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My 30 Day ChromeBook Review

My 30 Day ChromeBook Review

The Google ChromeBook might seem useless to most people, going the way of the netbook (remember those) as a useless ultra-portable computer, but after 30 days of using it, I would beg to differ. Specifically the model I have is an Acer Chromebook 11 (Model# CB3-111) in white. It's 11" screen isn't the lavish retina display that you would get on a Mac air, but at the same time, the Chromebook doesn't cost $1000 either.

Portability

One of the best things about a Chromebook is it's portability. Mac Air users will know exactly what I'm talking about -- the ability to close the lid, slide it into a satchel or courier bag and go is extremely handy and convenient. I love taking it with me when I pick up the kids at school because I have to be there 20 minutes early to get a parking spot. While I'm waiting, I tether to my mobile and I'm up and running in less than a minute.

All Day Battery Life

Out of the box, the Chromebook offers a 12.2 hour battery life. Under heavy use it still is good for just about seven hours, and if I dim the display, I can get 9.5 while still working hard. The power plug is light (around a pound in weight) but it's only drawback is that it's a three prong, and I do find myself also carrying around a three prong to two prong converter. The laptop fully charges in under three hours when completely dead (even when I'm working on it), but another drawback is that the battery is integrated inside the Chromebook making the laptop rather disposable when the battery won't charge anymore.

Usability With Internet Connection

When connected to the net, the Chromebook behaves like just a chrome browser. There's a few hidden features that you have to do some searching around for, like an integrated terminal that's can be accessed in the Chrome browser (and has SSH capabilities). You have access to your Google docs and other cloud services which I've gotten to really like (I'm recovering from Office 365) and you can load other apps from the Google Chrome store for Chrome Browsers. The one horrible thing is that there is only one FTP/SFTP App for Chromebook and it costs $2.99, but is a necessity if you use the Chromebook the way I do.

Usability Without Internet

For those times that you're not connected to the net, rest assured that you still can create docs, spreadsheets and presentations. There's about 5GB SSD on board memory available to save other things to (primarily those cat memes, right? ) but it is true, you lose about 60% of the Chromebook's functionality without the internet connection. It should also be mentioned that there is an SD Card slot, but you wouldn't want to just leave your SD Card in it because the card hangs out of the side about a half inch, just begging to get broken off (bad design).

Not Quite USB-C...

The Chromebook has two USB ports, one on each side of the laptop. The one on the left of the keyboard is a USB 3.0 and is a charge-while-sleeping/off port while the one on the left is just your standard USB 2.0. Also on the left side is your headphone jack, but if you use your mobile phone headset (3.5mm android jack, NOT iPhone), Chromebook will use the mic on the headset rather than the built in one. On the back of the clamshell, there is a HDMI port and the power jack. Finally, also on the right, next to the USB 3.0 jack, there's the slot for the SD Card.

The keyboard feels really good amazingly. The keystrokes are solid and I am able to type a lot faster on the Chromebook that I can on either my Mac or Windows laptops that also have "Chiclet" keys.

The touchpad is the weakest and chintziest part of the Chromebook. It feels cheap and really sensitive. When you press down to click, it has a cheap clicking sound that leaves you feeling like Acer could have done a better job here. I've since gotten used to touch-clicking rather than fully depressing the click area. The Chromebook also supports two and three finger gestures and can scroll either like a Windows laptop or "naturally", like a Mac. I set mine to match the Mac because I find myself using Mac more and more for work.

Chromebook Price

So, the Acer Chromebook only costs $199 most places, but honestly, it's a good buy for a ultra-mobile laptop that's NOT Windows. If you're set on having a computing experience similar to windows, you'll find the Chromebook extremely irritating and probably will join the other masses saying it's useless.

Mac users will find the Chromebook as a good compromise when they don't need to pull out that 17" Macbook Pro, and aren't going to be doing anything like photo or video editing. It won't run Minecraft (natively -- you'd have to install Ubuntu as mentioned below to run MC), so parents: forget about it if you're looking for something for your kids, and it won't play online games that require a game engine download (but will play browser based games just fine). While the Chromebook is built off Linux, it natively doesn't support linux apps either.

ChromeBook My Way

I knew that I wasn't going to leave the Chromebook alone for long. Although I find that it's great for writing, blog post creation and some coding through an online IDE (codeanywhere.com), it really does lack a lot of the functionality that a full Mac, Linux or Windows OS offers.

The good news is that you can install Ubuntu on the Chromebook without losing access to the Chrome OS (OS = Operating System). For those times when I'm using the Chromebook and am either without internet, or I just need a full OS, I switch to the Ubuntu desktop to work. I followed the rediculously simple steps to install Ubuntu (Unity) on my Chromebook from an article on Linux.com.

Once the Ubuntu OS is running (only takes 10 seconds to startup from within the ChromeOS) I can work from a full operating system. All the ubuntu .deb applications run fine, and I even installed Apache2, MySQL and PHP to run a localhost webserver (LAMP). I did notice that the battery indicator inside Ubuntu displays the wrong amount of time until the battery is drained (about twice as much as what actually is left that's shown in Chrome), and you can't switch back and forth between the two OS's even though the instructions say you can. On that note, you reduce your overall battery remaining time by about a third if you're running Ubuntu all the time.

Performance-wise, Ubuntu on the Chromebook runs quite well, but not as good as it would on a full laptop. That is probably is due to running a mobile dual core processor (runs 32bit OS only) and only 2GB RAM memory as opposed to most full laptops that run a quad core and at least 4GB RAM. Still, you aren't left waiting for a sluggish OS, and it's surprisingly fast when you think about what its running on and what resources it's using.

I use the Chromebook with the Chrome OS for writing and blogging mostly, while I will do some web development from within the Ubuntu desktop. Neither OS is good for photo or video editing (due to memory and processor resource limitations), so don't think that this Chromebook solution could ever replace a fully featured laptop. It is great for travel, light duty work and skyping. With the long battery life, it's a perfect companion for long distance flights or cross country drives. Oh, and by the way, Downloaded movies don't run in Chrome OS, but if you switch over to Ubuntu, they work perfectly using VLC media player.

If you're one of those people who are sick of lugging around a 20 pound 17" behemoth laptop around just to write documents, this is the perfect solution. Also, if you're in Wi-Fi most of the time, or can tether your phone to use your mobile internet connection, this again is a great solution. As a parting note in this Chromebook Review, you shouldn't buy a Chromebook if you want to have a full desktop computing experience (unless you plan on installing Ubuntu). Think of a chromebook as a good travel companion when you need more than an iPad but less than a full laptop can offer.

I personally am extremely happy with my Chromebook, but that's only because I did load Ubuntu. I have the option to switch Operating Systems when needed. It's also because I have unlimited, unthrottled 4G (35MB Down, 22 Up ALL the time) mobile connection through my phone.

One last important note: If you plan on loading Ubuntu on the Chromebook, make sure that you get one that has an Intel chipThe chromebook I reviewed here has an Intel chip, but ones made by Samsung, for instance, run an ARM processor, and many applications won't run ARM - Like Steam or Minecraft for instance. Intel is by far the better choice for those of you who want to hack your Chromebook.

Acer Chromebook 11 on Amazon.com

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