I have been looking at a Chromebook for quite some time now, and recently a price drop of $21 made me finally take the plunge, and so far for what it is, I have to say I am digging it.
Why A Chromebook?
So I should begin by saying thanks to work, I have two iPads. an iPad 2 and an iPad Retina. I also own a Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet. My smartphone is currently an LG G3. I also have a 2013 Macbook Pro Retina (from work, not my own) and a dedicated gaming PC. So I have plenty of devices for doing the basics on, it is just I always miss a physical keyboard. Yep I know, one can get keyboards for their tablets, I do have a bluetooth one for my one iPad, but it is constantly losing its charge and it is small in size.
I also just like checking out new technology. In fact it is what I do for my current position of 3 years at work, so I was very intrigued by Chrome OS, so it really was just as much about seeing it in action as checking out a new toy so to speak.
However the main reason I was so intrigued by the Chromebook is I have started finally working on writing my graphic novel. For those who do not know, I am an artist. I graduated from Parsons School of Design in NYC with a degree in Illustration. I also have written on and off over the years as well (used to be on the News team here). I have wanted to combine those two passions for many, many years now but have always procrastinated doing so. I am finally going ahead and doing it, and that is why I originally picked up the Xperia Z2 tablet. I thought that would really kick start things. While it has been fantastic for the sketching side of things, the writing part, because it is a touchscreen tablet, has not been so great. Again I do realize I could get a separate bluetooth keyboard, but as I said, they need to be charged, they are a separate device which kind of defeats the purpose of a tablet to begin with IMHO, so I wanted an all in one device that made actual writing easy as could be, but that also allowed me to continue writing on whatever device I was on.
That is where a Chromebook along with Google Drive comes in. The Chromebook gives me a super easy way to write that is comfortable and quick. No waiting for boot ups, etc.
So I decided to take the plunge on this Acer. I went with it as reviews for it were pretty solid across the board. It has an Intel Celeron Haswell-micro as well, which was one of the main factors in picking it over other models.
Specifications At A Glance
- Screen Size: 11.6 inches
- Screen Resolution: 1366 x 768
- Processor: Intel Celeron 2955U 1.4 GHz (Haswell micro-architecture)
- RAM: 2 GB DDR3L SDRAM | Memory Speed: 1333.00
- Hard Drive: 16 GB SSD
- Graphics Coprocessor: Intel HD Graphics | Graphics Card Ram Size: 128 MB
- Chipset Brand: Intel
- Wireless Type: Built-in Dual Band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
- 1 USB 2.0 Port
- 1 USB 3.0 Port
- Average Battery Life (in hours): 8.5 hours
- 1 HDMI Port
- Weight: 2.8 Pounds
For the remainder of this review:
Red Text = Not So Positive
Green Text = Positive
Blue Text = Need To Know
Build Quality - Overall, Screen, Keyboard, and Touchpad
I have to say the build quality itself is about what I expected it to be for a $179 device. It is light as indicated, but it does flex every so slightly. This is clearly not a Macbook Pro, but no one should expect it to be. The keyboard itself is close to being full size. And the keys themselves feel good to the touch. Nice response to them.
As said above, the screen is 11.6 inches. The native resolution is 1366 x 768. You can actually choose one step up on the resolution, but doing so produces a not very crisp image whatsoever. The only time I would really consider changing the native display is when one is viewing videos perhaps. Even then I would probably just keep it as is on the native.
Simply put the screen is just not the best of screens. However it is more than adequate.
-.5 for the screen itself.
The touchpad is perhaps my biggest complaint with the whole thing. They have a tap to click feature on it and it seems to be way too sensitive. When I am just trying to scroll a page or move the mouse sometimes it registers as a tap instead. I tried to disable this setting completely in the Chrome OS settings itself, which definitely helped, but did not alleviate the issue entirely.
It does seem like I have to adjust how I am use to using a touchpad because of this,
Deducts -1 point from the overall score.
So I went into Chrome OS not knowing much about it. I do use Chrome as my daily browser across all of my devices.
As such I am also familiar with Chrome Apps.
So this is pretty much the most important part of the Chrome OS experience. If you already use Chrome as your browser, and are familiar with the Chrome App Launcher, you have pretty much used Chrome OS. Chrome is the OS for all intents and purposes.
So I felt right at home firing it up for the first time, which it takes about 5 seconds to boot. They say 7, when I counted it was actually 5. I am sure it will change the more I add. Right away it asked me to sign into my Google account, and once I did, within about 30 seconds, everything was synced. All of my bookmarks. All of the apps I had already installed through Chrome App Launcher on my other devices. All there super quick.
It should go without saying that Chrome OS relies heavily on always being online. There are aspects that have offline functionality, however for the full experience, you need to be online.
I already know how I am going to write my graphic novel on the Chromebook, so I wanted to check out some of the other functionality I could perhaps use it for. I instantly thought of things I do on my Macbook often, and so I began testing things out.
Trying out other features I use often on my Macbook and / or Tablets
Remote Desktop To PC Upstairs.
I installed Chrome Remote Desktop first. I wanted to see how easy it was too remote in to my Gaming PC upstairs on my LAN. I had to also install the app on it. Set up a few settings and that was it. I was up and running with Remote Desktop in less than 2 minutes. So far so good.
