Chromebook Diaries – In the real world.

Earlier this year I wrote about Google Chromebooks, as a possible replacement for a Windows Laptop because I was looking to replace my 3 year old Toshiba Satellite that was getting older and slower and reaching the end of its useful life.

I was wary of leaving the comfort and familiarity of Windows behind, having spent a lot of my working life using various releases of Windows and numerous versions of Office and so I dithered. I loved the concept but was unsure how it would integrate with my daily workload of Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoints, email and web browsing, I even found a Windows laptop that was almost identical in size to a Chromebook – the Toshiba NB10.

3 laptop computers

On the left is my 5.6lb/2.54kg Toshiba Satellite, in the middle is the 3.3lbs/1.3kg Toshiba NB10 and on the right is the 2.9lbs/1.3kg Dell Chromebook 11. The Toshiba that I was looking to replace had a 15.6” screen whilst the other two have 11.6” screens although the resolution is identical at 1366 x 768 so I’d actually see the same amount of information – just reduced in size.

In an earlier post you can see that I finally made a decision, based on much research,and chose a Dell Chromebook.

What’s to like
It’s very compact and lightweight, takes 7 seconds to boot from scratch and wakes from “sleep” almost immediately.

Battery life is exceptional, I’ve had more than 8 hours from a single charge – which means that I no longer have to carry a heavy power supply, further reducing the weight and clutter that I tend to carry with me.

The screen is a great compromise between portability and easy working and is good enough for day to day productivity and watching catch-up TV or films in downtime. Sound through the built in speakers is surprisingly loud and good quality and the keyboard is great.

Google apps provides a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation tool to replace Microsoft Office and they’re pretty good. However, with an internet connection you can use Office 365, a cut down version of MS Office that runs in the cloud. If you still want to use Office on a desktop or Windows/Mac laptop then a monthly £9.99 subscription to Office 365 gives you 5 user licenses, unlimited web access AND 1Tb of cloud storage which is a perfect solution for smaller businesses and even home users.

Huawei MiFi

Yes, the Chromebook works best with an internet connection but there have been remarkably few times in the past 12 months where I’ve worked anywhere where there hasn’t been a Wi-Fi service or 3G/4G availability and that’s where my personal Wi-Fi hotspot comes in to play. I have a Huawei E5776 Mi-Fi device that connects to 4 and 3G networks and shares the connection with up to 5 devices. Problem solved.

HDMI to VGA Adapter

I had to buy an HDMI to VGA adapter, my USB hub worked fine, my USB memory sticks worked as designed and my Kensington USB PowerPoint slide changer worked perfectly. I really don’t know why I worried so much,

I can even connect it to one of my monitors and use a wireless keyboard and mouse if I want to use it in my office. Bluetooth 4.0 provides connectivity to a wide range of Bluetooth accessories, including headsets, speakers and phones.

What’s not to like
Not much really – email handling is not as efficient as I had grown used to. There’s no Outlook type application where I can bring email from 3 accounts into one place, which I thought was going to pose a problem but all of my email accounts offer webmail, and that actually works far better that I thought it would, I just have to look in 3 tabs rather than one application so it’s more of an inconvenience rather than a real obstacle.

So, there you are, a lightweight, compact, powerful laptop that’s great for business computing on the move and at a desk and all for around £200.00

Stuff you ought to be aware of.
Of course, the above only relates to the way that I work, and for me a Chromebook is working out well. However, we all work in different ways so it’s important to point out some of the other things about Chromebooks when compared to Windows and Mac laptops.

  • Tiny Hard Drives, in these days of 1Tb hard drives, the 16Gb or 32Gb hard drive in a Chromebook may be an issue. Of course, you can use USB keys, external hard-drives and Cloud storage to mitigate this to a degree but, if storage is necessary, and you don’t want to use external hard-drives or the cloud then I recommend that you look elsewhere.
  • Optical drives – there isn’t one but this isn’t unique to Chromebooks. Manufacturers are dropping optical drives in Macs and Windows machines to lower prices, reduce size and keep weight down and there are always external USB CD/DVD drives that you can use.
  • Business Apps. Unless your business apps are available on-line you won’t be able to use Sage or QuickBooks or heavy weight design apps such as AutoCAD and Adobe Photoshop.
  • Encryption. For those who are more security focussed, encryption might be a problem although your connection to cloud storage will be encrypted and because minimal data is normally stored on Chromebooks this may be less of an issue than it seems.
  • USB devices – you should check that your USB devices such as Sat Navs, audio adaptors etc. work.
  • Big Brother. And finally, if you believe that Google is the modern day incarnation of Big Brother, you have to be happy that it will know a lot more about your work than you might like it to.

