A Philosopher's Blog


Posted in Technology, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on July 10, 2013
The Chrome Web Store as seen from Google Chrome OS

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For my birthday, I got a Samsung Chromebook. I have been using it for a while now and thought I would share my thoughts on the computer and, more importantly, the Chrome OS. I’m a professor, so I will say a bit on the usefulness of the Chromebook in the academic setting.

There are a variety of Chromebooks ranging from the $200 “netbook” models to the $1500 Pixel. I have the $249 Samsung Chromebook and consider it to be the optimal Chromebook at this time, in terms of price, weight and capabilities.

In terms of the hardware, this Chromebook is quite adequate for the Chrome OS. It has 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of eMMC storage, a 1.7 GHz Exynos 5000 Series processor,and  a screen resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels.  Subjectively, the screen is sharp and handles color well. The sound is what one would expect from such a device-less than awesome, but not awful. For those concerned about size and weight, it weighs 2.4 pounds and measures 10.4 X 8.09 X .69 (inches). For ports and slots, it has 1 USB 2.0 port, 1 USB 3.0 Port, an HDMI port, a headset port and a SD card slot. With the right HDMI to VGA adapter, it can output to a VGA monitor or projector-be sure the adapter works with the Chromebook before buying it, though. While the USB ports allow the user to plug in any USB device, the Chrome OS has extremely limited support for devices. As a general rule, if a device requires you to install a driver then it will not work with Chrome OS. Fortunately, USB storage devices work fine. This laptop also has wi-fi (which is essential) and Bluetooth. It has, of course, a webcam.

My subjective assessment is that the hardware is reasonably matched to the price. The keyboard is not exceptional but is reasonably comfortable to use. I am not a big fan of trackpads and the trackpad on the laptop did nothing to change my mind.  Fortunately, many wireless Bluetooth mice work with it (but not all). I do like the laptops  size and weight-I can easily put it in my backpack and carry it around all day.

What makes a Chromebook a Chromebook is, of course, the Chrome OS. Roughly put the Chrome OS is essentially a browser operating system: almost everything you do, you do in the Chrome browser. As such, if you want to get a very good idea what using a Chromebook is like, fire up Chrome and try to do what you want to do.

There are some advantages to the Chrome OS. First, it is a lightweight OS and hence it boots fast. Second, it is a fairly simple OS and hence has somewhat fewer problems than more robust operating systems like Windows, Mac and full Linux systems.  You set up your Chromebook in seconds: turn it on, log in to your Google account and you are ready. This is in contrast with the time and effort it takes to get a Mac or Windows laptop up and running. Third, Google handles all the updates and as long as you connect to the internet you will have the latest version of the OS. There is, for the most part, no messing around with updating. Fourth, the Chrome OS is obviously integrated with Google’s software. When I got my Chromebook, I also got two years of 100 GB of storage on GoogleDrive, which is supposed to be worth $120. If you use GoogleDrive, you can look at a Chromebook as a $130 laptop with the GoogleDrive subscription. Looked at that way, it is an excellent deal. Fifth, there are many good apps available for Chrome ranging from word processing apps to games.

There are also some major disadvantages to the Chrome OS. First, being a minimalist and simple OS it provides little to no support for devices. As mentioned above, while it has USB ports, most devices will not have drivers and hence will not work. Storage devices are, however, the exception. Second, printing from Chrome OS requires either a printer that works with Cloud Print or having another computer set up to handle the printing connection. Third, with the exception of the offline apps available at the Chrome Store, the user cannot install software in Chrome. While the Chrome OS obviously cannot run Windows and Mac software, the limited number of truly useful or good offline apps makes being offline a problem. Fortunately, Google’s core software (such as Google Docs) works offline so you can still edit and create documents. However, you will only have access to your local files when offline. One thing that obviously mitigates the offline issue is that cloud computing is almost now the rule rather than the exception. However, when considering a Chromebook you will want to consider your software needs. To see if Chrome OS will be adequate offline, fire up Chrome and disconnect your PC from the internet (be sure to set up your Google drive so you can work offline).

While the Chrome OS has rather serious limitations, as long as they are taken into account a Chromebook can be very useful. In my case, I use my Chromebook in two main roles. The first is as my “web” laptop. Since Chrome OS is essentially a browser, I can do all my web activities, such as blogging and email  with the laptop. Since it boots almost instantly, has a great battery life and is light I find it ideal for when I need to do something online quickly or want to be away from my desktop (like outside in the sun).

The second role  is as my academic laptop. While I do create most of my content in Word, PowerPoint, Respondus, Acrobat and Illustrator, most of my teaching involves Blackboard  and email. Blackboard works fine with the Chromebook, so I can edit/create exams, check on student grades, view assignments and so on. Obviously, web-based email also works fine on a Chromebook. I also use it at meetings-I can take notes using Google Docs or Evernote (or pretend to do so). Previously I used a first generation iPad for that, but rather prefer the Chromebook’s keyboard. With the iPad I had to bring a Bluetooth keyboard and poke at the screen with my finger. The Chromebook weighs about the same as the iPad plus keyboard and word processing is much easier on the Chromebook-at least for me,  but I grew up using a typewriter rather than texting.

I think students would find this Chromebook a good choice. First, while it is not as sexy-cool as an iPad, it costs half the price of the basic iPad and comes with a keyboard. Second, for students who do not need specialized software it has what they will need: the ability to write papers, do email and so on. Since many professors use Blackboard these days, the poor handling of printing will generally not be an issue.  Also, most campuses have wireless and hence being offline will not be an issue.  Third, it is light and small which makes it easy to carry about between classes. Fourth, its connection to Google Drive means that files will be generally safe from computer issues (or the laptop being stolen). On the downside, this could rob a student of many of the usual excuses involving computers and work that has not been done.

Overall, I would recommend the Samsung Chromebook-but be sure to keep in mind its limitations. If you are looking for a low-cost “web” laptop, it is hard to beat. If you need a robust computer to run traditional programs, you’ll need to go with a Mac, Linux or Windows laptop.

My Amazon Author Page.

Technical Details

Screen Size 11.6 inches
Screen Resolution 1366_x_768
Max Screen Resolution 1366 x 768 pixels
Processor 1.7 GHz Exynos 5000 Series
Memory Speed 1333.00
Hard Drive 16 GB eMMC
Graphics Coprocessor Integrated Graphics
Wireless Type 802.11 a/b/g/n
Number of USB 2.0 Ports 1
Number of USB 3.0 Ports 1
Other Technical Details
Brand Name Samsung
Series Chromebook
Item model number XE303C12-A01US
Operating System Google Chrome OS
Item Weight 2.4 pounds
Item Dimensions L x W x H 11.40 x 8.09 x 0.69 inches
Color Silver
Processor Brand Samsung
Processor Count 2
Computer Memory Type DDR3 SDRAM
Flash Memory Size 16
Batteries: 1 Lithium ion batteries required. (included)

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3 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on July 10, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Your being offline is a problem for the NSA, too. ;)

  2. […] ChromeBooking […]

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