Byzantine Reality

Searching for Byzantine failures in the world around us

First Thoughts on the Chromebook

Back on Wednesday I got my free Chromebook in the mail – it was the last of the Google I/O 2011 giveaways, and quite a nice one at that. I’ve been messing around with it for a few days now, and here are my preliminary thoughts on what I will call “the web as a computer”.

I like the look and feel of the Chromebook – like the MacBook and other Apple laptops, there are no stickers anywhere on the Chromebook, it’s got a white lid, and the Chrome logo on it:

The lid itself is pretty light, so closing and opening the lid (something I take for granted) is quite a bit easier than other laptops I’ve owned. The keyboard is also interesting – they’ve replaced the function keys with internet-specific-keys (e.g., back, forward, refresh), which looks cool but I really don’t use them that often – alt + left arrow has been ingrained in my head for a while as the way to go back, so lifting up my hand to hit that button is quite a bit slower. Along similar lines, the caps lock key is replaced by a key that opens up a new tab – again, it’s a cool feature but I’m too trained on Control + T (or Apple + T) to switch away from it. Overall, I’d call the design utilitarian, and definitely in a good way – it looks like something I can drag to work and back everyday and not have to worry about it getting dirty (like I have to do with my MacBook Pro). I’m still getting used to the touchpad – it has a few gestures to learn and while they aren’t difficult, my old Mac instincts kick in every once in a while and I end up making a completely wrong gesture.

The integration with the various Google services out there is perfect – a single login on my Chromebook and I don’t see login screens at all for the standard Google apps I need to access (e.g., Calendar, Gmail, Docs). This isn’t too new – this is in fact the default on other platforms. What’s new is that I don’t have to re-login after some amount of time has elapsed, which becomes a bit of an annoyance over time.

The games that I messed around with via the Web Store installed fine, and seemed enjoyable enough. I’ve tried three games so far – Shredder Chess (which has a surprisingly good AI), Angry Birds (now a classic game), and Entanglement (a simple but interesting puzzle-ish game). All installed fine and after a long initial loading (installing?) time, run pretty quickly.

I haven’t tested the battery life yet – I’ve always been either near a power outlet or not far enough from one for an extended amount of time. I also was surprised to see that my Chromebook wouldn’t play .avi files – I seem to recall that Chrome can play movies fine so it was a surprise to me that the Chromebook wouldn’t play all movies.

Fundamentally, the big shift for the Chromebook is the obvious one – it only does Chrome. It seems to load non-Flash sites faster than my other laptops on my crappy tethered Sprint 3G connection, but I’m not sure how significant that is. It’s mentally a bit weird to only be able to run Chrome, and it would be nice to have a tutorial that shows you around the OS, instead of having to Google for everything (e.g., interacting with files, taking screenshots), but presumably (and hopefully) that will come with time. As a software developer, I also don’t know if the web is enough to get my work done – I see using it for mail / docs / calendar / surfing and then needing a desktop or a different laptop to actually do coding. Of course, an SSH app would solve these problems for me – some Googling has revealed that this may be do-able and that may entail a future blog post…

So that’s my initial take on the Chromebook – it’s definitely an interesting piece of hardware. I’ll keep messing around with it and see how it goes for everyday use and the like.