In praise of the Chromebook

Since we’ve gotten a bit computer-geeky with a videogame trailer this afternoon, I thought I’d throw in a little review of the Chromebook, which I’ve had since March.  It’s one of the best tools a writer could ask for.

A Chromebook is a 14″ notebook computer that runs the Chrome OS, not Windows.  In other words, it’s dedicated entirely to running the Google Chrome browser.  You can get Chrome apps for just about every productivity application, like word processing.  (Aside from its bizarre lack of a decent Table of Contents function, I’m quite happy with Google Docs.)  Blogging through online suites like WordPress is no problem.

The basic Samsung Chromebook is cheap ($249), weighs only about 2 pounds, makes absolutely no operating noise, generates almost no heat, and runs a good 6 hours on a battery charge.  It’s got all the furniture of a notebook computer: USB ports, decent speakers for music, a headphone jack, etc.  The keyboard is remarkably good, considering how small and light the machine is.  It can connect to external monitors, run a wireless mouse, etc.

The reason it’s so light, quite, and cool is that it doesn’t have a hard drive, although there are Chromebook variants that do.  You’ll never miss it.  The machine has 32 gigabytes of built in storage, and it can hold an additional 32 GB SD card (the little memory cards you put in digital cameras.)  One of the few design flaws is that the SD card protrudes slightly from the machine when inserted.  The built-in memory is plenty for just about every application I’ve thrown at it.  Everything else gets stored in the cloud on Google Drive, which is very convenient.  You can write something on the Chromebook, then log into Google Drive from any other computer and pull it right up.

Besides its light weight and long battery life, the most useful feature of the Chromebook – and this is little short of amazing – is how quickly it boots up.  It only takes about 5 seconds to go from power-off to an open browser tab.  It does updates automatically, and almost invisibly.  On the one occasion that mine asked me to do a reboot, it was able to restart itself and re-open the half-dozen browser tabs I had been running in less than 20 seconds.  The convenience of this performance compared to regular laptops or notebooks can’t be oversold.

The big question is whether a prospective buyer likes Chrome or not.  If you hate the Chrome browser, Google Drive, the various Chrome apps, or Google in general, it’s not for you.  Personally, Chrome was already my browser of choice.  There are some things the Chromebook actually does faster than my quad-core PC.  It’s terrific to have something so portable that boots up so quickly.  And Google keeps improving it with those updates – I saw early reviews that said it couldn’t run Netflix, but I had no problem doing so the other day.