Chromebook may be just what you want as a writing tool


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NOTE: This review of chromebooks was written several years ago, but much of the information is still accurate and relevant to most of today’s chromebooks. Overall, prices have gone up. And there are some new features that may have been added, so consider each chromebook carefully if you’re seeking to buy one.

Attention all you writers out there: A chromebook may be just what you’re looking for in a convenient writing tool. Indeed, if you’re simply in the market for a new laptop and you’re strapped for cash, I recommend you give the newest Samsung and ASUS chromebooks a careful look.

My wife gave me a chromebook for my birthday. (OK, disclosure for honesty’s sake: I whined and whined long enough that she finally said, “All right. Buy it. Consider it an early birthday present.” I ordered it roughly a month before my birthday.) I ordered it from Amazon.com, the source for most of my computer and electronic stuff. They generally have the best prices on most items and their shipping and return policies are outstanding. I’ve never had a problem buying anything on Amazon.

The good news about most chromebooks is that they’re extremely simple, quick, and easy to set up. The bad news is, there really is no “desktop” as such, neither Windows nor Mac nor Linux, so it takes some changes (maybe) in the way you’re going to do business. But surprisingly, the chromebook’s limitations aren’t all that bad.

Pros:

1. Chromebooks start LIGHTNING fast for those of us who’ve spent most of our computer lives on Windows PCs. You open the lid and the thing’s fully ready to log in as a user and get started in less than 20 seconds. If you choose to, you can shut the lid, reopen it at any time and be up and running where you left off in less than 10-15 seconds. Just amazing.

2. It has something like a 6-8 hour battery life, depending on how you use it and how you set the power options. I’ve never tested it to the limit, but I regularly use it 6-7 hours between recharges. And the little thing recharges from nearly empty to full charged in less than 2 hours. (UPDATE: A few chromebooks now boast of a 12-hour plus battery life between chargings.)

3. It by default uses Google’s Chrome browser. I “converted” to Chrome a few years ago on my main Windows PC and love it. There was no real learning curve for me. And it “syncs” all my bookmarks and other settings between this chromebook (I’m writing this on said chromebook right now) and my Chrome browsers on my regular laptop and a netbook I have.

4. Most chromebook keyboards are 3/4 of “full” sized, and pose no real typing problems for my stubby old fingers. They do have some different keys and shortcut keys that you need to learn if you’re coming from a standard PC’s Qwerty keyboard, but it’s not an issue after the first day or two.

This smooth, lightweight little machine is designed for mostly online usage, which could be a problem for writers. BUT IT REALLY ISN’T. Let me explain:


You can’t use Microsoft Office or LibreOffice or any of the other Windows or Mac-based word processors. Bummer for writers, right? Not necessarily. Your abundant amount of free space via Google Drive includes Google “tools” such as “Document,” “Presentation,” and “Spreadsheet” — which are basic equivalents to “Word,” “Powerpoint,” and “Excel.”

In addition, if you have a Microsoft OneDrive account (they’re free and offer 7 gigs of free online storage) you can access that on the Chromebook and use basic “app” versions of Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc., that way.

But here’s a really fun Chromebook app I just discovered today and have played with a bit: Chrome Remote Desktop. I fired that app up on my Chromebook, accessed my primary computer — and I had access to everything on my primary computer. I literally opened Word in my primary computer via this Chromebook, created, edited, and saved a document on my primary computer — all done flawlessly while sitting here working on my Chromebook.

Cons:

1. The chromebook display brightness has a little auto sensor which adjusts brightness. The problem (and I read the same complaint from other reviewers before I bought it) is that comfortable display brightness for the screen happens to be generally at the highest setting. This means from time to time needing to push a keyboard button that boosts display brightness, especially after you’ve closed the lid and/or powered down and then powered back up or opened the lid to restart. Not a big issue, but annoying.

2. The screen isn’t a “full sized” screen like I have on my primary computer. It’s only a 11.6-inch diagonal measurement, as compared to 15 ?-inch on my primary computer. But it’s 1 inch bigger than the 10.6-inch diagonal screen on my older netbook. The quality (HD, I don’t know screen or display jargon), however, is excellent and even with my tired old eyes I can work several hours on it without a problem. Besides, since most of what I’m doing is within the Chrome browser interface, hitting the “Ctl-+” keyboard shortcut increases the size of the text in the display and makes it easier to work with on those days when the eyes are more tired.

3. There really isn’t much “storage” available. The only drive in the machine is 16 gigs worth of solid state built-in drive. BUT, there is a slot that takes a memory card. I bought one with 16 gigs storage for those files I may choose to download to the machine. Given the wealth of free storage with Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, etc., storing documents online with several locations for redundancy effectively addresses such issues, in my opinion. (A quick Internet search showed me that there are a couple of models of the Samsung Chromebook which now have more on-board memory and a hard drive. The model I have and which I am reviewing here has no hard drive and only the 16 gig built-in storage.)

And, yes, I know there are security and reliability issues for online storage, but I think I have effective security and backup measures in place that satisfy me. Your choice is, well, your choice!

Conclusion: As you can tell, I’m completely happy with the chromebook. The more I use it, the more satisfied I am with the light weight of it, the long battery life, the crisp display, the quick startup, even the online writing features. I didn’t mention this as a “Pro” feature, but since there is no mechanical hard drive and/or heat fan, there’s no noise coming from the machine — and it only feels very, very lightly warm to the touch on the bottom, so it’s perfect for working on my lap sitting here in this recliner.

Whether you’re looking for something specifically for writing or just a low-priced, lightweight laptop — I recommend you give the the many chromebook out there a good look.

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