Back to school: Google Chromebook a cheap laptop solution

Sam Chada
Aug 7, 2013

We’re venturing into the dog days of summer, which signifies that school is kicking back up in a couple of weeks. This is usually the time when students are looking for the latest technology to help them succeed in the upcoming school year. There are many great technology options that are available on the market and are designed for education and entertainment needs. These gadgets include, the traditional computer/laptop, tablets like the Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab and Windows Surface. There is also a little known underdog that is lurking in the shadows and starting to generate interest, the Google Chromebook.

The Chromebooks runs Google Chrome OS, meaning work is accomplished through the web browser and users are encouraged to store everything to the cloud and nothing locally. In layman’s terms, the Chromebook boots directly to Chrome, the web browser, you can’t install Windows software but you still use web apps for word processing, spreadsheets, light photo editing and getting your daily dose of Candy Crush. You can pretty much accomplish anything you that you do in a web browser using the Chromebook.

The Chromebook also boasts additional features like minimal maintenance as there is anti-virus software built in, and updates that run automatically, a camera and microphone for video chat, thousands of apps in the Chrome app store, about 4-hour battery life, offline mode for when you’re traveling or unable to connect to WiFi. It also connects easily to external monitors or your TV using the HDMI or VGA outputs and has multiple USB ports. It’s also super light weight and extremely portable.

To get started, all you will need is a Google account and access to the internet either by an ethernet cable or WiFi. The Chromebook also supports multiple logins, which allows different family members to share the Chromebook and switch between accounts with ease. If a friend is visiting and needs to borrow your Chromebook but they do not have a Google account, they can still use the laptop using the guest account.

The Chromebook is an extremely slick and efficient device, but there are a couple downsides. First, you can’t install any software. So if you’re a power user of iTunes or Microsoft Office you may not like the Chromebook. Second, there is no CD drive so you cannot play music or watch a movie from a disc but you can stream content (link to streaming content article). But if you’re looking to browse the headlines on the Register, check in with friends on Facebook, and send a couple quick emails, than the Chromebook may be a suitable option.

Major brick and mortar stores like Best Buy, Walmart and Staples now sell Chromebooks. The Chromebook has long been available through Amazon and the $249 Samsung Chromebook has been at the top of Amazon’s laptop best-sellers list for months now. Regarding pricing, there are a couple different Chromebook models that are available. The cheapest is the Acer C7 and retails for $199, the Samsung Chromebook for $249, the HP Pavilion Chromebook for $329, and the most expense - the Google Chrome Pixel at $1,299.

The Chromebook also comes with two important freebies — extra Google Drive storage and free in-flight WiFi passes. With the purchase and activation of the Chromebook, the Google account holder is given two years of 100GB Google Drive storage (a value of $119) and 12 free Gogo inflight passes (a value of $179). In total, the account holder is saving close to $300 over two years — it’s like Google is giving you a free Acer C7 and paying you to use it.

I have been a proud owner of an Acer C7 since the beginning of the year and absolutely love it. The Chromebook syncs with my Chrome browser at home and work and with my Samsung Galaxy 3. And rather than emailing myself files (because I don’t usually have a USB drive handy) I simply save documents to Google Drive and have access to them where ever I am. It’s really a beautiful thing.

If you’re on the fence about buying a laptop for your student or yourself, a Chromebook might be the perfect compromise. It’s not everything to everyone and for power users it might not make sense. For the rest of us it’s a perfect lightweight laptop for basic web access.

Comments

Doody

Question for Ms. Chada: I mostly do word processing/writing on my computer. I use dropbox, but was thinking about getting myself something portable to be able to write/work in locations not tied to a desk. Tried a tablet with a bluetooth keyboard, but that freezes up or is fidgety in saving things...plus the word processing software sometimes froze the tablet (granted I had a cheaper tablet). Would this be an option? What's the difference between this an an ultrabook?

OSUBuckeye59

Doody,

As you unfortunately found out, not all Tablets are created equal.

I'm sure Ms. Chada will provide an excellent response to your question, but I'll still attempt to provide answers as well.

Chromebooks are inexpensive, small and lightweight. Ultrabooks are small and lightweight, but definitely NOT inexpensive by comparison Chromebooks are married to Google Drive. Whereas you can do some work offline by setting up the offline mode of Google Drive, in the end you still need the Internet. Google Drive works best for simple text-based documents with minimal formatting. You can add images, tables, and other design elements, but these are not as full-featured as in Microsoft Office, and don't always translate as one might expect when exporting to a Word DOC file. When comparing MSOffice PowerPoint and Excel to Google Drive, the presentation and spreadsheet apps included with Google Drive are somewhat less successful. But there's a really great application called Quickoffice Pro you can use with a Chromebook, or you can use with a Tablet

An Ultrabook, with that name and spec having been developed by Intel, is in essence a lighter, less bulky version of a laptop/notebook. It's the Windows OS alternative to Apple's Mac Air. You get a screen with an attached keyboard. And now the Ultrabook is being further redefined such that there are devices on the market where you can detach the keyboard from the screen, and the screen then becomes a tablet. Or there are Ultrabooks with dual screens such than when you "close" the top of the Ultrabook, the backside is another screen and again, you get a tablet device.

If you want to stick with the versatility of an Android OS-based Tablet vs. a Chromebook and not spend 2x or more on an Ultrabook running Windows-OS, please consider either a Nexus tablet (they're designed for Google) or a Tablet from a company such as Taiwan-based ASUS. The Nexus tablets are reasonably-priced, as are the ASUS ones. And with the ASUS 7" FonePad, as an example, you can also use it as a phone as long as you have AT&T or T-Mobile. ASUS, like Samsung and others, also sells 10" and larger screen Tablets as well. Of course there are also Windows-based Tablets out on the Market. So buying either a Win8 or Android-based Tablet, coupled with a wireless mouse & keyboard from either Microsoft or Logitech, you'd save quite a bit of cash and still have excellent versatility.

Doody

I bought an Android based tablet with a bluetooth keyboard, but it just wasn't working for me. Hmmm...so much to consider. Thanks for all your help tho!

OSUBuckeye59

Which Tablet did you purchase? Unfortunately, the old adage of "You get what you pay for" rings very true for Android Tablets as many of the manufacturers of the cheap Tablets buy parts that are highly unreliable. But that's how they keep their costs down.

Doody

It's called a Le Pan...it had good reviews, but yes, lesson learned might be the appropriate adage here.

AG4EM

Chromebooks are a good option for school, as they are easy to use. The fast boot-up time is especially important in a classroom environment, as students don't waste time waiting for their devices to finish starting up.

But what about schools that use Windows applications? Or that access applications that require support for Java?

This can be addressed with third-party solutions such as Ericom AccessNow, an HTML5 RDP solution that enables Chromebook users to connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server and VDI virtual desktops, and run Windows applications or desktops in a browser tab. That means that you can open up an Internet Explorer session inside a Chrome browser tab, and then connect to the applications that require Java and run them on the Chromebook. It's also possible to run other Windows-based testing or educational applications.

For an online, interactive demo, open your Chrome browser and visit:
http://www.ericom.com/demo_Acces...

Please note that I work for Ericom

Licorice Schtick

Parts of the article read like an ad. Most students will need to install and run software on their computers, and they should want to even when it's not required. And Chromebook is all but useless any time you don't have a fast broadband connection. It's a bad choice for most students. Tablets are, too.