Saturday, April 18, 2015

Enter a Chromebook

I have been a slow convert to “the cloud” and reluctant to commit my precious data to it. It’s a suspicion born of an age where shared computing resources were notoriously unreliable and data loss a constant worry. Nevertheless, I am not anti-cloud; in many cases the benefits of cloud based computing do outweigh the risks - I just prefer to be in charge of my own destiny when it comes to the really important stuff. However, when a family member’s ageing laptop came due for renewal, a Chromebook looked like a reasonable option. And, after weighing the pros and cons, we decided to give it a go.

There is nothing like trying something before buying and, in this context, running the Chrome browser on a normal (Windows/Mac/Linux) desktop and exploring the Chrome Store with its  various apps, provided a good idea of what a Chromebook experience might feel like. If you are considering a Chromebook purchase then I would certainly recommend trying this out before you buy. You will need a free Google account of course but this is a useful thing to have as it gives you access to all the Google services. You will also need an account should you ever decide to purchase a Chromebook.

The Acer Chromebook 13, running Gingko - used to write this review
If you find you can live with the range of apps provided in the Chrome store then  your Chromebook purchase will add some great extras to the computing experience:

  • Firstly, compared to a Windows or Mac computer you will get almost instant start up when you turn on your Chromebook. Ours is ready to use in under ten seconds from off or instantly from standby. More like an iOS or Android tablet experience.
  • Secondly, and depending on model, you should get excellent battery life. Ours is rated for 11 hours so, unlike a Windows laptop, the normal mode of use is likely to be on battery rather than plugged in to a power outlet. Much more convenient.

With those two differences out the way, the rest of the Chromebook experience will be very familiar to any Windows or Mac user; not exactly the same but similar enough that the learning curve is light and easy. Like a desktop or laptop, a Chromebook is a multi user device, and each user can access their own data and services attached to their Google account. If someone steals your Chromebook, they haven't got your data as well - it's all in the cloud.

Once you have mastered the Chromebook experience everything else is down to the apps that you can find in the Chrome Store. There are the staples like Google drive, Docs, Sheets etc. Free storage for 50,000 of your music tracks on Google Play Music and for your photos on Google+. After that it’s a case of ‘seek and ye shall find’ in the Chrome Store. There is plenty on offer of a general nature and more being added all the time. If you really must have all the features of Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint, even Outlook, then these are all available from Microsoft as free online versions - very usable.


The Chromebook experience has come a long way since it was introduced. It is now a very viable alternative for general use usually at a reasonable price. Unlike the old Netbooks, inexpensive doesn’t necessarily equate to a slow and crippled experience (not all Chromebooks are created equal however) and provided you usually have a good wifi connection to the internet you should feel as though you are on cloud nine.

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