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Cheat Sheet: Chromebooks

Here's what you need to know about Google Chromebook and how they are reinventing the laptop.

What is a Chromebook?

Chromebooks are laptops that run on Google's Chrome operating system, Chrome OS, instead of the widely used Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac OS X operating systems.

A number of manufacturers have built laptops that come with the Chrome OS preinstalled, including Samsung, Acer and HP. At the time of writing there were five Chromebooks for sale on the Chrome store, priced between £199 and £1049; the Samsung Chromebook has been in the top five best selling laptops on Amazon for several months.

Chrome OS is essentially the same as the Chrome web browser that can be installed onto laptops running Windows or OS X as their operating system. In a nutshell, Google has turned the web browser into an operating system.

How are they different to normal laptops?

Chromebooks come with several Google apps pre-installed that allow users to do things like create documents, listen to music and edit photos. Instead of a conventional Windows 'Start' button, Chromebooks have an Android-like app menu that pops out of the bottom task bar but most of the tiles just lead to online tools or websites.

More apps can be downloaded from the Chrome Web Store and they will be kept up to date automatically, avoiding the need to download and install time-consuming software patches.

Chromebooks come with an online file storage service called Google Drive, which allows users to save up to a set amount of content, typically 100GB, for free over the first two years. Chromebook users can access their content and files from any device when they are logged into their Google account and share it with others.

As a result of the web-based operating system, Chromebooks encourage people to use cloud-based tools that can be accessed over the internet and within the browser. For example, photo editing can be done using the Pixlr app (available for free the Chrome Web Store) and Google Docs can be used for word processing tasks.

Chromebooks come with most of the standard ports and hardware features that other laptops have but they tend to have considerably smaller hard drives. This is because Google envisages that users will store the vast majority of their content on the Google Drive online storage platform.

There is no need to install security software separately as they already come with security built in. When they are turned on they do an automatic self-check to make sure the system hasn't been tampered with and security updates are automatically downloaded.

Are they better than conventional laptops?

The main thing that Chromebooks have going for them is their price. By removing all the hardware needed to run and store demanding operating systems and software packages they can be built and sold at a fraction of the cost.

Meanwhile, storing files online, or in the cloud, means data should remain safe even if the device is damaged or lost. It also means that users can access all of their data from a different machine by entering their Google logon credentials.

Chromebooks are designed to boot in a fraction of the amount of time that it takes for traditional laptops to get up and running. For example, the Acer C7 Chromebook takes less than eight seconds to boot up and the Samsung Chromebook takes less than ten seconds to boot up, while laptops running on Windows or OS X often take more than 30 seconds, according to Google.

What are their limitations?

Chromebooks need an internet connection to achieve their full potential and that is why several models are available with a 3G connection for those willing the pay that bit extra or a standard 4G connection in the case of the Chromebook Pixel.

Without an internet connection you won't be able to use many of the Chromebooks web-based applications.

However, there are now several offline apps available in the Chrome Web Store for Chromebooks that allow users to continue working without an internet connection. In August 2011 Google added offline capability to its app suite of cloud-based software, including Gmail, Calendar and Docs. However, many of these lack the functionality of their online equivalents. And many would argue that Google's apps can't compete with the depth and functionality of software such as Office or Photoshop.

Printing is also a bit of an issue on Chromebooks as it must be done through an online service called Cloud Print. If the user does not have a 'Cloud Print' printer then they have to go onto a different Windows or OS X machine and connect the printer to the Chromebook from there.

How popular are they?

Both the Samsung Chromebook and the Acer C7 Chromebook are positioned in third and seventh place respectively in the UK Amazon store's list of best selling laptops.

They are proving to be fairly popular in schools due to their almost instantaneous start-up and the fact that multiple children from different classrooms and year groups can log into their account and have access to all their work. Google claimed in February that there are now 2,000 schools using Chromebooks and has even launched one Chromebook that is exclusively for schools, the Lenovo ThinkPad X131e.

However, web analytics firm NetMarketShare recently monitored worldwide usage of Google's Chrome OS and found that the percentage of web traffic from Chromebooks was roughly 2/100 of one percent, a figure too small to earn Chromebooks place on its reports.

What options are there?

