, editing photos, playing games and almost anything else that you can think of. Plus of course the Google Operating System itself is constantly updated and improved.


Bottom Line
You might not be ready  to completely give up your present Desktop or Laptop and depending on what you use your computer for I can understand that.

But if you want to try out something new, not too expensive and have virtually instant access to the Internet, give a Chromebook or Chromebox a try and you’ll probably find that it’s the first machine you’ll reach for to do just about anything.

PS.
I’m creating this page right now using the WordPress platform on my Samsung Series 5 Chromebook.