Chromebook Experiment – Week 1:

Well we’re at the end of the first week of living the Chromebook life. and I have to say that other than a few specialized tasks that I have to perform on a PC, it has been a fairly painless experience. Fairly, of course indicating that there were a few snags through the week, but first let’s focus on the plus side of the ledger.

What’s Working Well

Email, Web surfing, Cloud storage access and content creation, were all handled easily through the week. I was able to edit graphics, edit and publish a video, write several stories and even get a good bit of work done to boot!

The WeVideo app is a really nice online video editor that will allow you to grab video, images and sound from a variety of storage locations like Google Drive, Dropbox or the Chromebooks own storage. The uploads were easy and the tutorial was easy enough for a novice video editor to grasp and start doing some basic editing. Like many apps, this one has a limited storage/slower processing free version, but the “premium” version seems reasonable if you are planning to use it on a regular basis.

I also found that Pixlr Photo Editor app was very handy as well. I was able to make some basic edits without much drama and save them for future use. Really, for a “normal person” photo editor you can’t ask for more than that.

Naturally, I spent a lot of time in Google Docs. I have to say that I’m very impressed. Creating documents on the fly and having them save automatically might lead to some trouble when I switch back to the PC realm. Another feature that I intellectually knew of, but had never used before is Google Docs ability to collaborate seamlessly with other users in real time. A colleague and I actually made edits to a document in real time and we could see each others changes tagged in real time. Frankly, it was one of those “Whoa” moments when i saw it actually working.

Chrome OS Desktop

Chrome OS Desktop

Some Stumbling Blocks

In the interest of full transparency, I have to admit that there are some things that I just can’t do on the Chromebook that I must do for my job. One of which is to access the billing and administrative functions my Client Management System, nor can I access many of the features of the Remote Monitoring and Management system I use, so I have to use a standard PC computer to do those functions on a daily basis. I also have to use a standard PC installation of QuickBooks regularly since it interfaces to the CMS. There is a QuickBooks Cloud app available for the Chromebook, but this solution just does not work for me.

Other than that, there were only two times this week where I just had to fire up my laptop to get something done. First, was to use my PC FTP program to move some files around on the web, and the other was to convert a Rich Text File (.rtf) to Word format so I could open it in Google Docs. Though there are a few FTP Apps for the Chromebook, I found them to be a little clumsy and it was just easier to fire up the PC and get the job done. As for the .rtf file, for some reason Google Docs can create a .rtf file but can’t open one. I’ll look into this some more for the next installment.

All told My PC laptop has been on for about an hour this week and I still got plenty of work done.

How is the Hardware?

After a week of use I’m finding that Acer C720P Chromebook is exceeding my expectations for a “cheap laptop.” I took the back off, within a few hours of use, to see if I could upgrade the RAM, and as previously mentioned, you can’t. However, the internals are neatly laid out and easily identifiable even if there are very few replaceable or repairable parts. At a sub $300 price, it’s not surprising that everything that could be burned onto the motherboard, was burned onto the motherboard. This is not a computer you would ever sink money into to fix.

ChromebookInternals

Inside the Acer C720P

The touch screen is OK. It’s not as responsive as a flagship smartphone or tablet, but it’s acceptable and works well. I do find that as a user I have to keep reminding myself that there is a touch screen to use, and force myself to use it more often. I suppose that 20 years of telling people “Don’t touch the screen!” have left some residual scars.

Battery life has also been a pleasant surprise. Too many years of marketing overhype have left me jaded about claims of “More,” “Better” and “Faster,” but the claimed 7.5 – 8 hrs of battery usage appear to be pretty spot on.  I have had no problems using the unit all day on a single charge. I do shut it down between uses, but my regular laptop never seems to last that long without being plugged in at least once.

Now, if you are expecting a Macbook Air or high end Ultrabook feel, this is not the computer you are looking for. Visually, it looks like a standard laptop and though it is small, thin and light, there is no question it’s made of plastic. It’s nice plastic, but it’s plastic. Again, keep in mind that we are talking about a unit that runs at sub $300 and sub $200 price points depending on configuration. For that price, this is a lot of hardware.

The keyboard is responsive and the keys are spaced well for typing, even for someone with large hands. I’m still getting used to taking advantage of the “Chrome” buttons along the top of the keyboard, but that will come with time. The same holds true for the multi touch trackpad, though I’ve picked up the gesture controls a little more quickly.

As time goes by, I’ll keep you up to date about how the hardware holds up.

Conclusion

The little bit of time I spent on a “regular” computer this week speaks volumes about how useful the Chromebook can be. The hardware meets or exceeds expectations for a “cheap laptop,” and I am looking forward to really pushing the boundaries and finding the limits of the software and OS.

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