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A Few Days with the Google ARM Chromebook

I’ve looked at a couple of Ultrabooks, the MacBook Air and tablet/keyboard options, and nothing touches the power & simplicity

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I recently (finally) received the Google Chromebook in the mail. After over 2 weeks of intense waiting, it is here, and has absolutely matched all of my expectations. The device is thin and light and amazing looking. It is quite and never gets hot, even after extended use. The battery life has easily outmatched the advertised 6 hours, with pretty standard web use and writing (some streaming video and some streaming music as well). After a few hours, I did not want to trade it for anything else, and preferred it to any other laptop I’ve ever had.

I’ve looked at a couple of Ultrabooks, the MacBook Air and tablet/keyboard options, and nothing touches the power, simplicity, weight and price. While the Intel (x86) based ultrabooks and MBA are great, powerful and capable, they are easily 3 to 4 times more expensive than the Chromebook, a cost which is hard to justify in my mind. I have used the Asus Transformer Prime with keyboard dock, as well the Nexus 7 with Bluetooth keyboard, and neither experience rivals the ease of use and content creation that the Chromebook offers.

The Chrome OS provides the web, unedited. you can use Flash, HTML or whatever, all within the familiar confines of your Chrome browser. Simply linking it to your Google account provides synchronization of bookmarks, open tabs and passwords. Chrome OS regularly updates itself, more like a mobile OS than your Windows or Mac box. You can instantly allow other users “guest access” or have multiple Chrome users, something mobile operating systems are missing right now (yes I know you will be able to provision guest accounts in tablet mode for Android 4.2). I’ve heard many complain about the speed of this little ARM monster. I have not found that an issue myself, because I installed the “block Flash” Chrome extension, and only have to deal with it, when I want to. Netflix is not working right now, either from the browser or the Chrome extension, but Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video have played video without a hitch. Unsurprisingly YouTube looks great (duh) the only thing that will stop you is a slow connection.

The Chromebook has HDMI output, and I displayed 1080p easily on my TV. You could easily use it to control a presentation or just share information on the larger screen (or movie night!). If you need a traveling, writing computer as well as a clutch living laptop, I see the $250 Chromebook meeting your needs. If you are looking for something more (i.e. video/photoediting, gaming), it will let you down. The biggest concern many of you might have now is the inability to install iTunes. There are numerous ways around that, and if you upload your music directly to the Google Music Application you’ll find it accessible on any device.

There are some weaknesses to the Chromebook. If you have too many tabs opened at the same time, it will sometimes reload individual tabs when you switch to them. While it does have offline mode (and syncs well when you go online), if your connection is unstable it can be annoying. While the Chromebook isn’t “For Everyone,” I think most can find use for it, and it will replace most users’ travel or living room needs. I know that it easily replaced the Asus Transformer Prime in my lineup, and think that coupled with either an iPad Mini or Nexus 7 is far superior to any iPad or Android tablet option. Google is transforming computing by bringing the cloud to mobile devices and your living room, in manageable and functional bites.

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More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.