After using Chromebooks from their beginnings, I decided to put my Chromebook Pixel, the Porsche of the Chromebook line, to the ultimate test. I used it as my only computer at a major technology tradeshow: OScon.
If a device that relies as much on Wi-Fi as a Chromebook does can work at a convention with 1,000+ Wi-Fi users beating the heck out of the network, it can work anywhere. It not only worked, it worked extraordinarily well.
I was able to write stories, take notes, keep expense accounts in spreadsheets, and watch, not one, but two live-streaming videos at the same time in a situation where most Wi-Fi equipped laptops are having fits just getting an Internet Protocol (IP) address.
Leaving aside the luxury model Pixel, Chromebook prices range from under $200 to around $500. Each of them runs the latest version of Chrome OS, which is a Linux-based operating system that uses the Chrome Web browser for its primary interface.
This combination of inexpensive ARM and Intel-based laptops brings to all users many useful features. These include automatic operating system updates, fast boot and shutdown, and far better security than its Windows or Mac rivals for a close to unbeatable price.
For schools and students in particular, Chromebooks bring other advantages as well. Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) LA Schools, a non-proﬁt charter school operator best known from the Oscar-nominated documentary Waiting for Superman, decided to give Chromebooks a try. They worked extraordinarily well.
According to Matthew Peskay, Director of IT for KIPP LA, "Chromebooks are it. The Holy Grail of IT (PDF link) in any organization is the ability to minimize admin. With the Google devices, set-up and maintenance are a breeze. There’s no need for antivirus software; updates are done automatically; they don’t freeze-up; and should anything happen, you simply reboot and you’re oﬀ and running." Just the simple fact that we won’t need to constantly update software is itself huge, let alone the lower support and maintenance costs with Chromebooks."
Other school districts have also moved to Chromebooks. One school district in Illinois, for example, now requires high-school students to buy Chromebooks. They have numerous additional reasons for this move including: easy access to e-textbooks; Google Apps for Education integration; and, last but never least for a school, almost all work is automatically saved to the cloud-based Google Drive, meaning the dog ate my homework excuse will no longer work.
With school budgets under constant pressure everywhere, the combination of an inexpensive device with a low cost of administration has got to be attractive.
Joshua Koen, the District Coordinator of Technology for Passaic Public Schools in Passaic, NJ, had additional reasons for moving its 4,700 of its middle and high school students to Chromebooks.
Koen said that the schools are moving to the Samsung 550 Chromebook for its students because, "We have felt for years that we needed to prepare our students with the necessary 21st century workforce skills to be prepared for success after school, in college and career. A one-to-one learning environment can uniquely provide teachers and students with the tools needed to collaborate, research and engage in activities to think critically and problem solve beyond rote-memory tasks (Not asking ‘Google-able’ questions). The impending implementation of both the new Common Core Standards, which address these 21st century workforce skills and on-line high-stakes testing--Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced, generated the momentum necessary to identify the necessary resources."
Of course, Chromebooks aren't perfect for every situation. If your school requires a specific Windows or Mac program, you're out of luck. That said, any Web-based elearning program should work with a Chromebook.
If you just want to buy a Chromebook for your own work, any model should do well for you. My recommendations are, for the most cost-conscious, look to the Acer C710. It's not fast, but at prices that can reach below $200, it's about as affordable as any Chromebook on the market today.
For the most Chromebook for the money, I like the Lenovo ThinkPad x131e, which was designed for students and cost just over $400, and the ARM-powered Samsung Chromebook. The latter has been Amazon's best selling laptop for months and sells for $250.