Next up I fired up YouTube to check out how it handled streaming videos to Chromecast. Although it took a few seconds longer to begin then it would on my Macbook Pro, once it did begin, I could not see any discernable difference between streaming videos from my ChromeBook vs. my Macbook. That was very good news to see.
With that said, casting an entire tab in chrome was definitely not as smooth of an experience as it was if I was doing it on my Macbook. In all fairness, it is not always a perfect experience on my Macbook either. But having a website open whose video does not allow for direct to Chromecast streaming so I had to have the whole browser tab cast to the Chromecast definitely produced some stuttering in the video itself. It always eventually caught up and never crashed, so that is a positive.
Finally I went to go check out Videostream, which for anyone who owns a Chromecast is an app I highly recommend if you do not already have it. Videostream lets you choose video files from anywhere on your Network to stream to the Chromecast.
Unfortunately I could not use VideoStream at all as there is a known issue that prevents it from working on the current version of Chrome OS.
-.5 deduction from the overall score, which I will take away once they sort out the issues with the current version of Chrome OS
Google Drive gets its own section as (imho) it is going to be a very integral part of the overall experience.
Drive integrates with other Google Apps, such as Docs, Forms, Sheets, Drawings, and the list goes on, as their answer to the Microsoft Office suite. For an online solution, and for my needs, it absolute is suffice. I am also not creating Excel documents or PPT documents with the Chromebook, so for users doing so, you may have a different experience.
However for my overall need of working on my Graphic Novel, Google Drive along with Google's "Office" apps absolutely meet my criteria.
It should be noted that just for purchasing a Chromebook, Google gives you a free 100GB upgrade for 2 years.
Now this very well could be a Catch 22 if I wound up using it as I plan to, as after the 2 years is up I will then have to pay for the service at $1.99 a month. Or perhaps the free 15 GB will be enough. I guess only time will tell, and I have 2 years to see.
Other Chrome Apps
- I installed Tweet Deck. Worked perfect.
- Installed Pocket as I have it on all of my other devices. Launches like it is an app and not just a website (although it really is just a website). Was a nice touch.
- Installed DropBox which was just a shortcut to the Dropbox Website.
- Installed Gmail Offline and checked it out. Worked great. Nice to have that option of having my email offline.
- I also installed a bunch of various other apps which I did not get time to check out all that many of them.
While there are not a ton of apps available on the Chrome Apps store, there is pretty much an app for all of the basics and even some of the not so basics.
There also does seem to be a decent amount of crap up on the store too, so I do believe it is going to be a matter of trial and error.
-.5 deduction for overall app availability and quality.
- I also installed a bunch of various other apps which I did not get time to check out all that many of them.
- I have not checked out any Games yet, but I can say I am not holding my breath on those at all and do not expect much. I think that is a realistic expectation, but perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised, and if I am, I will update this review to share that experience.
- I used the Chromebook with my LG G3 for putting all of these photos into this "review"
- As soon as I take a photo on my G3 it syncs with Google + Photos.
- From Google Photos I downloaded them to my Chromebook.
- I then opened them in an app called Pixlr Editor (web based photo app) and resized the resolution and also compressed them so they were smaller in size. All photos now equal 2.6 MB
- I did that for consumption, as I have Google Photos set to upload native image size, so each image alone was around 3.6 MB in size and a high resolution.
- Finally I uploaded them to DropBox for linking to from this thread.
Perhaps one can resize the photos in Google Photos, but I could not see how.
Anyway here are some shots...
Chromebook On It's Own
Keyboard Up Close
Size Comparison (Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet)
The Chromebook is just slightly larger than a XPeria Z2 Tablet (which is about the size of an iPad 2)
Screen Comparison (Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet)
As you can see there is no doubt the Xperia Tablet wins on screen. This is to be expected.
I have to say I am very pleasantly surprised so far with the Chromebook and Chrome OS.
It has started to slow down some if I have over 10 tabs (apps) open, however it was not a huge amount, and rarely do I ever personally have that much open.
It is clearly not meant to be a full fledged laptop replacement, however I would say depending on what you use your laptop for, it could do an admirable job.
I can say this with absolute certainty. If all one needs is the basics of going online: Email, Social Media Accounts, Google Searches, etc. It is perfectly suited for these actions. In fact I will be picking my mother up one very soon as I really think it is perfect for her and her needs.
The screen and resolution of the screen is not the best, but again at this price point, that is to be expected.
Also considering what I really purchased the Chromebook for, and that is a device I can quickly pick up and write down or organize any thoughts I have for a graphic novel, it is literally perfect for that use.
I would say if you were like myself, and like using tablets but was not a big fan of not having a good physical keyboard that was not integrated with the tablet, it does the job damn good.
I will end this review by saying I did heavily consider picking up a Microsoft Surface, however once I landed on the model I thought made the most sense and added the Keyboard Cover, I was looking at over $1000 investment. So really if you compare $179 to $1000+, well there is a clear difference there. Obviously there is a clear difference as to what each system is capable of us well, but again for what I was looking for, the Chromebook made the most sense for now.
Overall Score: 7.5 / 10