There are five different Chromebooks listed on the UK's Chromebook store, with prices starting from £199. The include:

  • Acer C7 Chromebook (£199): The 1.4kg Acer C7 Chromebook has an 11.6 inch display and a four hour battery life. It boots up in less than 20 seconds and is 25mm thick. 16GB SSD or 320GB hard drive
  • Samsung Chromebook (£229): The 1.1kg Samsung Chromebook also has an 11.6 inch display and over six and a half hours battery life. It boots up in less than 10 seconds and is 17.8mm thick.
  • HP Pavilion Chromebook (£249): The 1.8kg HP Pavilion has a 14 inch display and a battery life of four hours and 15 minutes. It boots up in less than 10 seconds and is 21mm thick. 16GB SSD
  • Chromebook Pixel (£1049): The 1.5kg Chromebook Pixel has a 12.85 inch high resolution display and a battery life of five hours. It boots up in a few seconds and is 16.2mm thick.
  • Samsung Chromebook 550 (£330): The 1.4kg Samsung Chromebook 550 has a 12.1 inch display and a battery life of over six hours. It boots up in less than eight seconds and is 25.5mm thick.

About

Sam Shead is at his happiest with a new piece of technology in his hands or nailing down an exclusive story. In the past he's written for The Engineer and the Daily Mail, covering emerging technology in electronics, energy, defence, materials, aerosp...

14 comments
skris88
skris88

Hi Sam


I love the idea of Chromebooks and will get one in an instant if I can be sure it has 3G or 4G built in.  That info is hard to find.


I don't want to buy it from a telco and be tied to their network.  In fact I walked into a telco store and the staff there didn't even know that a Chromebook was!


Can you do a short article about which Chromebooks are 3G or 4G ready out of the box - I simply insert my data SIM card and...  Go!  More importantly, as I travel overseas a lot, I can simply swap the SIM with a local card instead of paying high roaming data rates.


Thanks!


Cheers,

skris88



azreth
azreth

need help getting into chromebook boot menu

bdurward
bdurward

setting up Chrome printing is almost trivial. I can print to my inkjet at home, or my work laserjet from anywhere. The remote control app works slick, I recently troubleshot an email problem at work from Arizona by remoting into my computer at work.

parthur169
parthur169

I dumped my Apple and Windows products, and love my Chromebook.

ATG4
ATG4

When discussing Chromebooks it's important to keep in mind that they are not meant to replace laptops. They are not meant to be for every type of user. Like with many things in technology (as in life), not everything is meant for everyone. Chromebooks are meant for users that spend most of their time in a browser and want a device that's easy to use and starts up fast. Sounds to me like that profile fits quite a few people. That being said, not everyone is willing or able to give up on their Windows applications. But there are solutions to overcome that obstacle. For example, Ericom AccessNow is an HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to securely connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server and VDI virtual desktops, and run their applications and desktops in a browser. AccessNow does not require any client to be installed on the Chromebook, as you only need the HTML5-compatible browser. Check out this link for more info: http://www.ericom.com/RDPChromebook.asp?URL_ID=708 Please note that I work for Ericom

carpano53
carpano53

It will be great this article with some photoes

DaveBlythe
DaveBlythe

I've been a tinkerer with everything from DOS-on-Disc through 7, Linux, hobbies, builder, whatever for roughly 20 years. Now I've returned to school and am just about to graduate with my BS in Computer Science, as a new 'starting over' career, so I'm pretty comfy playing around with different OS choice from a users point of view. I carry an Android phone that runs a custom ROM. My TFP is rooted. Now you know me well enough to either identify with me or choose not to. Mid-Life Geek works for now ;) I love the thing. Granted, I have an unlimited data plan with tethering on the Android phone that seems grafted to my hip (assimilation is subtle)... and I knew going in (during the pre-purchase research I did) that it was 'assumed' that I would clone the Chromebook (Mine's the low-end Samsung (303C, I think) to the Droid (the Droid was already habitually with me), and I would be fine. When I'm at a coffeshop, on campus, or somewhere that I know well enough to trust opening a wi-fi connection, I go direct and save some phone battery (though it's rarely an issue). When I'm in someplace I don't want to connect to, the Chromebook defaults to my hip/Droid. The whole "its worthless without Internet" crowd should really feel a bit silly, as it's actually a part of the design, works wonderfully as expected (in my usage cases, anyway), and should have been noticed or realized during any reasonable pre-purchase research. Ya bought something without really understandinm' what it was made fer doin'. That's neither Samsung's nor Google's fault. Performance-wise, it has been, like I say (for me), perfect. I HAVE a big 4core/16g machine for things that I need 'big hardware' for, like compiling, running IDEs, and I've usually got at least 1-2 rdp/vnc sessions and a couple of VirtualBox sessions running ( I told ya, I'm that guy, to a 'tee'!). I ALSO get tired of sitting in front of the monster system for 8-10 hours a day as a full-time student. Twenty minutes of playing around with appropriate rdp/vnc protocols in the router and firewall/gateway, and voila. I can sit on the couch, or out at the picnic table, or at a coffeeshop... and do most of the casual and/or Web based stuff portably. When I need raw horsepower, I can easily and securely remote into the 'big guy' at home , and run it remotely for any heavy lifting! For me, it's EXACTLY what I came to expect during my research. I really think it did catch a lot of people off-guard, but it's precisely what it says on the box, and I've loved mine.

