on January 11, 2015
I was looking for an inexpensive laptop for my daughter to surf the web, when I came across the “Chromebook” - and so far I’ve been really impressed by the Chromebook, and my daughter absolutely delighted.
A word of warning, this is a rather long and non-techie review for people who don’t know much about these devices. My aim is to educate you about the Chromebook range rather than the specifics of one machine. I aim to tell you what they are, and what they’re good for.
So make yourself a cup of coffee, sit down, and read on.
What is it? Is it a laptop?
That may sound a daft question, but it’s actually quite sensible, because this looks like a laptop, but works like no other. Most laptops run Windows or Apple software, this runs “Chrome” designed and built by Google. It’s different to a typical operating system in that it actually runs “one the web” inside the Chrome Browser. This has several advantages (and a few potential issues), but for someone looking to do online shopping or look up Wikipedia for the homework - this is a brilliant solution - but I’m getting ahead of myself.
So in short - yes, it’s a laptop, but not like any other laptop you’ll have used.
What can you use it for?
Well just about anything! Here’s a short list:-
* Anything you can do in a browser!
* Shopping on Amazon for a start
* Reading and replying to mails or setting Calendar events
* Edit and publish photos to the web
* Updating your Facebook or Twitter status
* Even read or write Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents (for FREE) using the web based version.
If you already have a PC or Mac yourself, you can try out Chrome for yourself. Just search “Google Chrome” and download the browser, then click on this link to see the huge range of “Chrome Apps” available:-
The main drawback of course is you’ll need to be connected to the internet to use these services. This does mean you’ll need to use your device at home, but you can always connect at a coffee shop, station or hotel. In fact if you have a modern smartphone, just click “Settings —> Personal Hotspot” and you can use your phone’s data connection get to the internet even when you’re away from a WIFI connection.
You can use some applications offline, but be aware there’s likely to be a few limitations - for example, you obviously can’t send mails while you’re offline. You can however edit documents using Google Docs, Sheets and Slide - the Google versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
What are the main drawbacks?
Clearly not everything is available offline, and this is primarily intended as a device to be use while connected to the internet. Unlike a traditional PC you can’t just plug in any old printer. However, if you have a relatively modern printer connected to your WIFI network you’re in luck. There’s a service called “Google Cloud Print” which allows you to set up your printer, and print to it from anywhere in the world with a web connection. It will even let your print from your Android phone or tablet.
As an alternative, if you’ve a home PC with a printer attached, you can install Chrome on that, and print to it. It does mean your PC must be switched on as well as your printer, but it’s an option.
Is it Secure?
Yes. Very. You see unlike a Windows PC where you can install all sorts of software from the web, you only install special Chrome Apps, and this is managed centrally. If the system detected a corrupt version of the software, it would simply be overwritten by the correct version. This also means you don’t have to constantly update your Chrome device with the latest software version - as it’s done automatically. You’ll therefore save on the cost of annual anti-virus software.
It’s also designed to store documents “in the cloud” (see below), so you won’t have to worry about losing all your documents if your device gets lost or stolen - a fantastic bonus.
What about storage?
Yes, it’s a bit odd to find your laptop only has 16Gb “hard drive” - actually it’s a solid state disk - much faster, but surprisingly it works very well.
This device is designed to use “cloud” storage. This means unlike a traditional PC where you store your documents locally (and have to take a back-up copy in case your computer crashes), using this device you store your documents on the web itself. Google itself provides a service (Google Drive) which gives 15Gb of storage for free, and this can be upgraded to 100Gb for $2 a month (about £1.50 where I live). If you have a PC or Mac, you can also share your space, so documents can be saved on the PC and read/written from your Chrome book.
There’s hundreds of other storage services available, and like Google Drive, you can access these from a PC, Mac, Android tablet or even an Apple iPad or iPhone. The only difference is these aren’t as well integrated into Chrome.
What’s the alteratives?
You should consider the following options:-
1) Buy a Chromebook which will run with the limitations listed above - but generally great value for money, and works well for many people
2) Buy a Windows or Mac laptop. For comparable speed, you’ll pay more up front (after all you’ll need a faster processor, Gigabytes of disk and memory), but you’ve a more flexible option. You will need to consider the additional complexity, possible virus software and backups.
3) Buy a tablet computer. You get a smaller screen, but for web surfing (Facebook, eMail and shopping - even watching TV or Films) it’s a great alternative. Your main options are Android (there’s lots of options) and Apple (the iPad Air or Air 2).
By-the-way: If you’re interested, take a look at my review of the Apple iPad Air and Air 2. It’s a beautiful (if considerably more expensive) device.
Personally, I’ve used Windows PCs for years, but recently I find most of what I use it for is online. If you feel the same, a Chromebook or Tablet (Android or Apple) computer is an excellent option.
If you want a computer to surf the web, reply to eMails and update your Facebook page, but without all the pain grief and cost of a Windows machine this is highly recommended.
Compared to my old (and incredibly expensive) Windows laptop, this is a breeze to use. It boots up in seconds, runs for hours and is incredibly simple. It doesn’t need constant software updates or virus checking, and doesn’t need to be backed up.
Having said that - I’d also recommend a tablet computer as an alterative which can be picked up for similar money.
I do hope this review was useful.