Europe on a Chromebook

Much has been and will continue to be made of the viability of Chromebooks as a primary computing device. Microsoft launches direct attacks, inadvertently validating the platform. I see posts often lamenting the lack of gaming support. I judge computing devices by how well the device enables me to do what I need to. It is a functional decision. I have been using a Chromebook as my primary computing device for close to two years now. This last month in Europe was the first time I ventured beyond reach of either a PC or Mac. I have not used them much over the last two years but I have used them.

DSC_0207I posted information on the kit I took to Europe here (https://plus.google.com/u/0/+MichaelMcNeil/posts/2Lu3ifNWVn8?pid=6038321522472785250&oid=114761459049572366004)

The Chromebook was the ARM based Samsung CB2 13” with a 1920×1080 screen and 4GB of RAM. My wife also brought her phone and our Dell 11” Chromebook. The Dell has a speedy Haswell CPU, and 2GB of RAM. These are really 2 quite different devices that many would like to mash together. The Samsung has more memory and a much higher resolution screen, it is also more svelte and lighter than the Dell. The Dell is made of nice soft touch materials and has the fast Intel processor. Battery life on the two is roughly equal, both very very good.

europe-mapEven though this was a vacation, there was significant work that needed to be done each week for our business. I run a custom software company, Oasis Digital Solutions, and my wife is the controller. Customers still need to be responded to, software releases need to go out, new contracts need to be signed, projects cannot be ignored, employees still like to be paid and we still need to bill each week. These are pretty heady computing tasks. Here are a subset of the computing processes we used regularly just for business:

  1. Editing and creating large docs
  2. Manipulating large spreadsheets
  3. Editing PDFs with Electronic Signature
  4. Online Chats
  5. Screenshares
  6. Video Chats
  7. Email, Browsing

To support our trip we had some significant computing needs as well. I used the Sony lens camera and my phone camera to take nearly 2000 pictures and videos. About 16GB worth. I am a believer in backups so each day I would transfer files off of the micro SD cards to another storage device we carefully stored away. I also backed them all up to Google services which are backed up by Spanning Backup. My wife journaled on the Chromebook each day as we went. We knew we were seeing more than we could possibly remember. We would like to share our trip with family and friends. We also used Google Maps heavily and planned our days using the Chromebooks.

The performance of the Chromebooks can be viewed on a couple of axes. First, there is performance. My metric is different than most, I watched to see which Chromebook we tended to use more. The online and offline performance is also important. Many of the times we had opportunity to use the CBs were on trains without internet access. They can also be judged in terms of storage space and battery life. Here are our conclusions:

Performance

By the fourth day of the trip we both preferred to use the Samsung. The extra screen space and memory won the day. I am more firmly convinced than ever than an ARM processor is ok and 4GB of memory is a minimum. The Dell is an excellent device but is struggles with many complex pages open and the memory disappears quickly in the latest versions of Chrome OS. When we streamed an HD movie in Dusseldorf we used the Samsung without problem. When we had Hangouts with our daughter and grandchild from St. Louis, we used the Samsung. The one exception was when my wife was working on a bunch of spreadsheets, so I used the Dell.

I did start getting into the habit of shutting down the Samsung instead of closing the lid. There is some sort of memory leak going on in the latest OS releases that I am not pleased about. Fortunately it takes only a few seconds more to boot instead of un-suspend. I expect they will fix this problem soon, as it seems to be affecting all of my Chrome devices.

Overall we found the performance of the CBs to be fantastic. We never hit a spot where we could not do what we needed in a timely fashion. This made the trip much better.

Offline Use

We did not have internet at all times. In fact we used the CBs pretty extensively in an offline mode. Most of this was content creation and manipulation. For example we would write documents, create spreadsheets, and edit photos. We also used the opportunity to review documents we had stored locally intentionally before boarding a train. The process was quite painless.

The camera I brought was a Sony DSCQX100 lens camera. I used it held in my hand with the phone as a viewfinder. Because the camera was round I ended up with an inadvertent slight tilt to many of my photos. This meant a lot more photos needed to be rotated than normal. I found the tools on my Android phone to be faster than the process on the CB. The tools are there but getting to them from the file manager is not as seamless as it could be. With that said the process of moving the files back and forth was simple because I have a USB stick with a micro USB connector. It works really well with smartphones.

Storage and Battery Life

I expected this trip to be the point I would finally start to get irritated by 16GB of storage on a typical CB. I simply was not. I downloaded a movie to watch offline, I moved photos around, I stored piles of documents for offline use, all without a hitch. Because the model is to store in the cloud and use locally, there is not a build up of little used files on the device. I have rarely found myself creating new folders locally. The files I need I keep in a pile, they sync up and when I am done with them I delete them locally. Storing too much locally defeats the backup strategy, also, so there is not a drive to keep things (pun intended).

