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My week with a Google Chromebook

For the past year or so I've had moments of lamenting the fact that I no longer have a laptop to use as a personal computing device. Sure, I've got my huge brick of a Lenovo that my employer gives me, but if you can't guess, it's very heavy and unwieldy. To top it off, it's severely locked down because of all of the security requirements that we need to follow. So for the past half dozen or so years, I've had my desktop iMac as my primary computing device, and supplemented that with various tablets.

Initially, I had a 10 inch iPad that I bought a keyboard for, as a way to make it more usable when traveling. That worked for the most part, but I eventually decided to upgrade to an iPad Mini. I love the smaller form factor for reading, and use as a general media device. The past couple of trips that I've been on, I've been missing having any type of keyboard to type on for blogging, and other convenient aspects that come with a computer vs a laptop.

For the past couple months I've been looking at some options. At first I was trying to narrow down my choice between a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and an iPad Air (11 inch). I went back and forth between the two, considering if I would be willing to step away from the Apple ecosystem. As I was hemming and hawing, I also started to consider the financial decision. Was I ready to drop a grand on a portable computing device, that would still end up being a secondary device for me? That's when I decided to maybe look at the other end of the spectrum, the Chromebook vs the HP Stream 11.

Since this is supposed to be a Chromebook review, I won't go too deep into why I decided to get a Chromebook, but suffice it to say, that since most of my productivity ecosystem is in Google, it simply made more sense. As a secondary device, I really didn't need to think about running all the games and content creation tools, as I still had my iMac. I think that I would have become frustrated with the Stream 11, because I would have known that I could run higher end tools, since it's a Windows machine, but I couldn't run those tools because of the hardware limitations.

So one week ago today, I headed out to MicroCenter and picked up an ASUS C200MA 11 inch Chromebook. The process of selecting this particular model is a story unto itself, but in the interest of getting on with the review; TL;DR... it was in stock.

As luck would have it, I was leaving on Sunday for a short trip out of town. This would give me the perfect opportunity to try out the Chromebook in a setting where I was really wanting for a laptop again. I'm happy to report that the Chromebook met, and even exceeded, my expectations on the trip in just about every way. Even when I got home from the trip a few days later, I didn't bother turning on my iMac for many hours. I just kept using the Chromebook because it was ready and waiting all the time.

Let's start by talking about the hardware. The ASUS is an 11 inch device, powered by an Intel Celeron N2830. This is a Bay Trail-M platform chip, running at just over 2Ghz. This chip is designed for small devices such as a Chromebook, and it's ultra-low power consumption allows it to run incredible cool. The ASUS C200MA has no fans, and runs silently. This chip also allows for close to 11 hours of run-time on battery. A fact that I tested at the hotel when I accidentally turned off the power switch to the outlet where it was plugged in.

The screen is a standard 1366x768 screen, and nothing fancy. It gets the job done, and it's visibly not a high end screen like I'm used to on Macs. However, for what I need it suffices. Videos and pictures are crisp and colors are represented as best as you'd expect on a screen in this price range (somewhat dull and muted).

One area where I'm particularly pleased is the keyboard. The C200MA has a really nice, almost full-size, keyboard, with a feel that reminds me of an Apple keyboard. The keys have a nice amount of travel and feel firm when typing. The keyboard layout is clear and simple. Chrombooks do not need a Windows key or an Apple key, so in it's place you get nice large Ctrl and Alt keys. The only thing that is slightly confusing is how to turn on Caps Lock, since that key is missing and replaced with a Spotlight-style quick search key. I still need to search Google for an answer on that.

Overall, the hardware is satisfying. The body is plastic, but it doesn't feel cheap (like some of the other models I looked at). The ASUS comes with 16GB of internal memory, of which about 9GB is available after the OS. There are the standard single USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, and a full size SD card slot. The only thing that I find myself wishing for, from a hardware perspective, is backlit keys.

So how do I like Chrome OS? For the most part I like it just fine. It's quick, simple, and does 90% of what I spend my time at a computer doing. All of the standard Google apps that I'm used to having on Mac and Windows are available and run the same as any other platform. I've also discovered more apps in the Chrome store to fill in a few gaps. Chrome OS also comes with a file system app to access the internal storage, and anything else you might plug in. It also comes with a calculator app, which is a relief since I realized very quickly that would be a huge pain to live without. The entire OS is very simple to use. You just log into the machine with your Google account, and you're good to go.

Overall, I'm very pleased with my choice on this laptop. I've used it quite a bit over the past seven days, writing multiple blog posts, including this one. I've even hooked it up to our TV to watch some web videos, and it performed as it should. It does what I need it to do, and does it well. It's quiet (silent really), lasts forever on battery, and has a great feel to it. I'm looking forward to the next seven days of using it, and beyond.


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