Gisabun
Gisabun

One report said that about 2000 US schools are using them [that's out of 100,000 US schools]. Tiny. Another report said that the total sales in 2012 reached just 500,000 [mostly US] And just about 10,000 in the UK.

AB Troubleshooter
AB Troubleshooter

I have a ChromeBook and am able to print from it at home - I have an HP colour laserjet with ePrint and can use the ePrint feature to print anything. In fact, I can be anywhere and send it to my printer at home. I have a number of other devices such as the Galaxy Tab and the iPad as well as a Samsung Smartphone so I admit I don't use the ChromeBook as much as I could. The only real downside I can find is working with email attachments - I have to upload them to my Google drive in order to work with them. The ChromeBook is a great idea, but it needs a bit more work before it is ready for prime time.

matenai
matenai

I had the Samsung Chromebook...bought 3 of them for friends as well. I found bugs the forced resets about once a week. I found it useless without an internet connection. It had less functionality than a netbook for the same price. But it was faster, booted faster and was well integrated. The hardware was cheap...a little two light structurally with panels flexing easy, the keys hitting the screen when closed leaving marks on the screen (guess this is why it ships with a foam sheet inside). Screen was poor for current generations. I thought I would love this concept and dived in full of positive thinking. I pushed it on two others. I found Google has many strange hangups that force you to do it their way or not at all and also their way was usually non-conventional...and not better. I found Chrome to be a attempt to simplify and yet leaving out many essentials that any seasoned PC user would expect. I found I did most of my work on my iphone since it was more fuctional...except for the keyboard. I also found that the mouse pad was so large that it constantly interfered with my right thumb pad causing erratic mouse movements while typing. I observed the same problems with others. So what was the disposition? I sold mine while demand was hot and then my friend in Russia sold hers, preferring to use her netbook that offered using applications that Chromebook seemed to block. Her son still keeps his since his friends thinks he is cool having a Chromebook. I think this later attitude is the only thing keeping it alive but not cool enough to compete with Apple.

Kostaghus
Kostaghus

So they're cheaper because you practically have zilch on them. And you can't even print on a printer in your own home. No small wonder they still sell.... As much as they do. I wouldn't have one if it was given away for free... C.R.A.P.

ubwete
ubwete

Now that hadn't been highlighted when Chromeboooks were being discussed before. No, "cloud printing" ends the Chromebook discussion for me; obviously a deal-breaker.

sphillips
sphillips

Let me get this right - you have all this technology and figured out all this rooting and custom ROM's and RDP/VNC connections to a big desktop/server and a smartphone with unlimited data etc etc. How clever of you. So the Chromebook is perfect for you? All you are really using it for is a big screen / keyboard extension of your smartphone. Sounds like technology overkill to me. Just because you have bolted on all this other technology to get it to be of some use does not mean it is successful in the target market that is was supposed to be aimed at.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

It's great that you have practically zilch on them -- because you wouldn't want to (if you need to access your files elsewhere, if it gets lost/stolen, etc.). All that free cloud storage is great: no backing up, no limited access, easy to share files & folders, etc. And you CAN print on a printer in your own home. (The author botched his explanation on that one.) No small wonder they still sell... They live up to the hype. I've given them away, too (as gifts); recipients love them, too. I own one of the Samsung ARM models. I wouldn't have it as my only machine, but I'm glad I got one, as they're very handy, very usable, and maintenance-free. Great build, nice screen, nice keyboard, excellent click-pad. And perfect for "non-techie" users, as they do all the typical things well. And no OS to deal with! I can even open a terminal (in the browser) and SSH into one of my other PCs at home to do "techie" stuff. Incredible!