Those who happen by this blog know that I like Google’s ChromeOS. I’ve got two Chromebooks, and have written a number of posts about ChromeOS. However, there are a handful of things that I need to do that I just can’t do well on a Chromebook. One of the main things is the ability to run Cisco’s WebEx software. Support for ChromeOS has been “coming” for a long time and given that I spend a lot of my day in WebEx meetings, this has been an annoyance. My employer (N2N Services) uses this as its standard, and I found myself sitting with a Chromebook and connected to the WebEx on my iPhone. Also, while Google Docs is great, roundtrip fidelity with Microsoft Office docs is still an issue. Microsoft’s online offerings are getting much better, but are not there yet. I use KeePass for passwords, and there’s not a version that works with ChromeOS. FTP/SFTP are possible with web-based tools like NetFTP, but kludgy. SSH works with an app, but is kludgy. The Chrome shell is OK for a few things, but want to run cURL? Nope. Can’t run Skype. But, I love the quick boot & online or SSD storage, and the small light form factor. So, I decided to get a MacBook Air.
I’ve got an iMac at home so I’m quite conversant with OS X. But which Air to buy. Yes, I know that refresh time is coming up, but you can drive yourself crazy with that. I decided to get the entry level 11.6″ 4GB RAM/128GB SSD model. I was a bit concerned about the RAM, but after 24 hours of using this, I can say that this is one sweet laptop. The screen size is like my Chromebooks, so no issue there. Boot is very fast, but then again, I don’t boot my Macs often anyway, and return from sleep is instantaneous. Very nice build quality and keyboard. Beautiful screen, even if it’s not as hires as the 13″ MBA. I wondered if I’d regret not going with the 256GB SSD, but after loading everything I want, I still have 85GB or so free. I’ve not had any issues with the RAM, and honestly, I guess swapping to SSD is going to be pretty fast. The weight at 2.38 pounds is nice. The difference between 2.38 and 2.96 on the MBA 13″ is one of the main reasons I went with the MBA 11″. I’m going to work hard to keep most stuff in the cloud and not on the MBA, and to not try to overload it with things like Xcode 😉 . There’s a sweet spot here with the MBA!
So, yes, I still like ChromeOS and think it’s a great solution for many things…but it’s just not quite flexible enough…yet…
In December (which is very soon!), per Engadget, you’ll be able to get a touchscreen Chromebook for $299! I’m disappointed that it doesn’t have 4GB of RAM, but that’s a concession, I’m sure, to keep the price under $300. I’ve not seen much definitive telemetry yet on memory upgrades on the C720 series Chromebooks (I added 4GB to my C710-2833 earlier in the fall). Traffic on the Chromebook Central site implies that the memory is not upgradeable on the C720’s but the Acer website for the C720’s says that there are 2GB and 4GB models, and that the 2GB models have a max of 4GB. Check back on Chromebook Central to see what the hive mind says about upgrading memory on the C720’s. I assume if you can upgrade a C720, that a C720P can be, but that may not hold true.
The bottom line though, is that it’s exciting to see touch coming to such an inexpensive laptop!
More new Chromebooks are trickling out. This week, HP announced their new ARM-based Chromebook (uses the same processor as the Samsung XE303, introduced a year ago), but more interesting, I believe, is the first formal announcement of an Intel Haswell-based system (a modified version, with less cache and lower speed, so it doesn’t carry the Haswell branding), the Acer C720. This system should have performance equivalent to standard Celeron-based Chromebooks (i.e. a bit better than the HP) and phenomenal battery life (in the 8-9 hour range). It also has 4GB of RAM, which makes a significant difference in Chrome OS performance. Rumors are that new Chromebox announcements are right around the corner as well.
As always, you need to understand what a Chrome OS device is and is not in determining if it’s right for you. It does not run Windows. You cannot install Windows programs on it. It does not run Mac OS X. It runs a variant of Linux, but you do not have administrative rights and can only install software from the Chrome Web Store, or run web-enabled applications from a hosted site. However, if you live your technology life in the cloud, and in particular if you have embraced the Google ecosystem, it’s an amazing device. Cheap, simple, foolproof.
I decided to take the plunge and upgrade the memory on my Acer Chromebook. Ostensibly it’s up-gradable per the Acer website, tho each system ships with a “you void the warranty if you remove this” sticker over the single screw that closes the case on the Acer. The system has two SODIMM slots but only one is populated. I’ve been quite happy with the 2GB C710-2833 with vRAM configured, but it did suffer from lags repainting the screen when switching from tab to tab. On compatibility recommendation from Chromebook Central, I bought a “Kingston Value RAM 4GB 1600MHz PC3-12800 DDR3 Non-ECC CL11 SODIMM SR x8 Notebook Memory (KVR16S11S8/4)” from Amazon for $38.99. I put it in the open slot and Chrome OS was quite happy with 6GB total (the new 4GB stick plus the OEM 2GB stick). I did turn on vRAM at 3GB, but it’s not been used so far. I’m showing 2.5GB free, with 15 tabs open (plus the Weatherbug, Google Keep and Files apps), with the system up for over a day (per “top”). A very good upgrade! With the original $187 cost of the C710-2833, this takes it to $226 for the system as it’s configured today…not bad for what it does for me!
The Acer C7 Chromebook is a really nice, simple computing device and I’m enjoying it quite a bit. One thing that was a bit aggravating was that it didn’t support Bluetooth, whereas other Chromebooks like the Samsung ARM did support it. It was rumored to be a software issue, and sure enough, with the latest beta (30.0.1599.30) Bluetooth is enabled! I’ve successfully paired it with a mouse and a speaker and it works quite well. However, this update seems to have broken the Citrix Receiver app. Oh well, easy come, easy go 😉
Now looking forward to the next update and a fix for the Citrix Receiver!
