Switching to a Chromebook

Technology is what enables humans to conquer systems and systemic failures. To produce, communicate and thrive – both individually and as part of a team.

A picture of two shoes lifting off the ground. Illustrating exploration.
source: https://unsplash.com/@dan_carl5on

I’m always looking for ways that I can streamline everyday work. I’ve found that trying new technology helps me realize both new ways of working and also new ways others work.

If you’re looking for reviews of technology you need look no further than google and a handful of very popular review sites that have it down to a science. Also, amazon reviews help. I’m not here to give you all the details about this laptop and sell you one (bigger hard drive here). I simply want to document what I learned switching from a macbook to a chromebook.

  • Can I switch to a Chromebook?
  • What features do I need?
  • What do I need to know before I go into it?

I hope this meets your expectations!

Chromebook

What’s so different?

A chromebook is a laptop running open source software “ChromeOS” as the operating system. It is basically Chrome (Google’s web browser), plus what is needed to operate a computer, plus a little bit more.

I found this was hard to explain, so here’s a quick intro video:

Made with OpenTest – a chrome plugin. If I had done this on my mac I would have added music and cut out any “um’s”

ChromeOS and Laptop features

The “computer” use itself is very similar to any other computer, there’s a bar of “applications” on the bottom, a clock, icons for files… etc.

You can browse your computer’s files (stuff you downloaded, photos you added from your phone, etc).

But it’s really lightweight. You cannot install applications that work on Windows or MacOS. There are some pre-installed applications to browse files, connect other fileshareing services like dropbox (and google drive is already installed, of course). And that’s about it.

The rest depends on the Chrome internet browser (which I’ll go into detail on below). So if you’re offline all the time, this isn’t your laptop.

So what can you do offline? Chrome has some amazing offline features. And if you’re a heavy Google Drive and Google Apps user (sheets, docs, slides, etc) you can do all that offline. It will even sync your drive files that are marked for offline use.

The Chromebook I’m using is also capable of running Android applications (something google is testing in Beta on a limited set of Chromebook models so check your model before buying). As an iPhone and Mac user this isn’t terribly exciting, but I’m ready to try a new eco-system and there are a ton of free apps and useful stuff, just like the Apple App store.

There are also tons of offline apps in the android store, so that helps a lot with offline functionality.

All this offers incredible battery life. This one is rated for 12 hours (which we all know is less than 12 if you want wireless, bluetooth and a screen that’s reasonably bright. I get about 8-10 depending on how much music, external display, etc.. Very nice performance.

As for this specific model the rest of the features are nice, like having a microSD slot to add storage, a great webcam, speakers are REALLY loud and sound good. Not to mention the touchscreen (more on that below). The keyboard is a LOT like the mac, so I find it quite nice to type on. The touchpad totally sucks for dragging stuff – thankfully the touchscreen is incredible (more on that below).

Chrome

Using chrome for everything is a change of perspective and probably the biggest learning curve of switching to a chromebook. So of course, there are lots of options for how to fill in the gaps of having all that applications you need installed on your computer.

Chrome has extensions and apps that fill that gap.

There are a ton that are focused on making your chrome experience better. One that I use daily is called One-Tab: it’s a massive help when you have a ton of tabs open or you are having performance issues – or if you’re like me and have anxiety about closing tabs. Protip: go into options after installing to save your past tabs until deleted.

I still never use bookmarks, it seems strange, but now that my whole screen is chrome, it’s nice to have the real estate back!

Some other apps I use are OpenTest for screen recording, Text for text editing, I’m a huge google apps user. Google photos. The works.

I use the same 10 tabs often, so I pin those tabs and make sure that I set them as my opening pages in settings.

Android

Having Android apps run on your laptop is really nice. They play as you would expect them to and having a touchscreen really helps in this regard. It’s a great back up for when one of your apps just doesn’t work well as a webpage. Spotify was my clearest example of this. The web player is terrible, but the android app is really good, so I get to choose which one I want to use.

I also tried an Acer Chromebook 14 – which was meant to be one of the highest performing chromebooks. I found it somewhat lackluster, a bit bulky and kind of cheap.

I found out there were multiple models of chromebooks, so make sure the one you want has the right ports and specs for your needs. Even if the model number is the same, it may not be the same as another.

Since I’ve had the laptop they have turned off Android, then back on, and now off again. So it’s clear there are kinks getting ironed out. I haven’t used them much yet (too much “real work” to do).

Convertible Touchscreen Laptop/Tablet

This changed the way I look and touch so many things.

Web design for touchscreens – is going to revolutionize the way we consume and interact with the web. I can’t wait to see websites and browser start to support touchscreen mode= “1” or “on” or whatever.

I would love to see a wall mount accessory for this.

My macbook has never had so many fingerprints. I put my hand on the screen by default now.

I never thought about how much wasted time is created “moving the mouse across the screen”. There are so many functions of a computer that are infinitely faster with a touchscreen.

I like having a tablet sometimes, it’s great for browsing family photos and reading. Seems really sturdy – I love the look and feel of this laptop.

Charging via USB-C

I’ve purchased an Anker rapid charger and I get a warning about a low charge.  However, my 4a 5v anker battery (2nd Gen Astro E6) charges and runs it perfectly.

Screenshot 2017-01-27 at 2.00.45 PM
When it’s not charging I get this warning dialog box
2017-01-27
It’s super handy to charge when you have USB outlets.

This makes the chromebook convertible a MAJOR temptation for travelers that go long distances or to remote locations (without power). Pack 12 batteries and you have nearly half a month of usage with you.

Chrome Keyboard

Got rid of the caps lock key and replaced it with universal google search. Hotness. I also love the fullscreen button for apps. Websites haven’t ever seemed so functional.

It takes a little getting used to, but it mainly feels a lot like a macbook keyboard (one that I love).

Should you switch?

I can’t tell you for sure. What do you do that isn’t in chrome? If it’s a lot, or it’s make or break it – then just don’t.

Want to have a deeper conversation about your special case? Leave a commend below and let’s chat!

3 thoughts on “Switching to a Chromebook”

  1. Nice write up, I’ve been wondering if Chromebook would be good for my parents. A simple straight forward, uncluttered computer.

  2. I made the switch and its amazing. affordable, light, agile, battery, fast to boot, simplistic, etc. It is just brilliant. Just every now and then I miss the power for things like video editing apps. Great Blog thanks

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