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You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.

A. Einstein


Chromebook review

Date: 04/01/2014, 13:45

Category: technology



This year Santa Clause brought me a Samsung Chromebook XE303C12-A01US.

I was surprised to see how much Google and Samsung achieved at such a low cost, low consumption hardware. The Chromebook was bought from Amazon UK and the TCO amounted to 280 EUR. I used fast delivery (2 business days) for Greece. Using normal delivery option, would have drop the price by ~ 15 EUR.

The Looks

I don’t know about other Chromebooks, but mine looks awesome. Everybody in the room notices the little 11.6 inch screen netbook. It’s made out of cheap products but they are assembled together into something beautiful. Clearly affected by a less is more approach, the Chromebook makes you treat it like a toy more than a computer. The feel of plastic case, is balanced by the sense of a tight, well constructed, very solid, product.

The keyboard

The keyboard is ergonomic, spaces are the ones you are probably used too. There are CTRL and ALT keys on the keyboard, but no F-keys keys around. In the upper part of the keyboard you can find short-cut keys for navigation, luminosity and volume.

The screen

The screen looks nice. It’s not a retina and it’s not comparable to my Macbook Air, but overall gives you an acceptable experience. Viewing angle is limited but it’s more than fine considering the price.

Sound and Connectors

The sound is bad. There’s the usual hack that you can use your headphones of course, but the sound speakers will distort the sound if you hit the volume up. So keeping the volume at most 75% is recommended.

You can find an HDMI output, 2 USB connectors and an SD card jack. There’s a version with 3G support but I didn’t opt for it.

Speed

I own a Macbook Air 2011 model, featuring a 256 SSD drive and 4 GB of RAM. I know how speed feels like and I’m very frustrated when I have to use other peoples laptops, which usually come with Hard Disks, because of lack of responsiveness.

The Chromebook is the fastest laptop I’ve ever put my hands on. Delivers it’s promise setting an entirely new standard for laptops: 6 seconds from boot to ready-to-use is staggering. Takes about 4 seconds to close and about 2 seconds to wake up from sleep. I’m not sure if you can cope up with the numbers here: Virtually you never wait.

Of course the OS has a lot to do with it, along with the 16GB SSD drive, but I don’t really care why or how. The only thing that matters is that everything else feels slow in comparison.

The OS

Well, I didn’t even install the dev-tools. The Operating system is basically the Chrome browser. Everything is done through chrome.

You can install a wide variety of applications, like markdown editors, Dropbox, twitter clients, games, and virtually everything. There are even image editing applications, etc. I’m writing this post on WriteBox for Chrome, which is more decent than you might think.

However there are serious limitations. The terminal application I’m using for example connects to an online development environment. The OpenSSH client doesn’t feel as natural as a regular one, has encoding issues and the keyboard short-cuts I use with vim need new mappings. It’s clearly not a development device, but there if development needs to be done, there are many cloud-development services right now flying around and most of them are available at Google play. One fine example is Koding.

User experience

This is certainly not a developer’s or gamer’s device. But for a boy or girl who just went to college, a school-kid or the elderly is a terrific device at an unbeatable price.

The configuration is easy and a huge variety of languages are supported. Of course there are not many things to localize compared to a full-blown operating system, but still, supports virtually every language out there, with 3 clicks.

Configuring WiFi, Gmail, etc. Is not problematic at all, it’s as easy as one might expect. There’s also bluetooth available for extra connectivity with third party devices.

Security considerations

In the Snowden era, there’s a serious catch to any device that depends so heavily on the internet: Your data will be available to everybody. Google does data mining for a living, but where you would once believe that your data will be used internally, now you know that’s not the case.

Goes without saying that might be okay for a kid, your wife or whoever considers the internet to be Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Gmail… That’s the majority I guess and their info are already available to everyone directly or indirectly.

I am positive that developing viruses for Chrome will be harder for the average user compared to windows, due to smaller number of attack vectors, different architecture, etc.

Browsing the web is not safe these days but Google is probably better suited than Microsoft or Apple to cope with the dangers and secure it’s product - if it really wants to.

My feeling is that the Chromebook is more secure than OSX and Windows.

Verdict

Amazing device really. It’s a breeze to use day to day, very cheap and yet so beautiful, polished and well thought. Makes an excellent cheap blogging/writing device, way better than a tablet. Especially if you use a web-based blog editor.

I think it’s more than fine for most people and makes an excellent Christmas gift, second only to an UAV :-).

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.