Battery life was simply fantastic. I never once through the trip found myself watching my battery or working to conserve. These devices can go and go and go. We would go days without charging them when we were only sporadically using them. On heavy use days we would simply charge overnight. Any time we went out we did not take a power supply with us, it was simply not needed.

Conclusion

PICT_20140825_192211This trip confirmed to me that I no longer need a PC at home. I removed my last one from my entertainment center last night. Its function as a media center PC was replaced by a $35 Chromecast last year. I will still keep a Mac around at the office, but it is not critical either. I will say that I am tired of TN displays. Once manufacturers get rid of all of these old netbook parts lying around and get to real business we will all be better off. The Samsung is a huge winner with an IPS display. I say that because I came back to write this article and others on my Pixel. The Samsung is a fine device and there are none better for traveling, but when I am sitting at home or the office, I want a nice display. Visuals are important.

Chrome OS has successfully defied its detractors. It is a robust OS with capabilities users need in 2014. It is fast, efficient, and most of all, reliable. Users can bounce from machine to machine with ease, your entire portfolio of apps will be available in minutes from the first login. There is not another OS that can boast that feature. I still think the biggest advantage of Chrome OS is a little harder to see at first. When a user buys a Chromebook they are getting a machine that will increase in functionality and speed over time. In any other ecosystem the device slows dramatically over the years.

I am really excited to see where the platform goes over the next year.

9 Comments

  1. Aaron September 1, 2014 at 10:03 PM #

    Very informative, and I must say that I am loving my C720. Going to primarily CB has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. You make the point well, that it is all about what you need and expect your machine to do; not what the detractors say it will not do. Personal need should be the driving force here. I applaud you for your clarity and passing on of real world experience.

    • Jeff Chapman September 2, 2014 at 12:04 AM #

      I find the only thing my Chromebook can’t do is the periodic audio or video editing job. I’ve looked for Chromebook solutions for this, but my audio files are typically 45 minutes – longer than the apps (websites) I found will allow. Same goes for video. I would love to ditch my Windows laptop, but until this one remaining obstacle is removed, I need to keep it around.

      • Michael September 2, 2014 at 5:24 AM #

        Unfortunately you are correct. The tools available work pretty well but are only suited for short projects. There was a time long ago that this was the case on Windows as well. It was not corrected for a long time yet the platform flourished. I think the same will happen here. I would like it fixed also.

  2. Steve September 1, 2014 at 11:13 PM #

    Thanks for the Chromebook travel log, Michael. I’ve tremendously enjoyed following you throughout Europe. I especially appreciate your excellent insights about actual use. You nailed it!!

  3. mrubuntu42post-pc September 2, 2014 at 1:10 AM #

    I like the idea and concept of chrome Os , but it to soon to be a principal machine . And the “chromebook comunity” have to do a big vidéo and explication, to all this kids ( who wants install skype and minecraft ) , before their parents buy a chromebook.
    I have a acer C720P with ubuntu and its my principal computer

  4. Stuart Graves September 2, 2014 at 2:16 AM #

    My last bastion of Macness is iTunes. I just can’t get on with Google Music. Otherwise I have also gone fully Chrome OS.

    Oh and printing. Every now and then I need to print something and Cloud printing is woeful at the moment.

    • Michael September 2, 2014 at 5:25 AM #

      Cloud printing is far from perfect. I am surprised that one is not more robust by now. Schools really need this to work to use Chromebooks effectively.

  5. John Melvin September 5, 2014 at 3:37 PM #

    I’ve had my Samsung Luminous Titan Chromebook 2 for a little over a month now and really do not see myself ever purchasing a Windows or Mac notebook in the future. While I didn’t take it across Europe with me, I have taken it on several work trips and on a short vacation. It is as versatile as I need it to be, and more. With the added 32 GB MicroSD card I added, I was able to load up a good portion of my favorite music as well. (I will say that I have never intended for my CB to be a source of entertainment for me.) I still have about 20 GB left on that card for documents, photos, etc.

    Working with Google Docs has made life so much easier for me. I’ve only started working with Lucidchart for my network diagrams, so I’m not very familiar with where all the tools are…yet. Once I get that figured out, I might be waving bye-bye to Visio. Finally, in an effort to expand my skill set, I’ve been using my CB along with some programming classes with Cloud9 and Udacity and it has worked out very well.

    Still can’t print anything yet, but that’s ok. That’s not a deal breaker for me. Overall, I would recommend a Chromebook to anyone.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - Toshiba CB2 - The Oasis Digital BlogThe Oasis Digital Blog - October 29, 2014

    […] Europe on a Chromebook […]

What Do You Think?