While I am quite bored with most new tech announcements (especially smartphones), I realize that I still care most about small affordable laptops or convertibles. Tablets are great, I enjoy Apples iPad Air, but it has its limits, and so do Android tablets – limits in productivity. Of course it is entirely possible to do blogging or almost every other task that doesn’t require special business software on a tablet – but it just isn’t a great experience. Well, most likely it is just unwillingness to adjust – when you can choose between using an application that you know since almost forever, or a new app, that maybe is – at least for the advanced stuff – a little complicated and does not grow on you within minutes, then you might find yourself wanting the experience that you are used to. At least that’s the case with me.
As the headline says I am still using my Samsung ARM Chromebook with 3G. It is my main laptop now, which seems strange, given the fact that an iPad Air or the LG G2 most likely deliver better (benchmark) performance than this laptop. And then there is this OS – Chrome OS. Well, nah – I mostly boot into Arch Linux ARM running from a 32 GB SDHC card. I made it so that it is almost just as user friendly and has a broad set of applications I am used to. While it is definitely not the fastest computer under the sun, it performs decent enough – the keyboard, the touchpad, the screen, the overall performance – nothing is really top notch, but it is more than good enough for me. BTW: The killer feature is, still, the following: No fan = no (constant) noise.
While it is great to be able to take the SDHC card out of the Chromebook, boot it into Chrome OS, launch guest mode and hand it over to a random person in order to provide that person with a way to access the internet, it feels decidedly hacky. And I like to have the robustness of Chrome OS at hand, which BTW evolved notably since mid 2013. But then the real question is: Would I purchase another (next gen) ARM Chromebook, like one of the announced and soon shipping “SAMSUNG Chromebook 2” with 8-core Exynos?
The answer is: It is unlikely. While – as mentioned above – most things work, getting an ARM-powered laptop set up to work a 100% fine with GNU/Linux seems almost impossible today. Rather essential stuff like standby is hit and miss, from time to time my Chromebook doesn’t wake up properly. Accelerated graphics (I am not talking about gaming, but much rather of video playback) or using a newer kernel: Painful to impossible. And as fanless Bay Trail netbooks/subnotebooks become available out there, that – depending how well the UEFI plays with Linux – are supposedly almost painless in that regard I would rather go for one of these if I had to upgrade.
But fortunately I don’t have to. And so I am sticking to my XE303C12H01DE.
(More on laptops soon.)
I now spent ten days with my Chromebook. Pardon me, it is actually Chromebooks. It didn’t take me long to realize, that this is a device that is better off connected, and so I purchased yet another one, this time with 3G.
I quickly went “Bleeding edge”. In fact, I find the development alphas stable enough. And I put my Chromebook in dev mode to crouton it. What I mean: I installed a Chroot environment of Ubuntu Raring (13.04) with LXDE. Works great, too, and it is certainly great to be able to run LibreOffice for some documents or Firefox for the fun of it. On the other hand, I can’t get DVD playback (video) to work, which might actually a kernel related thing (I really have no idea), and so I will try out the other “real standard Linux” option, Chrubuntu, rather soon.
What else happened? Not much. The iPad is catching dust. I hate booting up my Thinkpad Edge, because it is so heavy and has worse input devices. Unfortunately, it does not really feel much speedier, either. But let’s get back to the iPad. With the Chromebook loaded with my Data SIM (and thus the iPad 2 being forced on WiFi) the iPad is a lot less useful on the go. The only app I miss on the Chromebook is Salvatore Rizzi’s Reeder, but I could really move my data into one of the more beautiful
Google Reader Feedly alternatives like Feedbin.
So the iPad is still in my daily bag. It is with me on the both commutes and during lunch break, but I rarely touch it. Everything I want to do works well enough on the Chromebook so I don’t bother taking the iPad out of my bag. In fact, I think that I will need to take my hacked Barnes&Noble Nook Simple Touch with me. A smaller form factor could actually add something. But then I might as well replace the Nook by something else…
The evening before my final exams I bought a Samsung Chromebook, to be precise the 303C12 A01. It was one of these eBay bids which you do when you are nervous and try to get your mind of things – 210€ for a Chromebook, which retails for 299€ in Germany is what I consider quite a deal. But that’s not so important.
What do I think of the device? It is a great little laptop. Keyboard, Display and Touchpad seem better to me than the ones of my Lenovo Thinkpad Edge E320, which wasn’t exactly super expensive either, but still, this is impressive. Then there is the software, which is beautiful, but not too feature rich. Chromebook still lacks a few apps for me, but it is pretty much ok, and I knew before that it would be difficult to do the switch. And then, there is always the option to Crouton and have “a real OS” like Ubuntu.
What is disappointing though is the following:
- that Google Docs isn’t enabling offline mode per default on your Chromebook
- that offline GMail is strangely broken on my unstable dev-version of ChromeOS ;)
that I couldn’t find a way yet to get a decent frontend for Feedly (I strongly dislike their website), which is for now my feed reader of choice (and which is great via Reeder on my iPad)
- that I couldn’t figure out yet how to use Evernote offline
- that I couldn’t figure out yet how to use WordPress offline
Maybe I will upgrade to the 3G version, but even with Germanys 2nd best mobile network, Vodafone, you face some offline time here and there. So many of the problems described may remain.
Still, it’s a good first impression with plenty more to figure out and even more to try out.