So after spending the better part of yesterday, last night, and this morning working primarly on my new Chromebook rather than my desktop Mac, I’m quite enjoying the experience, although it does take some getting used to in certain subtle ways.
Getting used to it
Probably my biggest concern right out of the gate was the keyboard on this particular Samsung model. For whatever reason, the return key is at the extreme right, and the left shift key is at the extreme left – both smaller than they would otherwise be on most keyboards I’ve used. This isn’t an uncommon sort of adjustment when using any new laptop, to be fair, but I regularly find myself adding a slash character when I’m trying to press enter or the left shift, which is particularly annoying when keying in passwords. I also can’t quite understand why anybody would have thought that this keyboard needed two slash keys instead of, say, making a larger enter or shift key. Just a strange design, but not too hard to adjust to once you get used to it.
Being a Mac user, I also fairly quickly reversed the CTRL and ALT keys – something that Chrome OS mercifully allows for, since of course I’m used to using CMD for most of the functions that CTRL is used for on the Chromebook, from switching tabs to copying and pasting. Similarly, I turned on “Australian” scrolling (as Google calls it) as soon as I found that setting as well.
The touchpad also feels a little less smooth than the Macs I’m used to, both in texture as well as in responsiveness. It’s not terribly bad, but it’s an adjustment as well, as are some of the more advanced trackpad gestures that are slightly different from what I’m used to (e.g. no three-finger drag-and-drop).
On the upside, however, the battery life on this thing is very impressive, and it seems that I’ll be able to easily get about 5 hours out of it without breaking a sweat, and maybe even more in a pinch. This Chromebook also seemed a bit sluggish at first, but as I saw somebody else point out regarding theirs, I think that was due to the software update processes. By later last night it had become much smoother and more responsive. Startup time is also lightning fast, especially waking from sleep – it’s ready to go before I can even get the cover all the way open.
In terms of design, it definitely has a cheaper plastic “toy” feel, which I’m not all that surprised by, coming from Samsung (I didn’t like the Nexus S or Galaxy Nexus in that regard either). However, I’m also not bothered by this, considering it’s a quarter of the cost of a nice aluminium MacBook Air. I really wasn’t expecting much more in that regard, so I’m totally cool with that, however.
It’s light and portable and still feels like something you could easily toss in a bag (or an eVest pocket :) ). In fact, much like my feelings on my Kindle vs iPad, this Chromebook feels like something I’m less worried about damaging or scratching up.
In terms of the OS, there weren’t any big surprises for me, as I tried out Chromium on a MacBook Air last summer. Since I live almost entirely on the web these days with Google Apps and writing work, it ends up being a good fit for 99% of what I do. Considering I did all of my reporting from CES using an iPad with an Adonit Writer keyboard case, I suspect this will be a perfect fit for that sort of on-the-go work as well. Chrome OS still has the “desktop” type advantages that one really can’t replicate on an iOS or Android tablet, such as a multi-window interface and quick access to flipping between screens and tabs. Just a better tool for the job, IMHO.
One thing that was absolutely brilliant was the ability to just log into my Google Account and have everything set up automatically, including all of my extensions from Chrome on my Mac. I was ready to go with a familiar user experience right out of the box, with the only changes being the keyboard and trackpad tweaks mentioned above.
About the only thing missing from this experience for me is iChat, which is sadly still used for video-conferencing and direct chats with colleagues, although we’ve fortunately switched over to the web-based Campfire service for our team discussions, so that fits quite well (I’m still working on getting my team-mates over to Google+ Hangouts, but they’re firmly entrenched in Apple technology, and my EiC still prefers to send files via Messages than even using Dropbox [sigh] ).
The other thing that will still keep me going back to my desk is full-featured photo apps like Lightroom and Photoshop. I’m pleasantly surprised that the Chrome OS has a basic photo editing tool included (although it seems to lack resizing), and of course online options like Aviary are available, but they’re obviously nowhere near a replacement for Lightroom. However, that’s not an “on-the-go” thing for me, so I can totally live without it on my actual notebook. Similarly, I still use iTunes on my Mac to support my primary media library, but I’ve also uploaded all of my music to Google Music which works fine for allowing me to access my music while on-the-go, and there’s also Rdio which works great on the Chromebook as well.
All in all, I’m enjoying the Chromebook experience. It beats using a tablet when I’m trying to do real work, and will offer me more flexibility without having to replicate an entire Mac OS X experience on a second computer.