Saturday, July 20, 2013

Living With The Chromebook

I recently picked up a Samsung Chromebook from Best Buy. A couple of interesting seeming contradictions from that statement:

- Why Best Buy? I had not visited BB in a while, and was contemplating buying a new desktop or laptop. Instead of my constant loyalty to Amazon, I wanted to get a sense of size and weight of the computers, with the complete intent of making my actual purchase on Amazon. In other words, I was showrooming. In my examinations, I had not even considered the Chromebook, as previous cursory evaluations had left me underwhelmed. But this Samsung model was intriguing: incredibly light and thin, good price point, and intriguing. What really surprised me was the under-informed salesperson (more on that later) mentioning that Best Buy now offered a 15 day return policy with no restocking fee, encouraging me to try it out. This convinced me, and I pulled the trigger.

- Why the Chromebook? The size, the full keyboard, and the long battery life addressed all I wanted from a possible tablet, without the frustrating drawbacks I find in most tablets. I wanted a computer, not a "lean back" device to bring to work at my clients. Nearly everything I do is in the cloud these days, and I am an avid user of Google's services, so it looked good. I considered a Surface Pro, especially with the keyboard cover, but I was shocked at the weight. I had my reservations, but with a 5+ hour battery life and seemingly better offline integration, I gave it a shot.

So, it's been a couple of weeks. What do I think? I'll sum it up simply: I'm keeping it. On to why...

- Ultrafast boot up time. Open the cover, and you are logged on in under 5 seconds. Oh, yeah, that's what I'm talking about.

- Multiple user profiles. I use multiple Google services, so having offline access to my files is critical. With multiple profiles, I can keep multple Google account files offline.

- Surprisingly good video player support. When I travel, I tend to watch a lot of movies on the plane. The last time I had tried a Chromebook (thanks to the good people at Virgin America), the video player was a Chrome extension that could not even read MP4 files from a USB drive. They have definitely improved it, with a built in offline file browser that natively reads most digital media files, and pops an elegant player that remembers where you left off, multiple resolutions, and more.

- Fast. The Chromebook is essentially a big version of Google's Chrome web browser. Without the cruft of Windows or overly refined visual effects of Apple, it's lean, quick, and nimble.

- Surprisingly strong expansion. It comes with ports that happily handle your headphones from your smartphone with no annoying volume drop (as many PC's suffer), as well as USB 2.0 & 3.0 ports, plus an HDMI port. It also has an integrated SD card slot that instantly shows you the files on the card.

- Works perfectly with the Personal Hotspot option on my iPhone 5. So, even though it does well with offline files (and it does, as long as everything is in Google Drive), I always have a backup option. Haven't needed it too often, but nice to know.

- Handles file downloads. Yep, a pseudo file structure that's indistinguishable from a traditional computer. Download a photo, upload to the web...whatever. It just works.

- The support is sensational. I was not aware from the salesperson, but each Chromebook comes with support from a "Chrome Ninja." I had an issue playing a video file, dropped them a note, and literally in minutes my phone rang with a helpful Ninja to troubleshoot with me. Unlike many support teams, he actually listened to me, knew I was not a novice user, and quickly guided me to several ways to address the issue. Followed up with an email after to make sure all was well. For a company like Google which is largely faceless, this was an impressive bit of personal attention.

- Another surprise: purchasing a Chromebook gives you an instant upgrade on Google Drive to 100 GB. Wow. I suspect had I returned the Chromebook, I would have been able to keep it, but a damned good value. I have shifted much of my online storage to Drive from Dropbox, as a result, though Dropbox is easy to use with the web interface, as well.

- Yet another surprise that the folks at Best Buy failed to mention: Chromebook users get 12 free in-flight passses with GoGo Wifi. This came in handy on a recent trip, and was something I would have avoided religiously otherwise.

- I've been impressed with the HDMI support, as well. Plug in an external monitor, and bam, it's there. No muss, no fuss.

I've shifted to the Chromebook as my primary device, and I don't think I'm looking back!


Ryan C said...

Great review. I like the Chromebook but was unsure of its ability to play movies in different formats. Now that I have read your review, I will definitely pull the trigger and purchase one.

Joshua Tretakoff said...

Glad to hear it helped. The ability to try it, risk free, for myself, was the factor for me. Some of my older ripped MP4's were a bit janky, but any recently ripped MP4's were smooth and perfect. Good luck!