Recently, instead of bringing my Sony VAIO laptop to class, I’ve been bringing my Chromebook.
The problem is my Sony laptop is too heavy and I’m unwilling to shell out a thousand dollars for a MacBook Air. If the laptop was the only thing I needed to carry to class every day, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. However, my bag is also filled with binders, books, and a water bottle, all of which add significant weight.
In contrast to my laptop, the Chromebook is small, lightweight, and functional. It can do 90% of the things my laptop does, provided I have a constant connection to the Internet. Thankfully, AirBears is omnipresent on campus.
I used to hate the Chrome OS interface, which was basically a persistent Chrome browser window. It was amazing that a product could do so many things right (e.g. fast load times, speedy Internet access) and neglect principles of basic usability. Case in point, you could have multiple tabs open, but you couldn’t display two windows on the same screen!
Some time in the last 6 months, some Googlers realized that Chrome OS was too simple for its own good and pushed out an update that completely changed the interface. Now, there’s a desktop with icons, an app launcher, and a more intuitive file management system. You can open multiple Chrome windows, resize them, and move them around the desktop. Essentially, Google made the Chrome OS more familiar to Windows users and that is a good thing.
So why an I even using my Sony laptop at all? Well, there are two things it can do that my Chromebook can’t:
- Digital editing with Adobe Photoshop – I create a lot of logos and flyers for clubs and friends’ startups. I also use Photoshop a lot to manipulate images for this blog and other projects. Sadly, I haven’t found a good cloud-based alternative that’s as powerful and easy to use as Photoshop.
- Run Microsoft Excel – Google Docs is an adequate substitute, especially now that pivot tables are available. However, I’m hoping there will be a better solution soon because Google Docs can slow to a crawl with working with large data sets.
The Chromebook can do pretty much everything else. This includes email, word processing, reading, music, Facebook, file management, scheduling, etc.
If you had asked me last year if there was a place for Chromebooks in the world, I would have said no. At the time, the Chromebook seemed like an evolutionary dead-end. The iPad had won. Netbooks were dead.
But with the improvements that Google has made to Chrome OS in the past year and the expansion of cloud-based applications and file storage options, I admit I was far too hasty in my assessment. Today, I do think there’s a market for Chromebooks. They’re cheap, light and simple. You turn it on and it just works. They do one thing really well, and that’s give users access to the Internet. Fundamentally, they are netbooks done right: stripped down laptops at a low price that don’t try to bite off more than they ca chew.
My Chromebook isn’t as pretty as a tablet, but it’s easier for me to use. Don’t get me wrong. I love playing games on tablets. But when I really want to get stuff done, I still prefer the familiar touch of a physical keyboard and touchpad.
Speaking of tablets, I recently purchased a Nexus 7 and have been trying to load my textbooks onto the Aldiko Reader. I think the Nexus 7 is the perfect size and weight for casual reading. However, it’s not a perfect solution. I enjoy marking up my texts with a highlighter and writing notes in the margins. So far, I haven’t figured out a good way to do this on my tablet. If anyone has a solution, I’m all ears.