Airport hell and the Samsung Chromebook

SUMMARY:

A lost MacBook Pro forced me into taking drastic action. The result? I bought a Samsung Chromebook. The experience so far is ‘interesting.’ Is the Chromebooko a device I’d recommend? Read on to find out.

Samsung_Chromebook_front_webresLong story short. An appalling experience at Malaga Airport security (don’t ask) on a day when French air traffic controllers decided to make life hell for everyone wishing to enter French airspace was capped by the certain knowledge I’d left my trusty MacBook Pro at the airport security area. I discovered this somewhat embarassing inconvenience a day later.

As a content creator I’d love to say it was no problem because I had an iPad with me. No such luck. What to do? MacBook Air perhaps? It is a good enough excuse in my mind and heck, they’ve just brought out a new model so why not? But at the thick end of £1,000 for a device I might use occasionally but never as a production machine? That’s a price point too rich even for this Apple fanboy’s taste.

Then I remembered Gary Turner, UK MD Xero  tweeting about being impressed with a Samsung Chromebook. I called him up to get some detail on his thinking and a few minutes later I was sourcing a XE303C12 for £230 from a local PC World.  Five minutes after unboxing and I am back in action. Sort of.

Many years ago I learned that hard disks will fail and machines will suddenly stop working. Or they might get lost. When that happens, it is the data loss that is the biggest problem. Applications can always be replaced but data once lost is lost forever. The cloud changes all that.

All bar a very small handful of my essential services is a cloud service. The only thing for which I must have a hard disk is Adobe CS5.5 for video and imaging. I also need a lot of memory and video memory to run CS5.5. That means using a ‘proper’ laptop. But everything else can be accessed as a web service using a web browser.

However, this is the first time that I have been able to put an ‘all in the cloud’ theory to the test. And it works well enough for me to feel as though I’ve barely skipped a beat. That ‘soft’ benefit is priceless and something you cannot generalise into an ROI formula. It is possible to take a stab I suppose but then I’ve yet to see a good formula for measuring relative pissedoffness. Some might say that doesn’t count but if you know the frustration of lost data then you know what I mean.

As to the device itself? Turner has started to provide his assessment. The machine is way too ‘plasticky’ for my taste but the for £230? I’m not a total fan of the screen which seems a tad washed out to me and the trackpad is not the most responsive I’ve tried. Maybe I need to play with some settings. But it is the experience that is the killer. As Turner says:

Of course, there needs to be a little more to a Chromebook than just an abstracted web browser app suspended conceptually in an operating system vacuum, so Chromebooks necessarily come with Google’s ChromeOS operating system to provide for practical things like setting up user accounts and a small number of control panel like options for changing your desktop wallpaper and configuring WiFi.

However, beyond fleeting glimpses of the ChromeOS chassis sitting behind the scenes, anyone who has used the Google Chrome web browser on a Windows PC or Mac will be instantly at home.

The question comes: would I be prepared to use this as a stock machine? The short answer is not at this stage.

I like what I can do with the device. Everything is familiar. But…James Kendrick provides a glimpse into the problem:

The fact is, given what the Chromebook does, it’s not going to appeal to the vast laptop market. That market is entrenched in the belief that any laptop they use must be running a familiar OS like Windows to be useful. They need to run any program they want, not just the IE web browser.

That’s also the problem buyers have with Windows RT. They can’t load any program they want on systems running Windows RT, so those PCs are widely shunned by the buying market. It’s no surprise that the Chromebook doesn’t appeal to those buyers when a variant of Windows, which they already use, doesn’t do everything they want.

I think it’s simpler than that but a problem that will get fixed – at a cost.

Verdict

The Chromebook was designed to be a web apps delivery device that has the familiar outer skin of a laptop but with all the Chrome goodness and at a price point that would blow every other competitor out the water. I love that battery life is way better than any other laptop I’ve tried. I can get a full day on one charge. Great!

But in designing the device specs, Google has encouraged the building of crap. I really do want the relative ruggedness of a MacBook Air and I want a decent screen. I really don’t care so much about the fact I must be ‘always on’ with a wifi connection. That is mostly achievable these days. Build quality matters. and here, I am afraid, the Chromebook gods have failed miserably.

On the apps front I can use any of Google Apps in exactly the same way I would on any other device. What else did I expect? But if I was a Windows user, would I sacrifice the rich Office functionality for Google Docs or the spreadsheet Google offers? I’ve been doing that for years but then there are compromises to be made and sometimes they are tough to live with.

What about the next generation of users? What about those kids going to college who only know Google Apps because the college has dumped Microsoft Exchange in favor of Google? That I think is where the immediate market will be found.

In short, it is not our businesses that will lead the charge but our colleges and universities.