The Emperor’s New Toy

Philip HarrisChatter, Technology0 Comments

I’m writing this post on my new toy – a Samsung E5250 Chromebook.

samsunge5250b

If you’re not aware of the Chromebook concept, it’s a class of laptop that runs Google’s Chrome operating system instead of Windows or iOS. There are some expensive models but the main draw is that the base models are very cheap – the Samsung costs about $270. The downside is that they only run Google apps so you’ll be using Google’s web based word processor and spreadsheet app rather than Word or Excel. That said, there are plenty of apps out there, including games, so you should be able to find most of what you need.

The Samsung Chromebook is one of two available in Canada (the other being the Acer C7). As laptops go its fairly low spec but it does come with an SSD drive. Essentially SSD drives work just like a memory card that you’d put in a digital camera which means that they’re small, fast and completely silent. As a result, the Chromebook boots up very quickly and although there’s only 16Gb of onboard storage you get 100GB of Google Drive space (free for the first two years) which lives “in the cloud” and is more than enough to store the sort of files you’ll be working with on a Chromebook. The lack of a hard drive means the E5250 is very thin and very light – just over 1kg which is less than the bag I carry my traditional laptop around in.

The reason I have a new Chromebook, despite the fact that I have an iPad, a laptop and a PC, is that our apartment has really big windows.

(Bear with me, you may be able to use some of this to justify your own unnecessary purchases).

Our windows give us a really good view of the water and the south of the city. They also let in a lot of sunlight. When I’m working in my office on a sunny day (yes, Vancouver does have sunny days) I have to wear a cap to keep the sun out of my eyes. During the summer, those south facing windows turn the apartment into a very effective oven and my office into an oven in self clean mode so I’ve been looking for a way to write away from the apartment, or at the very least in the bigger and slightly cooler living room.

Although the iPad is a fantastic device, touch keyboards are really not conducive to long periods of writing and certainly don’t work well for editing. I could buy some sort of keyboard but it’s still not really a great solution – I’d be propping the screen up somehow while balancing the keyboard on my legs. I do already have a laptop but it’s very old and slow, takes several minutes to boot up and the battery is useless so it’s not something I can use away from a power source (say on the beach). And it’s heavy and I’m old.

So, when the Chromebooks arrived in Canada I decided to give one a try. I’ve only been using it for a couple of hours, so obviously these are pretty early impressions but so far I’m very happy with it. It’s a little bit slow on some web pages but I’ll probably be using my iPad or main PC for serious browsing anyway.

Considering I’ll be using it for writing, the keyboard is critical and although there are a few minor differences (no dedicated caps lock key for example) it’s a good size and it seems like I’ll be able to switch between my desktop and the Chromebook without too many muscle memory related typos. The Google integration is nice, I already use Chrome as my browser and Google Drive for storing data I use across machines so it will fit nicely into my day-to-day life. Boot up speed is very impressive (less than five seconds) and with a 6+ hour battery life it should be okay to take on trips or to coffee shops, or more likely, the library.

If I had to find something to criticise at this point (and this is the Internet after all) it would be the hinge. It’s not embedded into the case so when the machine closed it has a ridge running across it which rather spoils the sleek, super thin look. It’s not a big hinge though and it’s a purely an aesthetic “issue”.

I’ll probably post some more thoughts on the Samsung E5250 in a few weeks, once I’ve been using it for a longer, but in the meantime, if you’re in the market for a cheap laptop for writing and other lightweight work and can live without your Windows/Mac apps, check out the Chromebooks.

[The article The Emperor’s New Toy by Philip Harris originally appeared on Solitary Mindset April 11th, 2013]

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