So, Chromebooks may not be for everybody but then, neither is Windows/Mac/Linux. The key to success, as with all computing, is to understand your needs and make your selection based on those rather than simply rushing to adopt the latest gadget or fad.

That’s the way that I approached this and it looks as if it’s paid off, for me anyway.

Chromebook Diaries – the tech spec

Dell Chromebook 11

 

OK, so I’ve had my Dell Chromebook 11 for just over a week and am still exploring its capabilities but I think that it’s time to talk specifications.

Physically, it’s a very compact 24.6 mm x 294.64 mm x 200.7 mm which is 0.97″ x 11.6″ by 7.9″ in old money and tips the scales at 1.3kg – aka 2.9 lbs.

The screen is a perfectly usable 11.6″ with a resolution of 1366 x 768 and there’s an HDMI out with 1080p hi-def resolution. I’ve not used it in bright sunlight but I never used my Toshiba outside either and inside, it’s as bright as it needs to be.

There’s a 1.4 GHz Intel U2955 dual core processor with a 2Mb cache, that’s a Celeron if you like names. Memory wise there’s 4Gb RAM to keep things moving along and a 16Gd solid state drive, SSD. from what I’ve read, it’s like a PC, the more RAM the better the performance and I’ve had 20 tabs open with no slowdown.

To keep things simple there’s no network port but Wi-Fi, 802.11 a/b/g/n so you’ll be able to get on-line wherever there’s a wi-fi network. Bluetooth 4.0 completes the networking so that you can connect to your portable speakers or headset and there’s a webcam, microphone and a decent pair of speakers which is great for Google Hangouts users – not looked to see whether it works with Skype yet.

There’s a headphone and microphone socket, SD card slot to expand the memory or read your camera pics and 2 x USB 3.0 ports.

The battery is rated at 51Whr which is good for between 7 and 9 hours depending on how you use it.

All in all, the specification is ideal for a lightweight, speedy, compact laptop that’s great when working away from the office.

Of course, after winning rave reviews and pretty much selling out the technology bandwagon rolls on and Dell are to going release a new Chromebook with an i3 processor but I’m not upset by that, this one is just fine.

Chromebook Diaries – delivering presentations

One of my many roles away from the office is delivering presentations, whether it’s one-to-few or one-to-many and laptop and projector are key tools along with MS PowerPoint so I wondered how I would get on with a Chromebook?

PowerPoint OnlineI’ve found that there are MS Word, MS Excel and MS PowerPoint Apps in the Chrome Store – which is here you can access and download Apps for Chromebooks so I’ve downloaded them all. I’ve also learned that my Microsoft Office 365 Cloud Storage has been upgraded to 1Tb at no extra cost which means that I can upload all of my presentations to the Cloud and not worry about running out of storage.

So, back on topic – Chromebooks and presentations. I powered up my trusty Toshiba projector, plugged a HDMI to VGA adapter in to my Chromebook and connected the VGA cable from projector to adapter and almost instantly my Chromebook desktop was extended – just like working with 2 monitors.

PowerPoint Slide ChangerI plugged in the USB dongle for my Kensington remote slide changer and then accessed the screen settings and selected “Mirror” so that each display [Chromebook screen and projector] were displaying the same image.

Next, I clicked on the “PowerPoint” Chrome App and waited for a mere couple of seconds before PowerPoint opened and asked which presentation I wanted to run.Because I use a number of videos in my presentations I opened one  that I knew included a video.

Start PresentationI then clicked the “Start Slide Show” option and the presentation appeared – just as it does from my trusty Windows laptop. Fantastic.

I click “forward” to move on to the next slide – and the slides changed. I clicked through to a slide with a video – the video played and sound worked perfectly.

So, I am now confident that I can run PowerPoint presentations from my Chromebook, through a projector, change the slides as I walk around and let videos play in pretty much the same way that I can with my old Toshiba Windows laptop.

Fantastic!

Chromebook Diaries – editing photos on a Chromebook

When preparing presentations, writing blog posts or editing websites I need to edit photographs and other images.  However, I don’t need to do the whole “Photoshop” thing, normally it’s a case of cropping, resizing, compressing and occasionally working with the colour balance, brightness or contrast to give some of the pictures a bit of a “lift” and for that, a Chromebook is more than adequate.  It’s not unlike editing pictures on a tablet or phone – tools such as Pixlr Photo Editor and Pixlr Touch Up can deal with pretty much every basic image/photo editing requirement.  You can see a screen grab from Photo Editor on the right and it compares very favourably with my favourite Windows editor, the free www.getpaint.net which offers simple photo editing on Windows computers.  if i need to be more creative or actually originate an image then I’ll do it my PC where I can choose from Photoshop, Paintshop Pro and the excellent, and free, Gnu Image Manipulation Program, AKA the GIMP.When preparing presentations, writing blog posts or editing websites I need to edit photographs and other images.

