The Chromebook -- it's like an iPad, but with a keyboard

The Chromebook -- it's like an iPad, but with a keyboard

Summary: I wasn't expecting to like it, but in the end I loved it. The Chromebook could be the perfect post-PC device that has a keyboard.

TOPICS: Laptops, Tablets
You can use a Chromebook to find videos of cats on YouTube. This proves it meets the needs of 99.9% of internet users worldwide.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece where I wondered whether Surface RT was essentially just a differently-done Chromebook. At the time I'd never tried using a Chromebook, and it seemed churlish of me to say such a thing without actually trying it. So I bought a Chromebook.

I wanted to get one of the Samsung ARM-based Chromebooks, but for some reason these seem to be in very short supply. More or less at random I bought an Acer C7 Chromebook. Well, I say at random, what I did was buy the cheapest one I could because I was presupposed to assume it would be pretty naff and I wanted to limit my exposure.

I rarely write reviews of products that I am really, really smitten by. So stand by, because the Chromebook is fantastic.

Um… it's amazing

I really wasn't expecting it to be any good. A couple of years ago I had one of the first ones on order, but cancelled it as I although I was keen to know what it was like the whole premise seemed stupid. Who would want a laptop computer that only ran a web browser and that always needs an internet connection?

This then is the entire Chromebook proposition. It's just a web browser. The Acer I bought has 16GB of storage (which is a lot, considering in principle you never store anything locally), and 2GB of RAM. When you boot it up for the first time it takes you through getting a network connection going and it then asks you to log into your Google account. This I duly did, and then Google texted me with my two-factor code and I was in. As I happen to use Chrome on my Mac, all of my favourites, apps, etc just appeared on the Chromebook.

That night I spent about three hours using it. I wrote an article using Google Docs, spent some time on TweetDeck, and mucked around with a few other things. The next day I was desperate to use it rather than my Mac and did some more work on articles in Google Docs.

Personally, I feel the only way to judge technology is sense whether or not it makes you feel comfortable and whether you unconsciously bias your selection of it rather than something else. (For example, a year ago I bought a Lumia 800 to try and hated using it so much I would rather stare bored at a blank wall than pick it up. That told me a lot about how I felt about it.)

The Chromebook gave me a sense of joy and of freedom that I haven't for many years using a computing device. In fact, the last time I felt like this about a piece of technology was when I took delivery of my version 1 iPad.

But why? It's just a web browser.


Precisely. It's just a web browser.

Let's talk about the iPad, because the Chromebook and the iPad are on many levels the same sort of proposition. People are often critical of the iPad because they say that it "doesn't do enough". And sure, the iPad doesn't do very much. However, people often tend to look at computing devices on a continuum where you have "limited and restricted" at one end and "complex and configurable" at the other end. There is a common presupposition in the typical technologist's mindset that one of these is bad, and one of these is good. Spoiler: technologists like complexity.

But people who aren't technologists like simplicity. And this is why the iPad sells so well in domestic settings, and also why enterprises are starting to like them. Post-PC devices -- and I'm classing the Chromebook as one of those -- are  boneheaded, simple, basic, and they don't go wrong and don't cause problems.

This is one of the hallmarks of the post-PC age. Simplicity is lauded above complexity and configurability. Yes, a PC is massively configurable and flexible. And now I'm reflecting on the fact that this evening I have to try and help my father upgrade his trial version of Office 2013 to a full version. The upgrade doesn't work because he has a 32-bit version of one and a 64-bit version of the other. (I think -- that's what I've managed to grok from the error message he read out to me over the phone.) That complexity doesn't help him, and it doesn't help me. At this point, I would rather he just had a Chromebook and was done with it.

Read: The lure of the tablet -- no intimidation

Or indeed, an iPad. But then he'd need a keyboard, and an iPad and a keyboard is not necessarily a good mating. It works, but the iPad is not designed for that mode of operation. Personally I think the bigger problem with running an iPad with a keyboard is that you don't have a mouse. With a Chromebook you get a keyboard, and a mouse. At one point last week I was running it with an external keyboard and in a dual monitor set-up using the HDMI port. It was just like a PC but not.

That then is my point. Yes, Chromebook doesn't have the rich set of native apps available that the iPad does. Nor can it playback the locked-in content from the iTunes ecosystem. But what Apple has always done is pick a job and do that one thing well. Chromebook also does that -- it's a laptop that does nothing but run a very good web browser. In a good number of significant ways, if you have a desire for an "iPad with a keyboard", Chromebook is it.


Chromebook is a great idea. It's beautifully executed, dirt cheap, and a total joy to use. But would I actually ever recommend that anyone buy one as opposed to a cheap Windows laptop?

I think I might. Gartner put out a release this week that really resonated with me. The release talks about a structural shift in the PC market. In it one of the Gartner analysts states "Whereas as once we imagined a world in which individual users would have both a PC and a tablet as personal devices, we increasingly suspect that most individuals will shift consumption activity to a personal tablet, and perform creative and administrative tasks on a shared PC. There will be some individuals who retain both, but we believe they will be exception and not the norm."

Read: Windows 8 failed to kick-start PC market

Imagine a typical domestic environment in a few years. That might be a husband, wife, and a couple of kids. Each individual has their own smartphone, their own tablet, plus one shared Chromebook for what Gartner calls "creative tasks". (For what it's worth, I think the split between "creative" and "consumptive" uses of computing devices is artificial, but that's for another day and I'll let it pass.)

