Monday, 16 December 2013

Living with a Chromebook

Three or four months ago I bought myself a chromebook - really in frustration after my main laptop at home took 45 minutes to boot onetime after a series of Windows updates. At the same time I’d become frustrated with the slow start up time for my Windows netbook, so I thought a change of technology might be appropriate.

I could have bought myself an iPad with a keyboard, but a Chromebook seemed to fit the bill as
  • it was cheap
  • I use gmail as my primary mail provider
  • Ditto for Google Calendar
I find Google Docs good enough for most basic writing, and the Google spreadsheet application is similarly good enough for most basic operations.

At the same time I’m perfectly happy to use the web version of twitter, and I use the Innologic web application as my RSS feed reader. In short I can spend a whole afternoon quite productively inside of Chrome.

This was also intended as a second computer - the one that goes to meetings and goes travelling so being stateless and having everything synced to the web was a plus.

After a few months, I can say with some confidence that it’s a good choice. Evernote has been perfectly usable via the web. and I have never yet found myself in a situation where I wish I’d got something else.

In practice the chiclet style keyboard is no worse to type on than any other budget computer and the screen is reasonably bright and sharp.

I’ve also severely tested it’s offline capability. Mainly I’ve used it at home, which has been an interesting experience as it’s fair to say that our home ADSL link is groaning under the strain of supporting multiple chatty network connections, while competing for bandwidth with all of our neighbours increasingly busy connections.

Our landline connection goes via the neighbour’s apple tree to a junction box on an old phone pole, and then via the legacy overground copper network back to an exchange about 3km away. As a result we’ve always had dropouts and slowdowns. It is however getting steadily worse - as the ownership of computers and tablets rises, and as the network gets older and busier, the attenuation and loss of sync pulses has got markedly worse, meaning that using the network connection can be a fairly stochastic experience - especially in late afternoon.

I was worried about how this would affect the Chromebook. Obviously web browsing and email need a network connection to be present, but on the other hand the google docs app copes pretty well with the network going walkabout - I’m yet to lose anything significant. It’s here though that not having a local Evernote client does become a pain - basically I store all my notes and supporting documentation in Evernote, and having to rely on the web version means you need to be online to search it.

If we didn’t have these network problems I’d say that for most day to day work the Chromebook is perfectly adequate. I’d also say that the device copes well with flaky infrastructure

I have a 3G USB modem that I originally bought eighteen months ago for our trip to South Australia. That was fine as it worked well with my netbook at the time. Of course since then we have taken to using tablets more and the Chromebook of course does not support USB modems. I’ve just bought myself a noname 3G router that you plug the USB modem into and this allows you to create a wireless network. In theory this means that we will have a backup network when our main link is being stupid and yet allow us to take a network (and multiple computing devices - sad people that we are) with us.

The 3G router is buried in the Christmas post somewhere between Melbourne and Canberra, I’ll write how it turns out once I’ve had it in service for a month or so …
Written with StackEdit.

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