web analytics

A ChromeBook makes 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 do 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.

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 your 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 touchpad 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.

Always connected

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. 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.

After ending a week working just with Apple technology, followed by a Microsoft-only week, it’s time to look at Google.

For the next seven days I’ll be using the Acer C720 Chromebook and the Sony Xperia Z1.

The two devices are at opposite ends of their respective price spectrums. The test laptop is almost one third the price of the test phone.

Acer C720 Chromebook

You can buy an Acer C720 for under $400 if you shop around. It’s one of the cheapest computers on sale in New Zealand – if not the cheapest. It costs much less than you’d pay for even the cheapest Windows 8 laptop and about 25 percent of Apple’s most basic MacBook.

That low price means a few limitations. On the outside the C720 looks a little plain vanilla. It’s grey and made of plastic, not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. This is clearly a straightforward workhorse computer, not a fashion accessory.

Despite the utilitarianism, or maybe because if it, I rather like the C720. It’s well built – like a Russian tank. And it comes with all the right modern ports including HDMI and USB 3.0. Heck it almost cost me the price of the C720 to add USB 3.0 ports to my old desktop warhorse.

Play it loud

The speakers are loud and not especially high fidelity. I found this out the hardware when accidentally navigating to a site with an autoplay ad and deafening my household at 7am.

While the chiclet-style keyboard is no match for my MacBook Air, it’s usable. I have some trouble with my touch typing and I’m not as fast as normal, but it’s a step-up from the Touch Cover 2 you can add to a Surface tablet.

I have a minor niggle about the control key being in the wrong spot – I keep hitting alt by mistake – but that’s not a major problem.

Although the Trackpad works, it’s a little erratic, but you can do two finger scrolling. I’m spoilt by the MacBook Air’s trackpad, but frankly the Acer C720 does a better job than most Windows laptops.

For me the Acer C720’s weakest spot is the display. You can’t reasonably expect much when you’re paying under $400 for laptop. And you don’t get that much. The screen measures 11.6 inches and resolution is 1388 by 768. It’s perfectly readable – within certain limits that I’ll mention in a later post when I cover the Google software stack.

Surprisingly good overall

There’s a Celeron processor, 4GB of Ram and a 16GB SSD – all more than enough to keep everything ticking over nicely. It’s not fast, but the lightweight software overhead and Google’s cloud doing the heavy lifting means it doesn’t need to be. I’ve been using the C720 solidly for nearly two hours and the battery is a 84 percent. I suspect the measure is non-linear, but it looks like I can get a day’s work out of this baby on a single charge.

On the whole I’m staggered by how much computer Acer has shovelled into the $400 C720. It’s plain and utilitarian yet functional. If the Soviet Union was still in business and made personal computers, this is what it could have come up with on a good day. It makes you wonder how much of the value and cost of other computers goes into supporting heavy duty operating systems.

Lance WiggsPunakaiki Fund is now officially open for business. The fund aims to raise  between $20 to $50 million from everyday investors seeking to put their money into innovative New Zealand tech firms.

It’s off to a good start. Wiggs said yesterday there are already 600 potential investors who collectively may invest more than $9 million.

Wiggs and business partner Chris Humphreys are touring New Zealand to meet potential investors.

  • Gen-i says it is building a $60 million Auckland datacentre. Construction is due to start later this month. The new facility brings Gen-i’s datacentre count up to 20 and will host projects for government and enterprise customers. Gen-i’s recently acquired Revera business unit will also use the facility.

 

acer-liquid-s2 smartphone
Acer Liquid S2 smartphone
  • With a six-inch screen Acer’s Liquid S2 is either a massive Android phone or a small tablet. Please don’t call it a ‘phablet’. The device’s main claim to fame is it is the first phone capable of shooting 4K video, the other specs are high-end too.
  • Microsoft can breathe a sigh of relief after Windows 8 sales surged in August. Data from Net Applications shows: Windows 8 now has a 7.4 percent share of the total operating systems market. Meanwhile Windows XP’s market share tracked down to 33.7 percent. It’s hard to get excited about one month’s figures, the real test will be next month when Windows 8.1 hits the streets.