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Chromebook: A Consumer Review
Introduction: A review of the Chromebook as made by ASUS
In the parlance of the computer world, I am a poweruser. Or as some people would say, a "computer nerd".
This is pretty obvious if you look around this site. The machines I use for work are very powerful. The machines I use for production, are even more powerful. But they are also very specific to their tasks, and tend to not be very mobile.
So, what's this about?
This review serves the same purpose as an article that I wrote a while ago to answer the question, "What kind of computer should I buy?". The Chromebook was mentioned in passing, but no real details were given other than "it's sorta like a tablet".
Like any good consumer, I think it's a good idea to let people know when a product arrives on the scene that is actually worth promoting. So, no, I am not getting a dime for promoting this product. I'm writing about it because I really liked it that much.
Like most normal people, I like to have another machine that serves a much smaller purpose. I need a less powerful, mobile machine for simple stuff like, checking emails, Facebook, watching Netflix, etc... The machine I use while watching TV... For a few years I've been relying on an older laptop, which is somewhat overkill, or a tablet, which is somewhat underkill. Laptops are larger, heavier, and run Windows. For the purposes of a simple machine, it's too big, too heavy, and too slow. I cannot stand having to wait while the machine wakes up. This is one reason I like tablets. Instant ON! My trusty little Samsung 7" has been great. But it's got some shortcomings, as tablets tend to have. But the game breaker is that it's getting old and bogged down. Audio is out of sync with video, low on space, headphone jack fails sometimes, stuff like that.
It was time for a replacement
What to get, what to get? I could get a new tablet. I could get a notebook computer that runs Windows 10. And then I started thinking, "What do I really use the machine for?" The answer to that question is the stuff I mentioned before. But what would I like to see in improvement to those things? I'd like some more advanced features like a more functional keyboard, and for the machine to turn on instantly, like a tablet. But I don't want another tablet. And I don't want another overkill laptop with a small screen that runs too slow, because, Windows still packs too much punch for such a simple machine.
I'd been thinking abuot a Chromebook for a while. I'd heard some things that were good. Read some reviews. Played with one in Best Buy a few times. I decided it was time to give it a try.
TLDR version of this article: It's awesome!
Now, why do I say that?
I will do my best here to break down the various things I found that make this machine stand out. I say "this machine" because I am in fact typing this on the Chromebook I am reviewing.
And this is a telling point. For starters, I couldn't do this on a tablet. It would take forever with that little tiny keyboard. And any sort of code editing, even when it's mostly plain text like this, is just not fun.
There are a few steps involved in writing a new article for this site. It basically involves copying the template, setting a few variables, and getting the new files up to the server. All of which were done with this machine the same as any other laptop I normally use. No problems at all. Even that screen grab with a resize and crop would have been too arduous a process on a tablet. It went pretty smoothly here.
The Chromebook is more like a Notebook computer than a tablet
If you're wondering why I keep comparing the Chromebook to a tablet, it's because that is the device that I am looking to replace. And there is still a concern for those things that I currently use a tablet for. Setting aside the games, I need to test apps that I write too. Like for instance, my new Quote of the Day app.
That is a screen grab of that app running on this machine. I did nothing special to the app. That is the same version that is available on Google Play. I didn't have to change a thing or recompile. Here is one of the most amusing parts of this story... The new Chromebooks run Android apps! Not all of them, mind you. But a lot of them. Clash Royale works. All of the apps that I wrote work. That'll do for now. As a bonus, so far, I've only seen an app error out once.
I also use Netflix most days. There is no native Chromebook app for that. My first try was to use the website through Chrome. But I found out pretty quickly that a better solution is to use the Android version of the app. Which works 100% This really is a amazing. Because it means that whatever engine the Chromebook uses to emulate the Android system works so well that the apps appear to be native to the Chromebook system - seamlessly.
So far so good...
There are list of other concerns with a new device. Here I will detail each...
For starters, you probably should understand what a Chromebook is, and what Google is trying to accomplish with the system. It is a "notebook computer". Which is another way of saying that it's a small laptop. It runs Linux for an operating system. That's not really important, because unlike many other Linux distrobutions (or distros), you really don't need to know anything about that. It's no different than your cell phone in that respect. Your cell phone, btw, also runs Linux. Or Unix on an iPhone, which is still, for all important matters, the exact same thing.
The intention of the device is to have almost no software installed locally on the machine. The most important stuff you need is executed remotely through the Chrome web browser. Yes. The very same Chrome browser you probably already use. Right out of the box, the machine is appears pretty much like a laptop with nothing installed but Chrome.
One of the first things I do when I get a new machine is set it up for all the normal stuff I need. Shortcuts to my favorite web sites, and a few software tools that are good to have, like a code editor and a photo editor. These things do not come preinstalled. The Chromebook comes with a link to the Chrome Web Store. Much like Google Play, it is the repository for all apps that have been written for Chromebooks, and approved by Google.
