Living With a Chromebook
So I made a purchase recently. I know I should be smarter about saving my money, but I just love spending. I can’t help it.
What did I buy? I bought me an Acer C720 for a couple hundred bucks. Well, less than that, even. I had some Amazon gift cards laying around that brought the price down even further.
I went into it a little unsure of what to expect. But, for the price, I was willing to risk it. A good portion of my standard computing activity takes place in a browser. Netflix, Email, Reddit, SSH, IRC, etc. Even programming can take place in a cloud IDE like Koding, Cloud9, or CodeEnvy. And, I figured, worst case scenario, the thing can run Linux as well.
I’ve been using my old Thinkpad T61p from back in college. A nice enough laptop, but the keyboard has some keys missing, the battery doesn’t last more than an hour, and the hard drive is beginning to go. It had served me well over the past 5 years or so, but it was time to move on.
I’ve tried the whole tablet thing. I bought a Xoom on launch day and installed CM9 on a first-gen Kindle Fire. Tablets are nice. The battery life on the Xoom was great, the Fire had a very convenient form factor. They are nice little internet consumption machines for scrolling around Facebook and watching Netflix. But using them for any even semi-serious work left something to be desired.
I bought a bluetooth keyboard case for the Xoom and that was alright, but it was still difficult. The keys were small and useless, it wasn’t very mobile, and it was just a bad time all around. It was okay for sitting at a desk and doing some light typing, but I couldn’t use it on the couch or in bed.
But, anyway, that’s all in the past now…
My Chromebook came in two weeks ago. And I haven’t turned it off since.
At first glance, the specs aren’t great: 1.5GHz Celeron, 2gb RAM, cheap screen. And it’s true, it’s not a super-powerful machine. However, it has everything it needs. And for $200 it’s tough to beat.
The first thing I did after firing it up is enable developer mode and try to install some actual Linux. I expected to feel very restricted by Chrome OS. Funny thing is, I really don’t.
I ended up not doing a full dual-boot and just using Crouton. It’s super-convenient to have Chrome OS and mostly-full Linux living side-by-side and just a hotkey away. And the overhead required for it is less than I thought it would be. I only have 2gb of RAM, but so far I haven’t exhausted my resources just in general use. I know, I’m surprised, too.
The screen isn’t great. The viewing angle is pretty limited. The resolution isn’t great either. But again, for $200? I’ll put up with it. I’m sure I could say something about the color profile not being correct or something nit-picky like that. Most people do. But I’m not doing graphical work, so it doesn’t bother me. I haven’t noticed any problems.
The hard drive is too small. I knew this one going into it, of course. A 16gb SSD is the only storage on the device, without using an SD card or USB drive. 16gb didn’t seem like much going into it. And I was right, 16gb isn’t much. I have about 4gb free currently, and I’m not sure that space is long for this world either. However, there are upgrades available if I’m willing to void my warranty. Which, of course, I am.
The keyboad is nice. I’ve never been a fan of the chiclet, Macbook-style keyboards. However, I really really like this one. It’s very comfortable to type on and isn’t nearly as loud as my Das Keyboard. Same goes for the trackpad. I didn’t think I’d be able to go back to a trackpad after all the years with my Thinkpad’s trackpoint (colloquially, nipple). The pad is nice, the gestures are smooth. Approved.
The battery life is great. The Haswell processor is apparently super-energy-efficient because I can get 6-8 hours out of this thing (depending on how high I set screen brightness and other factors like that). Generally it feels like a lot more, because it sleeps and wakes up so quickly that I can easily put it to sleep for a couple minutes at a time when I’m not actively using it, just like I would turning off the screen on a tablet.
Seriously, this thing is more than worth the money to me. It’s a nice and portable tablet alternative that allows me to get actual work done. Chrome OS is surprisingly useful (perhaps only because I’m deeply entangled in the Google ecosystem) and, where it fails, I can easily switch over to a full-ish Linux.