ChromeBooks make sense if you only do basic things with a computer.
They excel at web surfing. ChromeBooks are great for online applications like Xero. They work well for simple writing or number-crunching using Google Drive.
Tablets do all the above. Add a keyboard to a tablet and you’ll perform all those tasks just as well.
Apple’s iPad, Microsoft’s Surface, even Android tablets are just as good. Arguably better.
So why buy a Chromebook?
First, it’s a laptop with a built-in keyboard.
And it’s cheap. The Acer C720 costs less than NZ$400. While there are Windows 8 laptops at the same price, you’d normally pay twice as much. It’s three and a half times as much for a basic Macbook.
Second, it’s minimal. This may sound counterintuitive, but there are times when being able to only do a limited number of things is a bonus. You won’t get distracted. Or at least not as easily distracted.
Third, it’s secure. A ChromeBook may not be a locked-down security fortress, yet it isn’t likely to suffer from viruses or trojans.
Fourth, it’s low maintenance. There’s a minimum of stuffing around to be productive. It starts almost immediately, in this sense it is more like a tablet than a laptop. Once you entered you Google account details, you open the lid and get working straight away.
If you run a business and want workers to have computers while minimising cost and fuss, the ChromeBook makes sense. It’s a good choice for a student.
How about my work?
Let’s start by saying I’ll be glad when this week is over. There are things I need to do which either simply can’t be done on a ChromeBook or I don’t have the time to research and organise complex workarounds.
The ChromeBook is fine for researching online, handling mail and social media.
On one level the ChromeBook makes a good writing tool. The Google Docs software gets out the way and works better on ChromeBook than I’ve ever seen on another computer.
I found the computer’s low resolution tiring on the eyes. The keyboard is acceptable, not great. The Acer C720 touch pad is finicky and doesn’t work as expected. Sometimes it almost doesn’t work at all.
It takes longer to write stories on the Chromebook than on either the MacBook or the Surface 2. I’ve haven’t sat with a stopwatch measuring this, I have noticed that I need to work about 15 percent longer this week to produce as much copy as last week.
Some anticipated problems turn out not be much trouble. While you might think you have to be connected to the internet and Google’s cloud for the Chromebook to be much use, it’s possible to use Google Docs and Gmail offline. Of course they work better when you’re connected.
You can’t do anything that’s intensive with the Chromebook. Don’t buy one and expect to run Photoshop, edit video or produce high-quality audio.
That list shouldn’t come as a surprise. What did make me sit up was how difficult I found it to work on web design from the Chromebook. Downloading css or php files, editing and FTPing them back to a site might just about be possible.
Although I didn’t manage to figure out how this works I suspect it can be done. On the other hand, I can’t see it running a web server without extensive Linux hacking.
Getting the ChromeBook to work with a printer also falls into the too-hard basket.