The question is then, does Chromebook fit the role of a "shared PC". The one I bought is £200 in the UK, and about $230 in the US. The average selling price (ASP) of a Windows PC is, currently, $420. That Chromebook is way cheaper. And does that family need the complexity of Windows in the computer that they share? I would wager they do not, although they might be presupposed to think that they did.

I can actually see that arrangement working really well. There's a symmetry too -- both classes of devices in that domestic arrangement are simple, ubiquitous computing-style devices.

Certainly there's nothing the Chromebook is doing wrong that stops that model from happening. Bring it on.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topics: Laptops, Tablets

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  • Desperation

    Chromebook is a flop.

    Now in their desperation, fanatical "post-PC" theory nuts are trying to promote it by comparing with iPad? It's nothing like iPad.
    Tim Acheson
    • Agreed. He developes for iPads, not Windows,

      So I wonder what he would continue recommend?

      He's all over the place - "Surface (tablet) makes bad laptop compared to Ultrabook or Chromebook", yet says that "Chromebooks is just like the iPad (tablet)

      So he's either talking out his butt, (or lying out of it), or just hypocritical.

      Either way, I'm not sure his opinions are genuine.
      William Farrel
      • What the heck is a "genuine" opinion?

        And coming from a MS shill, it is absolutely priceless.

        Oh, sweet irony, clearly lost on you.
        • what do we expect from a Google paid shill

          except talking out from his/her a$$ and name calling whoever has opposing view of his/her
          Ram U
        • You should just change your name to D.T.Shill, since you certainly are that

          What is a genuine opinion? One where all things are viewed by the same metric, not a shifting one that fits a predetermined statement.

          But I doubt a shill like you would except someone giving an MS product a fair review.
          William Farrel
        • What is a genuine opinion?

          He may have meant honest, but if he did mean to use the word genuine, in my mind it would be an opinion based on facts in an effort to evaluate a range of products so that somebody looking to buy one of the products can do so with some added first hand information. An ungenuine opinion would be an opinion given not for its honesty but trying to turn the person's purchase to something that benefits the person giving the opinion in some way, and not meant to help the person doing the buying.
          • Genuine has more than one meaning

            The author may have intended the meaning of "heartfelt" or "sincere" rather than "authentic" as the replies seem to address.

            But if you are just looking for ways to make others wrong, far be it from me to stop you.
          • Wrong nesting

            Sorry Callenger R/T, I nested this under the wrong reply. I am in agreement with your comments however.
          • I was thinking the same thing

            Genuine opinion as in how he truly feels about it. Which can be very different than an opinion based solely on facts presented.
        • Speak

          English D.T. Can we please have some actual contribution to these boards vs bashing?
          • Can we please have some actual contribution to these boards vs bashing?

            What a novel idea

            How about directing that request to all the MS fanatics who wet themselves over anything from MS and hate anything from anyone else?

            Having to wade through all the pro-MS rubbish on here is far more tedious than the rest, because it is by far the greater number of posts.

            Yes, Willy, Rama, adornoe, toddbottom3 and all the other one-eyed gits on here, I am talking about you! You have the gall to complain about anyone who disagrees with you and call them shills and trolls, while outdoing them at every turn. What hypocrisy.
          • Unfortunately there are plenty of them on here for

            each OS and/or brand.
        • Oooh, I know this one

          Genuine, adj.: Ridiculously biased in favour of Microsoft, as in "Windows Genuine Advantage."
      • Really?

        “He developes for iPads, not Windows” -Will

        Books don’t count I guess?

        Programming Windows 8 Apps with C
        An Introduction to Windows Runtime (WinRT)
        • What is he doing now

          From his Bio -

          "helping companies deliver software for post-PC tablets and smartphones"

          That doesn't include Windows, does it?
          William Farrel
          • If it does not include Windows

            Then it is pretty clear Microsoft is in trouble.

            It was inevitable for this time to come --- after all, you can't inflate that baloney indefinitely, can you?
          • Ultimate Farrel Fail

            Excluding MS from the future of computing will haunt Farrel the rest of his days. You burnt another ID buddy, can't use this one anymore!! We will not forget . . .
          • You said it Will, not us

            So according to you there is no Windows tablet or smartphone? Or at least not one worth mentioning since you stated that "post-PC tablets and smartphones" doesn't include Windows. Guess it's the end of MS according to William Farrel
        • Lets be serious

          If you look at the book this guy write about (C#, ASP.NET, E-COMMERCE, WinRT, VB, DataBase, BlackBerry, Windows Phones, and finally Amazon web service).

          You can be sure this guy is a con artiste or just a guy who put is name on articles written by other writer.

          Being a real developer I know by experience that no matter how many time u put in computer science u cant get specialized in more than one or 2 different subject. (things change really quickly in computer sciences).
          • not sure I agree on that...

            that depends on the person. some people have trouble being experts in 1 or 2... others are experts in 7 or 8. Just because you cannot do it, don't assume thats how it is for everyone... Plus when writing a book, its a bit easier since its out and you don't have to keep up with it anymore. I have talked with authors who knew less about the subject than they should have years after writing a book because they didn't keep up with it.