The Chromebook Thing...
A couple of weeks back, I decided to buy a Chromebook - an Asus C302A Flip to be precise. So far it has been largely delightful - though there have been some stumbling blocks, minor frustrations and there are still many little things to learn. It’s been a good start to a fun challenge. I’m writing this not as a comprehensive review, but rather as just a way to share my thoughts on it as someone with no experience with Chromebooks or Chrome OS.
The reason I decided to buy a Chromebook was to have a light nimble machine to handle work tasks like email, note-taking during meetings, and project-management sorts of tasks. And it excelled at those things almost immediately.
The size is exactly what I was after. It has a bright 12.5”, 1920x1080 touch display, a wonderful backlit keyboard and folds around like a tablet if I want. It’s got an Intel Core m3-6Y30, 4GB of ram and 64GB of EMMC storage. I don’t know if that’s super good, but I haven’t noticed any sort of lag or issues. It’s fast and nimble which is what I was after.
The keyboard deserves special mention. It feels great and significantly better than my full-size laptop (a Dell Inspiron 15). I love typing on this Chomebook so much more than on my regular laptop. The Inspiron - while a nice machine, has obscenely narrow shift keys and I still mistype things far too regularly. I can seriously say that within the first 3 minutes I fell in love with this keyboard.
I’ve never been a touchpad sort of person and use a bluetooth mouse with my Inspiron always. But after a few minutes using the touchpad on this Chromebook, I was determined to go without a mouse. And for the most part, it’s been flawless. Much more responsive and controllable than the one on the Dell. A mouse is still better for many tasks like CAD and other graphics work, but for what I’m doing on the Asus, it’s completely competent.
So hardware-wise, I’m completely sold. The quality, feel and performance is great. It’s only when you get to the software that the challenges start.
I don’t have any huge issues. Mostly it’s been an issue of getting my head around using cloud storage and syncing to come up with a functional, efficient workflow. While I can do just about anything I need, I still feel about 75% of the way there. Up to this point, my Google Drive was just a dumping ground for backups and previous forays into Google Sheets, Docs and the like. So it needed some cleaning up and simplification. It’s getting there, but it’s not perfect.
Sometimes it’s still confusing as to where things actually reside. The Files app in Chrome OS (think Windows Explorer, or Nautilus/Nemo on Linux) is straightforward, but it’s not 100% clear to my almost-50 year old brain of exactly what stuff is on my Google Drive and what stuff is on my Chromebook (hint: almost none of it). I’m sure it’ll come more naturally to me with time though.
The actual OS though feels relatively limited in terms of customization but also feels quite fast, polished and stable. It’s better than what I was expecting. I’m familiar with the challenges and frustrations that come with fiddling in Linux - sometimes that’s fun, but frankly it’s been a relief that customization is fairly limited, and that there don’t seem to be many show-stoppers on the OS side. Most of the fiddling comes with finding the apps and workflows to get practical work done.
I also put it on the Beta channel and enabled Android apps. This has opened up more options for apps but I know it’s not 100% foolproof. The majority have worked fine, but I have seen the odd glitch depending on the app. I haven’t tried a whole ton, but I can say one thing… Clash Royale is simply beautiful in portrait tablet mode on this thing. You don’t get an appreciation of the artwork and graphical detail when playing it on a 5” phone screen.
One thing that pisses me off is that Google hasn’t provided a native Drive sync client for Linux. It’s frankly shameful. So I’m currently trying out the free trial version of OverGrive mostly so I can have the ability to write blog posts here that get sync’d with my Linux laptop (where the static blog generating and S3 syncing happens). I’m writing the draft of this post using the Caret app (a great lightweight text editor).
So that’s just a check-in. I’m sure I’ll post other things about other challenges and discoveries in terms of apps, tools et cetera, but so far it’s been great. There is great potential here for my intended work tasks. Frankly I’m a little surprised. I didn’t think it would be this fun.