I was walking down Chiswell Street in the Square Mile of London when I saw the Currys/PC World sign ahead.
“Ooooh, a MacBook!” was the first thought that came into my mind.
“Or, maybe not,” I corrected myself.
The last MacBook Pro that I purchased was on behalf of a company I was consulting with — so when I finished the project, it was right and proper that I gave it back. Hitherto I haven’t had the requirement for a laptop.
If you recall, earlier this year I did my best to completely rid myself of the requirement to walk about the place plugging a laptop. My plan was to get an iPad Mini along with a physical keyboard and make that work. It did. You can read all about that experience here (“My new mobile working environment“).
Working at RBS (I’m heading up Bizcrowd) I now reckon I need a laptop. You see I’m spending a lot more time in London, particularly during busy periods, when I routinely stay in hotels during the week. (Incidentally I’ve been looking carefully at the possibility of using Hotel Tonight to source my hotels — but I’m still concerned about that. I don’t like to leave things like getting a room until the ultra last minute. More on that in another post.)
Often during the business day it’s useful to be able to quickly lookup some information either in my personal data repository or on the web itself. Being able to use a laptop framework as the medium is pretty useful, especially when you’re having to type.
As I drifted around PC World, I couldn’t help but fixate on the Apple hardware. It is fantastic. I looked very carefully (for about 10 seconds) at a MacBook Air to replace the Air I have (but can’t find). The next generation ones are fabulous.
I then had a quick dash around the Windows PC aisle and admired the Lenovo Yoga ultra light laptop. Nice. But almost a thousand pounds.
My requirements for a laptop were semi tenuous. I’m always careful to try and discern the ‘need’ from the ‘want’. I couldn’t quite justify the specific requirement for a MacBook Pro or Air. Not the Pro, in particularly — because if I’m going to buy an Apple model, I’d rather buy the best one (£2,400 in this case) rather than make do with a lesser model. You’re already paying a lot so my view is often to buy the best and make it last as long as possible.
I took a step back in my mind and wondered why I was in PC World in the first place. I think, subconsciously I recognised I needed something.
But did I need to chuck £1,400 on an Air or £2,400 on a Pro? Or £950 on a Windows 8 laptop?
I didn’t think so.
And that’s when I spied the Chromebook stand. There was an HP model sitting next to a Samsung model.The Samsung Chromebook came in two variations: WiFi (£229) and 3G (£299).
I was initially attracted to the mobile data element until I remembered that 3G is yesterdays technology. I’ve been loving my EE 4G MiFi unit and I can’t be doing with traditional 3G any more. Not if it’s performing at the speeds I’ve been witnessing from Vodafone of late.
I was astonished at the price. £229 for a fully working Chromebook laptop with ~5 hours of battery? Interesting.
I did a quick mental check and recognised that almost everything I need to do with a laptop is ‘online’ nowadays.
I had a play about with the display model and found it rather difficult to discern the difference between the similar experience offered by the Air.
The keyboard on this Chromebook is remarkably similar to the Air. The lower case key letters are a nice touch.
I managed to get the device at £214 on the basis that I took out the £4/month insurance which, unless I’m particularly impressed, will probably be cancelled in a month.
Like you (I’m sure), I’ve admired the concept of a Chromebook ever since they were launched. I liked the simplicity. I liked how the Chrome OS is so ridiculously simple. It’s clutter free. There is no bloatware whatsoever. Setup was a breeze. There are no settings beyond a few cosmetic options, all accessible via the Chrome browser.
Almost every icon in the Apps menu opens a browser window. Some run inside what appears to be a fixed Chrome window to help them feel separate to the standard webpage. It’s rather appealing not to have to mess around installing everything I normally do. DropBox, for example, is a key app that I usually reach for the moment I’m setting up a new machine.
On the Chromebook there’s no need. Just access it on the browser. Obviously there are exceptions — Google Drive, for example, appears to run itself as a standalone process.
Here are some observations:
- The battery power is excellent so far. I’ve had 5 hours at least per night and it’s not even hit the ’empty’ stage yet.
