Chromebook - the browser becomes a laptop!

Finally, another device from the dream list has arrived - Chromebook. It's been the object of desire for a few years now. Chromebook is a unique device and is capturing the market in the west. The Chromebook isn't popular in India. Thanks to the good friends, for helping buy the Asus Chromebook Flip.

Warning: This is going to be a long one. Grab a cup of coffee before you continue.

Chromebook is a portable laptop which does not run Windows, Linux or Mac OS; it runs the Chrome browser. This new known as Chrome OS. Chrome OS is an operating system developed with the Chrome browser as the base. That's right a browser as the base for the operating system. Thanks to Google for developing the Chrome ecosystem. To the extent of being a complete operating. The Chromebook picked up was basis the use case for my spouse. Currently, Nextbit Robin served as a primary browsing device. The Flip C302 has proved its worth in the last 30 days. She now uses the Chromebook for browsing and even for teaching the kids.

Hardware

chromebook_specs

Asus Chromebook Flip C302 won the battle among Samsung's Chromebook Pro and Acer R13. The Flip C302 is slim and lightweight Chromebook. It houses minimal ports - 2 USB type-C on either side, a headphone jack and a micro-sd card slot.

chromebook_ports

USB type C ports are gaining its momentum. Now one charger charges the Chromebook, Nexus 6P and Nextbit Robin. A previous Kickstarter project - Snaptor allows for MacBook like magnetic charging. Snaptor package included 2 USB-C to USB-A (regular USB port) connector as well. The connector comes handy when connecting normal USB devices to the Chromebook. Two other previous purchases to power the Chromebook: Aukey Car Charger and the Choetech charging station

chromebook_chargers

The display is bright and has bezels for a reason. It includes the camera for video calls and snapping pictures. The quality of the camera is nothing too fancy about, but decent. The display is touch-enabled, making it convenient for browsing. The Flip C302 screen can swivel all the way to 360 degrees, converting it into a tablet mode. The bezels are helpful when in tablet mode. Enabling the tablet mode disables the physical keyboard. It does bring up the on-screen keyboard when required.

The keyboard is an important aspect of any laptop, and this holds for the Chromebooks as well. Being a MacBook Pro user for few years has got the fingers spoiled. The Flip C302 keyboard was a full pack of surprises as well. It isn't a regular laptop keyboard; designed for faster browsing. Instead of the Fn keys, the Chromebook includes back/forward, refresh, full screen and multi-window keys in the top rows. There is a button for quick locking of the user account. Another set to manage the brightness and volume controls.

chromebook_keyboard

The fingers on the keyboard glide when typing. It felt butter smooth. It pleased to the extent that urged to get this blog done completely on the Flip C302. The backlit keyboard does come handy during late hours. While it does not allow to control the brightness of the backlit keys like on MacBook Pro, yet it works. The

The trackpad on the Flip C302 is neither too big nor small. Located in the middle of the palm rest. Quick and snappy are the right words to describe the trackpad.

The sound on the Flip C302 is nothing Asus could be proud. It isn't loud not even when sitting alone in the living room with a ceiling fan turned on. There are two ways to control the volume levels. One through the volume control buttons on the keyboard when using in laptop mode. The other is a physical set of buttons on the side when the Chromebook is in tablet mode.

MacBook's battery life has a reputation for huge standby time. Battery life has been stellar even on the models launched a decade ago. Windows laptops, on the other hand, suffer in battery life. Asus claims 10 hours of battery life on the Flip C302, and it delivers. The battery life, but, going to be a different experience from the claims and in actual. Same as the vehicle's mileage claims by manufacturers. The benchmarks are in perfect conditions compared to reality. The Flip C302 battery takes about 2 hours from 0% to 100% without being in use.

Software

Chromebook is a Chromebook due to its Chrome OS. Chrome OS is a new computer operating system in the market. Google designed and launched it in July 2009. Chrome OS has Chrome browser as the primary user interface. As a result, Chrome OS supports all web applications wikipedia. The prerequisites to start using the Chromebook is internet connectivity and Google account. Once these available, a few clicks allows the access. Chrome OS supports multi-user access. With the multi-user environment, Chrome OS offers a unique user experience. The lock screen background changes as per the user selected. Thereby, making the lock screen look custom design too.