It only took me a few seconds to find both the things I was looking for. The code editor, Caret, does exactly what you'd expect of a simple code editor. Syntax highlighting, spellcheck, etc... The photo editor is The Pixlr Editor. It pretends to be Photoshop. It's not, but it tries. It's sort of like a functional little brother of Photoshop.
It's free, it's stable, and it does many things exceedingly well. Especially for something that runs in Chrome and was apparently written in Flash. For what it's worth, all of the images on this pages were created and edited using that thing.
A note about Flash... That is a dying animal. For a long list of reasons (security, for one) it has been shunned by the developers of the world. Many systems no longer support it. Most of the ones that do, require a manual confirmation to run it. For that reason, I am surprised that this app exists at all. And I suspect that it won't be around forever.
Those 2 things right there more than satisfied my needs for this machine. But there is more, of course.
Microsoft Office has been the standard for as long as there have been offices with computers. So every machine that you use has to be able to view and edit office documents. Google Docs and Google Sheets are not 100% replacements for their respective Office applications. But damn if they aren't really, really close. I do a lot of personal work and my school work using Google Drive Office programs. It's not surprise that they work just as well on this machine as any other. And if you really need to deliver your final product in a native Office format, or even a PDF, you can download your work at any time. It should be noted that that is the case across the board. Google's Office online applications are extremely reliable and well written.
One of the major drawbacks to notebook computers is the screen size. Granted, it's been a while since I've compared them. But last I checked, most notebooks have a fairly low resolution screen. This one is running 11.6 inches HD 1366x768. Which makes for some small text, but really large real estate. Which is very important if you do a lot of stuff that requires screen space. Stuff like, you know, writing code.
16GB Flash Storage; No CD or DVD drive. The system itself doesn't take up any of your local storage. Anything you write to the local storage is immediately backed up on Google Drive. Cloud storage is great that way. The amount of local space you have doesn't really much matter. 16GB is enough to hold more than you will need for a very long time. And if it's not enough, there are 2 USB ports and a built-in SD card reader. You can easily put a 32GB SD card in here, and triple your storage capacity.
Speed and stability
I'm not going to bother generating a bunch of benchmark charts to show you that this machine is indeed faster than, well, every other notebook I've ever seen. You're just going to have to take my word for it. In terms of speed, reliability, stability, and confidence, there is nothing bad to report. No delay. No lag. No stability issues. This is a big deal to me because even some of my most powerful machines glitch out from time to time just visiting a website that has too many ads. Because there is no overhead in this operating system, everything runs way faster and much smoother.
The specs say 10 hours. I think that is just a boast by the manufacturer. But I'll say this... I haven't had to plug this thing in. I've been working on this article now for a total of about 4 hours, and the battery indicator tells me there is 80% (6hrs) left. So maybe it's not just an empty boast. The battery life really does appear to be that good.
I cannot speak for all Chromebooks, only this one. Good, solid keyboard, lightweight, rugged design... All good news there. The keyboard is funny because it omits some things you normally find. There is no CapsLock. But seriously the only time I ever press CapsLock is when I turn it off because I just turned it on by accident! The function keys are replaced by, well, functional function keys. Most keyboards have those F1-F12 keys, and additional functions for when you hold down the "Fn" button. They just omit that nonsense and go straight for "function keys as they would act when pressing the 'Fn' key".
There are also some other things left out. No keypad, no Home, PageUp/PageDown. But there are simple hot keys to replace those shortcuts. The touchpad omits things like the right click you normally get. But new gestures are built in to replace them. Like, click with two fingers is a right-click, or slide with 2 fingers makes a scrolling action like a mouse wheel.
In other words, they simplified and consolidated those things.
The only thing that would be an improvement is a touchscreen. They DO make those. Just not in this one.
If the tone of this article has not illustrated my feelings on the matter well enough, I will simply state, this machine is awesome. It has well exceeded my expectations. It is far more capable than I expected. Does that mean it's right for everyone? I don't know. How could I? But I can say that if you've read this far into this article, you are probably interested in buying one. I say, go for it. It's worth it.
Oh... One more thing. How much did this thing cost? The price was $218 from Amazon. Look, I don't have a lot of money... So cost is always an issue. I consider this to be a necessary expense. In my opinion, it was a good price. Referbs are less expensive. But they are also older. And in this case, that makes a difference.
Full specifications for the machine reviewed
- ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS02
- Intel Celeron N3060 Processor (2M Cache, up to 2.48 GHz)
- Designed for rugged use with reinforced rubber guards, easy grip handles, and a spill resistant keyboard
- Can open/edit MS Office files using free embedded QuickOffice editor or Google Docs, and can download Microsoft Office Online (an online version of Microsoft Office) for free. Cannot install standard MS Office software.
- 4 GB DDR3 RAM; 16GB Flash Storage; No CD or DVD drive
- 11.6 inches HD 1366x768 Anti-Glare Display, up to 10 hours of battery life