Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chromebooks

Google announced today that they would start selling Chromebooks in Canada. They'll be selling the Samsung and Acer Chromebooks via BestBuy and Futureshop, and the HP via HP's online portal. I'm not sure why Google chose to eschew their own virtual sales portal, the Play Store, or their Chromebook launch partner in the US, Amazon, but I'm just glad they finally brought Chromebooks into this market, and BestBuy/Futureshop has national distribution channels both online and via brick and mortar stores.

Personally, I've been using a Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook for about six months now, and I love it. The Series 5 550 is not the same Samsung Chromebook as the one Google is bringing to Canada (it's slightly more powerful but also a little louder and slightly larger) but it is very similar. I actually drove down to Buffalo to get one last year, believing that Google would not be bringing the devices to Canada any time soon.

Chromebooks have been around for a couple of years now, but they seem to have really taken off with the introduction of the $249 Samsung Chromebook late last year. The cheap price grabbed a lot of attention, and the quality hardware and lengthy battery life brought a lot of people in. Acer and HP jumped on the bandwagon shortly thereafter, and Google released their own, ultra-premium Chromebook a few weeks ago, though they do not appear to have brought that one to Canada yet. Not a lot of people will be upset by that though, as the ultra-premium price tag it carries would not have led to a lot of sales.

Without question, Chromebooks have their drawbacks. As Chrome OS is primarily a web browser, they require a constant internet connection to be truly useful. They also cannot run anything that doesn't exist as a website or Chrome app, so if you need custom software for work or school, you're SOL. They are also obviously effectively useless for anything more than casual gaming.

However, they are really, really good at the web. Removing all the bloat of a desktop OS like Windows means that Chromebooks can get much more from their hardware. Keeping a dozen tabs open at once is a breeze on mine, the Chromebook just doesn't care. It's also capable of playing back HD video, including Netflix. Websites all render properly, just like in desktop Chrome, and Flash plays perfectly. The keyboard is also outstanding; while my old Acer netbook was a nightmare for typing even short emails, I can easily type entire essays on my Chromebook. While still smaller than a bulky full-size laptop, the extra size makes a huge difference for both the screen and keyboard.

As for the internet connection, that isn't an issue for me at all. In Toronto, there are wireless hotspots everywhere. I always have wifi access at home, at school, and at work. At worst, when I can't find a wifi hotspot, I tether my phone and use its data connection. Honestly, in the six months that I've had this thing, not having internet access has not once been an issue.

For someone like me, who lives almost exclusively in the cloud, if I didn't have an internet connection, I wouldn't know what to do anyway. Even when I had Windows laptops, I never did anything that wasn't online. I do all my school work via Google Drive. I keep all my music in Google Music (registered via a VPN, and it works fine from Canada once you sign up). I did all this before I had a Chromebook, so the transition was very smooth.

If you're only looking for a thin client with which to browse the web, I highly recommend you take a Chromebook for a spin. They're not for everyone, and for most people they will need to be a secondary computing device (I have a desktop PC at home), but as a web browser it doesn't get much better, especially for the cost. I'm not sure whether the Acer is the older Acer or the very recently announced upgraded model, but either way I'd recommend everyone take a long hard look at the Samsung model. I really believe this is the future of laptops, and I'm glad to see it finally available in Canada.

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