I've had my Chromebook for a week now, so I thought it was worth posting my thoughts on it so far. I have the Samsung Series 5 WiFi model and paid £299 for it in the Birmingham "Black" PC World/Currys store. I'm sat here on the Sofa with it, writing this post :-)
- Reason for Purchase
- Build Quality
- Battery Life
- Adobe Flash
- Profile Support
- Google Chrome Sync
Reason for Purchase
You may wonder why I bought a Chromebook when I already have a PC and an iPad (and tablets are apparently killing the Netbook industry). There are a few reasons... I'm a nerd, so I have to have new toys. The iPad is great for a lot of stuff (mostly consuming), but not so great if you want to do a lot of typing. For example, one of the tasks I have since moving, is logging in to a ton of websites and updating my address. The iPad just doesn't cut it. Finally, since moving house, my PC is now upstairs. In the flat it was in the lounge, so when I was casually surfing the web, reading email, etc., I was in the same room as my wife, and it wasn't a huge hassle. Since moving, I found myself avoiding doing things that involved going "all the way" upstairs, turning the PC on, waiting for Windows to boot, logging on, waiting for Windows to finish logging on, etc..
So, why the Chromebook and not another Netbook that does more for the same price? Well, I already have a PC upstairs, and it's unlikely that will change, because it's unlikely I'll find a mobile device that'll run Visual Studio + SQL Server well for a decent budget, and I often play games. So given the limited things I need from the device, I was attracted to the decent battery life and 8 second startup time of the Chromebook over another Windows machine.
The build quality of the Samsung is pretty good. It does feel a little cheap/plastic, but it doesn't feel like it's going to break/fall apart. It's solid enough that I'd feel more comfortable carrying it around without a case than I would my iPad without a case (though I wouldn't - I have cases for both!).
So far, the battery life has been excellent. Google claim around 8 hours battery life, though I think it's lasting a little better than that for me (it currently reports 1:20 remaining, on 12%, which would suggest around 11 hours). I've only charged it twice - once on the Sunday I got it, and then again Wednesday evening. With around an hour left, that's about 3 days per charge, with me using it around 2.5 - 3 hours per day.
This is far better than the laptops I've had, but not as great as the iPad. I haven't had any netbooks to compare it with, but I suspect it's in the same region as similar spec'd devices.
I've had my iPad around 18 months - since it first launched (I'm still using an iPad 1). I never really had any issues with a lack of Flash because the main sites I used Flash on (like YouTube) had alternatives that worked in the browser anyway. Now I have Flash on the Chromebook (and realise why Google built it in to Chrome!), I've been able to do a little more, however with Flash usage rapidly dropping, I don't think Flash support is going to matter much as time goes on.
Google really nailed the login/profile support on the Chromebook. One of the things that annoys me most about the iPad, is that it's a "one person" device. I can't give it to my Wife and have her login so the email app shows her email, the homescreens show her apps, etc. Apple want you to have an iPad each. On the Chromebook you login as your Google account and everything is yours. Logoff, give it to someone else, they login, and it's theirs. If you enable Sync, you even get all your bookmarks, saved passwords etc. from your other Chrome instances. This works really well, and there's even a guest mode to let people use it temporarily without anything persisting.
Google Chrome Sync
This isn't really specific to the Chromebook, but I didn't really use it until now so I didn't realise how useful it was. I turned on Chrome Sync on my PC then when I logged into the Chromebook as my Google account, my bookmarks bar was there, my extensions where there, and even all my saved passwords where there. If I threw this Chromebook in a river and picked up a new one, I'd have the same experience when I logged on.
This is probably the thing that hit me the most. Years ago, people said Google was working on its own OS. We all laughed. No way can you take on Windows starting from nothing, and certainly not with something "web based", it's just not going to work. After using the Chromebook for just a week, I realise it's Google who should be laughing. The Chromebook is really ahead of its time. This is how things are going to be... When I upgrade Window, why do I have to reinstall all of my apps? Why do some of them need to run in "compatibility mode"? Hang on, why did I even have to upgrade Windows? And why did I have to pay for it? Why are my apps tied to my operating system anyway? If I'm on my Windows PC and I change to my Mac, why can't I just run the same things? To steal a quote... "This changes everything" ;)
Sure, Windows isn't going away anytime soon. However; the Chromebook is already a very reasonable system for casual users, and the appeal is only going to grow over the coming years. Rather than Chrome OS taking on Windows, I really think Windows needs to take on Chrome OS. Google seem to have an incredible nack for taking existing things and rebuilding them from the ground up, better. It seems like one of those things where being the "first" puts you at a disadvantage, because your competitors were able to do things differently, not stuck with your old crap (*cough*BT copper cables *cough*crap UK internet).
I'm fairly sure we'll see higher-spec Chromebooks out before long, so that should make this less of an issue.
There doesn't seem to be many decent services I can use for listening to music on the Chromebook. No spotify app, no Google Music or Amazon Cloud Player in the UK, etc. :( The only service I managed to get working is Grooveshark, though it's a little slow and clunky on the Chromebook.
There are also no hardware buttons for controlling music, like many PC keyboards have these days. This would've been a nice addition, especially if services like Google Music etc. had Chrome Extensions that could react to them (and, of course, worked in the UK!).
I'm not entirely sure what happens when the Chromebook goes into "sleep" mode, but with Google Talk behaving strangely (see Bugs section), I presume it shuts off the network. This means that unlike Push Notifications you can get on iOS and other mobile operating systems, there's no equivalent here. That means you can't have sounds play when someone tries to chat to you (or emails you) when the lid is down. This would be a great addition IMO.
I haven't really had any major issues, but there have been a few little niggles that bug me...
1. The Google Mail Checker extension is really intermittent. Sometimes it works, and some times it's just greyed out.
2. The Google Talk extension behaves strangely when I "sleep" the Chromebook - when I resume, all the messages received while slept arrive in the wrong order (some even appear before messages I received before sleeping the Chroomebook!).
3. Sometimes I have to sign in to Google services again (like Google+), even though it's supposed to "just work" because I signed into the Chromebook with the Google account already.
4. Sometimes it takes hours for bookmarks to sync to Chrome on my PC (and sometimes they just never sync).
5. I can't make Google Talk play sound notifications when someone sends me a message :(
6. Mail notifications seem to only work when I have Mail open in a tab, even though Google Mail Checker is installed :(
I'm getting far more use out of the Chromebook than I expected. Since getting it, I've only booted my PC for two things; 1. To turn on Chrome Sync, so I could get my bookmarks etc. onto the Chromebook; 2. To play games with my friends. I'm sat here on the Sofa writing this post, Chromebook on my knees, streaming free music from Grooveshark. It was originally only intended as a quick way to access the web when the iPad wouldn't cut it, but I actually pick it up over the iPad for a lot more - even using Google Reader on the web (press F for fullscreen mode!) instead of Flipboard, and taking it to work instead of the iPad!
There is one thing that the Chromebook hasn't yet replaced the iPad for, and that's Twitter. I don't think it's related to the hardware or OS differences between the iPad and Chromebook, but rather that I can't find any decent web clients that are anywhere near as good as Twitterrific on the iPad. If there were, I might stop using the iPad altogether! :/
I think Chromebook has a bright future. Once you've been forced to live out of the cloud, you start to realise how handy it is. When I first booted my PC a few days ago, my backup script ran. It backs up many GB of data to my NAS. I immediately thought "WTF? Why do I need to do this?".
It'll be interesting to see what the future holds. I think the operating system you'll be using 10 years from now will be a lot more like Chrome OS than Windows, and I think that's a great thing.