I’m a Google FanGirl. There. I said it. I love Google products and love how they’re not afraid to admit that a product has failed (I still miss Google Wave, and Google Locations, and Piscasa, and Google Desktop, and Google Buzz).
So naturally all my smartphones have been Android based, starting with the HTC Hero, then the HTC Desire S, then the Nexus 4 and now the LG G3. All my tablets have been Android based too from the ill fated Mototola Xoom 2 and now the LG Pad 8.3.
Running with the “I love Google” theme, I decided the other week that I was going to try out a Chromebook. I was sick of going round to my partners house and having to either carry around my laptop or have to do everything on my phone (the tablet firmly lives beside the bed as a TV streamer). So I got myself on eBay and bought a nice little Samsung ARM Series 3 Chromebook.
The grand unboxing.
The box was square which was quite offputting. There’s nothing worse than thinking that you’ve gone back to the dark days of pre-widescreen screens. Thankfully, it was just the way it had been packaged.
The Chromebook booted up within 5 seconds of me opening the lid and was prompting me for WiFi details. Next came asking for my Google Account details. All in all I think I spent around 2 minutes setting it up before I was ready to go.
One thing which is bugging me is that not all apps open like apps. I want them to be in different windows, if the gMail app is an app… why does it just open in a Chrome tab? It creates a bit of a broken mental model to the user who has become used to apps being free standing applications rather than just webpages (which lets face it, are what a lot of these so called apps are).
After playing around in the settings, I found a nice little feature where if my phone is near the Chromebook (and they both have Bluetooth turned on) I don’t have to input my password. Its a nice little time saving feature which I’ve enabled for now.
Oh crap, I need to make a quick website.
Just a simple landing page, how hard can it be…. on a Chromebook.
The answer is its actually really easy. I jumped into the Chrome WebStore and searched for sublime (hoping against hope that it existed as an app) and low and behold! It didn’t.
But never fear, another application which looked sort of like Sublime exists! Caret 4.5/5 stars on the WebStore has excellent reviews.
After installing, I opened it up and got to work.
This app I would call an actual app. It opens in its own little window and has the look and feel of any desktop application. It’s also really easy to use and can recognise lots of different languages and apply colour schemes to them (which you can change, just like in Sublime).
Switching to the Beta Channel and ARC
So this morning I decided to see what was happening in the world of ChromeOS and switched to the Beta Channel (for help in switching channels, look here). It only took around 10 minutes to download and install before I was up and running again and I must say, it’s nice.
It has added Google Now to my Chromebook (which is fantastic for me as Google Now essentially runs my life), changed the app launcher and given the file manager a bit of a material design facelift. On the Stable Channel, the app launcher looked and behaved similarly to the Start button in Windows 7 and while it was nice, it meant I never seemed to use the dedicated search button on the keyboard. Now in the Beta Channel, that has been changed to a search icon and I’ve found myself using the search keyboard button all the time.
On the Stable Channel, the app launcher looked and behaved similarly to the Start button in Windows 7 and while it was nice, it meant I never seemed to use the dedicated search button on the keyboard. Now in the Beta Channel, that has been changed to a search icon and I’ve found myself using the search keyboard button all the time. Pressing it (on its on-screen equivalent) brings up a little modal screen with the Google Search Bar we all know and love. Just type in the name of the app you’re looking for or a Google search term and hit enter. You’ll either be presented with the app you wanted or a Google Search results page (opened in Chrome)
ARC. Basically, Google are trying to get developers working with ChromeOS. ARC is supposed to do that. ARC makes the app think that it is running on Android and interrupts anything your app tries to send to Android (like notifications) and sends it to the corresponding ChromeOS command. it means that not only are you going to be hitting the Android PlayStore but you’ll also be making your app available to Chromebook users.
For users, it means more apps on their Chromebooks which behave like actual apps (woohoo) and for developers, it means that not only are you going to be hitting the Android PlayStore but you’ll also be making your app available to Chromebook users.
