Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The (pleasant) surprise of life with a Chromebook

It started, as so many things do these days, with a conversation on Twitter.
You can click that link about and view the full, exciting, and ultimately fulfilling meeting of the minds that occurs following it, but the TL;DR is that it got me thinking about my biggest gripe with tablets.

I hate holding tablets.

I don't want to be this person ever.
I've been slowly developing a theory on this (largely based around having spent too much time on laptops) that my brain/body cannot develop an straightforward acceptance of tablets. Every time I use one, the ultimate frustrations are that I wish it could do a couple more things, I wish typing on it was easier, and I wish I wasn't holding the damn thing the entire time.

At best, they feel clumsy. A strange halfway point between laptop computing and using a smart, and trending too closely to the latter that they come off worse. I began considering the Chromebook concept in depth. I began to see it less as a stunted laptop, but a broadened tablet. I began to start understanding what a Chromebook might be useful for.

When tempted to purchase anything that crests over the $100 mark, I have a simple system: if I'm still thinking about the item in 2-3 weeks, I'll give it more serious thought. It's a pretty handy way to let your short-term memory work over and forget things that don't really matter, but sure looks neat or cool or whatever.

I knew I was sold when I found myself sharing my new-found Chromebook perspective with a friend.

'It's a laptop that runs a browser and nothing else - I'd go crazy. It's such a weird idea.'

'Video-editing or any creative powerhouse stuff? For sure you're going to miss out. Think about everything else, though. Web-based email, Tweetdeck, etc. Maybe it's not so crazy for light work.'

It was too late. My subconscious had already ordered a Chromebook. My reality just had to catch up.

I started browsing online, reading reviews, watching videos and trying to crack the code of whether the Chromebook made sense in the lives of anyone who was a more-than-average computer user. For reference, I probably spend something close to 16 or more hours using a computer per average day. At a high level, it seems difficult to comprehend how a Chromebook could make sense. I discovered this article, 'Why I left my Macbook for a Chromebook' by Simon Phipps of Infoworld. If Simon had managed to find himself happy with a Chromebook as a daily computer back in 2012, perhaps there was hope after all.

It looks like a massive toy, which is to its credit.
A few days later, and I've settled on the model I liked the most: the Acer Chromebook 15, with a 32gb SSD, 4gb RAM and 10 hours of battery life. Upping the RAM from 2gb to 4gb afforded the 1080 resolution screen, which was my #1 priority for a 15.6" screen. Most Chromebook reviews focused on 13.3" or smaller screen. I already own a Surface Pro 2, and for everything it does well, the 11" screen makes every action take 1.5x to 2x longer than it should, and it gets frustrating real fast.

Amazon heard my call, and knocked 40% off it within 2 days. My $350 laptop had become $260. I awaited its arrival.

All of the bluster left me with a limited use-case that would absolutely satisfy me: the Chromebook had to let me walk away from my computer in the evenings, and take a break doing mindless things like watching movies, listening to music, all the while letting me do casual browsing, tweeting, etc.

The big surprise? My desktop machine is now the evening machine.

The Chromebook arrived on Thursday. On Friday morning, I decided to conduct an experiment: If I opened up my Chromebook to start work, how long would it take before I was obliged to turn on my PC?

Logging into web.skype.com, Gmail.com, Trello.com, and opening the Tweetdeck app, I began about my day as usual. It wasn't until 6pm that I realized I hadn't looked to my PC once. Those 10 hours of battery life meant that I didn't even plug it in to charge until later that night.


Of course, a lot of this will depend on how invested you are in Google's app ecosystem, especially in terms of Gmail, Drive, etc. However, since that day, I haven't used my PC for anything except playing games in the evening. Instead of working hunched over a desk, I lie back on my recliner. Is this worse for my back? That's for another blog post. The Chromebook has effortlessly transitioned into being my daily machine for work, with few sacrifices to tip the scales either way.

What began as mild curiosity about the state of ChromeOS (spoiler: hard to notice there's an OS here at all) has morphed into a surprising discovery - that there's more of me in-browser than I would have expected.

If that new MacBook seems just a little beyond your budget? Look up a Chromebook. It's a small amount to gamble for something that might really surprise you.

-Written, edited, and published with a Chromebook