I’ve had my Acer c710-2833 Chromebook (I wrote about my initial thoughts earlier) for a couple weeks now…one week on vacation, and now one week of using it at work. I am quite pleased with it, and have a hard time believing that it was such a deal! I’ve used the VGA-out for presentations, experimented with the HDMI-out (works fine!), done a number of Hangouts with my colleagues, and generally used it extensively. I spent all day today working from home, sitting on the front porch using the Acer 710. It ran like a champ. Multiple tabs, Citrix session to the office, Google talk phone calls, Hangouts, etc. I find that the Intel-based Acer does a much better job of memory management than the ARM-based Samsung; there are some memory leaks in the ARM-target code. I like the glossy screen, they keyboard has a good feel, and it’s generally a great platform. I’ve even been pleased with the battery life, though it is less than the Samsung ARM Chromebook.
At the same time, Jan is enjoying the Samsung Chromebook, which I’ve passed to her. She’s quite a bit less demanding on it, and it’s serving her very well. As my readers know, I’m quite high on ChromeOS, and I’d recommend that anyone looking at an entry-level Chromebook look at the Acer C710-2833.
One thing that wasn’t obvious from reading the Chromecast documentation is what happens when you change networks. It’s actually pretty simple, if it can’t find the configured network, it just goes into network discovery mode. What I don’t know yet is whether it can remember networks so that you don’t have to reconfigure when taking it between “known” places. One thing is that it seems to be finicky about being powered from a USB port on a TV. My LG TV at home has a regular (not “service”) port for viewing media, but that port would not power the Chromecast. I had to plug in the adapter. Not sure what the precise requirements are for power. However, it worked just fine once I got it powered up. Again, an interesting device (particularly for the net $15 after the Netflix credit!) and handy for Chrome tab casting, but I’m still not sure whether this will take any sales from Apple TV or Roku. I’m just not convinced yet…
As I wrote on 7/25, I ordered a Google Chromecast to try Google’s newest foray into connecting the laptop/handheld screen with the TV screen. I’ve had a bit of time to try it, and it’s an interesting option, but I’m not sure it’s the “game changer” that some pundits have said. What is it? It looks like a fat USB memory stick that plugs into an HDMI port on your TV. It requires power either from a specialized HDMI port, or from a USB connection (or AC adapter). It runs ChromeOS but has a very simplistic UI. You can configure it from a Chromebook (I used my new Acer) or from a desktop/laptop running the Chrome browser, or from Android (iOS setup app coming).
It has two modes of operation:
- a few apps/websites can be “connected” directly to the Chromecast and run without your computer; today, it’s Netflix and Youtube, but the promise is more to come. Your phone/tablet is merely the remote.
- “casting” the screen/tab from a Chrome browser extension
The second is currently much more flexible in the content you can “cast.”
So why am I ambivalent? I think that while it’s intriguing, it’s still more interesting to geeks than boxes like an Apple TV or a Roku, both of which have much more functionality. However, today, I’ve got more seamless options for putting Netflix, Youtube and more on the TV screen. I’m glad I bought it, since with my Netflix credit (no longer available), it only cost about $15 including shipping. However, right now it’s more a curiosity. I may use it when I want to project wirelessly from my Chromebook, but that requires a configuration on the WiFi network to allow peer communication, something many enterprises disallow. Interesting, yes…killer product? No, the Chromebook/Chromebox itself is a much more compelling expression of ChromeOS.
I’ve really enjoyed my Samsung ARM Chromebook (XE303C12). I bought it in November 2012 for what was then the unheard-of price of $249, and have used it almost daily since then. Unlike some, I’ve experienced no hardware reliability issues, despite carrying it to work, and schlepping it around campus. Jan and I have a pair of old 1st gen iPads, and web surfing on those is increasingly problematic, but for email and reading, it’s still just fine. So, a solution…buy another Chromebook so I can have one and Jan can have one. So, I found a sale at Newegg on the Acer C710-2833, which has some things I like and some I’d prefer to be different, but it’s at a great price point…$187, shipped! It has a VGA out, Ethernet port, but the battery life is about 2/3 of the Samsung (but the battery is replaceable), and about 1/2 pound heavier. I’ll probably need to start carrying my charger to work, but I’ll appreciate the VGA out. Supposedly, it’s upgradeable to 4GB of RAM, and even more per postings on Chromebook Central. May have to watch for a sale on memory.
Anyway, it arrived today. Seems to be a well-built little computer, and like its Samsung brethren, will do virtually all of what I need to do.
Try Chrome OS, you’ll like it…
Google is trying to get into the “device to large screen” streaming space and has just announced (on 7/24) the Chromecast. It’s a small HDMI widget for your TV (tho it apparently requires a power connector). It runs Chrome OS, it has some streaming apps (like Netflix) but the main draw is the ability to cast a stream from a Chrome browser tab (like AirPlay) from a device to the Chromecast via WiFi. That feature works with PC/Mac Chrome, Android, iOS, and Chrome OS (tho limited to the Pixel currently). So, one can apparently send any content in a browser tab to the Chromecast. Initial reviews have been positive, and with a $35 price point, it’s selling fast. First orders came with a 3 month Netflix credit (worth $24 of the $35, for new or existing customers). That’s been withdrawn now (“supplies were limited”) but since I ordered mine on the 24th, I think I get the credit. Should be an interesting addition to the set of streaming solutions, but I think it’s still very much a work in progress. I’ve already got 2 AppleTV’s and 2 Roku’s; we’ll see where the Chromecast fits in. I’ll report here when I get mine and have a chance to try it…should ship by 8/7, says the Play store.