I just started a new job in a new town that was quite a long ways away. It seemed to me that minimizing the amount of stuff I have to move would be a good idea. With this in mind I parred down my devices and almost all of my housing stuffs. I gave my brother my desktop PC and had previously sold my laptop. I’ve wanted to play with a Chromebook for quite a while so now, when I need to travel and need a small light machine with great battery life used primarily for communication, seemed to be the ideal time for it. So I bought my Dad’s Samsung Chromebook Series 3, the ARM based Chromebook, at a family discount. He had picked it up to study for his Google Apps for Education certification.
I’ve nearly completed my move 2 weeks later. I’m in my new apartment. I have internet hooked up and I’m just waiting on my follow on load of house furnishings. My experience has been a mixed bag that seems to have followed the timeline pretty closely. That is week one was pretty good and week two has been a little frustrating. That’s how I’m going to approach this.
Week one was comprised largely of travel and transition and this seemed to be where the device shined. Looking at the parts and components the Samsung Chromebook is a cell phone wedged in to something slightly larger than a netbook and designed to replicate the Macbook Air. The hardware experience is second to none. The device is small and light and solid and comfortable to mouse and type on. It’s easy to throw in a bag or backpack and go and it’s got enough battery life to keep you running when a wall outlet isn’t immediately available. On the software side it’s literally just a browser with a keyboard. The fact that chat and video and all these things are available on the web really makes it work. Being able to quickly whip out the device and communicate in a form longer than a text message or tweet was priceless. Being able to fill out all the forms and fields required to get business done to find housing, communicate with my new employer and handle things back in Iowa was beautiful. These are things I probably could have done on my phone or tablet but not as efficiently, or comfortably, on a touch keyboard vs a real physical keyboard.
Week two is where the experience begins to fall apart. As I mentioned I sold most of my hardware and it’s going to take a paycheck or two before I can afford to rebuild my gaming rig and buy a new laptop or setup any home servers. This means I’m still relying on the Chromebook but now I’m stationary. I’m finding myself wanting to do stationary computing things. I want to game. I want to run an SSH server so I can get at things back home from work or while I’m out and about. I want to watch longer form online web video(Hulu web only, WTF?). The only way to get my SSH server was to get Linux running on the Chromebook. Due to UEFI and locked bootloaders the only options are hacks of Linux sitting on top of the signed ChromeOS kernel. Needless to say most implementations are hacks and pretty rough. I got it working eventually. Gaming is especially sparse on the ARM based Chromebook due to the difference in architecture. Right now Arcane Legends from Spacetime Studios is the only extensive game experience I could find that actually worked. Lastly long form video. The Linux ports do not have hardware accelerated graphics so most games are out for Linux. I do have a TV and the Chromebook does have an HDMI port but trying to run flash based video on a high resolution television results in a rather low frame rate experience. Watching Hulu on a tablet or phone would have been a smoother experience but the idea is to watch it on a larger more comfortable screen.
The take away seems to be that you need to think of the Chromebook as a travel companion. Essentially a phone with a keyboard in order to get the optimum experience. It’s a beautiful thing when you can whip it out quickly and jump on hotel wifi and author a fairly long form e-mail and then throw it back in your backpack and go with out worrying so much about battery life. Just don’t mistake this device for a real laptop. If you want a device that works in nearly every situation save the extra $100 over the Chromebook’s $250 base price and get an AMD A series based laptop with a reasonably decent video card. But if you plan to travel frequently the Chromebook is probably for you.
I’ll be hanging on to my Chromebook for those situations where long travel with limited space may present itself.