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Nilesh D Kapadia


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Using a Samsung ARM Series 3 Chromebook on a trip to New York

The 11.6” Samsung ARM Chromebook (the $250 one) is a great travel laptop. It runs an OS based around a fully functional version of Chrome that works just like the desktop version, and it has Flash. It’s light (2.42 lbs) and gets 7 hours of battery life.

Operating System

Chrome OS in general has impressed me. I’m surprised by the attention to detail and polish. And despite being a simple OS based around a web browser, they managed to provide many of the things desktop OS users tend to expect. For example, there is a screenshot feature that works similar to that of OS X. There is a file browser that is quite usable. It has convenient window management functions, such as being able to resize windows to various sizes. I look forward to seeing Chrome OS evolve. It’s not perfect, and there is room for improvement, but it’s in a good place right now.

At the time of this writing, I have not even enabled developer mode yet, which would allow me to use Crouton to install Ubuntu Linux packages. But I may do that soon, as I’d like to have a local instance of Emacs I could run, and a full UNIX environment would be nice.

Value

It comes with 2 years of 100GB Google Drive, which is worth $120. It also comes with 12 GoGo internet passes which allow you to use wifi while on airplanes that support that. I used those passes on both flights, to and from New York. They expire in a few years (12/31/2015), so I saw no reason to save them, as I don’t travel that often. I believe this normally costs $5 for a 30 minutes, but these free passes last the whole flight. If you used internet for 2 hours per flight, that is a $240 value. If you use these things, the Chromebook pays for itself.

Managing Photos

I was able to take the SD card from my camera and copy the photos we took to the ChromeBook onto it’s 16GB drive, and then upload them Google Drive to be on the safe side (if all our stuff got stolen, damaged, or lost, we’d still have the photos). I could have also just copied directly from the SD card to Google Drive, but uploading several gigabytes of photos takes a long time, I wanted to put the SD card back in the camera.

The file manager can be used for actually browsing photos you have stored locally. It is a bit too slow, but you can use it if you’re patient (I’m used to Aperture, which is quite speedy once it gets a chance to generate thumbnails). You can also browse the photos you have in Google Docs, but you are at the mercy of the speed of your internet connection, and I did not find that effective. This is ok, because I generally save the task of sorting through my photos for after vacations.

Battery Life

Battery life is great. It claims to do 7hrs, and so far, I believe it can (though I haven’t taken it all the way to 0% yet). One nice thing is that you can just turn it off completely to conserve power, and when you turn it back on, it’s right where you left off (as if you did hibernate). Startup is very fast, about 10 seconds or so.

Low Power Consumption

Thanks to the power-efficient ARM CPUs, this laptop consumes very little power. It is actually passively cooled, meaning that it has no fans at all, so it is virtually silent and you don’t have to worry about whether or not you are blocking fan holes.

Keyboard and Trackpad

The keyboard and trackpad are nice and I have no complaints, and I say that as someone who primarily uses Macs. The only thing I’d like to see is an option for next/previous swipe gestures on the trackpad; it’s possible they could add this in a Chrome OS update.

Downsides

The downsides are that the build quality is cheap and the display is low quality with poor viewing angles; you are definitely getting what you paid for there. I am spoiled by the Retina Display and MacBook displays in general, but I got used to the display and don’t mind it after several days of using it. And despite the cheap build quality, at least they did a nice enough job in the design of the laptop, something you may not see in the sub-$300 category.

Conclusions

For me, this is much more useful travel device than, say, a tablet like an iPad or the Nexus 7 I own. I bought mine used and spent only $175, which is less than what an action-packed vacation day in New York costs, so I don’t stress about it getting stolen or damaged in the same way I would a MacBook. So far I’m very happy with this device. Next time I’ll see how it does at home.

Note: Bad experience with a defective unit (Best Buy open box)

I did have a bad experience with one initially, but it had a physically defective trackpad that would cause the mouse button to be clicked or held down just from the laptop’s body flexing. This made it unusable. That one was a Best Buy open box. I would think most of the returns that result in used or open box items are people who didn’t know what they were getting (Chrome OS has it’s limitations), but it’s possible there are also a good amount of defective units being returned and sold as open box or used instead of returned to the manufacturer. I bought the used one from Amazon warehouse, and have no problems with it, though it does have a few scuffs here and there. If you want to buy new, it’s still a great deal at $250.

Upcoming

After writing this, a week later I enabled developer mode, installed Ubuntu (in a chroot) using Crouton, and installed Emacs and a few other essential utilities. I am only starting to get into using this, and hope to share more of my experiences with that.

© 2013 Nilesh D Kapadia