Should you buy a Chromebook ?

October 10th 2017

Should you buy a Chromebook ?

When Google unveiled Chrome OS, the company was sending a strong message: the Web, as a platform, is the future. In those days, Google was still kind of hyped but it seems Chrome OS is not as ubiquitous as Gmail is today. But Chrome OS still offers some great advantages - and some disadvantages. So should you buy a Chromebook?

Probably the first mistake that Google did was to bet on netbooks when the trend was clearly over. Big hardware companies understood that 10-inch screen computers were pretty much hated by anyone who tried them - I had a Samsung NC10 that came with Windows XP. I remember installing OS X on it, then Jolicloud and then Ubuntu. And then just threw it away...

But Chrome OS was another opportunity for manufacturers to come up with a new family of cheap computers.

What are the advantages?

First: the price. If you have a small budget - as I had a couple years ago - then you cannot simply ignore the Chromebook family.

Because Chrome OS is basically the Chrome browser based on a Linux Kernel, the system is very fast and very stable. And this is important because you will find some cheap laptops running a stripped down version of Windows housing more or less the same hardware. Microsoft is indeed trying to compete head-to-head with Google in the low-end market. But those laptops will not only need to run Windows and all the Windows Services but also the browser Chrome. So of course, they are very slow.

Also, Chrome OS being Chrome only, the update process is fairly simple and transparent. No need to reboot your machine - and even so it’d only take 1 minute, literally. Security risks are diminished as well.

So what about apps?

So “why would you use a computer on top of which you can’t install applications?”, you heard. Well, that’s not entirely true. You cannot install Windows, macOS or Linux software, but you can make use of Web applications that are either entirely online, that can sync data offline or that are completely offline.

I would, for instance, use Microsoft’s Office.com for text/sheet editing or Pixlr.com for graphic manipulations.There was this FTP client which basically encapsulated a Filezilla look-a-like app to manage websites. Also, there were plugins for the file manager to sync data with Dropbox or OneDrive. And tons of offline notepads or video player compatible with exotic file extensions.

And be true to yourself: you do not need anything else. By this I mean: if you need a video editing tool or an advanced photo editing software why the hell are you buying this $300 laptop anyway? 

Oh did I mention that you can now run Android apps from the Play Store?

What about an offline environment?

As we saw, there are some applications that can be used offline. But another question that you can often hear is “OK so what if I’m deep in the countryside without an internet connection or on the train?”.

Now let's be honest, quite often, those questions come from hypocritical people who simply do not want to understand because they don’t like to think too much differently from what they are used to.

First, with free Wi-FI everywhere and 4G tethering from your smartphone, when are you REALLY without an Internet connection?

So the real question here is:  what do THEY do with a Mac or a Windows computer when “deep in the countryside without an internet connection or on the train?” 

Yup exactly! Nothing more that what YOU would do with a Chromebook. You’d probably watch a movie, read a book, play a stupid casual game or write a document. And of course, you can do that on a Chromebook in offline mode.

What are the drawbacks?

The real drawback of a Chromebook, in my opinion, is the hardware. Most of the Chromebooks are sold between $200 and $500 and at that price, the materials used are pretty cheap.

I had the Asus C300. It looks nice, it’s thin, but it had a plastic chassis which kind of emulated a high-end brushed aluminum body. And it was fragile. But the if you are an Amazon Prime member then you may be in luck.

6 months after buying the Asus C300 I had a problem. I sent the laptop for repair and had to wait 2 weeks. It came back home in great conditions. Then 6 months later I got another problem. I did not want to wait again so I asked Amazon to reimburse the laptop. Which they promptly did. Then I just bought the same computer from Amazon and got it the next day. 6 months later I had a problem, again. I got reimbursed again. And moved on to a MacBook Pro... Mostly for the hardware...

But in the end, I used a laptop for a year and a half and did not pay for it. So this maybe good to know if you want to try the Chromebook concept.

The other drawback is Google itself. No need to say that if you buy a Chromebook then you'll let Google deal with your private data. If you like targetted advertising and do not mind being tracked then go for it. I personally wish Mozilla would come up with a similar concept. I'd buy a “FirefoxBook” immediately if I could.