Still using my Chromebook

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 friendly1 and has a broad set of applications I am used to2. 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.)

  1. thanks to using XFCE with NetworkManager and Modem Manager []
  2. Starting from Firefox, including LibreOffice, Gimp, Inkscape and even great stuff like LyX for LaTeX. []

Chromebook, Crouton (Ubuntu) and printing with the EPSON WF-3540

I like my Chromebook, but if I feel like doing something that feels a little like actual work, I prefer to have a flavour of GNU/Linux. Therefore I installed a local chroot using Crouton – which brings me into a world of LXDE, Libreoffice and Firefox.

All of this works pretty well, but sometimes I feel like printing a document in order to do actual proof reading1. This always worked as I have a modern Epson AiO solution that is supported by Google Cloud Print, but I had to change back and forth: Make a pdf, go to Chrome OS, open the PDF, print it. That is not too bad, but it isn’t to convenient. So I tried to install the printer on Linux.
Continue reading “Chromebook, Crouton (Ubuntu) and printing with the EPSON WF-3540”

  1. Call me old-fashioned, but I am better at that on paper than on the screen. []

10 Days with Chromebooks

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 3G1.

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 it2. 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 Edge3, 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…

  1. XE303C12-H01DE, as Samsung call it, the other one (slightly better build, slightly better screen, slightly better battery life) is going back where it came from (eBay) []
  2. Firefox on a Chromebook + Chrome on a Firefox OS smartphone… That would be fun. []
  3. Lenovo E320 []

My first days with a Chromebook

The evening before my final exams1 I bought a Samsung Chromebook, to be precise the 303C12 A012. 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 Germany3 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)4
  • 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.

  1. which btw went really well []
  2. the non-3G one []
  3. which btw is grotesquely high compared to the US pricing… []
  4. I use the iPhone version with FullForce on my jailbroken iPad2. []

Google and their hardware for this christmas season

A few years ago there was no such thing as hardware that was co-branded by Google – as Google was just a service provider in the internet, this made sense. It all started with Android and the so called Google Experience Devices. Then, in early 2010, Google launched the Nexus One, an HTC made smartphone.

As of now, Google has 5 main devices out there, 3 for Android, two Chromebooks: The LG made Nexus 4 smartphone (which replaces the Samsung made Galaxy Nexus), the ASUS made Nexus 7, the Samsung made Nexus 10 (which not only features Samsungs latest SoC, the Exynos 5250 but also a 300PPI screen), the Series 3 Chromebook, running the same ARM chip as the Nexus 10 and the Chromebook 550, running a dual core Celeron chip.

To me, two of these devices are particulary interesting: The very popular $ 199/ € 199 Nexus 7 and the ARM powered Chromebook.

This should not imply that I am not interested into the Nexus 4, which has been critized for being to little of an improvement about its Samsung made predecessor, as it lacks LTE. For me, living in Germany, where LTE is just starting and thus not really affordable and where there are quite acceptable 3,5G HSPA networks available, the lack of LTE is not a killer. It’s just that I really got used to having a dual SIM phone (the Jiayu G2, which I still like a lot, even though the glass unfortunately broke), and don’t want to switch back, as it would cost me extra money for about 10 months – my next smartphone will be based around the Mediatek MT6589 SoC, a quadcore ARM Cortex A7 / Power VR SGX 544 chip – the great thing about these chinese phones is not only their relatively low price, but also the not too customized, mostly pure Android these devices run.

(If you want to buy a good dual SIM phone without importing it, the Alcatel OT 997 Ultra seems to be a good choice, btw).

Same goes for the Nexus 10, which seems to be a great device, too – only Android still lacks in real great tablet apps (compared to the Apple iPad), and 10,1“ 16:10 is just to large for me.

The Nexus 7, now available in an 3G flavour, too, is a compelling device, likely the best choice in 7“ tablets out there – talking of the OOTB experience. It lacks a video out and extendable storage – but hey, does this really matter that much? While I am a huge fan of microSD storage and HDMI out I must admit that I almost never use these – I don’t even have an miniHDMI cable, and the microSD in my phone is almost empty because I was to lazy to fill it up with my music. Now why a 7 inch tablet? Well, size does matter, my Nook Simple Touch tought me that, as size was the main factor making it almost abandon my iPad for some time.

Then the Chromebook. Why the hell would anyone want such a thing as this chromebook you may ask. Well, typing on smartphones, tablets and netbooks sucks, and I don’t want to bring my Notebook with me all the time, as it is still my “digital hub” and thus far to valuable to be accidentely dropped in the subway. And there is another thing with this thing: It has no fan, no harddrive – and an OS which is foolproof. Plus, hackers are already working on porting classic GNU/Linux distributions on this thing, making it basically a full ARM-powered computer, that has a great keyboard and is still light, portable and cheap. And I am sure that someone will port over Android, too. Sure: If this had a touchscreen, it would be even greater, for sure – but at USD 249 (and hopefully EUR 249) you can’t expect too much, right? Exspecially if you really feel the need for a device to hammer in texts on the go…

So these are the Google devices that are on my “wish list”. What do you think?

Google has made the Chromebook more affordable recently, making it the first mass market ARM Cortex A15 device. I will try to get one (and explain why later), but here is a really great commercial.