Chrome OS is an operating system which has its roots in a browser and now runs standalone on a laptop, great! What about MS Office then? The first question that comes to a mind, of the Windows user. Not for Chrome OS but any other operating system as well. To break it, Chrome OS does not natively support MS Office; yet don't worry Google has you covered. Google Drive is the answer, yes the Drive is not for storage. Google provides Docs, Sheets and Slides the apps for Word, Excel, and Powerpoint via the Drive. Thus, when using the Chromebook, you'd be working on Google Drive for your documents.

Update: MS Office has Office 365 product. Office 365 enables access to Office Suite online using the browser. The same can then be accessed through Chromebook as well.
Note: Office 365 requires a paid subscription to the service.

Files

When the document requires sharing, you need to share the link from your Google Drive. The recipient will be able to access the file through their Google account. Or, export the document into MS format (read .docx, .xlsx or .pptx) files and sent as attachment through Gmail. As a bonus for using Chromebook, Google bundles 100GB of Drive storage for two years. Once you sign up, Google gives you a complimentary upgrade to your Drive storage. The same is otherwise available for the approx. Rs.130 per month.

The Asus Flip comes with a base storage of 64GB. This storage is enough, for storing documents. There is a working offline mode when you are away from the Internet. The Drive updates the files once the network is available. ChromeOS support native media playback for basic file types. It supports files like MP3 for music, MP4 for video [files types list].

Other important requisite for the operating system is the future updates. Chrome OS has got this base covered well. The updates download in the background while the Chromebook is in use. The updates need any waiting and restarting for the updates to apply. The available updates install the next time the lid of the Chromebook is open. As Chrome OS is a browser, thus you skip the anti-virus, as Google takes care of killing the bugs and viruses.

Experience

Chromebook has been one of the most awaited gadgets. Finally, it's in possession after three years of looking forward to it. Tablets, on the other hand, are good when most the task requires touch. When it comes to typing or working on documents, tablets are not comfortable. They may connect to support the Bluetooth keyboard accessories available today. Using the keyboard makes it two gadgets to manage, maintain and charge (Bluetooth ones). Chromebooks with touchscreens, solve the problem in hand. Type all you want, and switch to touch for convenience. That's like killing two birds with one arrow, all while keeping in budget.

The Chromebook had a warm welcome to the family. The setup and boot up times are almost negligible and quick. Chromebook brought along visual and audio learning for the kids to enjoy. Chromebook is easy to handle and manage by the lady in the house. It takes away complication brought by other operating systems. Moreover, it is one device that does handle anything thrown at it.

Android phone is to Chromebook like iPhone is to MacBook. Chromebook allows for using Android phones (Nexus 6P and Nextbit Robin) to login using the fingerprint sensors. The feature works between the two devices, without extra software or app. It also means, that this method only works for unlocking; not for locking like MacID does for MacBook and iPhone.

CONs

Chrome OS on the Chromebook is fast, except for the slow login and logout process. After entering the password for login, it takes a while for the desktop screen to load. When the user logs out, the time it took was a tad bit longer. Coming from other operating systems where login and logout are faster in comparison.

Another challenge faced with Chromebook was setting up a printer. The Chromebook has two USB type C ports. The printers do not support it yet. The other way to access printer is via wifi, and if your printer is not wifi compatible, good luck to you.

Conclusion

Chromebook is a great product for casual use, and that is about 70% of the home usage. The good things about Chromebook are:

  • ease of use, it's a browser
  • covers up like a laptop and tablet
  • simple user interface and uncomplicated Chrome OS
  • easy to update and no anti-virus required
  • Google Drive for all the documents and extra storage of 100GB
  • Multi-user support via Google account sign in
  • allow using the fingerprint scanner on Android phone to log in

Few hurdles faced were:

  • slow login and logout process
  • setting up a printer is challenging

Chrome OS is a new operating system and is evolving every day. Good souls at Google are working day and night to bring new features and enhancements. Some small and some very small, the changes are happening.

If you are looking for a new laptop, Chromebooks are a good bet. They are cheap and value for money.

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