However, I don’t need to do the whole “Photoshop” thing, normally it’s a case of cropping, resizing, compressing and occasionally working with the colour balance, brightness or contrast to give some of the pictures a bit of a “lift” and for that, a Chromebook is more than adequate.

It’s not unlike editing pictures on a tablet or phone – tools such as Pixlr Photo Editor and Pixlr Touch Up can deal with pretty much every basic image/photo editing requirement.

You can see a screen grab from Photo Editor on the right and it compares very favourably with my favourite Windows editor, the free www.getpaint.net which offers simple photo editing on Windows computers.

if i need to be more creative or actually originate an image then I’ll do it my PC where I can choose from Photoshop, Paintshop Pro and the excellent, and free, Gnu Image Manipulation Program, AKA the GIMP.

Chromebook Diaries – The Chromebook has landed

Toshiba Satellite Pro

My trusty Toshiba laptop is coming up on 3 years old and is beginning to show it’s age. Like it’s owner, it’s heavy, getting slower with age and just looks too chunky.

I have been agonising over its replacement for a while. I was taken with Windows Ultrabooks, great performance, quality screen and fantastic battery life – up to 5 hours but less than engaged by their prices, from £700 up.

I’ve also been looking at the Chromebooks which are basically small laptops with 11.6″ screens, fantastic battery life and running Google’s Chrome operating system rather than Windows. I even wrote about Chromebooks in an earlier post.

Larger screen Chromebooks are now available in in all cases battery life is as long as 9 hours, so all day computing without a charger is a realistic aim and they are impervious to viruses and other forms of malware.

Screens quality is perfectly acceptable but build quality, according to reviews has been variable. However, since Xmas 2013 more and more manufactures have been releasing models using Intel processors for better performance, compared to theToshiba Satellite NB10Samsung processors used in older Chromebooks, and manufacturers such as Toshiba and HP have released Chromebooks with larger screens – a 13” from Toshiba and a 14” from HP

However, I have been wary of the leap away from Windows and that has held me back, particularly after discovering a Toshiba of a very similar size to the 12” Chromebooks, with a touch screen and Windows 8 for not a lot more money than a Chromebook, around£300 compared to the typical Chromebook price of £200 to £250.

So, I continued to sit on the fence.

Then Dell released their take on the Chromebook – 11.6” screen, excellent battery life, Intel dual core processor, light weight and, more importantly, 4Gb RAM.

With excellent reviews and a keen price, my mind was 90% made up. Then I spotted a great deal on eBay just as the Dell delivery date slipped from days to months, my decision was made and on Tuesday July 8th I picked up my ever so slightly used Dell Chromebook.

Chromebook Diaries – Chromebooks, an alternative to a Windows Laptop

Chromebooks

Google Chromebooks

Do you find your laptop’s too big to carry with you and the battery life too short?

Is your tablet not quite large/comfortable enough for more than a little light document editing, email work and web browsing?

Did you know that there’s an alternative that might just bridge the gap, its device that took 2/3rds of laptop sales on Amazon during December 2013 and it’s called a Chromebook.

Chromebooks come in screen sizes of 11.6”, 13.3” and 14”, currently manufactured by Acer, HP, Samsung and Toshiba and prices start from £199.00 inc.

They are light weight, [around 1kg] have Wi-Fi and a small number have 3G/4G connectivity.

Battery life is typically 6 hours although the HP 14” boasts a battery life of up to 9.5 hours.

They run Google’s own operating system, Chrome OS, which means they boot up in around 7-8 seconds, don’t slow down over time – unlike some computer operating systems we know – and are pretty much invulnerable to viruses and other malware that’s out in the wild.

Of course, there’s a drawback – you can’t install Microsoft Office, in fact you can’t install most software which limits you to software that’s either available in the Chrome Web Store or applications which run in your browser – because that’s pretty much what Chrome OS is, it’s Google’s Chrome browser that’s been tweaked to run a laptop. You can use Microsoft Office 365 though, because that’s a cut-down version of Office that runs in your browser so all is not lost.

MiFi -Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot

Huawei Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot

It’s also best if you can be permanently connected to the internet, although a number of apps do run off-line but you can always buy one of the 3G versions, tether your ChromeBook to your mobile phone or use one of the Mi-Fi devices which create your own personal Wi-Fi hotspot that connects to the mobile phone network through 3G or 4G

So, if you want a lightweight laptop for email, document creation/editing, web browsing and a little light gaming perhaps you should give a Chromebook a try.