To find out more about ARC. read PCWorlds article here.
The trackpad, image editing, and Kodi.
The trackpad is starting to get on my nerves a little. It’s not overly responsive and sometimes is quite hard to use. I’ve been twiddling with the settings to get it right but at the moment, it is irritating me.
Today I also had to edit an image for uploading to a website I manage. Not difficult right? Well, first off I had to change file type. I didn’t use any form of app, I just jumped onto a converter website and changed it there.
After that, I had to reduce the physical size of the image. To do this, I hopped onto the WebStore and found an app called “Polarr“. This app actually opens as its own window which pleased me greatly but sadly, it didn’t seem to offer the functionality to reduce the size of the image. This was rather irritating as the app seemed really well featured. As a backup, I installed Pixlr which does offer he functionality to reduce an image’s size but sadly just runs in a Chrome tab.
I use Kodi (previously XBMC) as a media server in my flat. Instead of using a keyboard as an interface, I normally use a remote control app on my phone or tablet. Hoping for a similar app on ChromeOS, I searched the WebStore but sadly didn’t find anything nearly as fully featured as the ones available to Android. There are remote apps in the WebStore, but they’re just not as good as the ones I’m used to so they didn’t get installed. Hopefully, this is something I can use ARC for.
Movies and media streaming.
First thing in the morning and I loaded up Google Music. I’ve got an AllAccess subscription to Google’s music streaming service which means not only can I stream all the music I own (both bought from their store and uploaded from my computer) but I can also access their media library similar to Spotify. I already use the Google Music app through Chrome (it just opens a new tab, how can that be called an app…) and was pleased with how the Chromebook worked with it. The speakers on the Chromebook are actually better than I expected and coped well with a wide range of music.
After a nice wee trip to the pub after work, I fancied watching West Wing. Not having any of the DVDs to hand, I trooped over to the Google Movies app (which also contains TV shows). This is one of the best apps I’ve used on the Chromebook so far. It runs in its own window and has a far superior interface to that offered by its website equivalent which I’ve always struggled to use.
The sound quality was crisp and clear and I didn’t have to put the volume all the way up just to hear the dialogue. It was really easy to pair the Chromebook to my Bluetooth headphones too (AKG Y45BT). Pairing to my Bluetooth speaker however was a bit disappointing. There was a lot of crackling and the sound did end up slightly out of sync with the video which was irritating.
I also tried out the Netflix app which just opened Netflix in a Chrome tab which makes you wonder why they bothered making it an app in the first place.
Expanding the memory.
Today I added a 64Gb SD card to the Chromebook so I would be able to load it up with videos to watch if I was ever without internet. The downside to this is that you have to rely on the media files being playable within Chrome or there being an app in the WebStore capable of playing it.
I’ve been using the Chromebook to write this post and I’m noticing that there is often a delay in what I type being displayed on the screen. This seems to be leading to more typos than I normally do. It doesn’t seem to happen all the time so it might not necessarily be the Chromebook slowing down input.
The problem with apps
The main issue I’m having with the Chromebook is inconsistency with apps. Some Google apps open by themselves, some just open in Chrome. Some are redesigned, some are just the same as the websites. This inconsistency is beginning to drive me slowly insane. There are some apps I love, Google Movies, Hangouts for example, and then there are some apps which I don’t even consider apps (looking at you gMail).
Despite this however, I love the Chromebook. It’s everything I want from a little laptop. I don’t miss anything from my normal laptop and haven’t found anything which I want to do which I haven’t been able to. Some things are harder yes. But, on the whole, this has been a perfect replacement for my laptop on a day to day basis.
I’m hoping Google continue to support ChromeOS and don’t abandon older hardware (like the one I’ve been using) and continue to make Chromebooks and ChromeOS. I’m also hoping they fix the inconsistencies with the ChromeOS apps.