My First Dive into Chromebooks

I have been itching to try out a Chromebook since launch but I kept holding myself back. I’ve always felt that a closed ecosystem is a bad thing. Microsoft has tried it a couple times now with Windows RT and now Windows 10 in S mode. 

I think where Microsoft fails is probably where Google picks up and actually excels. Microsoft has never had much of a following for putting apps on their store which is really the Achilles heel there. Google has a much larger following and now since most Chromebooks have access to the full library on the Google Play Store as well as the Chome Web Store, I don’t see a situation where Microsoft can compete in this space at all.

On top of that all, Windows isn’t free and requires more resources where ChromeOS is even if it’s pretty stripped down to run on lesser equipped machines.

And really that’s ChromeOS’ strength there. Being able to run on highly efficient hardware improves battery life dramatically and also makes for very mobile devices. Well and most Chromebooks are pretty cheap, which is also a benefit.

That’s where my new-to-me Chromebook comes in to play. I picked up a used Samsung XE503C12 off Ebay recently. I imagine the reason they are being resold now is the device is no longer receiving updates. That’s fine for my purposes as I am just trying out ChromeOS. This little guy has 4GB of memory and 16GB of onboard storage which can be expanded by slapping in a microSD card and is powered by a quad core Samsung Exynos CPU.

I wanted to see just how useful this notebook can be versus my full Windows 10 installed Asus Vivobook E203N which I have reviewed previously. The E203N is what put me on this road. While I like having a cheap, long battery life laptop with me in my truck while on the road the E203N has not aged well. With the latest version of Windows available I had to wipe the laptops measly 32GB emmc based ssd just to install version 1903. While the Windows install doesn’t take forever on the E203N it’s still an inconvenience. And Windows fills nearly all of that 32GB! I remember when Windows 95 took up a quarter of the then massive 2GB hard drive in my parent’s office computer…

Let’s talk about ChromeOS a little bit. Since my Chromebook is no longer supported it was never slated for access to the Google Play Store. A shame but understandable. ChromeOS is simple. It has a thick taskbar at the bottom similar to MacOS where the app shortcuts are centred. There is a start menu like button on the left which gives you access to Google Search and all the apps installed on the device. Don’t expect to customize much beyond the theme of Chrome itself and your desktop wallpaper. There is no more customization beyond selecting your date and time.

Another thing that may throw you off if you aren’t used to it is every app opening in Chrome. I mean every one. If you have Chrome open already and open another app it will open another tab in Chrome. If you are used to conventional operating systems that can throw you a bit. I got used to it rather quickly though.

It’s good to know though that the Docs app will work offline though it will not sync to Google Docs until back online which makes sense. ChromeOS does come with an offline simple text writer akin to Notepad too so if for any reason you can’t use Docs it’s there for use.

Of course all of the apps are Google centric but I do commend Google forgiving access to other search engines like Bing as the default (which I have done).

Now battery life, at least on my Samsung device, is not stellar. Maybe about 5 hours. I put that down to this being a used device. I am sure if one could or would replace the battery the life would improve quite a bit.

Now can I recommend a Chromebook. Yes. 

If you do not game there really is no reason to have a full on Windows notebook with you at all times. ChromeOS has been able to do everything I have asked of it and in a very timely manner even on an older platform like the one I have. Even if you use say Microsoft’s Office 365 instead of Google’s own free services you still have access to it through Chrome on a Chromebook. And on top of that, most modern Chromebooks can be installed with linux on top for added functionality if really needed. And with access to the Google Play Store, a Chromebook is the perfect device for pretty much anyone in the family.

 

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