Chromebook: One Month Later

Four weeks is a long time. Perhaps not in the grand scheme of things, but I don’t think anyone would argue it is too short to get the feel of a laptop. For the last 30 days, I’ve used the Chromebook almost every day. It couldn’t replace my main laptop, but I attempted to use it as much as possible, and made an effort to use it in every task before switching.

To that end, it is important to note that there isn’t much the average user won’t be able to do on a Chromebook. The offerings in the Chrome Web Store are varied and acceptably robust. It is entirely possible to live one’s digital life in the GoogleSphere. Not a single site presented a box insisting I download a plugin or would miss features due to the platform. Google matches other platform's media offerings with the Play Store, so you won't find yourself missing access to digital music, movies, or books.

Unfortunately, the Chromebook also lives up to its price. Although popular sites like Facebook and Twitter work flawlessly, It struggled to handle newer, media-heavy sites like Polygon, and its scrolling in general is very slow and choppy. Going full-screen with some videos actually requires a security override, which can cause playback issues until you reload the site. These issues don't occur on my year-old third-gen iPad, which has half the RAM and a comparable(perhaps even less powerful) processor. Granted, the iPad costs more. However, as I already own it, the Chromebook feels completely unneccessary. The Chromebook can surf to more sites, but the iPad handles its slightly smaller range with significantly more aplomb. Polygon doesn't miss a beat as I scroll through it, even while displaying the same massive images.

A bigger frustration is ChromeOS's limitations for advanced users: I can't find a proper VNC client to save my life, and a proper VNC client is an absolute necesity in my field. ChromeOS offers simplified clients that require a specialized secondary app to run on the computer you are remoting into, even if the remote location in question already runs the service on its own. If the idea of the Chromebook is to be transparent, it fails this test miserably. iOS and Android both offer VNC clients that will interface with a multitude of operating systems and their various implementations of VNC. Every Chromebook variation, including Google's own, requires extra software on the host machine.

Even more frustrating, I found my keyboard cocasionally missing keypresses when using Google Docs. In fact, I am writing this post on an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard, still using Google Docs, just to prove it is the device and not Google's service itself. I could not force the error to occur, but it happened often enough that it was noticable to a prolific writier. Whether this error stems from hardware or software is irrelevant.

The final strike is largely a personal one: it doesn't run Scrivener, my favorite writing app. This one is fairly obvious, and not a strike against the platform in most use cases, but for me it is the final nail in the coffin.

For me, the Chromebook experiement is over. It is a fun and surprisingly capable device, but it doesn't outperform an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard for my purposes. In a classroom, or as a low-cost device, the Chromebook performs admirably. It's tie to Google services is compelling, and the value for the dollar is undeniable. But if you are willing to spend a little more, don't feel bad about passing it over.

Posted on April 3, 2013 .