- It’s fast. I don’t know what processor it’s got and I frankly couldn’t give a toss. Nor hard disk space. None of that jazz mattered. It just operates at speed that’s perfectly good.
- Video playback from the likes of YouTube is fine at full screen. I haven’t tried hook it up to a big screen with the HDMI port.
- The screen is fine. Retina, it ain’t. But it’s on par (or slightly better than) the dullard monitor I had on the desk at the office. I have to remind myself that I shouldn’t be caring — not when the whole thing was just over £229. Very similar, by the way, to the amount I’ve been having to pay for a night in a hotel in London.
- It’s lightweight. Again I don’t know the actual weight. It’s temporarily replaced the iPad Mini and physical keyboard in my little bag and I can’t tell the difference. Similar to the Air.
- Oh the screen isn’t as big as the Air or other more expensive models, obviously — there’s a bit of a bevel. Does the job though.
- It’s a little strange living in the Chrome browser permanently. But then that’s what I do with every other computer I use.
- I took advantage of the 100GB 2-year Google Drive offer — that’s bundled with the Chromebook. The fact I didn’t bother looking at the disk space gives you an idea of the purchase evaluation that you should be doing in the context of a Chromebook. You don’t buy one of these to stick your full 500gb movie collection on.
- When I say setup was simple, I mean stupid-simple. I switched it on, I gave it a WiFi network and I logged in with my Google credentials. Done. My bookmarks and various Chrome apps were all there right-away.
- I had a requirement to do some SSH terminal service work — and achieved this by downloading a little Chrome app for the purpose. It did an excellent job.
- There are quite a lot of Chrome apps — Spotify for example. Most of them are just links directly to the web property. Does the job.
- The file system is your Google Drive. No messing around. No Program Files, none of that. There’s a Downloads folder… again, because you need somewhere to put stuff like images or whatnot but that’s it.
- I am surprised by how I can’t really tell the difference between the Chromebook and the MacBook Air I would usually be using. Now and again when I’ve been busy going through email or peering through Google, I’ve had to smile at how I’m getting (what I feel is) an Apple experience at one quarter or a tenth of the cost. Don’t expect to do complex video editing or editing with Office though.
- The Chromebook is particularly ideal if you use Google heavily — if you’re on Google Drive and Google Apps constantly throughout the day, the majority of your needs are likely to be met immediately by the device.
When the chap at PC World asked if I’d like the ‘optional’ insurance I declined initially. In my view the device was almost throwaway. If I lost it, it would be annoying. But I wouldn’t be overly concerned, particularly since hardly any data is stored on it.
At £229 it is exceptionally cheap — and I think that’s the enabler. It means I haven’t worried about buying bucketloads of expensive accessories to protect it. I’ll aim to keep it good. But if it gets a scratch, I seriously don’t care. It’s just a window to my data — with a keyboard in a convenient form factor.
I might have been tempted by a 4G version.
I was certainly tempted by the Chromebook Pixel — but that’s at least four times the price with a flipping gorgeous screen (by all accounts, I haven’t yet seen one in real life).
Based on my experience with the Samsung Chromebook so far I reckon I could probably be persuaded to look at the Pixel.
I’m now looking at the Chromebox from Samsung too.
Google with their Chromebook strategy (and Samsung with the actual device) have distilled the key requirements for most of us down into one very cheap device, especially if you’re already a fan of most Google services.
If you were thinking about a throwaway purchase — if you need a laptop style device to get things done — whether for the commute, a vacation or as a spare, do take a look at the Samsung Chromebook. I’m sure the other manufacturer models are very similar. It’s quite surprising what a decent slimline operating system can to do make previously annoying devices into passable experiences.
If you’ve any questions, let me know — I’ll answer in the comments.
Here are the Samsung Chromebook headline features:
- 11.6” display
- 17.8mm thin and 1.1kg
- Over 6.5 hours of battery
- Boots up in less than 10 seconds
- 100 GB of Google Drive free for 2 years
- 16GB solid state drive