Switching to a Chromebook

For many of you, this post won’t mean too much. For others, the headline alone will have you turning your head. Before I get into the ‘Holy Crap, Batman!” of the post, let’s step back and take a look at what has led me up to this drastic change.

I write eight hours a day. That’s a lot of time staring at a screen and tapping at a keyboard. Because of that, I need hardware that exceeds my needs. Recently I purchased a beast of a desktop PC (a Leopard Extreme from System76). That computer pretty much set the bar (and did so incredibly high) for all computers to follow. The problem is, I don’t stand at my computer 100% of my working day (I use a standing desk). There are times I want to write away from my office or while in bed. That’s where the ol’ laptop comes into play.

And by “ol'”, I mean crusty, ancient, and snaggle toothed. I have two matching Sony VAIO lappys. They’ve been great machines, but they’ve worn out their welcome and are begging to be retired. To that end, I set about searching for the perfect laptop to replace my ageing friends. that search turned out to be incredibly difficult. Let me ‘splain.

I am a Linux devotee — have been for nearly two decades. I refuse to use Windows and have never been a fan of the Cult of Apple. This left a  few possible options:

  • Purchase laptop and install Linux: This wound up being taxing as so many of the ultrabook devices are challenging to install an operating system on. Much of this difficulty is due to the UEFI and fast-boot bios that were created to help poor Windows from getting crippling boot viruses.
  • Purchase Macbook Pro and install Linux: Oddly enough, this is a much more viable option now. With the intel-based architecture, installing Linux on Apple hardware has become much easier.
  • Purchase Linux pre-installed laptop: I’ve seriously considered the System76 Galago Ultra Pro, but there are two things holding me back — size (it’s 14.1 and I’m looking for 13 or less) and design (looking for a metal-cased design)

The last option is the surprising one:

Purchase a Chromebook. For those that aren’t aware of the Chromebook, let me fill you in. The Chromebook is a computer that uses Google’s Linux-based ChromeOS. It’s a wonder of efficiency and simplicity. Imagine a computer where all of your work is done from within a browser. You might be thinking that’s crazy. Think again. The majority of the work we do now can be done from within a browser. I’ve recently switched the vast majority of my work to Google Drive, so using a machine that works seamlessly with that service, makes perfect sense.

“Wait,” you say. “Doesn’t that mean you’d have to have a constant on-line connection to even use this device?”

No. ChromeOS does have an offline mode. But seriously, when are we not online?

When presented with a Chromebook, most people have the following two reactions:

  • But what about my apps?
  • I can’t use it offline!

To those people, I would say this:

  • What apps do you actually use?
  • Yes, you can (as mentioned earlier)

I do a LOT Of work in front of (or actually, behind) a computer.

  • Write
  • Design book covers
  • Record audiobooks
  • Record and video podcasts
  • Email
  • Social network
  • Shop online
  • Browsing the web

On a laptop (regardless of what type of laptop), I do all of the above, minus:

  • Record audiobooks
  • Record and video podcasts
  • Design book covers

It’s not that I can’t do those things on a laptop, it’s that I don’t like  using the smaller form-factor for those particular tasks. So that leaves:

  • Writing
  • Email
  • Social networking
  • Shopping online
  • Browsing the web

All of the above can be achieved on a Chromebook.

Now that we have the introduction out of the way, what are the options? You’ll find, at the moment, three basic types of Chromebooks:

  • Small and cheap
  • Standard-sized and cheap
  • Ultrabook-sized and expensive

If you look on Amazon’s top 100 best selling laptops, you’ll find three of the top ten are Chromebooks:

Just outside of the top ten is the HP Chromebook 11 (starting at $279.00 and ranked 11th). The Chromebook not listed on Amazon’s Top 100 is the one I am considering. It is the Ferrari of Chromebooks and the Delorean of laptops. I’m talking about the Chromebook Pixel. Imagine the Macbook Pro stripped of all its Apple-ness and made into a hyper-efficient, writing machine. That is the Pixel.

But why this? What makes it so special for the likes of a writer?

First and foremost, it gets everything out of the way. It’s just you and the process — working efficiently to create something magical. The operating system barely makes itself known and it never bogs down under the weight of too many applications or wayward system process.  But even beyond the platform itself, the Chromebook has three elements that simply blows away the competition:

Display: The Pixel’s touchscreen display is truly majestic. After working with this display, all others pale in comparison. Even the Apple Retina display is humbled by the Pixel. The specs of the display are:

  • 12.85″ display with a 3:2 aspect ratio
  • 2560 x 1700, at 239 PPI
  • 400 nit screen
  • 178° extra-wide viewing angle

That DPI is stunning. The 3:2 aspect ratio makes working with a word processor absolutely perfect. You see more and you see it more clearly.

The keyboard is also one of the best I’ve ever used. The feedback is spectacular and the speed of typing is unrivaled. Finally, the trackpad is like sliding your finger over ice. No other piece of hardware can match it’s elegance.

Downside anyone?

Of course, every piece of hardware has its downside. For the Pixel it’s battery life. Where the Macbook Pro will get 7 or 9 hours on a full charge, the Pixel will get 4 to 5. For me, that’s okay; I’m rarely working on a laptop for more than a couple of hours at a time. So battery life isn’t nearly as crucial. The other issue is heat. You best have a lap desk between the Pixel and your lap or you might smell bacon frying. Okay, it’s not that bad, but it does get hot.

Final decision

I haven’t made the final decision yet. I did purchase the Acer C720 for testing purposes and I really enjoyed it (it’s too small for every day for me, but the battery life is 9-11 hours). I have a loaner Pixel which might have to be pulled from my cold, dead hands. I also have a System76 Galago coming in for review purposes. Once I kick those tires, the decision will be final. At the moment, I’m leaning toward the Pixel. I have concluded that the Chromebook platform is ideal for writers. If you do happen to be of the writer species, find someone with a Chromebook and use it as a Guest and see if it’s for you. Trust me, you won’t regret the choice.